I spent part of yesterday evening hanging off a wall. My fingers ached, and my palms felt rough and sweaty. My thighs and calves complained in equal measure. By the end of an hour, my toes burned – and when I took my shoes off I found that I had split my left little toenail down the middle, blood smearing the skin.
This is my second week trying out climbing – or at least bouldering – as a form of entertainment and exercise.
My choice of exercise might seem a little odd. I have, for the longest time, had a fear of falling. I’m reasonably certain the prospect of pain at the end of a fast descent provides the source of my discomfort. Once I might have said a fear of heights, but in the analysis that description doesn’t quite fit. I definitely fear the possibilities of an uncontrolled descent ending in pain. As a result of this fear, I tend to cling and struggle to get up and down a ladder into the loft.
You can understand why climbing doesn’t quite fit the profile as a viable form of exercise for me.
On the other hand, bouldering doesn’t involve a lot of height. I favour traversing at the moment, as that doesn’t involve any height. Moving horizontally from knobbly lump to knobbly lump, grasping and clawing for grip means I get a work out while never more than about a foot off the floor. I have tried some of the puzzle climbing, where you choose a colour of handhold and seek to work up from the ground to wall top. I struggle with the height a bit, but have tried to reassure myself that what waits at the bottom happens to be quite padded and forgiving.
My prospects for injury come from the inability not to loosen up enough and flex, allowing myself to fall easily without scraping and scrabbling at the surface of the wall. I scraped the skin off one of my knuckles last night because I kept too close to the wall. When I dropped a short distance, I should have pushed away, but instead I desperately tried to find something to cling to.
I managed to complete several metres of traversing last night that I didn’t manage last week. I rented a pair of proper climbing shoes and got a proper feel for the wall. I have learned that I need to trust in my ability to balance and hold my weight without necessarily engaging all my limbs at once. I know that I need to develop my upper body strength. I can’t even manage one decent pull up at the moment, performing a rise but once, with arms going from straight to 90 degrees, for a fleeting instant. To effectively climb, or just traverse, I need to know that I can rely on every muscle of arms and legs without doubt or question.
I don’t have to achieve any Zen connectivity with the wall just yet. Just getting in touch with myself would seem a very necessary first step.