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Keeping it Clean

What does the rock care if it is broken or chiseled or drilled, or painted or marked or scarred - it's just a rock. When you look at a cliff face or mountain what do you see? Just a pile of rocks? Let me tell you what I see, because I can hear you all so earnestly asking...

I see a landscape that has been meticulously crafted and constructed by a passionate and devoted artist. An artist who masterfully works in oils, water, sand, wind and colors and angles so precisely to reflect light and create shadows perfectly at any angle. More valuable than the greatest oil paintings, ornate silk Persian rugs or magnificent tapestries. To me a landscape of cliffs, rocks and mountains is a priceless work of art. But unlike the paintings, sculptures, and silk rugs that are forbidden to be touched, felt or walked on this, the ultimate work of art, is made to be experienced by every possible sense.

I feel a simple peace in natural landscapes. A peace that otherwise only comes in the most special of man made structures. I feel drawn to live outside and feel the raw earth in my hands. It is a search for balance and priorities that must be skewed that keeps me indoors so often. Why do I have a desk job?

For me climbing is one of the activities that allows me to feel closest to that beautiful work of art. Probably since it is literally inches from my face most of the time. While climbing there is a focus where everything else seems to naturally fade away, like in silent meditation but it isn't forced, my mind is just... clear. When else in life do you get to experience that?

Sometimes, especially when leading a climb I am not so aware of the rope or gear being placed in the cracks, but all my senses are trying to pour through my hands and feel every surface of rock, every break, every smooth varnish, until I find a hold and begin the search again. Ok, sometimes I am very aware that I am really high up and the ground is really hard and far away.

I realize that this probably sounds like a hyper romanticized expression of what rock climbing actually is, and that it might be just hindsight that provides this sense of expression. The point is that I have a strong love for this Earth and its landscapes and feel that these are gifts given to us, and that we are obligated to use them to help us explore ourselves. Since I hold nature in such high regard, I have strong feelings about how we are charged to care for this work of art.

Royal Robbins, one of the early pioneers of rock climbing, especially the big walls of Yosemite has also spoken poetically of this experience, "We’re at the base of a three-hundred-foot arch. We must pass it. That means surmounting an overhang beetling with convolutions and jutting corners. In other words, a crag. And we are cragsmen! Much better to be a cragsman than a mere rockclimber. A crag still has an air of adventure about it. A rockclimb is mostly technique nowadays. So we go crag climbing. First it’s back and foot, then bridging in a shallow groove. Loose rock is treated gingerly and the key is a slotted nut at the lip of the overhang. The door opens and it’s a new world—firm rock, cracks, hollows, spikes, and knobs. Joy comes in a rush as the muscles work swinging upward in balance past an occasional runner. The easy going is interspersed with bits of questioning calling for quirky answers. A hand jammed and the opposite foot set high in a hole and move up in one fluid motion pivoting and changing the jam to a lieback and reaching for the next spike above. When you do it right, it feels right."

Royal is also known for his advocacy of 'clean climbing' meaning to climb in a way that leaves no trace, a way that does not require drilling the rock or defacing it in any way. What does the rock care? Well, the rock doesn't but I sure do. After all for me, this is not just rock, it's an experience. I would want everyone to have the same natural experience that I have had. Do nothing that might detract from the work of art, keep it clean. As serious as this all might sound, you've also got to have fun. If challenging myself is the first reason to climb, having fun is a very close second.

Mostly I think this post is a reminder to me that I need to get outside more. Hopefully you can also get something out of it, if not, lets go climbing and maybe I can show you what I mean.


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