Monday, November 16, 2009

Dissonance to Cadence

“I can believe that I'm a wizard, that I can do everything with my mind, and I'll be strong as all hell... I just need to be confident.” -Dave Graham

At some point things just click. Specific focus isn’t needed; things just happen. Confidence, weakness, focus, whatever, the brain begins to recognize sequences of movement faster and more efficiently, always looking ahead. When to bear down on that razor edge, reel in, and lunge for that next hold. Pace --rhythmic breathing, anticipation-- comes together, speeding up when the moves are difficult, slowing when they let up, always looking ahead. All parts of the body do exactly what they need to be, “PSAAHT!!!” The difficulties are over, the puzzle deciphered. One last move. Then the mind realizes what is going on. Other thoughts begin to drift in, excitement from climbing through this heinous problem, anxiety thinking that this may just be the day that you send, fear from being so high off the ground... all this swirling round and round, killing your focus, disrupting your breathing, and then, a small error leads to a foot popping off, throwing everything out of balance... you try to correct, but a split second later, you crash into the pads, roll down the hill, and lie huddled in the dirt. Defeat.

This failure is all too common in climbing. Falling is part of the process. If you never fall, you aren’t trying hard enough. Like any orchestration, it’s nearly impossible to play the notes right on the first go. The process of projecting a climb, working it over and over to figure it out, can be the most frustrating yet rewarding experience for a climber. You see, when you do figure out the individual pieces, when you figure out the very best way to do something, when you can finally sustain sound focus, strength doesn't seem to matter as much.

The notes are there for all eternity, and the musician has to unlock them perfectly to make music. There is a path in your mind that shows the sequence, the moves, and what to do to adapt to each movement. When things move perfectly in motion there is brilliance to it. Climbing is a strange game of body positions. A game of engrams, of muscle memory. It’s a game of occupying space, keeping everything together, feet, hands, fingers, core, whatever... you need it all together. There is a kind of fluency, and the climbing language develops. With dissonance gone, harmony follows. It takes a strong body to pull the moves, and a stronger mind to ultimately realize success.

The sun falls behind the mountains, the rock cools down, and you’re back, walking the trail you know so very well. That boulder is still there; this time, it’s revenge. The breathing pattern begins, steadying on the inhale, executing on the exhale.You reach for that tiny quartz crystal. Then the physical disappears. You grab the sharp grainy hold, set your feet, move your hips, slap the pinch, bump your hand again, inhale, then “PSAAHT!!! AHHHAAAH!” Keep it together! pull the lip, and bam! you’re sitting on top just as the last light fades and stars appear. The cadence dies down, the number fades. Victory.


  1. Tom- Thats a decent bit of writing! There were moments where my palms began to sweat...

    What about your project at the Fins? Did you send? I didn't hear much from you or Matt T. in the later part of summer. I was super busy though... And what about the Weeper Cave? Still full of open projects or hard routes?

    Cheers, Marc

  2. thanks! I actually wrote that for my creative writing class.

    no luck on the fins proj. I broke my right middle finger in mid august and couldn't make it back up there. so maybe next summer...
    and yeah, the routes in weeping cave are ridiculous, and very tough.

    mostly andrew and i have been focused on an amazing crag up here in montana called natural bridge. so many good 5.13s!

  3. Tom-
    Yea, Andrew showed me the guide book to that crag. Looks pretty sweet! Is it still climbable now or too cold? Show us some pics of the place!