RAMBLINGS / by Angela Payne

I recently watched a great little video that Joe Kinder and Colette McInerney put together asking numerous climbers a simple question: why do you climb?  Of course, after watching it, I tried to answer the question for the billionth time in my climbing career.  And tonight, as I returned home from another day of throwing myself at a boulder in The Park, I pondered the question more.

I think that for every time I’ve asked myself the question, I have come up with another answer, another reason, another explanation for something that might have no explanation at all.  But I just can’t stop asking, just like I can’t stop climbing.

I’ve been asking myself a lot lately not just why I climb, but why I climb in the way I do.  Why do I get so insistent on finishing this one boulder, and why do I return to it over and over and over again, for more than 30 days, to climb on the same moves?  And somewhere between my recent bouts of frustration and hair-pulling, The Park has answered the  question for me, over and over again.  Maybe I am just getting more sentimental the more time I spend there, or maybe I am just looking harder for an answer with every day that passes that I find myself beneath that boulder.  Whatever the reason, I have had many moments of clarity amid the mind-numbing process of working this boulder problem.

Tonight that moment came as I attempted the climb for the umpteenth time.  The sun had set and a perfect orange moon had crept up behind the trees.  As it rose higher in the sky, it began to light up the boulder.  And as I climbed across the face, I caught a glimpse of the moon out of the corner of my eye.  How cool is this, I actually thought, to be climbing under a full moon up in the mountains?  And how silly is it that I was actually thinking that while trying to climb at my limit?  Maybe not silly at all, I guess, since climbing under a full moon in an alpine playground is just one of the many reasons that I climb.

A few nights ago I was beating myself up about failing on this boulder, and began the dialogue in my head, and probably aloud, about how crazy I was for being there again and falling again and still wanting to try again.  The whole process was beginning to feel futile and without reward.  Then I found my reminder in the sky.  The sun was setting and the clouds were on fire over the ridge.  Okay, I thought.  Snap back to reality and take a good look at where you are.  The Park seemed to be trying its darndest to help me regain perspective, because the lake was as smooth as glass, like I have never seen it before, reflecting every ounce of beauty the place had to offer.  Alright, I thought, I’m pretty foolish for being upset about a rock right now.  But The Park wasn’t finished; I walked back towards the boulder only to be greeted by a full moon rising behind the twisted pines.  It was just one of those evenings when everything seems more beautiful, maybe because I needed to see it, or maybe because I was full of emotion and anger and doubt.  Or maybe because it was more beautiful, like it always is.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to answer the utterly simple question “Why do you climb?”  Today I will climb to feel the unforgiving nature of the rock and the utter frustration it can cause.  And the utter joy.  And maybe tomorrow I will climb for the subtlety of the movement, or the effort it requires.  Then next month I might climb to experience the fleeting nature of competition climbing, and the next day to slow my racing mind.  And with every inch I climb and every place I go, I will likely add more reasons to the list.  Then when someone asks me why I climb, I might answer with a simple “Because I can” or a long, rambling non-answer like this.

But I will keep climbing, maybe in pursuit of the answer, or maybe because the answer is simply not there.