06 January, 2015

Blog on the rocks!

I learned to climb in a high school environmental science course (of all places! I think the only exam I failed in my very, very long academic career was a test in this same course that required memorizing 250 bird calls). I picked it up again in college, climbing in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley and New River Gorge, as well as Seneca Rocks. In med school, I occasionally went to one of two rock gyms, but then as an intern, I finally discovered a gym that made climbing indoors worth it - Go Vertical in Philadelphia.
An easy climb on Skye
July 2005

Climbing outside is a spiritual experience. It's about trusting your body and trusting the earth, and seeing how they fit together. Climbing indoors is possibly the most intellectual of physical experiences. It's like solving a puzzle, like playing chess against yourself. Sometimes it feels not that dissimilar to playing the piano. I can think of dozens of metaphors - pick something that you have to first reason through, but then just do, without thinking about too deeply. That's how I'd describe indoor climbing.

The Philly gym was perfect - high walls, because getting to the top quickly is not satisfying at all, and lovingly designed routes (by their really generous, friendly staff), with reasonably consistent difficulty ratings. It's not the numbers that matter so much - unless you're out through climbing 5.14s on-sight - but it helped to track our progress and decide which problems would worth our time. I remember one particularly difficult route perfectly. I can picture the green, fat, oval "moment of truth" hold in that route perfectly, and I can remember exactly how it felt to finally get my foot on top of the damn thing, too.

Interesting and random side note(!): I've had hypnagogic and hypnapompic hallucinations since sometime in college. (I also have lucid dreams.) These are hallucinations that happen during the transition to wake to sleep or vice versa. Mine started as mainly trees and insects crawling on my pillows (absolutely no idea why, I am not particularly phobic) but now I mainly have the Tetris effect, though I didn't know it had a name until I looked it up on Wikipedia for this post.


I've experienced most of the examples they give (including chess and manipulating organic chemistry molecules when I was in college) but they now mostly involve rowing, rock climbing and playing the piano or flute. Mine are multi-sensory: I don't just feel the rocks, I see them shifting as if I'm moving them around. It's a strange but not frightening sensation.

After Philadelphia, I moved to an outdoor climbing mecca. I loved Garden of the Gods, Eldorado Canyon, and the Flatirons, but only in the earliest hours of the morning. By midday, in the Colorado sun, I couldn't think of anything except, My skin is roasting, charring and falling off my bones. So eventually, I found myself back in the gym a lot. One gym had a good website for hooking up with climbing partners and I clicked with a few people and starting going a couple times a week.

Then I found out I was pregnant. At the time, I knew hardly any women who climbed seriously and no one who had even contemplated climbing during their pregnancies. So I wore my harness under loose sweaters for as long as it was comfortable and told no one except one climbing partner. Finally, around five months, I stopped.

And then yesterday I found Beth Rodden's awesome blog about climbing while pregnant!


Seriously, where was this three years ago?!! There is even a pregnancy harness, called Mountain Mama. This makes me want to move deep into the mountains, like, yesterday. Or at least resolve to the climbing gym more often until the long dark of winter is over.