Most people see videos or photos of climbers perched high up on a steep wall and gasp. What are they doing there? What is the purpose of running such risks?
Well, first of all, it’s all relative. What may look like an incredibly steep and tough line, could in fact turn out to be not too engaging. Although, to be fair, commitment is what climbers are after: improving each time, showing that they are capable of doing something they thought was not possible.
This philosophy aside, if you are new to climbing, you should know that there is a broad division, that is sport and trad climbing.
Sport climbing means following a line established by the person who equipped the route, drilling the rock, putting some bolts in and then you’ll need to place quickdraws as you go along the route. You then rappel when you have reached the top of the route and are ready to start again. This type of climbing allows you to fall, provided you have a good belayer, with no consequences. You need to be bold when you climb, and here you can really test your limits.
Trad here stand for “traditional” and it means placing your own protections as you go along (called friends or nuts). It is, quite clearly, more engaging because you’ll have to carry more gear with you, be able to judge which protection to use and where to place it, and quite clearly place it well, so that it can hold in case of fall. A fall is, in any case, not advisable, as this may lead to severe injury. The beauty of this lies in the fact that you leave no trace behind, and can really feel at one with nature.
If you are new to the climbing world, then sport if clearly your best bet, as trad requires excellent skills, but with patience and the right training, you may well be in for an interesting ride!
It is also worth spending a few words on a fascinating point which we can call “The very big and the very small”. This is the name of a route in North Wales and it is said to refer to the moment when you are fully immersed in the sensations of your own body (the very small) and then you think about the entirety of the whole environment around you, which you may well experience in a fully open way once you complete the climb, or reach a resting ledge on a multi-pitch climb (the very big).
The Very Small
When you challenge yourself on a climb, you are fully immersed in the movements and processes of the climbing itself - the position of your feet, the line of tension through your body, the way your hands touch the rock, the protection you place, the sound of your breathing, the feel of the wind on your face, the sun on your back, the fear, the danger, the commitment.
The Very Big
Once you get through the moves and to a safe place at the end of the climbing, you let everything go and sit, relaxed, aware of the entire world around you. You may ponder on how beautiful life is, and how lucky you are to be a part of it. You would imagine that easier if you are in a beautiful environment such as South Tyrol, but in fact it applies just as much on an urban crag where the chimney pots disappearing in the distance take on a fascination and radiance that is never noticed day to day.
What is the point of saying all this? Well, climbing is a school of life. Though it may be dangerous, risky and needs to be carried out with constant attention, it allows us to focus, to be at unison with nature and to reach our goals.
Don’t be too scared. There are climbs which suit all levels. Give it a go and you will enter a new world.