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Hands1I’ve been trying to come up with a way to articulate what climbing is to me in a manner that remains distinct from countless other renditions of why people love their sport. It’s true that rock climbing has long been one of my favorite activities, but lately it’s been so much more. I pursue that overly warm and dark space near the gym’s ceiling like a wolf retreats to her den. That flutter of the heart on every draw while lead climbing which blots out every other thought or concern. Most of my climbing is done in gyms these days. It lacks the courtship with Nature, but still, those lofty warehouses full of chalk dust and dangling vines have become my church. I need climbing like I need religion—or a fix.

My technique warps and squirms, becoming symptomatic of the events in my life. When I’m feeling timid or tired, the movements that bring me higher on the face are careful and compact. When I’m angry or euphoric, the motions become dynamic so that I feel as though I’m ascending in far-flung pulls—stretching my limbs to test whether or not my stature has changed since the last time I put on my shoes and harness. The final and perhaps the best of my experiences happens when some fortunate grace has touched me with the pervasion of calm. In these moments I feel perfectly grounded, centered, and whole. The motion feels just as lateral as it is vertical. I don’t know what it looks like from the ground—only that it feels quiet and powerful. Climbing at its best relieves us of our humanity. It skins off the distraction and emotion and becomes a pristine sequence of contraction and elongation. Moving meditation.

I’ve felt similarly in other environments—although for me they were similar but to a lesser extent. While practicing yoga sometimes, and more commonly, in the studio where I used to fight in the evenings. I have yet to discover why my most mentally restorative experiences take companionship in bodily strain. Perhaps it’s because I lack the discipline to tame my demons without physical confrontation.

The chalk rains from freshly dipped hands like fairy dust. It floats elegantly, spinning and resting in the streak of sun through the skylight. My gaze moves away, surging upward over the expanse of overhung wall and rhythmically spaced holds. Mapping the sequence is done silently. I know instinctively which reaches my arm span will allow and which I’ll have to be more creative with. The start hold feels smooth and slick—a testament to how many people have begun the route before me. I know that higher up the grittiness will return where others felt overcome. I forcibly relax my grip, and climb.