giovedì 30 agosto 2012

- Rocklands 2012: mr. Ego and the global climbing community

Two weeks have passed since I came back to Italy from Rocklands and I found myself right in the middle of this nightmare we call "summer" with temperatures reaching 40° and 80% of humidity... sweet were the days when I used to wake up with the noise of birds, to have breakfast wearing my jacket in front of the gas heater, having the dilemma of where would be best to go climbing, even if it would have been probably better just to rest.

Now I'm stuck home, too warm to climb, I have time to look back at this experience, trying to remember every single person I've met and the good times we had together. I have to say it has been a good trip, probably even better than last year. Even if I could not send all the problems I wanted to do, I had the opportunity to make a lot of new friends from different countries sharing my climbing and my home with them. Everybody was trying his best on some classic problems or futuristic new lines: sometimes you had success, sometimes defeat, bad skin and sore muscles... just as climbing should be.

Saying that I mean I truly had a great experience and I really enjoyed my climbing: Rocklands is not just a super "hardcore" destination where you can go and try all the hardest problem on earth, it is indeed a really nice place where you can be just fine sitting down looking at the horizon without bothering about climbing at all. Despite that there are several things I noticed during this trip, as well as last year, that deserve some deeper thoughts than the usual blog post where you say how cool was your experience, how hard was your climbing or how long your tick list... this things are more connected with the climbing community itself, and to what do we search in our climbing and what do we feel important about it.

Rocklands is obviously a well known bouldering destination were you do really meet people from all around the world, and offers a great opportunity to observe things on a wider scale than our small little spots scattered around Europe, which are full of "locals", local habits, local rules, and of course... local grades.  (and yes, also Fontainebleau is like that!)
Rocklands on the other hand counts just a few locals, it is actually quite hard to meet a south african climber. Boulders have been discovered and opened by many different people from different countries, at quite different times, starting back in 1996, when I was still 11 playing at school. There is no "local" community that really keeps one eye on the place, you do not meet the 50 years old man that comes to you and tells you how you have to climb a problem. When you are there you do really feel that place belongs to everybody, it belongs to our global climbing community that reads news on the web and looks at climbing videos on Vimeo or Youtube.

Let's try to start with that: when are we happy about our climbing? When do we feel proud of something we do? During this trip I've seen a lot of people psyched to send their first 7x or 8y grade boulder problem, and they were truly happy when they did, and it was a pleasure to watch and share those moments with them. Of course It is one of the best feelings: you are on a big trip in a climbing heaven, you are living your dream and pushing your limits achieving something you've never done before and sometimes also surprisingly fast... but is that really true? If you look back at your normal routine down at your home crag with your long standing 7b project you tried for ages and cannot still do, while there you just sent your first 7c after just few days of efforts ... what would have been best? Send the old 7b project or this amazing new 7c line in Rocklands? Of course to 90% of the people 7c is better than 7b...

But in the end what is 7c? What is 7b? These are just numbers somebody put in front of the name of two different pieces of rock, one of which we couldn't climb and one of which we just managed to climb. I think we should all learn to be happier if we manage to do something that has been a real challenge for our body: the hardest the challenge, the happier we should feel when we finally accomplish it. That's quite simple, and it is the only way we can use to measure how hard has been something for us: the amount of time and efforts it took comparing it to other things. But there is another important factor that plays a key role in our perception of happiness: our ego. We all tend to feel better when our efforts can be recognized in an official and public way, so as it is impossible for other people to understand our personal feelings regarding a specific climb, we created grades and use them to tell pretty much anything of what we just did to other people.

So here lies a dilemma: if we just want to try our best we can go and pick up whatever problem we like, that represents a real challenge for us, otherwise if we also want our efforts to be widely recognized we need to find a problem we like, that represents a real challenge for us and that also has an attractive grade, that's for sure a harder task... but here our ego can help to simplify things a little bit...  don't we really like the problem so much? Has it been less challenging than expected? No problem, our ego does a pretty good job to make us happy anyway whenever an interesting grade is involved... true?

I think we all have to learn how to balance between our ego and our feelings, and that's because if I look back into my climbing life I'm starting to forget many of the climbs I did, but i will never forget the ones that has been a real challenge to accomplish, it seems that our ego struggles to keep up with that in the long term. A great example is the FLASH thing. Nowadays all that matters is to flash a boulder problems, it is a harder task for sure and makes out of a less interesting grade still good news to support our ego. But what do we retain of a problem we flash after a while? Personally almost nothing, there is no big fight like in an on-sight sport climbing route, most of the time is just watching video betas on the internet and go execute the moves like a robot. No fight, no epic, no creativity. We should feel almost sad if we send  a problem first try, it did not give us the challenge it could have done. But we're indeed happy if we do, at the point that sometimes we try problems just to flash them and if we don't manage to we just walk away.

Taking things to excess we will end up just to try numbers, to browse the guidebook in search of something  of a desired grade we can send quickly, and especially if we are a "pro" climbers, to try something that will make interesting news, leaving behind everything else, even if we like it, but we feel it would be a harder task, or just not newsworthy.

That's an aspect of climbing I've experienced in Rocklands, and I can experience every day surfing the internet: everybody going crazy with big numbers and big news, as if we're more likely to get happiness out of our ego when we found ourselves in the middle of the global climbing community rather than at our quiet home crag. At home, where the "locals" pretty much know everything, and grades have already been lowered after endless discussions , we still feel free to engage in long big fights on some problems we like even if they have a low grade, but when we go on a big trip and meet altogether in the global climbing community, we like to go big, and we tend to try the problems that will satisfy more our ego than our feelings.

Fortunately in Rocklands it's so full of great and beautiful lines that it's not hard to find something that will be good for both your ego and your feelings, but our smiling and excited ego makes quite a mess when it comes to the fact of being rational, so if you add the lack of strict vigilance by "local" climbers, you get to the point that it's quite hard to find rational and harmonious grades, even because everybody's ego kicks in at a different level, and most of all... at a different grade!

Hope I didn't annoy you too much with those random thoughts I had in my head, anyway you can always just look at the pictures, as we all did when we were young and we had a book in our hands...  but if you're interested next time I'll try to be more specific and make some concrete examples. Otherwise you may just enjoy reading the list of the strange things I liked  most and I won't forget about this trip... so, like it or not, wait for a second post!
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