This is the first of two posts detailing what I’ve been doing during the past month.
I just read an essay describing the fervor with which my generation (Gen Y, apparently) has taken to creating “personal brands” through the use of blogs and social media. Although I’m the type of person who actually untags themselves in photos on Facebook, the fact that I have a blog (henceforth to be strictly referred to as an “online journal”) was enough to make me feel guilty of at least some of the shallowness with which my generation is quite rightly accused. In my defense, the generational generalizations aren’t always apt. I feel a bit embarrassed and insecure about having any online existence and am quick to judge others; all supposedly attributes of the preceding generation. Furthermore, I think that I can take comfort in the knowledge that if I was somehow a brand, I wouldn’t be one likely to catch on anytime soon.
I recently upgraded to a newer but still reasonably cheap point-and-shoot camera and have since been enthusiastically snapping photos – even at times when I probably should have been focused only on belaying. Of course, I’ve discovered that taking decent photographs requires more than just enthusiasm and a multitude of megapixels. The visual arts have never been amongst my strengths, and I’m not always even sure that I recognize a good photo when I see one. As a result, I’ve begun to adopt the “room full of monkeys with typewriters producing Hamlet” approach to digital photography as will become clear if you deign to scroll through the rest of this post.
I’ve been skiing far more than I’ve been climbing lately which is less a reflection of my priorities than it is of the weather and conditions in the mountains. Nonetheless, I’ve been rambling around in the alpine or hacking away at pillars of ice as often as I can in an effort to regain some of the strength and fitness that I lost during my convalescence.
The transition from crutches to crampons has occasionally left me feeling like a beginner. My tender feet have been prone to blisters. I’ve been whining and complaining even more than usual. Lacking strength and fitness makes everything in the mountains appear more daunting. Although the challenges of climbing are largely mental, I’m not someone with an innate and unwavering belief in my abilities. As a result, my rehabilitation has been as much about regaining confidence as it has been about regaining strength.
There are joys to returning to something that you’ve developed a competency for through years of practice. Yesterday, after I’d wobbled my way up a few rock climbs that I would normally free solo, the old muscle memory began to kick in and I started to feel comfortable again on the rock. It’s the same feeling I get sitting down at a piano after a long absence; I’m not likely to be the next Rubinstein or Gould, but the scales and etudes of my childhood didn’t go completely to waste (although if my old piano teacher could hear me playing Elton John, she might disagree).
Likewise, I’m not a particularly talented climber, but I have climbed a lot. The payoff is that on the frequent occasions when my mind is uncertain, my body often remembers what to do on its own accord.
Although climbing can often be scary and miserable (see the above photos from White Blotter for example), it can also be genuinely enjoyable while you’re actually doing it. On the crux pitch of an ice climb called Loose Lady, I was too much of a wimp to climb the obvious line on the front side of the freestanding pillar. Instead, I chimneyed up between the ice and the rock even though I wasn’t sure it was going to work. I was not looking forward to eventually pulling around to the front, but when the time came and I actually committed to it, the climbing turned out to be dead easy. I arrived at the top of the climb feeling somewhat like I used to as a child when a dreaded piano recital went more smoothly than expected.
In fact, I felt so pleased to be climbing that I even forget for a time to worry about being shallow, talentless and crippled.