I used to climb alone. To observers I was that guy with the Walkman and a suicidal impulse. A failed suicide because I kept coming back. I climbed a lot of hard routes without the rope. I lived a lot in my own head, rejecting attempts at social contact, because my path did not allow distraction. It went both ways: I was “that hardcore soloist” and you only wanted to know me so you could say you did. I answered by saying, “I don’t need you and I’ll prove it.”
Around me I heard people talk about how radical it was to climb hard without the rope, to push it to the point that a single mistake - maybe not even my own - would result in death. I accepted their assessment because it sounded cool, and made me feel good. Decades later, with the lessons of an effective and transcendent climbing partnership internalized, I understand that soloing did not result from courage. In fact, climbing alone was an expression of fear: I was afraid to trust and depend on someone else. More importantly, I was scared to let down someone who depended on me, who entrusted me with their ambition and their life. If I never tied-in to the rope with anyone they could never hold me responsible.
Soloing had nothing to do with the real courage required by deep human relationships. Instead I wore a nihilist’s badge of courage. I wasn’t reckless. I wasn’t careless. I wanted to experience things that would change me, to do things others couldn’t, to learn the lessons of life and death and to bring them back from the edge. The same ego that allowed me to launch myself onto hard climbs by myself suggested that I would have something to teach when I returned from the journey. But first I had to come back.
If I didn’t come back - and plenty of my friends haven’t - there wouldn’t be a point: no experiential lessons, no insight, and nothing helpful to anyone who wasn’t there. The Searcher is selfish until he shares his experience. And if I hadn’t come back I’d have kept what I learned within me, out there, maybe disappearing in a diving arc of bright Euro-fluorescent clothing, but perhaps bleeding out in a cold, dark hole. What ever higher consciousness I had realized would have died with me instead of becoming part of the greater whole.
Individual consciousness is what it is: achieved and experienced alone, its lessons valuable solely to the experiencer. To help others grow and evolve we must add our energy to a collective higher consciousness - and accept energy from it in return to nourish our own growth. In this we are not apart, or separate.
I came back. I learned to communicate. I integrated what I lived on the mountains with life down here. I rewrote those lessons in the gym I founded and tied my experiences up there to the realities of everyday. I have tried to tell my story in a way that doesn’t create further separation than my experience on the edge already caused. After all, every experience is human and therefore any human being can understand it if he or she truly chooses to do so.
I realized through this process that we use the tools at our disposal and none are better or worse than any others. If we want to learn and grow, if we choose evolution over repetition and stagnation, if we seek to better ourselves instead of polishing the splash on the shit we surround ourselves with, then the means we use do not matter - only the results. And the path we walk to achieve them.
I get sick of the gym and the narrow attitude that develops in it. I am just as easily sickened by outdoor pursuits and the pretense that such an environment confers superiority on effort undertaken there. I guess I’m just tired of how insecure people isolate and defend their supposedly unique way of thinking and doing when the reality is that we are all human beings doing human being shit and trying as hard as we can.
It has been a while since I’ve seen the sun come up but I’m watching it now, after the tension of the all-night watch. Sometimes wisdom comes in this moment. Sometimes it’s just a sunrise and then blackout curtains and maybe sleep. I think too much. I overthink. But in the end thinking on its own is useless. Just as exercise for the sake of it is pointless. Together though, thinking and movement, or maybe it’s movement and feeling - intuition - teach us our humanity, teach humility, and eventually, teach us that separate we are weak, while together - in spirit, in effort - we might become and create something greater.