Eric Horst - Lifer

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Climber for Life

By Eric Horst

Like the changing phases of the moon, everything in life waxes and wanes. While you will likely improve as a climber for many years to come, there will come a day when your physical skills begin to wane. Some climbers choose to quit climbing when improvement seems to end. Others choose to be climbers for life, as the rich experience of moving over rock and ice is as vital for their lives as the air they breathe.

As a forty-something climber, it could be that my hardest climbs are behind me (although I dream and train as if they are still before me!). After more than three decades as a climber, I still find each new day in the steep to be precious and invaluable. I can’t imagine life without climbing. So like many others before me, I choose to be a climber for life.

Each year I aspire to travel to new areas, meet new people, and pull down on new rock. Another joy, which I hadn’t anticipated in my younger days, is introducing my two boys to the adventures of the steep. As a family we spend many weekends and our summer vacations traveling to new climbing areas. This past summer I was surprised (and a bit humbled) when my nine-year-old, Cameron, redpointed his first 5.13—a benchmark I first achieved in 1986 at the age of twenty-two—and my seven-year-old led his first 5.11. Those crazy kids…

Anyway, one unexpected discovery that I was pleased to make is that I could sometimes learn more about improving performance by watching my boys climb rather than simply focusing on my own routes, challenges, and goals. Kids reveal such a pure joy in climbing, largely unhindered by expectations and ego, and they move more intuitively and with less tension and pretense than the typical adult. Of course, most master climbers exhibit this same curious, genuine, and experience-oriented demeanor, and so you and I can certainly elevate our climbing experience by embracing this approach. By letting go of “image” and the need to perform and by regaining a beginner’s mindset and the desire to embrace new challenges, we can all unlock a purer, more joyous experience throughout our climbing life.

Set no limits for what is possible in the future—you may do your hardest climb this year or you might make your greatest ascents in your senior years as did Stimson Bullitt leading his first 5.10 route at age seventy-eight. Climbing is a unique activity in which skill, experience, and wisdom can often more than make up for physical declines, so never prejudge what is possible or impossible for you!

Ultimately climbing is an experience-oriented activity, not achievement-oriented. It’s not how hard or high you climb, but how much you get out of climbing. While getting to the summit may be the goal, it’s the journey, experience, and self-discovery that hold the greatest value.

And so I hope that your passion for the vertical experience will make you a climber for life; always dreaming and acting on the dream; regularly rediscovering the transcendence of the vertical world; and on the most special of days perhaps even touching the sky.




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