On Failure and Climbing: A story about projecting for the first time
“Although the core of the apple exists , you cannot see it from the outside. The only way to prove the core’s existence is to cut the apple open. When the apple or the body bleeds and dies the existence of the core is confirmed” – Yukio Mishima
It was dark, for a long time and then there was light. I could taste redemption, revision, revolution through my parched lips. It was a bit difficult to soak it all in, at once. The air was cold, and I was walking up to a boulder with a growing sense of ease and excitement. The ease I felt was because I was in a familiar environment, the excitement because I didn’t know what was going to happen. I spread a crash-pad beneath the face, so that I would land on something a little less solid than the freezing ground. I changed into a different pair of shoes to help me adapt. Minuscule white chalk particles fall from my hands and look like snowflakes raining down from a blue sky, a more appropriate setting for this story, I presume.
I assess the boulder which has transformed into a “project”, as climbers characterize it, and soak in the details. Insignificant ripples now transform into footholds, I check every feature in a seemingly impassable section that will hold my weight. My body tries first to adapt, and then starts moving. I try not to think and focus all my energy on the particular moves I am willing to make, before I realize my position had changed, it changes again and again until my hard-wired nature peeps back in. Before I know it I have started conversing with myself, a voice inside my head tells me something, I pause as if to listen and then it happens, my foot slips and I am back on the ground.
I stand up and try again. After repeating this process for over two hours, frustration sets its camp on the green turf on either side of the boulder I am climbing, the “heart of gold” as I have started to call it.
After some more burns I realize that I need to save my skin if I want to climb tomorrow. This is a conversation I have with myself everyday, but tomorrow I leave for Delhi and so I decide to have another go. I loudly take a deep breath, it brings me back to the present for a split moment before I give the climb another thoughtless attempt. I fall again this time even lower than where I have been landing after each fall. I am instantly sapped of energy, removed from my usual affluent sensations of a well rested body and an overfilled stomach. I need to drink water before I can even dare to think.
As I start walking back home I ask myself, why do I climb? To crush myself under the weight of my own expectations?
In the larger scheme of things climbing doesn’t pretend to be something useful. It subtracts your imagined power over others around you and diverts that attention to yourself. Something, that is hard to deal with. When I ask myself questions about my nature, I am left speech-less. Speech-less about the fact that I really don’t know myself. I pretend to be me, as I function in my day to day life through the habits of memory. Each action ties me to another, and a whole chain of happiness and regret forms itself around life. After a few years of growing up these emotions take over and our experience of the world in our adult life is mostly that of a ghost. We experience every moment through its associated past or its anticipated future. The present which defines our experience in life is forgotten and replaced by other emotions such as anger, happiness, jealousy. We compare our moments of success and failure with others around us and then assign them a value. Climbing makes things a bit simpler. You fail or you don’t, you either climb up or you come down. Sometimes however, we make even the simplest of things complex.
I had a month to climb when I arrived in Nainital, which meant climbing with Anil Belwal and Vinod Joshi. Both are super-strong climbers with unique skill sets and have developed climbing areas all over the Kumaon region. The last time I was with them, Mr. Belwal showed me a project which he had bolted couple of years ago. Even though it was way more sustained and impressive than anything I had tried to experience through my climbing, I took it up as a project. With my limited understanding of things, initially I reckoned I could do it. On days when I felt strong, I thought I would on-sight the line. The reflection I saw in the mirror looked promising enough to make me believe that maybe it was actually possible to complete the line after all.
I tried a few older-projects and completed them, confidence slowly started seeping in and I started shifting my focus from what was in front of me to what I thought I could do. One fine morning, it was decided that we would go and try my project. When I enquired about the name of the line I was told that no one ever thought about naming it but the impromptu name given was “I wish it will get over soon”. With sounds of our laughter disappearing in the air and smiles still clinging to our faces we reached the base of the route. The line looked even more intimidating, now that i wished to possess it as a part of my experience. Vinod went ahead to chalk some holds and put the draws in. Without a warm-up and even with a healing ligament injury Vinod red pointed the route. I was impressed as I realised the countless hours of work he must have put in to reach such a level. It also dawned on me now, that I was reading all the moves wrong.
All I wished now was to figure out the moves on the individual sections. On the first crux I fell more than thirty times, when I finally reached the second crux I couldn’t find a way to clear it without jumping to the next hold. Despair, anger, confusion, for a moment I couldn’t understand what was happening to me. I came back to the ground, had a sip of water and waited for some energy to return. The next try made me believe that I had a lots of areas to improve before I could even contemplate sending the line.
From the next day I started bouldering. For weeks I struggled on individual moves, on problems left, right and centre. Some days I didn’t feel like climbing at all. Sometime ago it was the feeling of success that helped me believe in myself and gave me that little boost. In my moments of agony, failure only seemed to push me back to the fringes where belief was a mirror shrouded in partial darkness. Every day started the same. I got out of bed with aching limbs, walked to the local crag and wasted myself climbing, and finally at sunset waited for everything to begin again.
I had dreamt of success but all I had was failure, it seemed fitting since I had never closely examined this feeling. The only goal in the past was for success. Now it was to accept the failures that came along the way.
My bags were packed the next morning and I was ready to leave. As the sun filled the sky, I could see familiar places that reminded me about the distance between my home and the road ahead to Delhi. During my days of triumph and failure I had tried to picture this day. I had even tried to guess the sensations I would feel. Maybe it was this feeling of anticipation which drove me forward in life, and allowed me to imagine a tomorrow even if there wasn’t one.
Questions still remain and the answers I don’t know, reside in me; and will arise from my experience and my failures. Because sometimes the route we are trying, takes us inward, makes us realize that if there is success, there is also failure.
Find out about another less known bouldering crag in Chatru, Spiti (Himachal Pradesh, India)
Author: Aditya Pande
A climber hailing from a quaint hill town of Kumaon, Uttaranchal. Focused towards staying healthy and efficient, in the mountains and in the cities.