On the art of climbing

So here we are on this third day in June. This week I begin my inquiry into the art (ars) of climbing in the hope of expressing the most graceful, most grateful, most powerful movement of which I am capable. The cultivation of graceful movement in the climbing world has been all but lost by concerns with conquest, with a philosophy of moderate hedonism, with a life of peripateticism, with immaturity. I have always been more interested in the aesthetics–in the art and language of beautiful movement–than in all the rest of it. Most of the top climbers are more interested in chicks, excitement, and conquering shit. They are climbing bums in search of the perfect line.

Yet late last week I found my knowing. Somewhere in the heart of the city, in spots away from eyes, in tucked away seams and arches, in places away from climbers and tourists and parents, all of whom I have no wish to see or feel breathing on my back, somewhere I will be meditating on toes, fingers, hips: moving calligraphy.

Without regret or remorse and after a third of a lifetime, after having become an exceptional climber akin in excellence (arete) to a concert pianist, I left behind the “sportifcation” of climbing and also all the climbing bums. Having left all this behind, I could not see my place. And for a while that was fine.

Indeed, I have not felt the hunger to climb–the desire to feel beautiful movement–in so long, in over a year, until Saturday morning. On Saturday morning I did. It was early when I pulled on my climbing shoes–the only ones I had left, the overly aggressive send shoes with downturned last, the ones that cause so much pain simply to walk in–and sat down next to the bathroom radiator and felt slack and limp. Then not so slack but lithe and sinewy and angular. Out of a sit start, I pulled into a right hand pinch, mantled, foot/hand matched, came into the doorway pinch, traversed the ledge delicately, heel hooked on the outside of the door, walked me feet up, had a double undercling near the Yoda figure, reached around to the side pull brick facade and up to the silver roof, mantled, threw up a heel hook, turned my hands around, pressed down, and topped out. I had never been up here before. The day was cool and blue and new.

Later, I stemmed out of the bathroom and into the kitchen, then onto the black railing. I step-throughed past my computer and reached through to the window sill. Outside again, I climbed the wrought iron gates and did underclings on the rooftop. I used door hinges for foot chips, brick work for heel hooks, silver surfaces for pinches and open hands.

After a long spell in the wilderness, I have found my knowing in meditative urban climbing. I see this truth so clearly: there will be bridges, sides of buildings, aqueducts. There will be stemming off of chimneys and back stairwells. There may be abandoned buildings, cracking but intact, and urban caves and rafters. Before then, there will be playgrounds, children and parents looking at me quizzically as I flow beneath multicolored belly works. No matter for a time; I will not be among them long. I will go underground. I do not care so long as I am alone and moving, moving still.

On Sunday I explored. I toodled about on my bike some looking for rock or rafters or arches. There were arches wet and mossy, rafters aplenty. I found a nice large rock in a location unmentionable. I climbed it in my kung fu shoes which were not ideal but happy enough to oblige me with some top outs. I will return again soon, this time with climbing shoes and chalk bag.

I wrote, “Self-love is full already. Radiant love of climbing–my body doing what my body does most excellently–completes my corporeal life.”

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