Welcome to Rocklands.
That first session was a blur of orange holds, Elvis legs and arm pump. I tried hard, scared myself and came away with a deep sense of satisfaction. Within a week, I had a fresh new pair of shoes and a Bloc membership.
Well, sort of.
The elephant in the room, of course, is the ‘rock’ part of ‘rock climber’.
There was no overt labelling of me as ‘not a rock climber’. That is to say, no-one ever told me in as many words. The feeling grew over time, as I overheard conversations between sun- and windburned climbers, talking about their weekend projects. These climbers moved with a swagger in the gym, nonchalantly warming up on problems I could only dream of climbing, before cruising through the hardest problems
Holy shit, I wanted to be like them.
The implicit assumption here, as you can probably see, is that outdoor climbing is harder than indoor. Indeed, it has a completely different set of rules. For one, the grading system is different.
In 2021, after a couple of years of climbing (2020 doesn’t really count), I was comfortably ensconced in Bloc’s own grading system. I had gradually progressed through the coloured grades in the gym. So gradually, in fact, that I had to periodically remind myself that I would have viewed my current level as impossible just a year before. However, as is probably natural in a sport where the objective is to get to the top, I was far more focused on progression than on where I had been. And the next step seemed obvious now; I needed to climb outdoors.
Gym Photographs Credit: Eelo Enous
Check out more of his work on his Instagram handle: @eelo.e
Enter the Bloc 11 Climbing and Yoga Retreat of June 2021.
With all this in my head, I tried to go into the retreat with one thought, “Do your best”.
The first couple of problems on proper rock felt like that first session back in 2018. My eyes were wide, my heart was pumping and I could barely keep my leg from shaking after topping out. To my surprise, I was doing far better than I thought I would.
I would end that first day by climbing the 6C problem on ‘Perfect’, a boulder I took one look at and thought, “Hell no.” Suffice it to say, I was chuffed. In an odd sort of way, however, it was then all downhill from there.
Expectations had shifted, just like that. Somehow, the mantra of “Do your best” had suddenly morphed into “That’s not good enough”.
Nothing is a given.
I resolved to focus more on the joyful movement of climbing. On feeling that strength, balance and poise in my body as I moved from one hold to another, regardless of being on an easy warm up or an on-the-limit problem. I returned to Rocklands in October on the next Bloc 11 Retreat. This time, I felt I understood the connection between the yoga practice and climbing on a far deeper level. This time, I enjoyed trying hard on everything, conscious of the interaction between the movement of my body and immovable rock. At the end of each day, I felt a sense of peace that I had not experienced earlier in June.
Ultimately, the experience I had at the two Bloc retreats taught me acceptance. Your best does not have measure against someone else’s. It should not even be measured against grading systems. I have started to accept that progression is not always linear or obvious at the time.
Climbing in general has been an exhilarating, frustrating, self-reflexive and humbling experience for me and I have loved every moment of it so far. Long may it continue.