“Yeah, we’re definitely not normal,” Mal stated, BC microbrew in hand in the evening light at the Rec Center campground. One of us asked him to elaborate. “Well, what do you say to someone who asks you what you did for vacation?” He continued, “I got really uncomfortable on the side of a cliff, had to shimmy, muscle, and grunt up a big rock, scared the shit out of myself, didn’t shower for a month, got hot, got sweaty, got cold, and got really stoked. Who does that?”
How time off from work is spent is weird. I spent the month of September living in my tent in Squamish, BC. In addition to my sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and backpacking stove I had two pairs of shorts (one climbing for climbing, i.e. get dirty), two pairs of pants, four tshirts (two are destroyed from climbing), rain jacket, down jacket, light fleece sweater, a handful of underwear, and some socks. Most days I found myself roped in, too hot or too cold, belaying my friends up a cliff. I pushed my climbing ability passed what I thought I could do. In fact, I’ve put myself in some personally terrifying situations that could result in injury, probably not death, but “yeah, don’t fall here” kind of places. I don’t think anyone keeping score would call that a relaxing vacation.
I came to Squamish to learn to trad and crack climb. Trad climbing is a style of climbing where you place cams and nuts in cracks in the rock to protect falls. I had done a small amount of trad climbing before, but how does two afternoons compare with a whole month?
I learned to climb indoors on plastic at Allez Up in Montreal over three years ago. It wasn’t until last summer when I took a two week trip to Tuolumne Meadows that I really started climbing outside.
The best way to learn is by doing. So to learn to trad climb, I jumped in and did. Over and over. For the entire month of September, minus off days to work on job applications, I jammed my hands, fingers, feet, and toes into the best granite cracks in the world, placed cams and nuts, pulled up rope, and swapped leads on multi-pitches to complete the longest climbs I’ve ever done.
Do you want to get better at rope management? Yeah, tying knots in your living room on a rainy day helps, but climbing for 10+ hours straight where the only direction to move your body is up, works. I guarantee that by the end of the day there won’t be any more cases of short-roping your leader because you found a way to make a complete bird’s nest of the rope.
I am making a case for immersion. On this trip, that 10+ hour day (car to car) where my friend Ryan and I climbed Rambles to Over the Rainbow to Boomstick Crack to Ultimate Everything (21 guidebook pitches in 17) was a turning point for me. Climbing started to flow. This was the longest possible route up “The Chief” It was immersive and although the climbing wasn’t particularly hard, we worked to get up and keep moving.
That long day made me faster and safer in every aspect of my climbing and belaying. I’m a better climbing than I was a month ago. The notion that doing and thinking about something every day for a month straight makes you better at it, might not be very surprising.
Geology students in University are lucky because they cap off their training with an immersive field school. I experienced this during UC Santa Cruz’s summer field mapping course. We camped out at Westgard Pass and for over two weeks mapped the Poleta Fold Belt. This immersive experience of mapping and thinking critically about geology everyday made us better field geologists.
Was there a time in your life where you gained expertise in a skill though immersion? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.