Peter Dixon: The Magic of Climbing

P Dixon

The magic of climbing comes to those who seek it.  It can show itself in many forms.  What we find is both mysterious and aloof, sometimes granting us glimpses of a grander self, sometimes hitting us like a blunt object squarely in the face.  The magic compels us climbers to spend our free time sussing out new challenges, new lines and new problems to solve.  It may be found in the subtlety and grace of body position and tension, the beauty and aesthetic of rock in nature, or in the elation we derive from transmuting the seemingly impossible to the realized. 

In bouldering, the unlocking of a sequence, the shifting of a knee, the placement of a hand, or the subtle swing of a limb can often be the gate keeper of this grand and epic mystery.  We sit atop our project, or perhaps we lay awake at night, thinking within our minds eye of the beauty and mastery of such a subtle thing.  How could something so perfect be possible?  How can something as inanimate as a large hunk of rock hold such truth?  How is it possible for a human to connect with stone in such a perfect subtle dance as climbing rock affords?

On a route, or up a wall, the magic comes in other ways.  It appears out of nowhere as a hold around a hidden corner, or as a single line of grips woven up a polished and blank face.  Sometimes it appears as if to answer a prayer before the plea, the hold or holds which make the next move go are always within reach.  Times when we may find ourselves confused and lost as to where to go or how to proceed the secret emerges like a picture hidden inside a stereogram, our problems solved only when we’ve learned how to see.  The magic here is different but ultimately the same, like viewing a sculpture from a different direction.

Personally I’ve been drawn to climbing my whole life but I haven’t always known why.  It wasn’t until I began setting routes that the mysteries of movement and the art of climbing awakened within my mind.  Though not as potent or refined as what nature provides, I found I could create my own magic within the sanctum of the plywood and plastic forests most city climbers call home.  True, indoor “rock” is but a shadow of what you may find in the wild, yet if a route setter knows his craft he can wield plastic in ways which hint at things unseen.  And if we let it, we can experience the magic there too.

So what is it about climbing and its inherent magic which compels us?  Is it merely a regression to a more base and animalistic frame of mind?  Does the experience bring us to a truer experience of the present moment or show us how to live in the moment, in the now?  Could it be the signature of some greater force once glimpsed giving us insight on creation?  Could it be nothing more than quantum reality snapping into focus as we observe nature through the experience of climbing?  Though I ponder the concepts, attempting to pin down the magic seems to create more questions than it answers.  Perhaps this is why as climbers we generally prefer to climb more and talk less.  The answer lies in the silence.