December 6, 2009
Waiting for the weather to get cold again, I’ve spent the last two days finishing images and diagrams for the upcoming peg book; clicking away in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, along with Indesign, not to mention fiddling with the book’s web page (requiring a DaVinci Code’esk dabbling in HTML, CSS and Jquery). In between Mac nerdiness I’ve also been fiddling with my rack, setting up a new Jetboil so I can hang it, sewing up a new alpine/Scottish winter check rig (designed to reduce axe lanyard/rope tangles, and put the rack where I can see it), and dissembling a sleeping bag and rebuilding it for gnarly alpine camping.
Why am I telling you this? Well, it occurred to me how many skills you learn as a climber that go far beyond climbing.
Someone asked me the other day what I was good at, and after thinking I answered “being creative”. After a pause, they said, “and what else?”. I couldn’t think of anything else, so they replied “what about climbing?” I told them that I lumped climbing in with everything else; writing, photography, design, as just being another creative outlet. For me planning a climb is just the same as planning to do a speaking tour, or design a poster; it’s an all-consuming project to create something that excites me.
I love the creative skills I’ve to learn as a climber, skills that sustain me and have given me a job way above my pay scale or education. These skills creep up on you; like Rab Carrington making sleeping bags in his loft to pay for trips, or Galen Rowel taking snaps to fund his climbing, or Alastair Lee making climbing films. Before you know it, the other thing you do is what you are.
To begin with, it comes down to money, exploiting your talent to pay your climbing bills. You learn to write, take photos and speak, three things I was crap at when I started, but which got easier the more I tried (non are a talent - they’re simply a skill to learn).
As these skills developed you end up needing new ones - well you do if you don’t have the money to pay others to do it. Writing for magazines mean I went from hand-scribbled diagrams on scraps of paper to Adobe Illustrator, a program that’s about as easy to learn as advanced quantum psychics. Next came Photoshop, slowly trying to make bad photos good, and good photos better.
In the end, some of these things start to eclipse even climbing, either by accident or design, with weeks spent travelling talking about climbing rather than doing it, days spent designing other peoples talk about their adventures rather than planning your own.
But if climbing is a school, then I think for me and many others it’s been the best school we could ever have gone to.
So next time someone tells you to get a proper job and forget climbing dreams, just tell them you’re in further education.
Of course, the trick is never to graduate!