A journalist asked this question on social media lately, and it was passed on to me, in an apparent hope that I would provide suitable support for a positive answer. I think I only said something like, is he for real? And now I’m quite pleased with the ambiguity of my reaction.
The whole hullabaloo with The Dawn Wall didn’t stir any deeper thoughts in me either, maybe apart from great appreciation for this little article: Two idiots climb big thing for some stupid reason.
But then I thought about one of my latest posts, about my own serious attitude towards training and being coached. Pushing my grade, planning my diet, timing fingerboard hangs, counting the reps… Oh, how I love that. I love sweating in the gym, obsessed with the result, measuring frantically every inch of progress, analysing the quality of an indoor session; how many problems I climbed, and how many I failed on. Sit ups, stretches, physio, I do it all! It doesn’t matter that I will never be world class. I’m doing it for myself, and to me that’s important
So, ladies and gentlemen, I’ve got the answer for you. Climbing is a sport. Like every individual sport that people engage in for the sake of their own satisfaction, it’s about achieving one’s best, pushing, going to the limit, and going some more. It’s purely about athleticism, hence, it is a sport. Simple as that.
But then, aren’t some of my greatest climbing memories associated with climbing in a gully, more like scrambling actually, somewhere in the middle of a quite big mountain, and with one runner in the chossy pitch? That surely wasn’t a feat of athleticism, not even on my personal scale. It was scary as hell, and definitely not planned. It was random, erratic, with big consequences potential, and it made me feel epic. Classic type two fun, great times.
Climbing is, then, about adventure. The people you share it with. It’s about travelling and experiencing cultures. It’s getting stuck on a thirty feet pitch in the Peak District, bloody HVS, where the hell is the gear, there’s no gear, God help me. It’s drinking beer in the pub and sharing the stories.
Climbing, you see, isn’t just a sport.
Oh. I mean…
OK, climbing is a sport. And it’s not a sport. In the same way that I am a writer, and I’m not a writer. When I’m making dumplings, I’m a dumpling maker. When I’m climbing, I’m a climber. When I’m training, I’m a jock. When I’m studying, I’m a geek.
No climbing police can ever tell you that you can’t pump iron in the hope for one more V point. And if they try, because they don’t like the mainstreaming, the commercialisation, and climbing becoming an Olympic sport, well, tell them to shove off and go on their adventure.
Because if you’re a trad climber, and you want that adventure, and you despise the bolts and the certainty, and the vein athleticism, then nobody’s taking that away from you. And the fact that somebody is training like crazy, or even wearing a logo on their forehead and smiling for the camera, doesn’t mean your way is invalid. You just don’t need that limelight, or that trophea to confirm your achievement.
Most miraculously, not only climbing is and isn’t a sport, but one can get both out of it. I can have my training plan, my fingerboard and a barbell under my bed. Dreaming the wildest dreams of my personal best – and being Sasha DiGiulian – won’t stop me from from going off and adventuring.
So, if we really have to categorise climbing as something, let’s call it a means. And to what end, that’s a completely different question and a personal choice to make. (You can tick more than one box.)