Despite the sci-fi/fantasy focus of this blog, I like to keep my “Skills I Wish I Had” entries in the “attainable” sphere. Things like archery, wilderness survival, and meditation.
Sometimes I’m forced to update them. With wilderness survival, for example, I wrote as if I was considering what it would take to make it long term. But then I discovered the show Alone (and became obsessed). A group of very skilled outdoor survivalist types has to live completely solo in the forest, competing to see who can last the longest. Two or three months seems to be about the max they can last, and almost everyone drops out due to lack of food. Based on what I’ve seen, long-term survival just isn’t a serious option no matter the skill set. So I have to change “wilderness survival” to “short-term wilderness survival.”
For today, my wished-for skill is climbing. Despite a low-grade fear of heights, I’d love to be good at it.
I’ve climbed before—in tiny, amateurish increments. We have three indoor climbing gyms in Atlanta; I’ve tried out two of them. It’s been at least a year since my last time, and quite a few more since I went with any regularity. Once upon a time, I knew how to belay—standing on the floor and feeding rope through my harness to a climber above and securing the rope if they fall.
I’ve since forgotten how. Completely.
I can still climb a tree and get back down if the branches are friendly. I did this a year ago on a trip with Concrete Jungle, shaking the upper branches of an apple tree to drop the fruit into waiting nets. I wrenched the hell out of my shoulder on the way down, so next time I’m leaving tree stuff to the twenty-somethings.
Even at the amateur level, climbing with regularity is a time investment. Getting across town to the gym, suiting up in the harness, finding (begging) more experienced people to belay for you. The climbing harness itself isn’t comfortable either, especially for guys.
But the benefits are huge. Physical fitness, for one; go to a climbing gym look at the regulars; it’s impressive. And the ones that climb upside down across the ceiling—dizzying to watch. I’m not that ambitious; this is not about becoming those people you see taking selfies from the tops of Dubai skyscrapers or sleeping in bags suspended on cliff faces.
I can’t even watch this video without getting nervous.
No thanks. I’d just like to be decent. Mid-level climber. Able to go from floor to ceiling (top-roped) with confidence and minimal butterflies.
There are other benefits besides fitness: firstly, you can avoid cliché movie dangers. How many times have you watched the scene where the person is almost over the fence or barely onto the ledge, hands slipping, and the dogs/zombies/whatever are tearing at the bottoms of their feet? A LOT. Why does this happen? Lack of practice (and necessary dramatic tension).
Climbing is also an excellent way to look heroic while acting cowardly. If something catastrophic happens, be it a sci-fi/fantasy apocalypse or simple natural disaster, you simply climb out of reach. Scaling the side of a building or a mountain peak looks badass; in reality, you’re just running away. This is very attractive to me.
Who could say you weren’t climbing to help someone? It’s hard to tell from the ground. Movie heroes are always climbing things; it seems to be part of the DNA. We’re conditioned to think the best of a person scaling something impressive.
Even goats look like heroes to me. Watch this kid jump around a temple trying to get back to its mother.
Check out these ibexes climbing a vertical wall. Bonus points for the weird goat-head silhouette in the upper right corner of the video. If that’s branding, it’s genius.
Other benefits, briefly:
- Better murder/escape
- Better thievery/escape
Have you been climbing? Dropped off the wall and hung in the air while your belayer slowly lets you down? Or been chased by something and only barely escaped after a tense few seconds hanging midway up a ladder?
If you’re a regular, I’m even more impressed.