Mar 282011
Authors: Jim Sojourner

I’m surprised how much I’ve learned clinging to rock faces.
Since I started climbing just more than a year ago, I’ve come to realize a great deal more about myself and about life than I ever could have in one of CSU’s classes.

That’s not to say the College of Liberal Arts has taught me nothing. The lessons I’ve learned gripping a granite outcropping 30 feet above the deck, however, make anything I might get out of sitting in a windowless room listening to some pale-skinned PhD drone on from the throne of their great and terrible ivory tower seem, well, useless.

OK, maybe the College of Liberal Arts hasn’t taught me much. But, hey, that diploma is sure worth the tens upon tens of thousands of bucks, right?

OK, maybe that’s not so true either.

To be fair, the Duane Noriyukis, Mark Fieges and Jamie Switzers of the CSU world have more than made my academic career worth living, and I pity anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of expanding their mind in classes like theirs. But climbing has helped me realize that any scholarly knowledge I’ve gained in the last four years means little without the perspective a solid, vertical rock can provide.

With that in mind, here are a few of the lessons rock and ice have taught me:

The importance of trust

More than anything, climbing is about trust.

When I scurry up Miramont’s rock wall or up a Poudre Canyon crag, I have to have total trust in the hairy, gangly, monkey of a man named Steve standing below me. With the rope –– and consequently my safety –– in his hands, if I slip up, I have to trust that Steve will keep my butt off the ground.

Climbing to higher heights isn’t impossible alone. I could forgo the partner and trust only in my own hands and feet. But with no one ready to catch me, it’d be difficult to push or test my own limits, and the consequences of failure would be dire. Plus, if I can’t rely on Steve, what’s the point of keeping him around anyway?

But I do rely on Steve because I know that even when he’s staring at his own feet, he’ll be there if I need him. After all, that’s what he’s there for.

Helping others succeed is real success

It doesn’t matter if you’re struggling to send your first recreation-level bouldering problem or if you’re a world-class ice-climber picking your way up the Ouray Ice Festival’s international competition route –– climbers want other climbers to succeed.

Almost every climber I’ve come across jumped at the chance to give me advice, to cheer me on and to help me better myself. As I progress as a climber I try to live up to the standard they’ve set.

Climbing could be a chance to prove one’s own dominance, to boost one’s own ego and to laugh at the failures of others; for real climbers, it’s not.

Recognizing my place in the world

Too often, my own self-importance becomes a barrier to climbing success. I try to conquer the rock by strength alone.

For me, one key to climbing is becoming part of the rock and using its features, not just my muscle, to push me upward. When the feelings, smallness and vulnerability, that come with pressing my tiny, frail body against a towering, eternal rock spire overcome my sense of power, I can flow instead of fumble.

The journey matters more than the end

The point of climbing might seem to be topping out a route, but the actual process of getting to the top and the scenery around me are what make any climb really worth doing.

Whether it’s basking with my best friends in the dying rays of the setting sun on top of a boulder or whether it’s remembering to breathe and feel the cool rock digging into my fingertips on each move upward, climbing makes me slow down and enjoy the whole picture, not just the end result.

Managing Editor Jim Sojourner is a senior journalism major. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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