In the summer of 2002 I found myself in the Bugaboos of British Columbia, back to complete a new route I’d attempted the previous year. Looking up at the 1600 foot sweeping face of granite that is the East Face of Bugaboo Spire, I was still in awe of the early pioneer of the area, Conrad Kain (pictured below), who back in 1916 made the first ascent of the south ridge. It was astonishing. Climbing anything back in those times meant total self-reliance. It was a time when the leader must not fall, and if he did, it was usually deadly. It was a time when there were no helicopter rescues even if the leader did survive a fall. There was only a horse to put him on the back of for several days to the nearest doctor.
And yet, people still climbed. People went out into the hills looking for adventure, to explore their world, and to discover their own potential.
Most of my climbing years were a mix of discovering myself while exploring the world—climbing was just my vehicle. Sometimes I failed miserably, sometimes I thrived out of pure skill, sometimes I was successful because I was lucky. With each adventure or physical or mental test, I learned and grew a new part of myself. I realize now, that in itself was the point for me.
Ego came up now and then, and in climbing, ego can literally be deadly. If you are more skilled than you really are, you can get up on a mountain that far exceeds your ability level, and by the time you realize that, you could be shit out of luck. Climbing is a pursuit that demands both physical and mental growth at a steady pace along with a knowledge of self and skill. It requires being honest with yourself. It requires grace when under pressure—can you imagine having a panic attack or a tantrum three days up a mountain?
I also joke that it is good to have a short-term memory to be a successful alpine climber. To be able to spend a day wet and shivering up a frozen mountain with the purpose of only going up and down, and then being able to forget how miserable it was, to do it all over again, is a great skill—that, or a penchant for masochism.
Many people ask why we climb. Some climb for the physical sport, some climb to prove something, some for adventure. For me, I started and I was good at it. I was then drawn by the adventure aspect, and finally I did it because it was who I was, I had built a life around climbing. Unfortunately, the longer I did it the less novel it was, the more difficult and dangerous the routes became, and I lost the love for it.
I spent a few years trying other pursuits, until I found yoga and meditation. There is so much overlap with the aspects of climbing that really drew me to that life. There are the challenges of the physical poses of yoga. There is the mental challenge that leads to clarity by letting go of the self through yoga and the stillness of meditation. There is the community of like-minded individuals who are on the adventure of discovering themselves on this path. Yoga and meditation are a purpose with no purpose. They are both a practice with no goal—you can’t win yoga, you can only practice it. It’s just like lifting weights—you can get stronger but you can never win. Meditation is the same, you can grow to a point of letting go, and then you are not there. Not winning is winning. As soon as you let go of the idea of winning, or the idea of thinking, you let go of the self, the ego, the mind, and you just are.
Many people do yoga and meditate for different reasons: some for the spiritual aspect, some to be physical, some to have a clearer mind, some to use the benefits of these things to be able to perform better in other parts of their lives like sports or managing a hedge fund.
However you find yourself here, with a reason to be meditating or doing yoga, or even climbing for that matter, I congratulate you on having the courage to explore yourself and what you are made of.
I hope that I can help your journey be a better one.