When I started climbing I didn’t have much to escape from. I was just entering my teenage years and don’t remember having anything very major that caused me too much concern. I had a great group of friends, a secure and loving home life and my school days drifted by without unsettling me much (mostly because I didn’t realise the importance of school at the time). Climbing in those days was just for fun. The fun of being in beautiful places, fun times spent with friends and the fun of challenging myself. I look back to a very carefree time.
That aside, by the time I was heading for my end of school exams climbing had already become something of an escape. After the crushing boredom of revision I’d head to the local crags and soak up the gritstone therapy Peak District climbing offered. As soon as I finished at school I headed to the mountains full time.
I didn’t think of it as escaping but it undoubtedly was. I didn’t know where my life was going and so I spent my time hiding from making a choice. Eventually, after several years of climbing pretty much full time, I got to university and, like many climbers then and now, for me it had to be Sheffield. Those years were very happy and yet I’d still head to the hills to escape on a regular basis.
At pivotal life events since then climbing has been a powerful therapy. The day after my Grandma died I went on a climbing trip. I was very close to her and, although the trip was already planned, I wasn’t sure I should leave my family. My Mum sensed it would be the best thing for me and pushed me out of the door.
The same followed my Dad’s sudden death and at other times since I have run for the crags or mountains in just the same way. Climbing has been my life and also, at times, a crutch. Many climbers will know what I mean. You may be in turmoil and yet, once you start pulling on a wall or crag, the focus needed takes all that stress and those dark thoughts away. The endorphins kick in and, however temporarily, you have respite from the problems or grief.
There is also a sense of control about climbing. You are master of your own destiny and you make the decisions. When loved ones are taken or something beyond your control happens, climbing can restore some sense of control in the decisions you make. I imagine there are other sports that offer this, but my reference point is climbing.
This year I have climbed a lot for that feeling of escape and that seeking of control. I’m not talking about escape from my business or family – in those areas I couldn’t be happier. The escape I have sought has been from the dark clouds that have encircled us and over which we seem to have little control. Maybe you have felt it too?
Earlier in the year I was overseeing safety management at a large cycling event and, after a busy day of course setting, we settled down to sleep. I slept peacefully until I was woken by another of the team as the sun rose over the surrounding fields. I knew from the look on his face before he had said a word – as a country we had voted to leave the European Union.
The cycling event went ahead and thankfully I don’t have much time to think about what had happened, but as soon as the event was over I had plenty of time to build up my craving to escape. I am not casting judgement over anyone’s voting preference but surely, no matter which way you did or didn’t vote, the result has left an air of uncertainty and caused societal divisions that will take years to work through.
I listened to Farage start to backtrack on promises and squirmed at the sight of Johnson’s insidious preaching. Even worse, when I looked to the government for stability all I saw were the key players running away. I climbed a lot in those early days of Brexit and still, as the fiasco unfolds, I find it a way to take back some of that control I strive for. Over those long summer evenings I would often watch the news and immediately need a Stanage or Burbage fix.
I’m still in a state of disbelief and shock really, but it largely comes from that feeling of being desperately out of control. A bit like being a passenger in a vehicle where you don’t trust the driver or being thrown around in a plane during turbulence.
Towards the closing months of the year another event out of my control had me running to the crags. Again I went to bed confident, but awoke the next morning to the tumultuous news that Donald Trump would soon hold the future of the world’s most powerful country in his hands. Within a couple of hours of the news I was tieing into a rope. Again, the decision to vote Trump into power was down to individual choice and it isn’t for me to cast judgement on the choice American voters made, but I can say from a personal perspective that this is one scared passenger in the Donaldmobile.
I don’t want this to be a negative post and of course the aim is to highlight the positive role climbing can play in distracting us from things we need distracting from, but sometimes there are things that need to be said and having a blog gives the forum to do that. I am likely only saying things that others have in their minds anyway. No matter what your thoughts on Brexit or Trump or other challenging things you’ve faced this year, I hope you’ve found a way to regain some feeling of personal control.
Unfortunately, we have a challenging and rocky road ahead with lots of decisions being made over which we have no say – I think it will be a great year for climbing!
Posted by Paul