Chris Schulte: Back to TradFriday, November 11, 2016
Video + Words: Chris Schulte
“So… You guys are just bouldering today? I didn’t know there WAS bouldering here.” I pause, turning my head to look around in every direction from the Supercrack parking lot. There are over one hundred boulders in sight. I inquire with equal parts caution and incredulity: “Er, have you ever bouldered here?” “Oh sure, a couple times” came the reply. “We go out on some rest days to those roadside ones around the corner. Give the gobies a rest.”
It’s getting close to 100 years since a handful of French alpinists began wandering the woods of Fontainebleau with an eye for a fine line. They spent their time roving over blocs, enchaining problems, honing (and sometimes inventing) techniques, and training up for the futuristic faces and spires of the Alps. The recreational pursuit of climbing was young back then, and in the coming years, our culture and identity has shifted, split, rejoined by graft, and split again. Specialization drives progress; how many times in history has an experienced climber thought, "It can’t get any harder than this"?
For me, one of the coolest things about climbing is the variety: the stone, the moves, the places… Even within the broader spectrum of climbing, there are so many disciplines now! You get tired or uninspired with one, you can move to another.
When I started out, I did everything: ice, trad, sport, boulders, mixed, even some aid practice (I wanted to climb the big bad mountains of LaLa Land). As time went on, my wants and needs changed, and I became more familiar with what I got out of climbing, and more honest with myself in regards to what it is that attracts me to climbing. So, I went bouldering for about 15 years. Travelled. Saw lots of rock. Did lots of practice climbing. Did the best problem of my life, again and again.
And yet I always return to the Creek. It was my first climbing trip away from the little town where I learned to tie in and TR, and I’ll never forget the impact it had on me: This was a World Class Area; this was what it was like out there…
Why wasn’t anyone climbing the boulders?
“This is a Crack Climbing Area. Bouldering is practice climbing. We’re only bouldering today.”
Fair enough, but accepting the natural progression of climbing probably shouldn’t imply a ranking system based on merit: exploring the possibilities of movement on blocs might make you wonder if you can take it up the crags, which might lead to finally pulling it off in the alpine. I don’t like to think of that timeline as a hierarchy; I prefer imagery more akin to the processes of a wheel.
It’s one thing to hear the old saying about “taking the skills learned to the ______ arena”; it’s another thing to experience the actual shift in your focus, and the movement into another stage or era of one’s personal development. It’s another thing to actually feel the drive to get back to the cliffs under the impetus of wanting more: more shapes, more movement, more bouldering. More new stuff, another frontier. It’s amazing to have such an old friend like Indian Creek all shiny and new again, the edges of the map ever expanding, the space between cracks standing out proud and inviting. It’s downright neat to traverse the wheel of my own perspectives in climbing and take in the view from every point on the clock. It’s great to feel like a climber, not a boulderer or a sport climber or big wall climber, whatever… It’s cool to experience the sensation of “This is how it works!” when setting up for the runout and the highball-calm comes washing over. When you know you can do the move, when you have to and you do, because there’s no other possibility! When you start linking hard pitches and begin to wonder how far you can go? When you see yourself on the wheel and can watch your motions and progressions and returns, and you like what you see for the action, the motion, the exercise of doing…
It’s all practice climbing, if you practice climbing.