I probably wrote one of these in 2007.
I climb plastic, in a gym, not stone outdoors; this alone, to some, makes me a poser. So be it.
I restarted a regular climbing habit on June 4 of this year. I've been to that gym four times since then and it's the 16 now. I started climbing walls in January 2003 because the lady I was living with (yes, one month after exiting the messy fuckedup marriage; the details of that are too important to summarize in a sentence and too messy to get into here as a long story, so you'll either have to hunt for them or else hold off til later) said, "You need to come climbing." I wasn't at all in the mood to do what I thought was some masculinist funky-smelling competitive sport thing (I've always hated that, a hate that high school physical education made more stout), but I went anyway.
I climbed a 5.7 the first day, up to the top, 34 feet high.
A word on ratings: the whole-wall (20 feet, 30 feet, 40 feet, however high) pathways are routes. Climbing routes. Also, outdoors, known as "lines." To "see a line" on El Capitan or whichever. 5.5, 5.6 and 5.7 are fairly "ladder-like," by which I mean that you build the basic techniques on them. Step up, hold on with your hands, press with your legs, put your hands on the next higher ones, repeat.
5.8 requires some kind of funky move: swing your hips out to the side, step high, something like that. 5.9 requires additional funkiness: match your hands on a hold, press rather than pull, step out to the side, and so on.
5.10 is a mark-making grade. Slopy holds, overt technique, hands crossed, tiny footholds, fear. From this point on, there are four "levels": a, b, c, d.
5.11 is more of the same, even harder, stronger, more fearsome and technical. 5.12 is more of the same. So on, through 5.13, 14 and 5.15 (I think that Chris Sharma, climbing superstar (check YouTube videos if you like) is one of the only people on the planet working on a series of 5.15's).
That is ROUTES. Bouldering, which is done sans partner and sans rope, is shorter (up to 16 feet in my current gym) "problems" and are referred to as problems. Bouldering is graded in the US on a V scale (should mention that the 5. system for route-grading is also US). V0 is about 5.9-10. V2 is 5.11ish. V3 is 5.12ish. Because the V system is grading shorter problems, the hardest move in those 10-16 feet is the one you rate. Same as on a route, the "crux" move is the rating-maker. So a 5.10b might be mostly 5.9 with a hard crux move.
Apparently bouldering goes up to the V-teens, V15 or so. The hardest boulder problem that I've ever finished in my life is V4.
In the current gym, almost all bouldering problems, because of the fabulous new walls, are overhanging. I think this is obvious, but THIS is an overhanging wall:
(yeah pardon my lack of HTML; I can do it but I'm feeling lazy).
Overhanging walls are hard because they force you to pull your weight INTO the wall to make moves and to hang BACK off the wall when you're not making a move. Very conscious weight management, or else you pump out (lose strength in the arms; over-exert). Arms straight, whenever you're not working a move. That's the golden rule.
This consciousness is the major part of climbing; in this it resembles the yoga.
Bouldering is more dynamic and strength-based than climbing routes on a rope. Historically I haven't liked it because it's hard, and once I was doing a bunch of the yoga, I had the proprioception and flexibility to pull a lot of delicate climbing technique. At my height, I could reliably climb (with a few falls) 5.11b/c on rope (at least to a height of 34 feet). But now with no partner, it's easier to boulder than to do all of the training and hello and interpersonal stuff.
I have not yet finished a V3 in the gym, but I've come within a single hold of doing so. V2+ I have finished, and V4 I have made some inroads on. This way of measuring one's power ("what rating do you climb?"--it's like "what's your last pose?") taught me that I was mis-measuring. There is a V1+ in the gym which is just TERRIFYING at the top because you've got a two-hand fingertip grip over a ledge (arms over top, rest of body below) and you have to step up into a tuck, knee in your belly, and then extend dynamically to complete the problem. It's HORRIFYING, the fear of falling backwards into space if your fingers slip off the hold, and it's one knuckle deep. Such, such fear. So it's NOT just a matter of "oh I climb high 5.10" or something like that, not a matter of strength or how technical you are.
It's also a matter of FEAR.
Nearly every boulder problem harder than V0, and even a few V0's, have dynamic movement. You HAVE to leap, extend, reach, hope and pray, and hit the hold. This can be stabilized with core strength, but it's not like anything in yoga, even ashtanga, because as dynamic as ashtanga is, it is NOT like leaping from one hold to another on an overhanging wall. I can't describe the precise core strength demands because I barely have them physically and in my bodymind and I can't intellectualize the kind of strength (yet).
It's worth saying that, of course, as you pop up or over to get a hold, you can swing right off the problem and off the wall, and that's called a "barn door" in climbing lingo. There is a V4 in the gym that I really like, that is big barn doors, and I can't finish more than two moves on it without swinging right off the wall.
There are also bouldering "caves" which have horizontal ceilings, and so you're climbing totally upside-down in those cases. I have no practice at these and find them very difficult. There are two V1's in the gym that have ceiling movement and I can't finish either one, a combination of strength demands and fear. Again with the fear. Climbing a ceiling requires that combination of pressing the hips toward the wall, and hanging back, but hanging off a ceiling is HARD. This is to say nothing of the proprioception required in order to step "up" onto a ceiling and reach "forward" which is really "over" while you hang upside down (it's like trying to tell students in inversions, which way "up" is). Add to this, having to grab a hold with one hand (while upside down, with all that fear of falling directly onto the floor) and then release the precious hold you're clinging to for dear life, in order to advance on the ceiling and finally get OFF the thing. One is tempted to stay, to just not take the risk (of what? failure? doom? certain death? injury? or none of the above? Nothing to fear but fear itself?)
And that's the life lesson of climbing. Stay through the discomfort, but never get to the end? Is that how we live? Is that, for example, what I did for seven years in that wacked marriage? Did that history REALLY HAPPEN?
Or progress through the experience with discomfort, dynamism, cathartic fear, sweat, screaming fingertips, feet swinging off the wall, core strength pulling them back on, and final victory?
I find that even when that happens, I like to sit on the floor (in a wide Virasana, if it matters) and let the fear channel, let myself take over my own fear, let myself fill in the space. Like reinstituting peace where effort was. Sometimes I can't "digest" the meal of fear and that's enough of that problem for the day.
I'm finding more and more that overcoming fear on the wall demands to have a social form, to become something in daily life. But there it isn't "overcome fear," it's some kind of alchemical operation. It's not like I more easily talk to strangers or something or confront my third-year dossier with less fear, it's a different kind of alchemy I've not yet processed intellectually. What are the "life effects" of climbing through fear?