In the last couple years, I’ve (re)discovered my love of rock climbing. As a child, I always enjoyed the climbing walls at summer camp, and I spent a fantastic afternoon at a climbing gym during a visit to a friend many years later. I should have put all of this together and taken the opportunity to go to the climbing gym down the road in my town, but I did not. And then finally, just two years ago, I went to a climbing gym here in Singapore after encouragement from a few friends who climbed regularly.
It literally rocked my world. Climbing has put my mind and body in places I didn’t know I could go. And now that those feelings have been part of my world, I never want to lose them. There is focus on the breath, shutting down of the chatter in the mind, and direction of physical forces to balance the body. There is deliberate movement, tiny adjustment, and sometimes a jump that will either end in a hold or a fall. There’s fear to contend with, certainly, and there’s trust in my partner to catch the fall. Ego crops up more than I’d like and I’m learning to know when to trust the body and when to admit that I am out of my league, when to just reach for the next move and when to take time to rest.
This has been a strange summer holiday but one benefit of it is that I have been able to spend a lot of time climbing after ten weeks off during the circuit breaker. I have felt my body move and stretch and reach and I have grown strong again. The blisters on my hands have hardened into callouses. The strength in my fingers continues to surprise me – there are times when I’m strong and times when I’m not. My legs are bruised. There are scrapes on my elbows. The skin on the fronts of my toes is rough. I have worn through one pair of shoes and started to break in new ones.
Being in Singapore for the summer has also meant that we have been able to get out to the Dairy Farm quarry during the week when relatively few people are out. It rained a lot during the month of June but that has tapered off in the last couple weeks and it has been dry enough to get outside.
This is not what people think of when they think of Singapore. And this is not what you’ll find if you never step away from the MRT stations. But this is here. And it is beautiful.
Climbing outdoors feels very different from climbing indoors. Real rocks are part of the world and they have been weathered by time and the elements rather than bolted on a wall in neat patterns. Routes that would be relatively straightforward if colour-coded inside require thinking and problem-solving outside.
There’s a real humility to looking up and then recognising that the only way forward is to look for the next foothold, the next handhold, however tiny they are. The way forward is to understand how the rock is shaped and formed and how to respond to it. The rock has been there for all of time. I am just a visitor.
The experience of climbing – the smell of dirt, the feel of rock, the sound of leaves in the wind, the tiny toe holds that make all the difference, the exhilaration of being so much a part of the world – this is a way of being that I have come to know. And it is beautiful.