Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My Annual Trip to Red Rocks

It’s that time of year again! I take off next week for my annual spring climbing trip to Red Rocks outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. Out of all the climbing places I’ve been to in the last two decades I can say hands down that Red Rocks is my most favorite place to climb. I love it so much I call it my “annual trip to Mecca.”

The psychology of a trip often gets over looked when people like myself talk about the psychology of rock climbing. We spend more time on our inner experience of an actual climb. But what about our inner experience of the whole trip?

I have believed for some time now that one of the main reasons I climb and identify as a “climber” is that I love going on climbing trips. For me a climbing trip is one part spiritual retreat and one part heroic journey.

I feel most connected to myself and to the earth when I’m outside climbing. I feel more alive. The spiritual experience for me comes from my experience of stripping away all of my other identified layers of being and getting down to the simplest (yet most complex) form of being: existing. My whole climbing day is focused on eating, hydrating and climbing. I’m not worried about work, my social network, my bills, or my other internal struggles. I just climb. For me it’s like an extended experience of meditation and flow. I can’t obtain that experience when I’m back in the “city” because too many of my other layers get involved and it’s too hard to shut them out (except for maybe the hours I’m at the climbing gym). Essentially when I’m outside I feel most in my whole body. In the city I feel I spend more time in my head. So why does “being in my whole body” feel like a spiritual experience?

The other part of the trip for me is the heroic journey. Jackie Kiewa, a climbing researcher in Australia, studied this phenomenon and concluded that climbing trips are like modern day heroic journeys – but with a twist. The old heroic journeys were usually men, who went alone to conquer someone/thing. Well, I’m not a man, I don’t go alone on a climbing trip and the only conquering we do is the climbs. Kiewa picked up on this difference in her research as well yet she still likened climbing trips to heroic journey’s because they contained additional heroic qualities such as having great physical and mental courage, having a strong sense of personal choice and effectiveness and going beyond what other people think is possible. I love pushing myself on climbing trips and having a sense of accomplishment by the end of it. I wouldn’t label myself a hero but I definitely identify with the “journey” part.

Bon Voyage! I'll be sure to write more about my experience when I return.