Muscles, obsession, and growing old in the sport of bouldering
In 2006 I visited the Hound Ears Bouldering Competition outside of Boone, NC. In previous years I was a competitor, twice taking fourth place. I went back after having quit climbing to see what had changed. A version of this story was published online by Deadpoint Magazine.
Chalk fills the air, blowing like dry snow. To get to where the climbing is, you must walk across a forest floor that is an expanse of wet, dark brown dirt, yellow leaves, and bright orange pine needles. You must walk underneath the soaring, stalagmite trees and the rhododendron plants that form dark tunnels leading to hidden clearings. Here the ground is covered with thick foam pads and muscles tense and strain and people scream. White chalk glows against green moss and grey rock.
Earlier, around 8:00am, a decrepit school bus groans and shakes as it winds along the paved road. Back and forth and up, always up, up, up. It’s the last bus out of the campground, packed three to a seat, and on the floor, and standing. It’s filled with boys and girls, ages ranging from maybe 14 to 25, but its hard to tell because everybody is wearing the accepted uniform – big puffy down jackets and small beanies made of polar fleece or wool. Everybody is nervous, giddy. They laugh and kid each other on the outside, but inside they try to focus, stay calm. Hands are a constant focus for climbers, as they are the literal link between the athlete and his medium. In about an hour these kids will be grabbing cold sharp rock and hanging most of their body weight of off the skin, tendons, and bones of their hands. On the bus, they try very hard to keep their hands warm. Read the rest of this entry »