How climbing altered my perception of the world

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By Christiane Howe

The moment I finished my first ever climb, I knew my life had suddenly been set on a different path. It was a nice day in March almost six years ago, on what I can only describe as the best date I’ve ever been on. I think I can safely say that I have not been on another date since which has changed my life in such a way. I had only been dating the guy for a couple of weeks and he’d asked me a few days earlier if I was willing to give a long distance relationship a try as he was soon to go back home to Germany. It was only after I happily agreed to give it a go that he invited me to go climbing with him a few days later. I can’t imagine how different (and much less adventurous) my life would be if I’d told him that I wouldn’t take the ‘risk’ and give long distance a try!

The feeling I remember the most after that first ever climb, which was on the beautiful Callanques (cliffs) next to Marseille, overlooking the Mediterranean sea, was not only exhilaration and excitement, but the feeling of a profound shift in perception. As a ‘tomboy’ child I’d always climbed trees, loved heights and had some curiosity about rock climbing. Not really knowing anyone who could take me and never seeing the sport first hand I never really understood it. But after that first amazing climb I felt as if my understanding had suddenly shifted and I knew that I would never see this new sport the same way again. Not only this but I’d experienced physical sensations like never before where I really had to use my whole body in sync, and felt muscles I never even noticed existed.

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Climbing on real rock was so unfamiliar yet it felt so natural. What I loved the most about it was the challenge and the sense that I alone was in charge and in control of each movement I made and the outcome that move would have. It was unlike any other sport I had done before as in school it was all about the team and ball sports. Climbing, while usually needing a partner you trust to do it, is highly dependent on the self as you can’t count on anyone but yourself to get up the wall. This is something that for some reason really attracted me.

Many climbers will relate to the obsession and addictiveness of the climbing drug when you first start, and the way everything in one’s surroundings suddenly becomes attractively (and dangerously…) climbable.

Where climbing has taken me

Thanks to climbing I’ve really discovered the outdoors and fallen in love with nature. As a climber I end up going to places I never would have dreamt of going to, and seeing views from the top of climbs that I know only a handful of dedicated people get the privilege to see.

One of the greatest benefits of being a climber is the possibility and incentive to discover new places and go on amazing adventures. In the last six years I’ve been lucky to climb indoors and out in a handful of countries around the world (about 10 so far!). My sister and I have decided that wherever we travel from now on has to have climbing as a main goal, as when climbing is combined with travel we know can’t go wrong with the location or the people.

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The climbing community

It’s not just where you get to go, but who you get to meet along the way that has to be one of the greatest side effects of the sport. There is definitely something to be said about the type of person that is attracted to climbing, and therefore the type of community that climbing is based around worldwide. Although there may be different styles of climbing such as sport, trad, bouldering etc., which all attract slightly different types anyway, ‘the climber’ is the kind of person I usually click with.

It’s not so easy to explain with words, but climbers usually share a similar energy which creates a very rich, welcoming, and friendly community full of creative, nature-loving, physically and mentally strong individuals who love a challenge, and are willing to help each other attain their goals along the way.

Any new ‘members’ soon learn the written and unwritten rules and ethics of this world as well as the very technical and at first confusing dialect climbers talk in, and can’t help feel like they belong to something big and beautiful.

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What climbing has taught me

Thanks to climbing I’ve had the opportunity to be president of the University of Kent Mountaineering and Climbing Club in the UK as well work in a climbing gym in New Zealand. Both have taught me so much and enabled me to pass on my knowledge of climbing to others. But climbing also shows its effects on a deeper level.

Climbing is a holistic brain and body training exercise which has really pushes people to their limits. It combines a wonderful mix of mental, physical and technical aspects which all have to be learned and strengthened in order to become a great climber.

Mentally, climbers vary greatly, but the one aspect that remains in common is the goal to get past the fear. This ranges from person to person as everyone’s threshold is different, and also varies depending on the style of climbing. Some climbers may find bouldering a couple of metres up quite scary, while it might take others an exposed trad route high up a mountain before they really feel the mental effects of their fear inhibit their climbing abilities. Psychologically, there seems to be a link between climbing and meditation in the effect both have on the brain as both can help any individual stay focused on the moment and be in control of their emotions in stressful situations.

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Physically, training develops muscles in a way that no other sport can. It greatly affects body control and the amount you can trust your body to execute the move you want. Even in daily life. Admittedly, as a young woman, it took me a good three years to adapt to my ‘new’ muscles (especially biceps!). But now I love how strong and toned I feel from head to toe and whenever I don’t climb for a little while due to injuries or anything else I feel my strength diminish and really miss it! A favourite saying among climbers is ‘no pain, no gain’, but climbers must learn to listen to their bodieswhen they feel pain in order to avoid injuries. This is perhaps one of the biggest learning curves for addicted new and old climbers faced with the paradox ‘to climb or not to climb?’.

The technical aspect of climbing is also extremely important. Climbers must use their entire body in order to get further up a climb. And to climb elegantly, each move has to be perfectly executed, with the tiniest of changes affecting the outcome of the move, such as a slight hip movement to shift weight and regain balance, a delicately placed foot, or a perfectly chosen knee drop (the list can go on…). Not only this but learning the ins and outs of rope work and safety can’t be understated.

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How climbing has changed me

All this to say that I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for climbing. From the shift of perception I experienced the first time I touched the rock, to the incredible people I’ve met along the way, and the unique places I would never have seen otherwise. It’s changed the way my body and brain work and helped me stay connected to nature and the world.

I wouldn’t exchange it for anything.


Photography by Christiane's Sister : Camilla Howe

Christiane and Camilla are the twins behind Double Vision Documentaries. Their shared dream is to film the international climbing community and represent the real climber's story. 

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