Lost in Translation

Years ago, my good friend Dragon and I went down to Texas to climb little rocks.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/photos/liquene.

Because neither of us were boulderers or particularly adept at following rules (and they love their rules in Hueco Tanks) our introduction was a little rocky. After a few hostile encounters with the native rangers (them threatening to throw us out of the park, and us apologizing profusely for our ignorance), we got our bearings and attached ourselves to a group of enthusiastic boulderers that seemed savvy to the ways of this strange land.

The week that followed consisted of desperately trying to lift my butt off the ground on the V0s (think: jungle gym bars) and watching, completely flabbergasted, as our crew of scrawny, dirty kids transformed into a band of magicians floating up overhanging blank faces.

At night we would join them in their van and watch installments of the seemingly endless ‘Return 2 Sender’ climbing videos. For those of you who haven’’t yet introduced yourselves to the series, I will humbly try to transcribe an excerpt to get you up to speed:

*grunt* ‘BAP!’ the sinewy fellow moves from one tiny hold to another.

*more grunting* He hooks his heel on the edge of the boulder, pulls up and rolls onto the top, stands with arms lifted in victory on top of a rock ten feet tall. ‘F***K Yea! That was so sick!!’

The Magician Troop would laugh and break into enthusiastic chatter, and Dragon and I would eye the escape hatch. Eventually we took to drinking cheap bourbon under the aluminum shelter at our campsite, waiting for a ranger to tazer us for breaking another incomprehensible rule.

Last week someone asked me what my favorite climbing video was, to which I responded ‘The Eiger Sanction.’ Of course this was not what she was asking, but when it comes to climbing videos I am hopelessly uninterested. I often feel as though you can come to know something very intimate about a person by watching them climb. When I am engaged in another climber’’s experience it can be a very inspiring thing, but that engagement does not get translated through a television. The most intoxicating qualities of our game get lost in translation.

Over the last few weeks I’’ve had a few conversations about why this is and now have come up with a theory: I think, at its core, climbing is about fear, your history with it, how you handle it, and how it manifests in you physically. Good climbers have learned to dance with their fear and transform it into an internal drive. They apply it. Fear is a precious resource to the climber, and he/she should use it economically. When that drive makes an external appearance that can be captured by film, it is akin to the oil well erupting: it makes for great cartoons, but in real life is generally followed by total meltdown.

Carlyle Norman

Carlyle Norman

Carlyle Norman passed away in a climbing accident in Patagonia in January, 2012. She is dearly missed by the people of the Bow Valley and her mountain friends beyond.

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  1. Once fear can be control we can accomplish lots of thing that are outside of our comfort zone. I like your theory Carlyle! This can be apply to any other field, imagine all the youngster that can capture this concept early in life and then apply it to a positive way… It is not all youngster can connect with this parrallel, the ones does, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.

  2. hey carlyle.  dragon here.  i already miss you like crazy and Howl is getting pretty hard to read with these tears.  i’ll never forget reading it to you in the car somewhere in Utah or Arizona or Texas or whatever.  we drove each other mad.  but the best kind of madness.  thank you for understanding me, for being there, for doing that.  you are immortal now.  i hope the silence is deafening.  like the memory of you singing the Decline now roaring in my skull.  you are loved.  always.