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  • MoonGiant Pad by MoonGiant Pad
Sport Climbing 12 September 2003 - 08:00:00 Posted by Freak      

Chris Sharmaís revealing journal: The beginnerís mind

Article by www.climbing.com (Climbing n. 221 )


Who is Chris Sharma? Who is he, really? From the craggers of the Grampians to the boulderers of Bishop to the alpinists of Chamonix, climbers the world over know Sharma as one of the greatest rock climbers ever, the icon for his climbing generation, his name forever linked to perhaps the two most famous rock climbs of the past decade: The Mandala and Realization.

Yet what do we know about him as a person? Not much. Everyone knows of Sharma, but outside his close circle of friends and family, few people truly know Sharma. Incredibly, the most recognizable name and face in climbing is an enigma, his motivations, passions, and inspirations unknown. His avoidance of grades, media, and hype, combined with a soft-spoken, reclusive disposition, have long kept the climbing world from getting to know who the real Chris Sharma is. Until now. Surprisingly, Sharma agreed to keep a personal journal for Climbing during his two-and-a-half-month road trip to Europe this past fall. He didnít promise us any tales of big ascents or flashy nights out on the town. He was mostly going to be traveling alone, he said, and didnít have any specific objectives. Perfect. This journal, we told him, would be his chance to express himself, to open up and recount his travels, experiences, thoughts, and life philosophies ó however he chose. There would be no editing. What he wrote is what we would print. A few weeks after his return from Europe this past November, Sharmaís tattered journal arrived at Climbing. To be honest, we were surprised. We hadnít heard from Sharma since his departure; we assumed heíd simply aborted the journal assignment, staying true to his reticent nature. We were wrong. Sharma had indeed kept the journal, devoutly filling its 50-plus pages. We opened the stained, creased, and weathered notebook and were stunned. Within the pages, Sharma had authored not only a spirited recap of his climbing trip, but also an insightful, compelling, and boldly personal look at who he ó Chris Sharma, the person ó really is.ó Jonathan Thesenga

Iím starting to get settled in after being here for a little over a week. As always, being in a foreign country by myself will teach me many new things about people, relationships, communication, and myself. Being in a place where I know no one really forces me to open up to everyone.Itís so great to be staying in France with French people (and especially with the freedom of going solo). So many doors have already opened with meeting people who invite me to their secret areas. It feels good traveling alone (though it can get a little lonely with the language barrier) and observing, rather than coming over in a big posse ó essentially bringing America to Europe and never leaving the bubble of American culture. Also, having no agenda or expectations is giving me a lot of flexibility and openness to be in the moment, climb what is appealing, and just flow. 

Last year when I was working on Realization I was very locked-in with a specific goal. It was draining. This year Iím just going to try routes and enjoy new experiences. I feel a little funny making this journal for Climbing, because I know that most of my thoughts arenít about climbing. Iím a full-time rock climber, yet Iím not only that. Climbing hits the spot, but sometimes even too much chocolate makes you vomit. Today started like all the others: croissants and cafť au lait in the center of a very ancient village called St. Guilhem, where Iím staying with my friend Laurent Triay. Laurent has bolted hundreds of routes in southern France and has been an excellent guide, showing me many off-the-beaten-track areas. We went to an absolutely incredible cave with 170-foot routes out sweeping limestone bulges. Very steep, nice rock, and no people! It was a very peaceful place. I was happy to on-sight a classic 5.13d. I was at my limit and itís nice to feel myself getting into shape. Before this trip I didnít climb routes for more than a year. It was a much-needed break from climbing. I cannot climb all the time, but itís good to know that when I do climb I can really put my heart into it. I think itís impossible for me to always climb at my highest level, if not because of my body needing a rest, for sure because my mind needs a change. 

Itís ideal to walk the middle line in life. Itís for sure the way of peace. Iím trying every day to find that way. I get lost on a path that from afar seems so simple. Sometimes Iím too lazy and sometimes I hurry too much. Iíd like to be right between those extremes. This is true with climbing as well. When Iím on a big jug, thereís no need to hold it like itís a little crimper. Iíd be smart to take it for what it is: a jug. If I hold onto that jug and wonít let go for fear of the next sequence of little crimpers then Iím not in balance. Thatís not the middle way. The way I climb and relate to climbing these days is completely different from when I started nine years ago. At first it was a romantic love; now the relationship has progressed to a more mature, day-in, day-out lifestyle. Iím past the romance stage, but still in love. There are times to be mellow, times to be intense, times to be fanatic, and times to be balanced. That is the balance of life. In order for me to climb my best I feel that I need to do other things to balance that intensity. For me that balance is in meditation, yet I know Iím a long way from mastering this balance. It was great to finally climb today. I did a 5.14a second try at Claret. I feel more complete after exercising my body and being out in the sun and trees. Itís nice to be so focussed when trying a hard route. These moments are so pure; there is no separation and there is nothing to think about or understand because itís all right there. The here, the present, the moment. Everything! We hadnít climbed for a week due to floods in southern France. They were incredible to see. Water is so powerful. I need to learn to move on the rock like water. The more I can flow on the rock like water, the more I understand and the less separation there will be between us. Climbing hard will come naturally from that point, like a flooded river wiping out a bridge without even having to think about it. Jorge Visser and Lauren Lee have joined me for a while, and we drove 20 hours to the World Cup Bouldering comp in Italy. 

The comp was great. Lauren and I both came in 2nd. The best part about comps is the gathering of many people and sharing with everybody. Nevertheless, I think if I were to stay in that world for more than three days Iíd be lost in self-importance, thinking Iím a big shot. Iíd probably turn into a conceited asshole. No thanks, not for me. Iíll go back to the boulders in the trees, where nature keeps humbling me. Once the comp had ended we drove to Switzerland to boulder at Cresciano. When I arrived in Europe I had no major plans, no serious goals, just climbing. There was one climb, however, that I really wanted to check out: Dreamtime. Itís an absolutely perfect problem. Itís the first piece of rock that has inspired me on a deep level since I did Realization over a year ago. I want to meditate with Dreamtime and see where it takes me. 

Until yesterday Iíd been wondering if it was time to move on with my life; climbing was getting stale, without a lot of personal meaning. After Realization I stopped climbing for four months, and for the better part of a year my motivation for climbing has been pretty slim. I was OK with never climbing again. I just felt that I did what I came to do in my climbing career, and was very satisfied with my effort. Today we rested. For some reason Iíve been feeling a little depressed. When Iím not sticking to the truth in my heart itís easy not to be happy. I would like to be myself in my life ó my real self. My ego, though, is powerful and not necessarily working in my best interest all the time. Even when climbing I canít escape the clutches of my ego. The reason why I started climbing was because I could be free from myself. But strangeness creeps in when the media, image, reputation, self-worth, and, well, basically anything that isnít going climbing weights my consciousness and takes me and the rock apart, putting ego in the middle. I often feel like completely dropping what Iím doing with climbing and doing something completely different, but I know that whatever I do there will be problems, even in the most perfect situations. 

Things can never be just right, yet they are just right to teach us about life. Another mellow day at Chironico. Time and time again Iím getting shut down. Thatís life! In Zen they talk about keeping a beginnerís mind and experiencing each moment fresh and completely open without the hindrances of expectations and regret. The expertís mind thinks it knows everything and therefore sets up extra standards that are not really necessary. Itís difficult for me to have a beginnerís mind in climbing because everyone, including myself, expects me to be an expert. Just spent two more days in Switzerland and now weíre back in France. Iím here in a laundromat in Grenoble, washing my clothes. Actually, the machine is washing them, but Iíll take credit anyway. I slept great last night. The best in a week. Glad to be out of that haunted apartment in Switzerland. The guy who lived there before supposedly went crazy. Tossing and turning every night because of all the damn mosquitoes on my face, I almost went nuts, too. Surprised myself yesterday by climbing a V12 at Chironico first try after getting totally smitten by it the day before. We met some local climbers as well. Finally, we had some connection with people outside our six-person group. 

The Swiss climbers seem very friendly and open, which is a much different feeling from the rest of the population, who cringe when they see strange-looking people like us. I woke up a half-hour ago and am sitting in the morning sun, sipping coffee on the porch, trying to regain my composure after the activities of yesterday. Jorge and I have really been getting into running. For me itís a very new experience, and it makes me feel very healthy. The feeling of all the blood in my body being flushed and cleansed is refreshing. We guessed we ran six miles, and for me that was the most Iíve ever done. The run felt like the main activity of the day, and I was fully satisfied with that. But plans to meet some friends at Claret forced us to head out climbing. I really didnít want to climb, but when I arrived it was five in the afternoon and the temps were really good. Warming up was so-so. I got very pumped and fell off a 5.13a. After I chilled for a bit, I considered trying a 5.14a just to the left, but I wasnít into the idea of projecting, so ... I didnít project it, I on-sighted it! It was really strange being in tune with the rock and myself, strange because the route felt so very, very easy. 

The whole time I was waiting for the crux to come and then I found myself at the anchor. Some may say that such an on-sight is impressive because itís hard. But for me the part that was impressive was that it wasnít hard. It was pretty effortless. It was quite bizarre, and Iím so grateful for this experience and to touch the spiritual side of climbing. It was nice to have a brief taste of the oneness of subject and object, and see how everything melts away to exist and function perfectly. Another day in the life of life. Everything here is pretty casual. Perhaps thatís why I feel laziness weighing me down. Itís either weighing me down or filling my head with things that donít need to be there, such as worrying and wanting something different. Iím constantly challenged by not being able to enjoy all the things in my life. Climbed hard on a 5.14b route today. I did it second try. It was a very nice route. Iím really enjoying climbing on such a regular basis. It definitely gives some kind of purpose to things. Whether the purpose is good or bad is uncertain, but I think to climb for the sake of climbing is good enough. Iím happy to be leaving Nimes tomorrow. Itís been great to stay here, but such comfort is making me lazy. 

I would like to climb more. Much more. We are lucky to get to the climbing area by four in the afternoon, which doesnít leave us much time for climbing. Itíll be nice to go somewhere a little closer to these incredible French cliffs. Chemis de Katmandu is a very amazing sport climb at Gorges du Jonte. I feel very lucky to have been part of the first ascent. The route is absolutely stunning. A ground lover like myself rarely ventures higher than one ropelength. I seldom have the energy, motivation, organizational skills, etc., so about a month ago when my friend Laurent proposed we go up on his multi-pitch project, I was quite hesitant. The route has a somewhat legendary reputation in France, so I went up on it without much expectation and we had a really amazing time. The first pitch begins almost as hard as it ends: A 170-foot 5.13d on gently overhanging orange stone with small pockets, thin, slopey edges, long runouts, and bouldery moves. Next, a super bouldery and exposed 5.13a pitch leads to a golden headwall. Oh, man, the headwall is so nice! Itís perhaps 5.13d/14a and pretty intense. So exposed! I didnít send any of Chemis de Katmanduís pitches the first time a few weeks ago but I worked them out, so I thought it was possible on my next try. I had been meaning to come back earlier, but got distracted by all the nice climbing areas in this country. This time Laurentís goal was just to figure out the moves on Chemis de Katmanduís last pitch, while my aim was to redpoint the three-pitch climb. I felt like I was 1000 feet up as I dangled at the hanging belay at the start of the crux pitch, knowing Laurent was feeling pressure. I had redpointed the first two pitches and had just fallen off a ridiculously easy move above the crux of the final pitch. It was his route and though somewhat arbitrary, the first ascent really does mean something, if even from an egotistical perspective. 

He knew that my next try would surely be successful ó this was his last shot at the first ascent of the last pitch. So, he sent it. Simple as that. It was perfect sunset light, and when I led the pitch after he lowered back to the hanging belay, the sky was a deep red. We both felt extremely fortunate to be alive and agreed that this was a perfect climbing moment. Itís quite interesting to be, once again, so involved and wrapped up in climbing. At this same time last year I was in Japan on a Buddhist pilgrimage. Climbing was the furthest thing from my mind. I really considered ending my climbing career and becoming a monk. But now I feel able to discover climbing in a new light. At the same time, however, I see how pursuing climbing can be very selfish and totally blow the ego up. Itís so hard to keep a free-and-humble, open-and-fresh approach without taking on an attitude of self-importance. I see how I can become obsessed with accomplishments, numbers, image, and the whole bag of worms. Attachment to these things can bring much greed, jealousy, anger, and blindness to the needs and feelings of others. I think this pursuit of hard routes is dangerous indeed, and I need to be more careful. I pushed myself to the very limit yesterday. 

Another day of cragging at Gorges du Tarn, another day with the gas pedal floored, really digging deep for some energy and understanding to reach the tops of these long, hard, strange, tricky, awkward, and, of course, absolutely incredible routes. Yesterday I made the first on-sight of a 150-foot 5.13d called Tennessee. I gave a really good fight, one of the best fighting moments of my life. I made it to the crux quite easily, but was fully stymied up high on a hard, difficult-to-read move. The entire ascent took around 45 minutes, and a large chunk of that time was spent on this one section, climbing up and down, over and over again. I got obsessed with trying the section a certain way, and kept throwing from a three-finger dish to a hold I guessed was a one-finger pocket. I would jump and almost get it, but then fall three feet back down, catching myself on these two really slopey things, then downclimbing a few moves to a jug to regroup. It must have looked absurd to the people on the ground, but I wasnít going to give up. I really wanted it. I finally discovered the right sequence and it turned out to be quite easy. I always talk about ratings and achievements as if theyíre completely insignificant (and in the big picture they are), but in the small picture of this time, this place, this body, and this ego, ratings and achievements do mean something. I think, though, to blow them out of proportion is where people go wrong. Iím getting myself ready for something hard, but Iím not sure what that is. I know itíll come soon, and Iíll be ready for it. Iím still just warming up. Since my last entry I did some other good climbs, including two 5.14bs in a day. But then it started raining. We were trying to stick it out, but our fate was fateful and the rain was determined to boot us from Gorges du Tarn. 

The rain overtook the cliffs and our spirits, and we fled to St. Guilhem where Laurent lives. The fresh, warm rays of sunshine welcomed us and replenished my sense of purpose in France the very instant they touched my face. I feel blessed to have a lifestyle that takes me in the direction I want to go! Sometimes I feel sorry for myself and get grumpy, but when I step back and check out the bigger picture I see how lucky I am to travel all over the world, to have good friends and a great family. If I can maintain this attitude, I have already won the comp in Italy next week. I wish I had more to report along the lines of hard ticks. A few big numbers, something, anything to make it appear like Iím doing something productive. Unfortunately, Iíve been doing a lot of flailing this week. When I take a hold and pull on it, my usual power isnít there. It seemed to start with the rain in Gorges du Tarn and then climbing in the full sun in Buoux. Oh, I made sure to have my excuses ready ... Yesterday I climbed in Buoux for an American television show called ďLiviní LargeĒ. That was a horrendous day. Well, I shouldnít say it was that bad, but it did throw me for a loop. Being interviewed by these people who have no idea about me except for what theyíve read on the Internet made me feel as if I were on trial. Iím really uncomfortable with the whole idea of the media trying to give a very limited take on who I am. These journalists are trying to fit me into this mold of an ďextreme athlete,Ē and even before theyíve met me they know how theyíre going to portray me. They would prefer it if I was loud, obnoxious, and cocky; to them thatís an easier personality to sell to the mainstream audience. Oh, man, I need to chill out. Iíve been feeling uptight lately ó really on edge, impatient, and angst- ridden. 

I need to remember to breathe and live within the bigger picture. I need to stop saying I, I, I! This is one aspect of me that climbing brings out: an inflated sense of self. I shouldnít blame it on climbing, but when all I am doing is based on self-gratification, it becomes harder and harder to think of the needs of others, act in a selfless way, and feel content. This is something that takes constant attention. I need to keep on trying. I got totally shut down at the World Cup event in Italy. The last difficulty World Cup I competed in was five years ago when I was 16 and I won the comp. This time I didnít even make the finals. Perhaps my ass is getting too heavy. Oh well, enough of feeling sorry for myself ó itís good for me to get slapped around and humbled. I was impressed by the level of the climbers and how tuned in they were for competitions. For many of them competition is their life. I felt a bit out of place, but as soon as we left the comp and went bouldering in the alpine valley of Val di Mello everything seemed to come rushing back into place. It felt good to be back in nature and just climbing for the love of it; away from man-made structures of plastic that just donít inspire me the way nature does. I got my wish to go back to Dreamtime. Itís great being back in Cresciano. This time weíre camping in the boulders, which adds a lot to the experience. We rarely have to get in the car; weíre always outside in nature. 

How bad could things be when life is based on such a simplistic itinerary? Just wake up, make coffee, start warming up on some close-by boulders, and have a slow breakfast. When the sun makes it over the hump of the mountains, itís time to walk to the amazing waterfall and smooth granite slabs to have an ice-cold shower and relax. After that I go climbing for the day, or at least try to. Sometimes, though, the boulders are too hard to climb, so I just work on them. Particularly Iíve been working on Dreamtime. Iíve directed a lot of energy toward understanding Dreamtime. Itís a beautiful piece of stone that requires beautiful climbing. Itís an epic climb. Iíve worked it relentlessly for two days and have been so close, falling off the last move. I feel like I should have done it by now, but I suppose itís still teaching me things. Obviously I havenít completely understood it yet if I keep falling; I guess I need to just keep trying. Yesterday started with a slow, relaxing morning and a very peaceful dip in the waterfall. I came to Dreamtime and cruised it. It felt the way itís supposed to feel, finally. 

Every move flowed into the next one and, as if I awoke from a dream, I arrived at the top. Itís by far one of the nicest lines Iíve ever climbed. It was a really good experience to work on something thatís at my limit. I really had to understand my body and mind, as well as the rock. It felt so nice to go there with a microscopic focus and learn something new. As all things do, the experiences on this trip have ended and are already bringing new ones. In 10 hours Iíll be back in California, starting another adventure of some sort. It has been a great trip. I feel reconnected with climbing, nature, and my body. The last two-and-a-half months have been filled with so many laughs, cries, meetings, good-byes, ascents, projects, falls, arguments, annoyances, strengths, weaknesses, odds, and evens. During this trip, climbing has provided an interesting window into peopleís perspectives. Iíve met some really happy climbers and some really unhappy ones, too. Iíve met climbers who climb for their ego, and climbers who are passionate about life from the bottom of their hearts and bring that to climbing as well. The strongest climbers arenít always the happiest or nicest to be around; neither are some of them coming from the purest motivation. Climbing another V17 is not going to save the world! 

This activity of ďrock climbingĒ is merely one of many ways to exist, pass the time, and evolve and grow from one moment to the next. Thatís all.

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