I hope that your children (and you, if possible) enjoyed the mid-term break and were able to relax and unwind. I returned to my home town, Cape Town, South Africa and enjoyed time with my children and catching up with friends. A highlight of the holiday, as always, was spending a day rock climbing on Table Mountain. Its hard sandstone cliffs soar above the beaches and coves of the peninsula, making for a memorable day on a beautiful setting. This is where I find space to be mindful, relax and reconnect.
I started rock climbing at school aged 14, inspired and encouraged by a dedicated teacher, Charles Currey. The sport has taken me to the Bolivian Andes, California’s Yosemite Valley and France’s Chamonix, to name but a few of the places. Along the way I have established life-long friendships and enjoyed some memorable adventures.
A picture I took of my climbing partner Karl Hayden climbing the classic route on Table Mountain, Cape Town, ‘Cableway Crag’. I had led the climb and he was following – the rope tells the direction of the climb.
It has taught me a number of life lessons: here are ten.
- The hardest climbs require the greatest effort and courage, but are the most rewarding. The satisfaction in climbing comes from overcoming your fears, tackling a physically and mentally difficult route, and succeeding. Our modern world loves luxury and comfort, but few things of real worth having come easily and effortlessly. Easy climbs give little satisfaction. Great climbs test you to your limits.
- Climb with someone you trust completely. It goes without saying that, should you fall, your life is in the hands of the person holding the other end of the rope. There’s no room for error. Choose your climbing partner carefully and, once you have found someone you trust and enjoy spending time with, stick with them.
- You succeed together or fail together. There is no room for competitiveness in a negative way – good climbing teams encourage and inspire one another. They have an intuitive feel for the level of confidence and drive that their partner is feeling that day or on that section of the climb.
- Be committed and determined. Every climb carries an element of risk: having assessed the danger and decided to tackle the climb, allowing your mind to dwell on the ‘what if things go wrong?’ scenarios will quickly erode your confidence. In a minute you become a trembling bundle of nerves much more likely to fall and fail. The feeling of accomplishment when you have made it up a scary climb is wonderful – a real rush. We call them ‘dry mouth moments’ – those times when your mouth goes dry with fear and you keep your composure and make it to the top.
- Be prepared. Rock climbing is risky and there is the possibility of serious injury or a fatal fall. But, with careful planning and using the rope and climbing gear thoughtfully, a fall can be no more than an exhilarating flight caught mid air by the rope. The majority of climbing accidents are caused by small acts of carelessness, not serious falls.
- Go at your own pace. Climbing is very focused: when leading a climb your only thought is how you are going get up the next metre or two. Thinking about how others climbed it before you or worrying about what onlookers will think about your snail-like progress will only distract you.
- Know how to rest. Challenging climbs drain your shoulders and forearms quickly: look for and make use of places to ‘shake out’ and rest before tackling the next strenuous section.
- Just keep moving forward. Oftentimes you cannot see how the next section of rock should be climbed: it looks blank and intimidating. Hanging around will drain your reserves of stamina quickly. Often, but not always, it pays to commit to the next part of the climb: the route will usually become evident when you do so.
- You gain perspective at the top. Sitting on the ledge at the top of the climb, exhilarated by the route, taking in the rope as your climbing partner follows the section that you have led, gives you time to think. There is nothing else to do but sit back, live in the present, and enjoy the view. If you are lucky an eagle will fly past beneath you and you are able to put the worries of the world and workplace into perspective.
- You remember the things you have done long after you’ve forgotten the things you’ve bought. I can remember many memorable climbs in great detail, but cannot tell you the colour of the shirt or brand of the shoes I wore that day. Experiences and friendships are far more valuable than possessions.