In Praise of Rookies

Guest post by Peter the Climber

Complete as many rounds in 20 minutes as you can of:

65 pound Power snatch, 12 reps

10 Push-ups

Post rounds completed to comments.



As explained below, a troupe of about a dozen people met up in Joshua Tree National Park this past weekend to celebrate Diso’s birthday. There was some rock climbing and much torture of dead meat by fire. On the first day, we decided to scramble to the top of a typical Jtree manure pile of rocks. And things weren’t looking so good for the rookies. Scott couldn’t step off what was an elevated sidewalk and Sondra, all cheeks engaged, heaved her core onto the rock and wriggled her way to the top. Perfectly predictable beginner moves mind you – the second is known as the beached whale. Of course, Sondra and Scott were duly embarrassed as beginners always are. And they were scared, quite scared, perhaps as scared as they ever get.

But they got over it. And a little later they both got on actual climbs. Sondra suddenly had moves and quickly made her way up the wall. Her troubles began on the top. She had to lower on the taut rope, something she had not thought about. And now she was scared to death, tugging, clinging, clutching at anything she could find, hysterically thrashing about at the first sign of slack, a spitting image of the fear that was lashing about in her mind. As for the noises, I’m not even going to get into that. All the while we were entreating, reassuring, cajoling safely from the ground – screaming really, uselessly, when it comes down to it – until at last Sondra controlled herself enough to get lowered down. Scott had less trouble lowering, as we were now wise enough to practice on a moderate slope low down before we sent him up. But just a dozen feet off the ground, he was ready to come down. No Scott, you can do it, I counsel into his butt, as I am climbing just under him to provide advice, and think, yeah right, we’re not even a third of the way up. Move your right foot up in the crack, your left foot onto the little edge where your left knee is right now. Scott sees none of this because his whole body is desperately glued to the rock. He’s like a giant clamp, so tight he’s ready to snap. The breathing is hard. Ok, ok, ok. What now? – The left foot! But left and right presently have no meaning for Scott. I figure he’ll squirm another inch, then call it quits. He can’t see the moves, he has no plan, his mind is gone. But I am wrong. No moves, no plan, no mind? No problem. All it takes is another huff, another lurch, a desperate scrape with the foot – repeated several dozen times. Scott lumbers on, and sure enough, there he is at the top, panting like a dog, shaking a proud fist down at the rest of us.


“I refuse to fear what I don’t know” is one of those big claims quickly belied by despot Fact in most of us. But coming fromReinhold Messner, it does not sound trite to me. In his case it is the lifelong quest of an extraordinary mind. In 1980, Messner soloed Everest. He climbed the mountain, without oxygen, from base camp, alone. Only one year before, he and Peter Habeler had defied thedeath sentence from medical experts around the world and made the first ascent without oxygen tanks. Early in his solo effort, Messner fell dozens of feet into a crevasse. To save weight, he’d left the radio behind… luck had it that he was able to extricate himself from his icy tomb and… continue to the top! These are just two of his many unfathomable feats. For Messner, fear of the unknown usually included fear of death. For us it generally does not. It is really fear of failure. And that’s where we have something to learn from Sondra and Scott. They weren’t harried by all those little traps that our vanity sets up for us. Don’t get me wrong, they were freaking out for some time before they got on the rock, but they were worried about the right thing, and bent their fear into shape. They got up and tried something. Just do it – it’s obvious, right? We all nod. Half of us have it scrawled across our t-shirts. It’s so obvious in fact, that it’s good thing to see it happening from time to time.  Reinhold Messner is the rare man who may be called master of his mind. For the rest of us, to recognize the fear, to tame it, shape it into that acute thrill only fear can beget, and truly give it your best shot, is no mean skill to work on. Thanks, Sondra and Scott, for reminding me what that looks like.


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