By Lee Hansche – while recently leaning toward sport climbing, Lee is happy to climb boulders and is thrilled to get out trad climbing whenever possible. Locals know Lee as the manager and resident guide of two Vertical Dreams climbing gyms, a board member with the Rumney Climbers Association, Mountain Project administrator, and generally psyched climber and route developer!
Some things are worth working for, day in, day out, for the rest of your life. I’ve been rock climbing for over a quarter of a century now. That blows my mind. Aside from eating, sleeping, breathing and the like I don’t think I’ve done anything else for that long. As one would expect I feel at home on the rock and move smoothly over it. “Be the water,” I tell my students. I am not extraordinarily strong but I’ve managed to climb some pretty hard routes mainly through refined technique and extreme focus. I had a pretty standard “old-school” upbringing into climbing. I climbed on top-rope with my family for years before meeting the right people who could share with me the secrets of progressing to harder stuff. My introduction to gym training, sport climbing, and bouldering brought with it hopes and dreams of becoming a hot shot climber, and I set to work. With the help of some strong locals I quickly shot up through the grades while training hard nearly every day. Before I knew it I was sending every project in the gym! Soon after that I was hitting a physical wall.
My body was giving out. I had severe tendonitis in my elbows and shoulders and I had partially ruptured tendons in many fingers. Eventually I had to step away to heal my wounds before getting back to climbing. Old habits die hard, so when I did come back I was back to the same old tricks, pulling too hard, and ultimately the only place I was climbing was back on to the injured list. This cycle repeated a few times before I was finally faced with a very tricky question. Do I want to climb hard or do I want to climb well? Do I want to blow minds now by sending 5.14 or when I’m 80 for sending 5.10? I opted for the lifelong climbing plan and I started again from the very beginning.
I went on a moderate climbing tear, ticking off every route 5.7 and under I could find. I was careful to climb every move in perfect balance, keep each joint in a comfortable range and enjoy the feeling of movement over stone. When I started running out of those truly easy routes I carefully kicked it up to 5.8, then 5.9, then 5.10 and so on until years later I arrived back in the 5.13 range. I no longer considered myself a strong climber. Now I was a good climber.
At this point I have been a climbing instructor indoor and outside for 15 years. Over that time I have watched countless budding climbers go through the pain and frustration of realizing that they are human and have limits. Sometimes it is just a plateau they need to navigate. Sometimes it’s a life changing overuse injury. Always I pose the question, “Do you want to climb hard or climb well?” It just might be that striving to climb well could get you up those hard climbs in the end. If you choose this method it might be a long path, but it’s a path worth exploring. Don’t forget why we started this game in the first place – climbing is fun and challenging. If it wasn’t we never would have started climbing in the first place.