By Lee Hansche
I’m not sure where you live, but up here in New England it’s been a long, hard winter. Extended stretches of record-breaking bitter cold and wind, a relentless cold and flu season, and, of course, that killer of winter conditions… plenty of snow.
I guess if you are content to session in climate controlled gyms all season you might not worry about it too much. I run two such climbing gyms. For one reason or another I can’t bring myself to spend my time there when I’m not working. So out into the snowy, windy, cold I go, month after month, on a quest for spring. Winter has a way of making a day of sport cragging into an epic adventure and I have to admit that I enjoy that aspect. But the fact that winter here in New Hampshire can start in October and go into April can get a bit old.
There is a contingent of hardcore Rumney climbers who don’t recognize climbing seasons. The saying among us is “there are no bad conditions, only bad attitudes.” This of course is silliness, we know bad conditions as well as anyone, we are out there climbing in them all the time. There have been studies done that show that the happiest people in the world are the ones who can most effectively lie to themselves. So we repeat this lie in order to convince ourselves to get out of bed. We repeat it to each other as we drive to the crag, the partly cloudy 25 degree predictions turning to 15 degrees and snowing. At some point in the day we stop lying to ourselves. We can look each other straight in the face with a big smile and say “this sucks!… but we are here. Let’s have some fun!” Even on the hardest day we get back to the car smiling. We have effectively lied to ourselves. For that moment we are, the happiest people.
It’s not all suffering of course. There are days when the sun is bright enough on the south facing cliffs that the solar heat warms the rocks and the temps become tolerable. We call these magic days. Indeed, it feels like some sort of sorcery is at work when you can be climbing in a hoodie or less on a 15 degree day and be 100% comfortable. I wish they could all be magic days.
The destination, the winter mission, is ultimately to get through to spring. I like the idea of having suffered a bit to earn the warm spring days as they stubbornly roll back in. I would say it’s like the taste of a solid meal after a long adventure. Everything tastes better when you are starving and exhausted. Likewise, a warm day feels so much more precious when you’ve been so cold for so long.
When you can appreciate the novelty of having feeling in your fingers. When you know all too well the feeling of dread as your cliff falls in to the shadow of a cloud. When you are well accustomed to warming up your shoes inside your down jacket to stave off frostbite. And when the majority of your climbing partners have given you up as a bad job… You know what it is like to earn spring.