Humanality is a famous multi-pitch climbing route located in Railay, Thailand. Set in an incredibly gorgeous location along the shoreline, the route is exposed and technical. With a grade of 5.10d this route is good fun for experienced climbers, intimidating for intermediates like me. I was not just apprehensive about this route, I was in fact quite scared. However, now having been up there and completed the route (albeit with some cheating), I feel a certain pride at the accomplishment. Michelle and I hired a guide which helped our confidence with route-finding, especially the convoluted lower sections. Michelle led all the difficult pitches, including the money pitch that requires the climber to step OFF THE WALL onto a massive suspended stalagtite (lots of air below!) and then back onto the wall. Here is a video of me making these moves. I’m on a top rope, and she did it on lead. Wowza.
Later that afternoon, after celebratory beers shared with another pair of climbers we met on the route, I found myself lazing in the warm ocean waters beneath the cliffside. I traced the route, picking out chalks marks on the wall where my hands had gripped. And I wondered, what was the point? What was the draw? To enjoy the route? To get a photo/video on the money pitch? Meeting Alex and Jodi on the route? Experiencing the views? It couldn’t be just for the views because I could get them from hiking in other areas. No, for me personally it’s about the challenge and sense of accomplishment, and especially about overcoming fear. In the case of climbing, for me the sense of fear is ever-present. Consequently, the mere act of completing a climb, even with cheater moves (using the gear to climb or hang) is the prize for me. I recognize this is not the case for many climbers. For more accomplished and dedicated climbers there are other joys, other rewards. The technique involved, not just brute strength, in negotiating a highly technical section of the wall. The fantastic positions on the rock at even more fantastic heights. The relentless tug of gravity and the equally relentless self-reliance necessary to resist and overcome nature’s downward pull. The physical intensity in concert with mental clarity, not just to master one’s fears but to exercise sound judgment in the face of fear, particularly on multi-pitch routes. At the end of a climbing day, I believe those experienced and serious master-climbers have a 10-fold more satisfying taste in their mouths as they swig their celebratory beer. Nonetheless I feel happy to be among them in those moments, even though my accomplishments are far less worthy.