Department of English

Spring 2007 Edition

Gravitational Insubordination

Tyler Page
Argumentative 1010 2nd Place
Professor: Dr. Bryce Christensen

Gravitation is the phenomenon through which all objects attract each other. This basic law of physics is the very source from which many in this day and age draw from to access the most exhilarating natural high one can experience. Gravity-defying stunts can be witnessed in every walk of life. People have come up with many ways to reach this nirvana. Whether it be a near infant who has triumphantly ascended the living room couch and then daringly attempts to dismount, or the insane 2000 ft. climb of the world’s best in Zion National Park, the ensuing rush of adrenaline will be the same. Not everyone is fit or willing to experience such thrills, especially my drug of choice: rock climbing.  Strength, creativity, and a certain level of craziness are the requirements that quickly weed out the casual climbers from the serious.

Though mental strength is key, physical strength also plays an essential role. The muscles used while scaling a wall of rock are different from almost every other sport, and the beautiful thing is, while a person may be a strong climber, being large in stature or bulky isn’t a necessity.  On the contrary, the physique of the top climbers is often long, streamlined with muscle tightly wound round the bones. The appearance of the creature is almost pathetic, until leaving the horizontal realm of the average person and, while displaying remarkable strength, surmounts the most unlikely of vertical tasks. To witness this is very gratifying, which is why I choose to tag along with my friends Dave and Jeff whenever they make an excursion to go climbing. 

To accompany climbers such as Dave and Jeff is truly an honor. They exemplify two very different yet effective styles of climbers. While climbing virtually horizontally with his back to the cold earth below, Dave will work his way up a boulder. The strain on his forearms is barely visible while he clings, looking for the solution to this problem. Moving his legs constantly along the concave surface, he works carefully and swiftly to move upward while his strength remains. With no more options underneath the rock, he slaps for the more vertical outside surface. To the amazement of all witnessing, his hand sticks to the cold stone.  In the motion of the move, his feet slip from their hold, and he is left dangling with only the strength of his arms to clench the rock and prevent the fall. Yelps of anguish are heard by those around as he refocuses his strength. As the grip of his fingers seems to weaken the longer he stays in this Tom Cruise position, he quickly attaches his legs to the rock and continues the ascent. The tightness of his muscles can now be seen as he prepares for the last critical step in the equation. Exerting what strength is left, Dave lunges to the beginning of the end: the hold of all holds. With a firm grip he wastes no time in finishing the task at hand. Nothing short of shear strength could have gotten Dave to the top of that rock. This is quite a contrast from the fluid climbing motion of Jeff.

On a different rock we can find Jeff on a different climb. This one starts off quickly.  He moves from the sitting position up and begins scaling across the boulder. As you watch him move, there is an obvious difference between his and Dave’s style.  His arms are much longer, so his stretch moves across much more territory. Though vertical, he scurries horizontally on the route. It becomes apparent why this route is called “heel way to heaven” as he approaches the end of the climb. The ledge juts out from the main mass, and his route takes him right under the ledge up and around and onto the top. The only thing to support him during all of this is his heel which is wedged in a hole. In this situation you see the advantages of Jeff’s longer, skinnier profile. His arms literally wrap around this whole ledge. While you don’t think he can stretch himself any more, he extends higher and higher. Then, when he seemingly reaches the top from underneath the rock with his hands, he releases his heel and while still straining and showing an impressive amount of endurance scurries up to the top. Celebration ensues. 

The common thread between these two climbers is their ability to use their individual abilities to get them to the top. Their ability to see what works for them creates two different routes on the same problem. Every serious climber has a serious imagination. This is an important attribute which usually comes standard in the climbing community. The art of looking at a slab of rock and seeing hand-holds, foot-holds as well as a way to get down when you get to the top is absolutely necessary. They notice every indentation and every nub which could potentially propel them a little bit higher. All this is done before they even begin to climb.  The most creative work comes as they are on the rock. Oftentimes things look much different from “up there” than they did while on the ground.  Fast thinking will prevail among the ideal climbers. Those of us who don’t think fast enough will, more often than not, be left falling to the ground pad, or dangling from the safety rope. However, no matter how amazing any climber is, at some point he will fall.  This is where that bit of craziness takes place.

No matter what level a climber is, he has two choices: make it to the top or fall.  For those seeking a higher destination, ropes are most often used.  Therefore, losing his grip means falling or sliding ten or fifteen feet until he hits the end of his safety rope and is left with a rush that can only be felt while falling off a cliff.  For a climber of shorter, more difficult routes, the distance of the fall will be lesser; however, no less exhilarating.  The ground pad below will hopefully break the fall and at least round off the sharp edges of some of the surrounding rocks. Either way, what kind of person with fatigued muscles, cuts and scratches, and a mind shaken, all from this “near death” experience, will reorient themselves and start again?  Only those who thrive off the climbing adrenaline.

Anyone expecting to hang with the model climbers needs to develop the strength, discover the creativity, and unleash that bit of craziness necessary to enter their world.  These three things are the defining attributes of the climbing world.  They are the key to reaching that high, which is only achieved in defile of the phenomenon called gravitation.