The Ultimate Teacher
The mountains are my cathedrals. Climbing is my spirituality. The rock is the ultimate teacher. As climbers, we tend to repeat these and other aphorisms—notions that the rock is more than just the rock, and that climbing is more than just climbing. While these sayings might help us rationalize the often-unbalanced lives we lead (can you think of many other sports that require you to be gone all day or even for weeks on end?), they are mere truisms that only hint at our deep connection to climbing and the amazing ways it makes us grow. But that, as words so often do, fail to fully capture the experience.
However, what if we put the idea of the rock as the “ultimate teacher” into tangible practice, and created a high school curriculum with rock climbing as its central focus? This is what The Climbing Academy, detailed in Julie Ellison’s article “School of Rock”, has done over the last few years. They accept students who are passionate climbers and then travel the world, teachers and students together in one big, roving band, mixing a disciplined, project-focused approach to rock climbing (life lessons) with your standard school curriculum (academic lessons). School has literally been moved to the rock, and the program has been churning out graduates who’ve made great advancements in their climbing acumen, personal growth, and academic rigor.
I wish this opportunity had been around when I was a new climber, in high school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the 1980s. I attended a large public school where I kept my head down, got good grades, and didn’t ditch class to climb any more than would attract notice, often bouldering in the Sandia Mountains during fifth and sixth periods. But what if I hadn’t had to ditch—what if it had been a requirement that I go climbing and what if I’d had mentorship to help me progress in the sport at that formative juncture? Instead of just sitting in English class daydreaming about rocks, I could have been out working the proj on a dedicated climbing day while an older, wiser mentor helped me hone my footwork and work through failure without pitching crybaby wobblers. Amazing!
Our sport has progressed significantly in the past three decades, with developments like The Climbing Academy showing just how forward-minded the community is, as well as reifying the recognition—one we see more and more with the explosion of gym and youth teams, and the growth of the competition circuit—that climbing benefits us on so many levels. We do, in fact, grow as people when we push ourselves, facing fear, risk, and physical discomfort to realize climbing goals that also impart valuable life lessons.
Speaking of which, this issue’s features offer a few other “schools” we’re excited about: one of mastering fat-bike navigation across snowfields and frozen rivers and lakes to reach backcountry Alaskan ice; one of staring down danger on the Costa Blanca’s rowdy multi-pitch limestone climbs; and finally, one of dealing with the highs and lows of redpointing on a project that pushed two climbers—the Wide Boyz, Tom Randall and Pete Whittaker—to their crack-climbing limits. In all cases, either the authors or the climbers profiled extended themselves into the unknown, coming out the other side—as have The Climbing Academy’s students—the better for it.
I hope you like reading this issue as much as we liked putting it together, and we’ll see you at the rocks. Or, maybe better: “in class.”
—Matt Samet, Editor
Listen to the latest episode of Basecamp: A Climbing Magazine Podcast for a discussion about the February/March issue with host Kevin Riley and Matt Samet, and an interview with Tension Climbing co-owner Will Anglin.
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In this issue…
A quixotic tale of horn-swoggling and hubris on Spain’s limestone Costa Blanca.
The Wide Boyz’ epic quest to send one of the world’s toughest cracks.
Tires & Ice
Fat-tire biking into Alaska’s hinterlands to search for frozen bounty.
School of Rock
How The Climbing Academy is building redpoint and academic crushers.
- Rock Art
- Re-Gram: Training photos
- The Big Question: What climbing goal are you training for this winter season?
- Mini Reviews: Three new books
- Our regular climbing-photo gallery
Talk of the Crag
- Science Friction: The truth behind perfect climbing conditions
- It’s the Bliss!: Why our sport—despite appearances—isn’t in fact selfish
- Gear reviews
- Scarpa Mescalito
- Pongoose Climber 700
- Maloja EsraM Pants
- Lattice Testing & Training Rung
- The Homestead: How you can help save this desert tufa-climbing mecca
- Access Report: Big wins and red flags
- Tension Training Center: The spartan 24-hour gym—in a hold-making facility—that’s churning out top climbers
- Podium Dreams: Two-time bouldering world champ Shauna Coxsey guns for the Olympics
- 6 Training Hackz for Maximum Sendage
Grasping at Draws
- Excuses Vanquished: The problem with getting what you asked for
- Climb at 80-Percent Effort for Long-Term Performance
- Perfect Your Protein
- Efficient Jugging in High-Angle Terrain
- Quick Clips
- Meet the Trad Dad