Traveling opens a person to new experiences as well as mindsets. There are some that thrive off of this, the ever constant change and unfamiliarity. They can push themselves to adapt quickly and seem to flow in and out of places with a grace that is enviable for others. For many a traveler, there is an adjustment period with some semblance of culture shock. Little changes like the hours that restaurants are open, clothing choices, and customary greetings are noticeable and add up in a subconscious tally for the unfamiliar.
Climbing helps break down those barriers. While climbing a route the words of encouragement do not seem to matter whether you’re hearing “come on!” or “venga!”- the sentiment behind the shouts is understood. Dusty dirtbags from the American deserts can find solace in European countries known for fashion the moment they reach the crag and are greeted by others not noticing the patches, holes, and mismatched colors.
Climbing helps inspire travel in the endless quest to climb all the rock out there. The sport both pushes us to leave our comfort zone as well as provides the community that acts as a pillow cushioning the fall.
On a recent trip to Scotland, this became evident. In Inverness, while waiting to pick up a rental car, my climbing partner and I stood out wandering the streets with gear such as ice axes strapped to our packs. Carts in a grocery store offered a welcome reprieve for our backs as we loaded all of our bags into them and wandered the isles to pass the time. We looked out of place and it was obvious. It was not until we were in the mountains that I felt at home. This was not only due to the comfort provided by the setting but also by the people we encountered there. At a mountain hut as the base of the north face of Ben Nevis, I found comradery in two school teachers and two older alpinists, all there to ascend Tower Ridge. There was a hodgepodge of accents that filled hut and an age range of about 50 years, but it felt familiar and comfortable. The eldest man there had a strong Scottish accent that could confuse me if he spoke too quickly, but when the conversation was about climbing and mountaineering it seemed easier to understand. The lingo made sense and I could interpret his meaning even when I couldn’t understand all of his words.
On the Isle of Skye, we blended right in among dozens of other climbers and hillwalkers wearing the same clothing every day. As an Australian woman mentioned in our hostel one night, “this is Gore-Tex, and it never comes off”. The crew that gathers to an island mostly known for sheep and sea stacks during a wet season is an eclectic bunch from all over the world, but through climbing the cultures seem to blend into one.
This sport pushes us and comes with its fair share of injuries. This mutual passion of ours all seems worth it at the end of the day when you can share in a conversation- in very few words even- simply because the other person just “gets it”. They understand the shouts of frustration when you fall off of your project and the joy when you finally send. They offer catches and shouts of encouragement when needed. The world is full of a rich variety of cultures, but this sport of ours has created a subculture to unite us- making all crags everywhere to feel somewhat like home.