The North Cascades reminds me of the European Alps, where we spent a couple of summers climbing in our early 20’s. I’ve had a couple of really long gaps in my climbing career. One when I became bedridden for a number of years – strangely, when first getting back into climbing after that, we exceeded our previous ability within weeks (while still being considerably fatigued).
It’s like the brain processes all of those technical moves you made years before and gives you a new higher baseline. And here we go again at the age of 45 after a second 8-year gap, having lost a lot of muscle for the second time. Climbing is such a pure sport, it’s you, the move in front of your nose, then the next and then the next… until you either get to the top or you screw up and fall. Contrary to popular belief 99% of the time you’re in total safety as your gear and rope will catch you. So once you’ve conquered the fear of falling, it becomes mental gymnastics against the ticking lactic acid burn in your arms.
Climbing has twice become my downfall, due to its addictive nature with A-type personalities. As much as you can get a long way with technical prowess, to get to top performance, pushing yourself to your physical limit becomes the norm. In my early 20’s, I was convinced I could cure myself through climbing and the great outdoors. That ended badly with years in bed, after a 3-month climbing trip to the Alps ending with being trapped in a tent not being able to move due to an early unknown Addison’s crisis.
In our second climbing period, while all our climbing friends were getting progressively stronger, we were getting progressively weaker. Eventually, our adrenals bonked out entirely to the point we started getting muscle paralysis, vomiting for no known reason, and barely having the strength to walk. So, we gave up climbing for the second time when moving to the states.
It’s not without some trepidation that we brought our climbing equipment with us on the current RV trip, and are taking it up for the third time…
Was it the climbing? Or was it how our personality interacted with climbing? Can climbing become a tool in building up our strength and metabolism? Or will it tear us down us down entirely?
Always good to have your ego stripped away a few times.
What I didn’t appreciate in our first two climbing periods is that the body adapts to everything. So in our case, as is true with many athletes who push their limits, is that when the body is under too much stress, it will want to conserve energy & resources to prevent you from over-damaging yourself by slowing down your metabolism. That’s all good if you take note that you’re tired, rest up, and adjust your training accordingly. Over time your body will likely be able to handle that level of activity.
If you keep overtraining when your body is trying to slow you down, however, it slows you down more and at a certain point, when you are so hypothyroid, digestion suffers. This means your blood isn’t as nutritive as it could be, hormone synthesis such as adrenal hormones suffer along with all the fatigue and brain fog type symptoms that can appear. As climbing gives you a temporary neuro-adrenal boost, you can erroneously associate the activity with improving your health, without realizing the down-regulating impact of climbing too intensely.
What about the reverse of that cycle? Can we use it to enhance metabolism, hormone synthesis, and to gain strength and vitality? Well, of course, the body will adapt in the right direction if more in tune with its natural stress and repair cycles. The crux of the matter is really in your own perception of the addictive nature of the activity and not being attached to it.
Climbing or No Climbing – the joy of life unfolds regardless. And life is considerably more enjoyable when your energy is on the rise or stable rather than on the decline.
So we climbed for a few hours, awakening our body to those moves our subconscious has made better in the 8 years we’ve had off, went hiking the next day, and then climbed again the next. The mind wanted more so we upped the level and man, it was heaven. Slept in the afternoon sun and remembered – let the body adapt to the stress we’re giving it, and then in a couple of days, we can really see what the body can do.
Remember, Harry, remember…