A prince of denmark

Over half my life ago I was a teenager learning to trad climb, and my friend Adam and I were down in the Red River Gorge looking for easy leads to build our skills. We both had several years of gym fitness under our belts, just enough to be pretty dangerous. At some point on that trip I found myself up in the belly of Chimney’s Direct, the second and essentially totally unprotected pitch of an easy climb first done decades before. I was stemmed out in a solid position, looking up at an awkward transition into a short squeeze chimney, and down at a bare loop of rope leading to Adam, on a big ledge ~50 feet below. It occurred to me, rapidly, that the only thing standing between me and a big splat was the skills and fitness I’d built over the previous years, and most of all the mental wherewithal to apply them, right then.

It was a Hamlet moment which I’ve carried with me every living moment since.

I’m not sure if other people learn to recruit their full resources in a single epiphany, as I did, or gradually. What I am quite certain of is that this kind of education, this certitude, this understanding of how vital for personal safety the application of skill and will, is an essential part of any adventurers repertoire. Climbing is a good teacher because of how stark and obvious the lesson is, but an identical process occurs on a bike dodging a sudden, limb threatening rock, and in the water coming around a corner to encounter an unexpected and deadly sweeper. Cultivating the raw skills to deal with these hazards is not a quick process, but it also isn’t especially complex. Applying those skills without hesitation or ambiguity is more mysterious, and more than any single thing what will keep the adventurer alive.

I’m grateful I learned this lesson so thoroughly and well early on, and so I ask; what and when was your Hamlet moment?

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4 thoughts on “A prince of denmark

  1. Shit, I wish that I had more Hamlet moments. It pains me to say, that the only Hamlet moments that I can think of are related to kids and care-taking. I used to be a lifeguard and despised the repetition of performing skills in the licensing program. Until I realized that we repeatedly did the motions so that it was second-nature when the real shit hit the fan. Outside of this summer job, I’ve caught falling nephews (and occasional blue-hairs), smacked choking babies, and found missing kids. Maybe this is why I’ve decided not to have my own kids. Other than this, the physical activities I partake don’t require many Hamlet moments. A guard dog once chased me on my bike for a half block, jumped on me, and I, regretfully, sucker kicked him in his nads.

    It’s interesting to realize that many of my Hamlet moments involved seeing others’ bloods but I pass out when spilling my own.

    Great post!

  2. I can’t say I’ve had those moments as my terror is fueled by my lack of skill and knowledge. Deeply imprinted in my memory is you sitting on a rock and me at the top of that rock chimney, trying to relax a little before stepping over to the side you were on — safety. That was a terrifying moment and unfortunately I had no experience to convince me I wasn’t about to die. I guess maybe when you teach me to climb this will all change? 🙂

  3. Hamlet moment? Climbing jackson’s Wall Direct on Castle Rock in Boulder Canyon 36 years ago, having a miserable time, falling repeatedly, couldn’t get my at fingers to fit into the flared cracks; realized that difficult climbing is for those people who never have bad days. I have really good days and really bad days, and it’s on the days I wake up on the wrong side of the bed (I often don’t know it’s gonna be one of those days until too late) I can get into serious trouble. At that point I quit climbing and sold all my gear to take up a safe sport – bicycle racing.

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