Progression in context

I’m not a big fan of the term progression as it’s most often used today; in so-called gravity or action (lets be honest and just keep the word extreme) sports to denote marginal gains in technical difficulty, consequence, or both.  The term, and the human experience behind it, could mean so much given more thorough consideration.

Climbing is a good example.

In some obvious senses it is the case that contemporary climbers are climbing more difficult routes and problems than at any previous time.  The most robust of these senses, that of hypothetical climbers with identical equipment, abilities, and experience climbing the lines in question, is also the one so far divorced from lived experience as to be meaningless.  It is equivalent to Anselm’s second ontological argument: logically valid and completely useless.

Paul Robinson passes within a hair of a better definition in the video above.  Fred Nicole was indeed the best boulderer on earth during the 1990s, and his early v14s were indeed harder than the relative abundance of problems that grade climbed recently.  And not because of technology; that argument works for Gill problems done in hiking boots, but the Miura has been around for a long time, and the red Sportiva shoe which was the father of the Solution introduced radically shaped soles in the late 90s.  Nicole’s problems were harder because he didn’t have anyone else to show him they were possible.

This what progression should mean, the mental development of an individual without which further fitness and skills are orphaned. Better suspension and geometry are good for mountain biking, but won’t be used fully until some person sees the line as rideable. Identical things can be said of skiing, surfing, and any number of others. Given the absurdity of measuring difficulty in these fluid activities, shouldn’t mental growth be our yardstick? After all, it’s the only way in which such activities might help the world at large.


4 responses to “Progression in context”

  1. Mental vs physical… half a dozen of one, six of another… egg or chicken. It is through the better physical performance that an athlete’s perception of what is possible expands. Though , the mental capacity to push one’s self beyond previous generation’s accomplishments is just as paramount… ie Dean Potter’s solo spree in Patagonia at the turn of the century as well as Alex Honnold’s unbelievable career thus far. The physical attributes are equally as important as the mental aspect to compartmentalize one’s fear as well as singularly focus one’s vision and energies toward a particular objective. Two sides of a single coin. Physical and mental acumen to realize a revolutionary vision of the possible. The ‘Conquistadors of the Useless’ have evolved into the ‘Assassins of the Impossible’.

    As far as helping the world at large, these athlete’s accomplishments help inspire future generations to reach for their improbable goals with the same vigor, as well as push product for numerous corporations. When I was younger Alex Lowe was all that. When I simul-climbed ‘Stairway to Heaven’ in CO his previous accomplishments were part of my foundation, no doubt.

  2. The body will do as much as the mind lets it, up to its phsyiological capacity.

    1. If a climber as great as Royal Robbins said (and in his 50s no less, with the richness of retrospect): “I wonder what I would have done if I had been able to just climb and let gravity tear me from the holds” I doubt very much that many of us ever become more than passingly acquainted with physiologic limits.

      1. I agree that the mind is by far the limiting reagent for most of us. I can see where my comment might have suggested otherwise.

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