Lessons From the Climb

Swinging tools to climb a frozen waterfall in the Adirondack Mountains.

Guys, you know the feeling. My hands are clammy, my heart is racing, and my mind is clouded with nervous fear. I just have to find the courage to make a move and the stress will be over. Today, however, the move is not across the room at a party to say “hi” to a beautiful young lady, but up the crux – the most difficult section – of a steep cliff face. If I slip, I risk a long fall before my rope catches me. If I succeed, I will reach the top of the climb and enjoy the incredible views.

As a mountaineer, I’ve found that some of the best experiences with climbing share a resemblance to dating. Here are a few lessons learned from mountain climbing that can also be applied to dating.

Push through your fear.

In the climb described above I was leading , traditional (or “trad”) style on a cliff at Seneca Rocks, West Virginia. As I climbed, I placed devices in the fissures of the rock, clipped via carabiners to my rope, which hung below me and was belayed by my climbing partner. If I fell, the last device I had placed would hopefully catch my rope and me, preventing serious injury.

Climbers enjoy an experience of the mountain that is unique to the risks of hanging hundreds of feet above the ground from small features on the rock. Is it scary? Of course. But so is a good date! And in the midst of the experiencing fear, you can discover hidden beauty and brilliance you wouldn’t discover on terra firma (or prior to saying “hi” and “may I have your number?”). I have yet to date a woman–making myself vulnerable to her rejection–and not discover previously unrealized beauty and intelligence.

Avoid “summit fever”.

Traditional climbing at nearby Sugarloaf Mountain.

My climbing partner and I had to back off an ice climb this winter when we realized that it was too risky. We turned around in the nick of time, as I had barely secured myself to our anchor when we were hit by an avalanche. Survival mode kicked into high gear as we “swam” against the heavy wall of snow to keep ourselves from becoming trapped. Fortunately, when it ended we were only buried up to our belly. We quickly dug out and rappelled. Looking back, we both knew better than to attempt that climb, but “summit fever” – an irrational drive to get to the top of a mountain despite dangerous conditions – had pushed us to ignore the warning signs.

In dating, it is often difficult to stop pursuing a beautiful, interesting person when the signs of incompatibility become evident. But, avoiding the dating equivalent of “summit fever” is an important part of recognizing that love is more than the feelings of euphoria. Love is not sustained by the desired physical and emotional highs, love is made strong in the solid, everyday ground of recognizing and affirming the other person’s unique worth and dignity. I hope to one day enjoy those physical and emotional highs with my wife, but until then I’m aiming to always return to the solid ground – pre-summit – with each woman I date.

Be serious – and fun.

While it’s important to be prepared to turn-around, it’s equally important to be prepared for the full challenge of the climb before you start. Prior to climbing Mount Rainier, my climbing partners and I spent countless hours running up stairs, studying our planned route, and talking to experienced climbers. The exhaustive preparation paid off – both helping us reach the summit and deal with some unexpected challenges on our way back down.

The same could be said for dating, it should be fun, but not careless. When I meet a new woman, my actions and words can either add to her life in a positive, potentially life-long way, or become a source of eye-rolling frustration. Approaching dating in a thoughtful and intentional manner takes no more of the fun out of dating than approaching climbing in a serious way takes the joy out of the climb. However if you’re not careful, ignoring the serious nature of dating, or climbing, may result in real pain.

Avoid “peak bagging”.

At the summit of Willard Mountain in Crawford Notch, NH after a long ice climb.

My climbing partner was recently injured because we took an unnecessary shortcut while descending. We were hurried because we wanted to get on another climb before the day was out. We were “peak bagging” to use the climbing vernacular – rushing to summit as many climbs as possible. Besides the obvious risks, peak-bagging keeps you from really enjoying each individual climb for its own challenge and reward. The truth is, If we had only completed one climb but returned to solid ground (and the cold beers in our cooler), we would have had a spectacular day. Enjoying the climb while scared and exhausted isn’t easy. But, I’m slowly learning to take some deep breaths, find a ledge to rest, enjoy the scenic beauty, and realize how much I love climbing, even in its stress and regardless of reaching the summit.

It’s tempting when dating to rush through the long, arduous process of getting to know someone. Will my next date be with the lady who I will marry? Hopefully, just as I’d like to think my next climb will conclude with a rugged peak. But regardless of where it might lead, I try to enjoy each climb for its own challenge and am learning to see each woman I meet as an adventure with a unique person.

I believe in love even while I have yet to find a wife for life-long love, just like I continue to believe in the summits I pursue but have yet to attain. Speaking of which, I’m off to climb a mountain with a new friend!

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Lessons From the Climb

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