Why I Climb - Mark Cobb

Thursday, 05 January 2017

Why I Climb - Mark Cobb

Brookes Sport Ambassador, Mark Cobb, goes into detail about his motivation to climb.

A friend asked me the other day why I climbed. He couldn’t see why anyone would waste their time climbing up a piece of rock or up some holds at the climbing wall. I began to answer him, but realised that there are countless reasons, all linked in a fairly complex way.

For me, climbing is an obsession, almost an addiction and even though I’ve only been climbing seriously for a few years, it has slowly taken over my life.

Mark Cobb

I love climbing, both inside and out and the two are becoming increasingly different, but I think the reasons for enjoying both are pretty similar.

Firstly, it’s a way of relieving stress. When I climb I’m totally focused on every move; there’s no room for thinking about anything else. After a session, I somehow feel refreshed, renewed, physically, mentally and emotionally. Worries and frustrations have vanished (perhaps replaced by the joyous frustration of not managing that last move). I really enjoy the camaraderie of climbing too.

Mark Cobb - Bouldering 2

Wherever I have climbed, inside or out, I have ended up chatting to someone I’ve never met before about a move, a hold, new beta or something else to do with a route. Friendships have sprung and grown from that shared experience.

There is also the physical side, the gains in strength, agility, coordination, balance, but also the challenge. I can feel myself constantly setting new goals, new challenges, can I do that next move, can I hold on to that hold for a few more seconds, can I get my foot up by my chin…; managing and succeeding on that challenge breeds inner success, a feeling of massive confidence, some kind of growth. This then links back to one’s mental state.

If confidence has grown, then that move is attainable next time, routes of a similar difficulty can be in my grasp. This is perhaps the major reason for me that balance between body and soul, between the mental and the physical, between reality and my inner game. When that balance is near, then I come alive. My energy rises; I become a stronger version of myself, I’m more alive, senses at full throttle. This is even more obvious when climbing outside.

Suddenly there is the whole natural environment, my body and mind seeking to exist together on a seldom attained level. There’s a union, a shared knowledge, a flow of energy that connects me to the rock, the ground, the world immediately around me. These moments in the metaphysical help me to know myself and definitely help me to grow; climbing, a metaphor for life? Definitely!!

The confidence, motivation and energy I get from this balance enable me to face up to my limitations, my weaknesses, and also, I suppose, my successes. Climbing involves constant failure, but at the same time it’s evolving success. To succeed I need to fail, and when I’ve succeeded, to improve, I need to fail again. For me, it’s become much easier to apply what I’ve learned through climbing to the rest of my life. Patience, calmness, learning from failure, determination and the will to succeed; those things have grown in me, as I’ve improved as a climber.

Mark Cobb - Rock 1There are other things, solving the problem of how to do a route. Outside, this is harder, but perhaps more fulfilling when the problem is solved, when the final piece of the puzzle is fitted and I top out on a mossy, downward sloping, slippery, hideous mantle. For a moment, I’m king of the world. But only for a moment, as the next route beckons and I have to start again from scratch.

I climb with my family, or friends. I’m lucky, my wife and kids love climbing. My son is a brilliant climber already, at the age of ten. This definitely adds huge positivity to my climbing sessions. A few moments stand out from this year; working a V7 near Burbage quarry with my son back in October. Everything good about climbing coalesced at the right moment as we both managed to complete the route amidst a riot of happy and energy filled success. Sparks flew, we ran back to the car, bouldering mats bouncing on our backs, hair and sleeves flying with the breeze, as if we were both 10 years old.

Climbing the Southern sandstone with Jon, a climbing buddy, egging each other on, a little help here and there. I managed to get up some routes that I had no chance of doing before. The power of friendship, the motivation that comes with a shared passion. Lastly, a family trip, on limestone, in Yorkshire, all climbing together, blue skies, dry rock, shared obsession, smiles, laughter, worn fingers, absorbing energy from our surroundings, flowing together along the climbing river we’d set out on. To me, the act of climbing is my success. Doesn’t matter if a route is climbed or not, getting on the routes and making that journey is what matters.

So, climbing is a ‘mash up’ of everything. A dance to the melody of the holds, a delicate balance between all the senses, a journey towards the ‘aesthetic state’ as Timothy Leary suggested. I’ve reached that state and it outweighs almost every feeling I’ve encountered in life and I’ve got there by climbing, maybe thrutching my way up a horribly difficult route at Brookes Rock Solid wall, forgetting to breathe, but willing myself to the last hold, or maybe it’s smearing gracefully up the most delicate friction in the Peaks.

Climbing, or to be more precise, bouldering, has got me there and it’s a place I’d like to be for as often and as long as possible. That feeling where I don’t have to think, my body flows along with the holds, seemingly effortless, the rock and I have become one, our forces balanced, time stretching, poised for the next movement, no need to search, fingers curl around the hold as if they belong there, before the wave of the movement settles again and awaits the next surge towards the last hold. Senses alive, almost as if the world around me has lost its outer layer, I can see clearly for the first time, colours swim, it all makes sense.

This is why I climb. Climbing is in my every breath, I live and breathe for climbing!

Mark Cobb

I primarily learnt my climbing at Rock Solid climbing wall at Brookes. I’ve found this to be a pretty challenging wall to climb at. It’s enabled me to develop skills which I’ve applied to climbing outdoors in particular, and to other walls, which actually feel a little easier, having climbed at Brookes for a few years. It’s also been a great training ground for my kids, and for kids I’ve taken from the school I work at, who have all benefited from going climbing, in some way.

If you would like to have a go at climbing, why not visit our climbing wall at Oxford Brookes University Centre for Sport in Headington. For more information about climbing, email climb@brookes.ac.uk or visit the centre for a chat.

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