by Chris Noble, available to purchase at Amazon
In general, I like to have an open-minded attitude toward life and climbing. I also believe that it’s good to be humble and to observe the world beyond the concerns of my own ego in order to see things objectively.
I’m fortunate that I started out climbing on the technical granite and sandstone formations of California. I learned the subtleties of how to shift my weight on delicate faces, how to place protection in cracks and how to stay calm in precarious situations.
I learned a whole new set of skills and techniques when I began climbing on the overhanging limestone faces of Europe. In general, limestone faces have a variety of holds such as solution pockets and tiny little edges or features that allows each person the chance to find a hold in just the right spot for their particular body size. Climbing on limestone has also helped me learn about how to work out difficult sequences and how to put it all together for the final “redpoint” ascent. Pushing myself on challenging climbs has helped me become more conscious of the psychological aspects of climbing.
In fact, one reason why I decided to produce an instructional video was to show and explain some of the most useful techniques and mental tools that I’ve discovered over the years. When I’m climbing I’m aware of my body position in space – 360 degrees around me— like a sphere. I see the geometry and physics of movement required in just about any given situation.
I began to develop a sense of spatial body awareness as a gymnast. I learned about visualization techniques and about how to break down movement into basic steps – a technique referred to as, “chunking”. I learned each trick in a step-by-step progression, without trying to focus on too many things at once. For example, when learning how to do a back layout, first I learned how to do the basic tumbling moves, starting with a round off. Then I learned how to do a round off-back handspring. Once I had learned to do that in good form, I practiced jumping as high as possible after the back-hand-spring in order to add a back flip. Next, I added a back layout, than a back layout with a full twist, and finally, I learned to do a double back flip. I had to have faith in my ability since there is no time to “think” once engaged in action. It’s amazing what we’re capable of doing with the right physical and mental preparation.
As a woman, I’ve felt mostly acceptance and support from the climbing community. In the beginning there weren’t that many women, and guys really like having women around, so they were very encouraging. Occasionally there would be a comment, like some guy saying, ‘Gee, I can’t even do that move.’ It was an assumption that because he was a man, he could climb better than me.
I think it’s pretty obvious that women have a different approach to climbing than men. I’ve heard countless stories about the classic muscle bound guy who can’t get very far off the ground without running out of strength. Then a girl or woman comes along, and walks right up the route – probably because she shifts her weight over her feet and thereby conserves her strength. Guys tend to rely more on their upper body strength rather than paying careful attention to how they’re using the footholds.
However, when you look at the overall financial picture of society, there is still an inequality between the sexes. Women only make about seventy percent of what men make in the same job and they are expected to be twice a good. That’s so unfair since many women still take the majority of responsibility for the household and their children while maintaining a full-time job. In the work place, women don’t need to play by the “boy’s rules”. While men tend to be led by their egos to use cutthroat tactics to get ahead, women can adopt a more communally supportive role to cultivate harmony through their instinctive nurturing qualities. Unfortunately, sometimes women do gravitate towards a less supportive approach and actually attempt sabotage their perceived “competition”. That’s really disappointing for me to see, because women have the capacity to affect so much positive change in the world–why not use this incredible female power to build one another up?
As climbers we need to see possibilities instead of limitations. In that way, I think women are the perfect compliment to men. Given the opportunity, women can do things that were previously considered physically challenging – something previously thought of suitable ‘for men.’
I believe that we’re not even close to achieving the maximum level of performance in climbing— for men or women. Years ago, I said ‘Someday people are going to be warming up on 5.13,’ and we see that today. I could see then that if you took the training methods of gymnastics and applied them to climbing, standards would rise. Even twenty years ago, when I freed the Nose, I saw that climbing was still a young sport and that people weren’t even close to achieving their maximum potential. I saw that people were limited by their minds. Having a rigid mindset is a detriment, not just when it comes to gender, but in dealing with the world, with relationships, and cooperation at every level.
We don’t need to conquer anymore. That’s an outdated mentality. We need more cooperation in order to achieve harmony in our environment and society. So for everyone to advance and progress, to find a more harmonious balance in the world, women should be included, heard, and given an equal chance. And I think climbing is a great way for women and girls to develop their confidence, their abilities, and their creativity figuring out how to do a problem, how to work with others—how to step outside of concerns of the ego in order to promote health and happiness for everyone.
To be more broadly focused—that’s part of the journey of climbing. We all start out as egocentric little babies. We’ve been told that we should strive to be number one, and to be competitive with others, which makes us feel separated from each other rather than encouraging empathy and compassion toward others. I don’t’ find that to be a very evolved perspective of life.
As far as spirituality goes, I consider myself a spiritual person, but not a religious person. I’ve studied a bit of formal religions, but the one that interests me most is Buddhism. I identify with this philosophy and attitude toward life since there’s no rigid set of rules to follow. It reinforces an attitude toward others based on compassion and respect for all sentient beings. It also reminds me of the pitfalls of our own ego and the source of suffering. I find that really interesting. That’s been my greatest teacher, the combination of looking at my life through the lens of Buddhist thought, combined with climbing as the exercise or practice.
Climbing is a moving meditation that’s good for my soul. It’s my medicine. If I don’t climb, I don’t feel good. I suppose I could replace climbing with some other activity, but climbing is the thing that’s brought me closest to what I would call my natural state of being, closest to a connection with what is.
I do believe there is a higher order. You can call it God. I see it as a kind of Universal order that we all must respect in the way that we function in our world. I try to be conscious, and climbing is one way to practice that. It’s also my way of reflecting. I don’t just think about how to do a move, I look very critically at my motivations.
The thing that keeps me motivated is that I love to climb. When I look at a beautiful climb, I get excited because aesthetics are really important to me. That’s why I like to climb outside. I like to climb in pretty places.That’s the starting point. Even though you might think I’d get tired of climbing, I don’t because there’s so many different levels of enjoyment and it’s so integrated into my life—my friendships, places I’ve been all over the world, beautiful places.
And it feels good, you know? Just like the medicine of yoga, or any other kind of daily practice. It keeps my body feeling good. I’m still flexible and connected. It’s what I call my time when I can tune in and let go of all the other stuff that’s actually not that important. There’s this lightness of feeling that’s beyond words. If I’ve gone climbing you can see it in my face. You can see that I feel better.
And secondly, I think it’s natural that as you get older you appreciate doing more with less. In some ways it’s the same mentality we started out with as climbers thirty years ago, to do more with less, but I appreciate different aspects now.
For example, I really enjoy doing easy routes (that is routes that are relatively easy for me). I find a lot of pleasure in the movement.
But also I like going to a place like Rifle and saying, ‘Okay, I’m going to pick something that feels really hard.’ In fact, it feels like, ‘Oh my God. Will I ever be able to do this?’ Then little by little, you make progress. That’s really fascinating for me. And every route’s different. Even climbing the same route, sometimes it will occur to me I’m not doing the moves in the best way. Over time this natural optimization happens. As climbers, we’re always learning, and I like learning.
I’ve tried simple meditation, and perhaps in the future I’ll find more interest in that. At the moment I don’t spend much time doing Om Mani Padme Hum, but I do like taking baths. I’ll lie in my bathtub, and that’s a form of meditation because I’m not moving. I’m very comfortable. I’m in water, and I’m able to reflect. I call it Tub Time. I come up with a lot of ideas that way. It’s not meditating as much as it is reflecting. But I think reflection is important. It’s something we’re not doing enough of in today’s world, because we have so many choices and so many demands for our attention with constant phone calls, texts, and emails. But to take time to disengage from all those things and just reflect is important to our growth, and our understanding of things in our subconscious that we’re not looking at. I call that the little voice of intuition.
It happens when I’m climbing too. Sometimes I don’t listen to that little voice saying don’t put your hand there (where I think it should go because it’s got chalk all over it), but my subconscious knows better.
I started thinking about doing this instructional video even before I wrote my book Climbing Free. I wanted to give climbers some tangible tools to use to get better. But it wasn’t the right time. You might say I was still doing the R&D. In my book, I wanted to tell stories, give people some history and a few lessons, something entertaining. I knew that if I wanted to teach climbing, a video would be better, because if I wanted to demonstrate technique and talk about it, I also needed to show it.
In the future, after the video is finished, I’d like to move toward more interactive teaching, helping develop apparatus and systems similar to Pilates, but based on climbing. I’ve thought really long and hard about what I want to put my time into, and I think what people would benefit from most is sharing my experience and teaching potential. And of course, I also learn from them, so again it’s this concept of constantly learning and trying to do better.
I’ve thought for nearly thirty years about creating a system that would help build three-dimensional body awareness. And I’d like to offer it to the widest possible spectrum, from children to adults because climbing is a great activity, and each individual can decide where they want to take it. And I’d like to make it affordable. When you look at the history of climbing it was born in the Victorian era, practiced by wealthy people who hired local farmers to guide them in these grand mountains. And today you still have to have money. You can’t be on a climbing team without parents who have the time and money to support you. It’s not cheap and I feel bad about that.
So I’d like to turn things around, and once again do more with less. I personally have less time these days, and I know a lot of people feel that way. Wouldn’t it be nice to go and meet your neighbors down at the park, an outdoor park with really interesting bouldering that could be located anywhere? It builds community when people play together. It’s very healthy, and I believe it should be accessible and not something you need a lot of money for. So that’s my goal, and it’s a big one.
Primarily what I’m most interested in is having a rich life, exploring the world, getting to know myself better, as well as other amazing people in the world. It seems to have worked out pretty well so far….
If you could offer essential advice to other climbers what would it be?
Eat fresh organic food because it’s better for you. It tastes better, but also because if you buy wisely—local and organic—you’re supporting a farmer who’s doing things in a good way. Take the time to cook for yourself because generally speaking that’s the best food you’re going to get.
Secondly, take care of your body. Do your stretching. Some cardio is good. And try practicing a variety of sports in order to stay balanced, because climbers tend to become round shouldered from over development of their pulling muscles. So take care of your body by opening up your shoulders and staying balanced. Get massages. Most of all have fun! Don’t take it all too seriously because we all need playfulness in our lives. I tend to be a serious person, but if you can make fun of yourself it helps. It’s just a rock climb. Yeah, you slipped. You made a mistake. It’s no big deal. Try again with a different approach. Just because it’s not working the way you thought it would, doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Try a new approach, try something you haven’t thought of or tried before. There are infinite possibilities.
Finally, climbing is not just about feeling good about yourself because you did a certain route, it’s about being supportive of others, being part of a community and connecting to nature.
You’ve lived and climbed all over the world, why did you decide to settle in Boulder?
I don’t know if I’ll always be here. I’ve been here for ten years now, and my son Owen is a part of that decision. It works for him. He can do anything— from drumming lessons to special forms of martial arts.
There’s a good community here. It’s progressive. Smart people studying issues because they think that as a society we can do a better job than we’re doing. And that’s the way I approach climbing and life. I’m just trying to get better, and help make things better. Add to that the fact Boulder probably has the highest concentration of professional and avid climbers of anywhere in the U.S. And there is a wide diversity of different types of climbing nearby. You can drive in any direction and find someplace to climb, so I like that. And finally, we have the mountains right here… literally right out my backdoor.