Considering “Freed” Climbing and "Freed" Living

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Considering “Freed” Climbing and "Freed" Living

Postby landrus » Wed Feb 26, 2014 12:27 pm

Considering “Freed” Climbing and "Freed" Living

One of the fun things about climbing is that as climbers, we often have a chance to play on the same “field” that our stars play on. When I heard last month that Alex Honnold had free-soloed “El Sendero Luminoso” in El Potrero Chico, Mexico, my jaw dropped in amazement as I recalled the climbing of that route, albeit in a whole different fashion.

Doug and Calvin after 15 pitches!
EPC09elsendsummitb.jpg (72.5 KiB) Viewed 7890 times
In 2009, on the last day of our time at El Potrero (see pictures of that trip), I had the privilege of doing the route, which in English means “The Shining Path,” with longtime Solid Rocker, Doug Englekirk. On that day, he “freed” the fifteen pitch route which includes nine 5.12 pitches. I didn’t do too bad myself as I was able to “free” two of the 5.12 pitches and “did every move” of the route (with plenty of rests along the way).

A writer for the, Chris Weidner, posted a story about the first time Alex climbed the route, then with a rope and the same year Doug and I climbed it. As Chris recounts their climb, he puts the free-solo from last month into perspective and gives an understanding why he titled his article, “Alex Honnold masters climbing's most dangerous game.”

He and I bushwhacked toward El Sendero Luminoso before sunrise one March morning in 2009. As the darkness faded to gray I could see the massive wall looming above with no discernible features.

Alex led the first long pitch following small, vertical grooves of gray limestone. I watched him alter his movements to meet Sendero's challenges. There were no holds for him to pull up on with his hands or push down on with his feet. All that kept him on the wall was outward pressure against miniature runnels formed by rainwater. I followed awkwardly, fearfully, never knowing when I might fall off.

Pitch two was my lead. More than halfway up I balanced on tiptoes, desperately clawing at the smooth, rippled rock. There was nothing to grab, and my toes were losing strength.

"Alex!" I yelled down. "Watch me!"

I willed my toes to stand their ground, but in a matter of seconds both feet popped off the wall and I was flying. My scream was lost in the dry desert air. Twenty feet later the rope caught me and I dangled, exhausted.

My observations of the route echo what Chris wrote. There were many times when a slight adjustment in my body position would send me flying into space because many of the holds were not for pulling-down but only maintaining balance. To further appreciate the seriousness of the climb, view a short video posted below; you will come away breathless.

So by now, you are probably wondering where I’m going with this article. Well, as I contemplated and compared the ascents of El Sendero by Alex and Doug, I had a thought, one that only I might find interesting: “Is Doug’s ascent truly a free ascent of the route?”

Let’s start with the definition of free climbing. Stewart Green at has this definition: “Free climbing is when a climber ascends a rock face using only his hands and feet, as opposed to aid climbing where he places gear and either grabs it or stands in aiders to make upward progress. When free climbing, climbers use ropes and equipment to protect themselves only and don’t rely on it except for safety.”

By that standard definition, Doug did free climb the route. But did Alex’s ascent redefine what a free ascent is?

Now, the difference is not that Doug used gear and a rope for protection in case of a fall but that at many of the belays, there are no ledges. So at those stances, Doug hung off the projection. Did the resting on the anchors negate his claim of a free ascent in light of Alex going bottom to top without using “artificial” rests? (Please note that I doubt Doug cares if anyone knows about his ascent, its style, etc.)

Was Doug’s ascent free enough? I would vote yes but if you thought differently, I wouldn’t take issue with that. They both were able to free climb a beautiful line and enjoyed their freedom as human beings to do so.

Does that freedom they experienced extend without boundaries to everything a human does or believes? A dictionary definition of being free is: “exempt from external authority, interference, restriction, etc., as a person or one's will, thought, choice, action, etc.; independent; unrestricted.” Is that the view one must have to experience “freed” living? From a Christian perspective, I would suggest that it is not.

A passage in the Bible with the reference of Galatians 5:13-14 (Message) reads, “It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself.”

One time while descending a mountain in the North Cascades, my rope team gathered at the top of a knoll. Being only eighteen and a bit impulsive, I decided to take-off on a full-throttle glissade down to the next knoll. Partway down the 200 foot drop and after some screaming from my rope team partners, I realized that my “freedom” was about to cost my partners a yank to the ground and a ride down the slope in an uncontrolled slide. The “freed” life is not one in which one can do whatever one pleases!

On another occasion, some climbing buddies stayed with me for the weekend. They were headed out to Smith to do some more climbing before traveling home, and I was running out the door to church with three small kids in tow when I found I had a flat tire. To fully appreciate this moment, it was a “work” day for me as I was a pastor at that time and my wife, as a nurse often does, was working that Sunday. My buddies stopped their agenda and changed the tire for me. I felt so loved by their willingness to serve me in that moment.

I suggest that this kind of “freed” living comes as we come into a right relationship with God. The Apostle Paul in a letter to Colossians says, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” When each one embraces that they are righteous in God’s eyes through Christ, they are free and empowered to live a life full of serving others and God. This “freed” living gives one the life of significance that you may be missing.

Want to know more and fully understand how you can have the “freed” life? If so, please post your question below, contact me (calvin @ or another Christ-follower in your life. When you do, you will learn what Jesus meant when he said, “So if the Son (Jesus) sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)
Calvin Landrus
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Re: Considering “Freed” Climbing and "Freed" Living

Postby Jesse Dank » Thu Oct 23, 2014 7:40 pm

Love it!!!
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