Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Hanging out with the climbing gang, I've noticed there's a somewhat substantial sector of the climbing population that has developed alternative cleanliness standards. Some have become a bit "squiggly about the edges," emitting an earthy pungency while wearing clothes that are, admittedly, routinely hung on their bedroom floors. The most enthusiastic climbers I've met have hairstyles that have a perfect balance of the unruly nonconformist and unwashed.

I call their big, curly, greasy, floppy, or stringy coiffed mops, "Neanderthal chic."

At first, I thought these practices reflected a ethnographical connection between the land and the (wo)man. You know, the closure one gets to nature, the more natural one becomes. I attributed this earthy mystique to nature itself, to the love of rock and scenery one must certainly develop while ascending to great heights.

But in my humble two months of climbing, I've discovered it's far more practical than that. Always looking for theories, I missed the practices.

I, too, get a bit squiggly, and it has nothing to do with the great outdoors. I'm not making a political statement, or imagining a life free from chemical interventions, like deodorant. Though it's true that I'm becoming more lax in my shower schedule and more tolerant of undone dishes, my motives have nothing to do with saving the earth.

I just don't want to get my hands wet.

Cleanliness may bring one closer to Godliness, but washing dishes and showering every day make the callouses on my hands far too tender. They rip open, give way, while projecting routes. I've had several days in the last two weeks when my hands hurt so badly, I had to stop climbing far earlier in the night than I expected. In fact, I'm rather disappointed in my milquetoast hands at the moment. I'm trying to toughen them up.

As a blossoming wall weasel I'm discovering, to my horror, that all the rhetoric surrounding women's hands as soft, as worthy of protection and in need of a fantastic moisturizer to keep them looking youthful, is a bunch of crap. If I want to climb the way my heart wants to, I'm going to have to give up my insecurities about age and agelessness. Shit.

And like other climbers I know, while contemplating an evening out, I've stood before the shower stall and weighed the need to be clean with the need to climb later. "If I wash up now, my hands are going to be hamburger later," I think. Nobody bothered to tell me that becoming a climber could mean becoming a proponent of the "whore's bath" - and I'm amused by this secret bond we share.

Today, for example, is a climbing day for me. It's morning, and I should be embarking on my toilette routine. Instead, I'm sitting here, weighing the benefits of squeaky clean v. protecting my callouses. "Screw it, I'll shower after I climb" has become a mantra of mine, and when the goal is to climb every day I wonder if I'll ever find time to shower at all.

Though one must certainly take great care of one's grundle and/or bandt, and women certainly must avoid the Pike's Place Fish Market complex, climbing and bathing present an awkward paradox all the same.

Before climbing, I was a home spa girl. I loved shower gels and lotions, back scrubbers and anything that made me feel pampered. Now that I've been flailing about on the wall, however, I'm looking at all the products in my shower caddy and considering them obstacles to my overall goals. My bottle of sandalwood rose shower gel is no longer decadent. It's a lure to tender skin failure. Bath and Body Works, my once happy place, is the devil's workshop.

So what's a girl like me to do?

Well, I'm going to shower this morning but only because I stink. But I know as soon as I get on the wall today, I'll regret it. This seems to be the daily dilemma, and today's no different. While I'm harnessed in and working on that overhang 5.7 later today, I'll admire the Neanderthal chic, their swagger and calloused attitudes toward bathing and hope that someday, I'll be like them.

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