Teaching anchors before I knew about the still point.
“Anything you do has a still point. When you are in that still point, you can perform maximally.”
— Joseph Campbell
I have spent my climbing career securing human lives to the mountain. In finding a climbing anchor one seeks something that will not fail during the time it is being used. Getting it right is critical. In the ever-changing mountain world, it takes being in the still point to find the immovable.
The largest part of my climbing career has been occupied by ascending ice. I have scaled countless beautiful blue columns of frozen water over my lifetime. Years in the cold hold a place of warmth in my heart because I’ve been immersed in gorgeous places with the most resilient characters. Yes, ice climbing is temperament building because it asks us to be our best, while suffering deeply.
One of the ways I have needed be my best while ice climbing has been to find and build solid anchors. Anchoring to ice demands the capacity to inhabit the here and now and make life and death decisions solely based on what I sense. Presence is the still point. Ice climbs change from year to year, day to day, hour to hour and even minute to minute. Being in tune with what is happening with the ice at a given moment is the key. Presence is the most powerful tool for the ice climber. Presence (or the still point) slows everything down so that I can have an exchange with the environment. I find out about the quality of the ice and the situation that supports it by listening to its every tone. Noticing its subtle hue. Feeling into its temperature and of the air. And witnessing its character. After engaging all of these variables and more, I find the place that will hold fast if there is one to be found. Failing to connect with my still point will result in failing to find solid ice. In this knowledge, ice climbing helps me learn to be whole.
On a guide’s exam once I was rushing in an effort to impress. I failed to inhabit the still point and because of this chose a shoddy anchor. My co-candidate said to me, “Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.” My effort to impress landed the opposite. Intrinsic effort is best. The climb means little. Getting to the top means even less. If I find the still point I succeed because stillness is the thing of life. Everything we are and hope to be, come from this place. In connecting with it I connect with myself. The still point is the space that holds love and compassion for all things, even building anchors. The still point is the place to anchor. In a world filled with dead end paths, the here and now is all we need.