Mastery and Direction | Mason Pitchel

Quest University student and blurr ambassador Mason Pitchel shares insight into the changes in his life since moving to Squamish, and how he found direction in his love for climbing. 

Squamish

Squamish is the place where I’ve felt entirely at ease. I’m using the word ‘ease’ in a very specific way - a combination of the words ‘belonging’ and ‘comfortable’ and maybe even ‘at home.’ 

As far as climbing goes, living in Squamish has been a double-edged sword. Before moving to Squamish, I was always warned about the rain. “Hope you like rain” or “Jeez that’s a bold move” or “Isn’t that the rainiest place in the world?” were the three most common responses. In typical fashion, I managed to do some top-notch rationalizing. Maybe I was desensitized by all of the people telling me it was going to suck, but somehow I told myself that the rain wouldn’t be so bad, that I would still get to climb through the winter. Silly me.

When I got here, it looked like I was going to be right. I climbed outside at least three times a week during September and October. During November, we had an incredible two-week window where it was both dry and cold, and everything felt perfect. I sacrificed my sleep, and climbed outside every day. In the morning, I would do course work, and go to class until 4. When class got out, my friends and I would rally, and climb around the boulders sometimes until the early morning. If we were too excited about climbing, we didn’t go home, and slept on our crash pads. Things were looking good. But then Squamish delivered its usual dose of heavy rain, and two month later, it’s still coming down as I write.

 
[When people asked] me what I would be doing if I couldn’t climb...I struggled to provide an answer. I was worried that I had become so one-track, so obsessed that I no longer had any depth. But now I feel like I may have more clarity.
 

Squamish played a cruel trick on me. I wasn’t prepared, and it lulled me into complacency. Being from the east coast, I grew up climbing with a frenzied urgency. Our seasons are sporadic and unpredictable, so when the weather is good, everyone drops everything and climbs. 

Climbing in Squamish is the most accessible I’ve seen. So, this fall, I was operating under the assumption that I would be able to get out all the time. That assumption was proven for the first few months, but Squamish fooled me and I sat idle. During the first month of rain, I wasn’t able to climb outside, and instead buried myself in course work. I didn’t train or climb in the gym, because some part of me thought that the weather would improve any day and I could go back to the way things were. The result was that I wound up effectively taking a month off. Over the holidays, I did some thinking, and realized my mistake. I came home and just felt heavy. And I hated it.

Around the same time, I ran into my friend Keith, who happens to be a neuroscientist that is very excited about climbing training. We did some talking, and he generously set me up with a training program that will hopefully allow me to plan when my strengths are going to peak. It’s cool stuff, complete with spreadsheets and graphs. The idea is that I’ll be toiling away through the winter, trying to strengthen my fingers, so that when that seemingly mythical weather window does hit, I will be ready.

Mastery and Direction

I was recently introduced to Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Outliers, which claims that the way to achieve expertise in a skills is approximately 10, 000 of correct practice.

I was astounded. By that number, if one was to devote all their time to, say, knitting, it would take them 4 years to become a master knitter. That’s if they do it as their full time job, and don’t take any vacation days. If they just spent one hour a day knitting, it would take almost 28 years. I figured that I have spent around 4,500 hours climbing. I’ve been at it for 9 years now, and I’m not even halfway there. That got me to thinking:

Our time on the planet is so severely limited. Relatively speaking, we can do so little. If we measure it in terms of books, we can only read 800, maybe 900. It’s dispiriting, but at the same time powerfully motivating.

People often ask me what I would be doing if I couldn’t climb, or if I hadn’t found climbing. Before my understanding of the 10, 000 hour rule, I struggled to provide an answer. I was worried that I had become so one-track, so obsessed that I no longer had any depth. But now, I feel like I may have more clarity.

Climbing can help be the vehicle to do the things I’d like to. I want to take a backpacking trip through France, stopping at Céüse and the Verdon Gorge. I want to tour the country by bike, with my crashpad on my back. I want to see the world, even if it means perceiving it through the lens of a climber.

And so, because our time on the planet is so limited, because it takes so much time to master something, because there are so many things that I want to do, I will keep on climbing, only now with some direction. I think that I’ve always been assured that I love climbing because of the way it makes me feel at the end of the day. It’s hard not to be drawn to something from which I so directly derive happiness and tiredness and satisfaction, even satisfaction in my tiredness. That was, and still is, the reason that I climb. The new realization, the thing I am taking from that trip to the springs, is the assured-ness in the direction that I am taking it.

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