Moving Goals

Boulder grades are confusing. In the french system, difficulties are marked with numbers and letters: Starting from 1, the easiest grade, increasing numbers represent increasing difficulties up until 9. From grade 6 on, however, every difficulty is again split into three parts. For example, the 6th grade is split into 6A, 6B, 6C, from easy to hard. For even better resolution, a plus sign is appended if the problem is in between grades, such as 7B+ (more difficult than 7B, but not difficult enough for a 7C). And then there are multiple other systems besides the french one which cannot be mapped exactly to one another. Currently, the two hardest boulders on this planet are rated as 9A, but only few people have ever even climbed 8C, let alone 8C+.

The first time I went outside, I barely could climb a 6A let alone higher grades. Coming from indoor bouldering, outdoor rock required skills I never learned before. I was in awe of a 7A boulder that I deemed nearly impossible. And I set it as my goal to climb this boulder, one day in the far future.

Back then, it took me more than 1.5 years, but I finally managed it. After many visits and countless hours. After visiting it in hot summer and during cold winter. I knew every intimate detail of the rock, every dent and bulge, every sharp corner. But on this one day, not anymore in the far future, I just did it – and I was happy.

At least for this short moment on top. Until the thoughts crept in: Is it enough? Is this really what I wished for? Have I reached my ultimate goal in bouldering? This insignificant piece of rock, hidden in the forest that I discovered one day, which captured my mind since? And I realized, it’s not.

I chose another block, just 5 minutes further down the trail: A 7B that I considered out of my possibilities during all the other visits. And the cycle repeated. I topped it a year later, followed by my next project: the 7C I never imagined. Which I also topped another year later, followed by the mysterious grade of 8A. Now, on and off, my goal since three years.

But by now, I am afraid of doing it.

Since three years it feels like this is the one and ultimate goal I have: A grade I never could have imagined. A grade, where it’s possible to count all its boulders in the whole north of Germany with two hands. What happens if I reach it? Will it be as with all the other goals? Happy for a short minute before the next goal comes into sight and the struggle begins all over?

When is enough enough?

When can I be satisfied?

This pattern is not limited to bouldering. I struggle to do something just for the sake of doing it. Instead, I continuously set higher and more difficult goals, compare myself to everybody else, compare myself to future me. On the one side, the goals help because they keep me engaged and push me to my limits. Even beyond my limits. But they also entail inevitable failure. They represent a never ending quest without an end. There will be some goal I set and never reach. The one photo I can never get, the efficient algorithm I’ll never find, the last boulder on my list. Maybe it’s the 8A, maybe an 8A+; either way, it’s guaranteed that I will never reach it: the last goal.

The following photos would also fit in a ‘lockdown’ series. But even without any current restrictions I was lacking time and motivation to go much outside lately, thus, here are some pictures only from within our flat.

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