Those climbing muscles get a little weaker. But they can get stronger again. Rock climbing is, in good part, an anaerobic sport requiring strength and endurance in very specific areas. You need to use those muscles to keep them strong. Even with a day or two a week of upper body lifting, I didn't do a great job of maintaining my back strength. And my forearms? Forget it. The only workout they'd been getting was periodically opening and closing my Nalgene. I was pretty darn sore after my first day back at Go Vertical last week. It was expected, and felt great! It was my body's way of gently reminding me of the muscles I'd been neglecting.
The first few routes feel a bit weird. But muscle memory lasts a long time. I walked in to Go Vertical and noticed one of my projects, a long, balancy face climb requiring a high-step every other move with lots of finger pockets, was still there. Phew! I walked to another wall and I clipped in to warm up on a nice, gentle 5.6. The first half of the route felt strange. I was making rookie mistakes - not keeping the weight on my legs, over-gripping, spending a lot of time "dancing" on holds, etc. After a few more easy-before-the-hiatus routes, I felt normal again. But it'll be a few more weeks before I'm ready for the project!
Climbing buddies will still invite you to climb, even if you can't. And when you come back, they'll be there, and you'll be ecstatic to see them. I sent way too many "no" replies to outing invitations this summer from the various groups within the Philly climbing community. I missed a lot, without a doubt. But walking in to the gym and seeing familiar faces was wonderful. I'm grateful for their presence and for the fact that they kept inviting me along!
You have a chance to rekindle, renew, even reinvent your relationship with climbing. I promised myself I'd work to develop a healthier relationship with the sport after the Mt. Rainier trip. Climbing and I have our ups and downs, our silent arguments, and our bad days. Such is life. But a lot of things continued to eat away at our relationship, and I want to work on them.
First, I resolved to stop putting so much pressure on myself. No pressure to push my physical and mental limits every day, unless it's fun. Climb because it's fun. Reasonable expectations are key.
Second, I resolved to climb for me. I have trouble separating my expectations from others', and climbing is no different. Do I climb because I want to, or because I feel like I have to? I've been an organizer for the Philadelphia Rock Climbing Meet-up Group for two years. It's been a great way to meet other Philly area climbers, introduce new people to the sport, and to hang out with some incredible folks. Many of them are my go-to friends for local outdoor climbs, and I wouldn't trade the group for anything. But organizing got to be more stressful than it was fun, and I finally admitted I needed to take a step back. Saying that out loud felt so, so good.
Third, I resolved to practice letting go, both literally (exposure and desensitization!) and figuratively. I want to learn to let go of my fear of falling and of failure. There's no reason to worry about not being good enough when I'm doing something I love because I love doing it. It's a lot easier to go with the flow when the flow looks more like a gently meandering stream than a rushing river full of giant boulders and whirlpools.
If you've ever taken a break from a sport or other endeavor you loved, what did you learn? Leave your thoughts in the comments!