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Shitting In Bags And Other Things I've Learned From Climbing

Ontario Climbing guidebook author and ACMG guide Justin Dwyer discusses shitting in bags and other things he's learned from climbing.
Bathroom Sign
To make a long story short, so I can get to the point, I was for a while living in a house without running water – a situation with numerous challenges. The only one worth writing about is the disposal of human waste.

I was recounting my climbing-inspired solutions to this problem to my friend Gus, when he suggested I write an article about adapting big-wall tactics like shitting in bags (one of my solutions) to solving real world problems. It was a great idea, but all I could come up with was how to deal with shit. I could ramble on about climbers knowing knots so that they can properly tie down a king-sized mattress (and box spring) to the roof of a hatchback Honda Civic for highway travel. Or I could share an anecdote about how I used a GriGri, a pulley, a prussik, a stout tree branch and my knowledge of 3:1 haul systems to lift my riding lawnmower so I could replace the drive belt.
Haul System
But then I’d have to suggest that one-inch tubular webbing is a great chafe-free product for 50 Shades of Grey-inspired adult play. No, I won't stoop to drawing sketches of elaborate anti-gravity sex swings that you can build with some basic gear that’s in your climbing pack right now. I'm worried that they might replace the ubiquitous hammock at the crag. I'm a better writer than that, and I don’t want to be responsible for unleashing this new trend at the crags.

Instead, I’ll share with you what climbers take from their climbing lives into their real lives.
Fifty Shades of Grey
1. Climbing teaches us to adapt to the unknown.
This is evident with every onsight attempt and with every time we reach upwards for the next unknown hold. Every time we try to find a crag or route (from guidebook authors’ capricious mixes of maps, photos and blabbering) and every time we enter into the unknown, we are adapting to the challenges presented. We push forward against all odds and learn how to deal with defeat when our plans fail. We do not give up. Rather, we search for a solution to the problem.

2. Climbing teaches us how to project.
I can already see all the sport climbers nodding their heads, and the crusty trad climbers ready to try and convince me that they don't project. While you may not be hangdogging the route into eventual submission, you’re still studying the route, reading guidebooks, deciding what to bring and making a plan. All this is part of projecting. Planning, organization, teamwork, preparation and determination are all part of the process, and we can apply these skills to any daily work or life project. Of course, not all projects are as simple as the white project that you did in three tries after figuring out that subtle hip twist. Climbing projects, as with life, can take us days, weeks, months, even years. And the longer the project, the more we learn how to deal with stress and the mental ups and downs.

3. Climbing teaches us trust.
There are very few other activities that require us to trust so intensely. Climbing requires us to trust others with our lives. We may find that we have difficulty in trusting those to whom we haven't given the honour of belaying our rope. At the same time, though, we do have criteria by which people can gain our trust. Most importantly, climbing teaches us to trust ourselves and trust in our own abilities. It gives us the confidence to approach the unknown.
Justin Dwyer
Justin Dwyer is an ACMG Climbing Gym Instructor and Apprentice Rock Guide. He has been climbing and documenting routes on the Niagara Escarpment for over 15 years. He has always been passionate about local climbing history and obsessively collects all-things related to climbing in Ontario. Over the years, he was given the prestigious title of Captain Nemo by prolific Ontario guidebook author, David Smart. He has climbed over 65% of Nemo’s 300+ routes, but his level of completionism extends far beyond to almost every crag. He is the undisputed master of the Escarpment’s weird, esoteric and obscure.