What Rock Climbing at AML is Really About

I have been rock climbing for 15 years, and I can confidently say that climbing is exciting. Sometimes climbing excites an individual in a way that encourages more climbing- towards enjoyment. And sometimes climbing excites an individual in a way that deters them from future climbing experiences- towards fear. Most of the time it’s a little of both.

Of course, the nature of how a rock climbing experience is facilitated will have some influence on the type of excitement felt. At AML, we work with a lot of first time rock climbers, and we take great care to craft positive climbing experiences that result in an increased desire to participate in climbing.

Either way you slice it though, rock climbing is a powerful experience; you may even say sensational. Which brings me to the title of this blog post. When we utilize rock climbing in our programs, we do so not (primarily) for it’s sensational value but for its transformational value.

Rock climbing, as we facilitate it, is an experience which generates a level of challenge that peels layers back. The challenge inherent in the physical act of climbing, the necessary cooperative participation in a team, and the interaction with new technical systems provides an ideal environment to edge out of the veneer that we unknowingly, or even prefer to, keep up.   

To paraphrase MLK, the true measure of a person will be found not in moments of comfort but in moments of challenge. Sometimes we never know what strength, longing, conviction, searching, compassion, or desire is truly in our core until we peel back the doubt and insecurity that we’ve spent years piling on. We spend hours, days, and years addressing symptoms without ever digging down to discover the underlying cause.

In a relatively short amount of time, we can fully utilize rock climbing as an instrument for encouraging participants to search themselves in a profound and transformational way. The sensational value of climbing is merely icing on the cake of self discovery and community awareness.

I’ll wrap it up here with this quote from an accompanying adult following one of our recent climbing programs that I think illustrates what I mean when I say, “it’s not really about the climbing.” These students were from Eckerd Connects residential program, which is part of their juvenile justice services:

“...these boys did nothing but encourage each other today and [they] really got to experience something new. At the end of the day, they were gently encouraged to “be the men we need” in the world, which is highly important and seriously beautiful that our [Instructors] recognized the ability of these guys to be amazing human beings, despite the challenges they’ve faced. I’m thankful for other adults who can see the bright futures these boys have and not just their criminal behaviors.”