Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

Exposure On and Off the Rock

In looking for relevant posts to use while out of town, I stumbled across this post I did a couple of years ago on exposure.  Even though I ended up not using it while I was in Michigan, I felt like it still applied, so I tweaked it a little, and voila!

Exposure is a commonly used term in rock climbing that might not be familiar to those outside of the sport. I found an online dictionary that defined it as “being in a situation in which you are very aware that you are high off the ground.” In other words, standing on a large summit that is capped by lots of soil and very tall, thick trees would not be considered as exposed as a 3 foot wide pinnacle several hundred feet off the deck. A steep route traversing across a narrow ridge would be more exposed than a route that meanders up a low-angle slab.

Steve demonstrating exposure...

Steve demonstrating the exposure that Seneca is famous for...

A great example of one of these routes is “Gunsight to South Peak Direct.” The route’s difficulty rating is 5.4/5.5, which for those of you not familiar with climbing grades, means that it is a very easy – probably easier than climbing a ladder… However, this route has been referred to in some circles as “the scariest 5.4 on the planet.” Now, even to beginner climbers, the terms “scary” and “5.4” aren’t generally used in the same sentence. This route is also given a “G” rating (as opposed to PG-13, R, X), which means that there are plenty of opportunities for the lead climber to place protective gear (such as stoppers and camming units) into cracks and other features of the rock along the way to keep everyone safe in the instance of a fall.

Getting started on Gunsight to South Peak (Direct Variation)

Getting started on Gunsight to South Peak (Direct Variation)

Exposure typically intensifies a route. I have a few climber friends that are afraid of heights (ironic, huh?) and they usually tend to avoid routes that involve a high amount of exposure. When I think about exposure, the crag that immediately comes to mind is Seneca Rocks, West Virginia, an area reknowned for its levels of exposure, even on the easiest of routes.

So the moves are not complex, no technique required really, and any experienced climber should have no problem with placing the gear – so what makes this route so scary? EXPOSURE. It climbs up a very narrow arete to a summit ridge that is only a few feet wide in places. On either side of you is about 900 feet of air. Even though nothing about the route is difficult physically, you’ve got to flex some mental muscles to keep yourself focused.

Exposure seems to make everything seem a little more “real.” Hopefully every climber knows that their sport is one in which certain mistakes are not allowed. If I fail to clip into my anchor or tie my knot correctly, a fall could very likely result in serious injury or death. When I am hanging out at a nice restful stance, feeling secure on low-angle rock that is shielded from the sun and wind by trees, the consequences are the same as balancing atop tiny pinnacle. However, the giant ledge somehow FEELS safer. Even though I can look into the horizon and can tell that I am up quite high, when I look straight down at my feet, I still see dirt. When climbing at areas like Seneca, more times than not when I look down to find my next foothold, I see nothing but air – the exposure brings everything to a new level of awareness – it’s an in your face, stomach-dropping, can’t get it out of my head kind of awareness.

Steve securely swimming in a sea of slab on Deidre (5.8) in Squamish, British Columbia

Steve securely swimming in a sea of slab on Deidre (5.8) in Squamish, British Columbia

I think this concept of exposure can also apply to life off the rock. Its easy to get stuck in a rut, going thru the motions on some low-angle slab – feeling safe and secure in the routines of life. Its much more comfortable living there than being vulnerable on the steep, overhanging, “risky” walls. But, in reality, is the slab really that much safer? Are the exposed, steep parts of our lives really that much riskier? How often have you been living in a ho-hum, “safe” mindset one day only to have your world turned upside down the next – a lost job, the death of a loved one, an injury, etc.

The journey of life is a risky undertaking no matter who you are or what your occupation and hobbies might be. The bottom line is that storms will happen in our lives at one time or another. I’m not saying that we should live in fear of what lies around the next corner, just noting that thinking we can keep ourselves immune from any type of hardship actually leaves us with a false sense of control. So we can tiptoe through life, avoiding any exposure and taking the route that “seems” safer – live life in a bubble, only associating with those who look and think like we do, content wearing glasses of ignorance at what is going on in the world around us, and never let anyone see our weaknesses. Or, we could choose to embrace the exposure – get out of our comfort zones, try something different and new, and perhaps show a little bit of vulnerability and humility every now and then.

Enjoying the view from the exposed South Peak Summit at Seneca Rocks, West Virginia

Enjoying the view from the exposed South Peak Summit at Seneca Rocks, West Virginia back in 2009

As the saying goes, “Its a great big world out there.” Living life on the steep side, being exposed and vulnerable to others, isn’t any more dangerous than hanging out on low-angled rock where it feels like there are no risks. Don’t be afraid of the exposure – live your life with your eyes wide open and embrace the rawness of living.


12 Responses to “Exposure On and Off the Rock”

  1. I love this post, very thoughtful 🙂


  2. #Exposure On and Off the Rock via @cragmama


  3. +1 RT @cdnrockiesgirl: Love this post from @Cragmama on exposure in rock climbing and life. Very thoughtful. #climb


  4. Awesome…awesome post! RT @Cragmama Life lessons learned from rock #climb ing and exposure…


  5. Erica,

    What a timeless and beautifully written post on the realities of risk and its presence everywhere. Putting ourselves out there, with all our quirks, passions and vulnerabilities is so necessary in creating a life truly aligned with who we are at our core. Thanks for the reminder to embrace the everyday risks of life.

    “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anais Nin


  6. Wonderful post on exposure and risk from @cragmama


  7. Good stuff by @Cragmama RT: Life lessons learned on the rock about exposure: #climb #nature


  8. Good one Erica! Every time I go to Seneca, it scares the crap out of me. I need to go more! Even though you are only a couple hundred feet of the deck there, it feels like 1000.


    • Unfortunately we haven’t been out to Seneca since 2009, just before I got preggo with Cragbaby. Can’t wait til C is old enough for us to be able to get out multi-pitchin’ again!

  9. Exposure On and Off the Rock via @cragmama


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“Not all who wander are lost.” —JRR TOLKIEN