There is some part of many climber’s minds that is slightly broken. We like to fail, repeatedly, and come back for more. Some part of us likes the fight—wants to suffer.


Such a cliche question has been written about in all of the climbing blogs and magazines.

“Why do you do it? Climb? Project? Boulder? Trad? Dirtbag?”

We’re not traditionalists … in the traditional sense.

The obnoxious question got me to thinking: why project? Why not just seek out new climbs? What draws me, and so many other climbers, back to the same route for days, months, years?

For me, this has changed over the years. Understanding the different reasons, I’ve learned, informs how my climbing session goes.

Projecting for ego

Let’s get the white elephant out of the room to start. Climbing is often driven by ego. There is an old joke that climbers have 3 priorities:

  1. Look good
  2. Have fun
  3. Be safe

Yes, in that order.

“Ha, ha” … right? But, for real. That’s a thing.

We laugh about it and then look behind us to see who is watching when we get on a V4 “warm up” someone else has been working for 15 minutes. And, while no one wants to admit they like the feeling of “running up” someone else’s project, the reality is many people are driven by it.

Especially climbing indoors, the climb’s grade card is often displayed on the starting holds. It’s an incessant reminder that we are comparing ourselves to numbers, other climbers, our PRs. And, ego thrives here.

I’m not trying to argue here that ego has no place in climbing. Competition is ego-driven. I do contend that ego likes to run away with itself. When it’s the sole or most prevalent motivator we run into something negative and often obnoxious.

Interestingly enough, I find if I approach a climb like this I get shut down. The worry that I have to perform or look a certain way takes away from what’s important: focusing.

Projecting for learning’s sake

We all hope to transcend at some point and project for the love of the process. This is why everyone says they project … though with some accountability, I’m sure we’d all find other, perhaps co-existing, motivations within ourselves.

Sometimes we project because the process is learning. Ritualistically doing the same 50-something moves does something to the brain. It creates connections that didn’t previously exist, it solidifies concepts that were before too abstract. It creates a space to experiment and play.

In this way, it makes us mentally stronger and physically more capable. Projecting is “practicing.” Something that other sports embrace, but climbers have yet to quite grasp. Practicing makes better … not perfect.

Projecting because type II fun is … fun?

Once someone comes to terms with the fact that they truly love the machoism of projecting, it seems that it’s hard to steer away. When you’re not pushing so hard that your scared shitless or physically collapsing, something just doesn’t quite seem right …

Eventually, it seems people just settle into the notion that projecting is part of their personality, and all grades and zen-moment aside, it’s downright painful and oddly fun at the same time.

Projecting is what propels sports. It’s how runners keep shortening the mile time. It’s where 5.15c came from. Sports, science, the universe progresses because some people are twisted and want to see what happens when they are pushed to the brink.

Sometimes that mentality takes lives … and sometimes it hurts. Then there are the moments when it does something amazing: it teaches us about our limits and how our mind creates barriers that sometimes stop us from actually learning.

Motivation in climbing comes in many forms and can often evolve from one project to the next … But in the end maybe what matters most is that we’re in touch with our motivations. Do you know what drives you?

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