I tweeted a question earlier this week - "If runner's have their "high" then what do we climbers have?" We couldn't have "high" even if it hadn't already been taken; it's just too bloody literal. I got a variety of replies including a four tweet epic from Mr NICAS himself, Ian McKenzie, but the basic gist of all the replies was that whatever we call that combination of superhuman and battered-to-hell set of emotions we experience after a session at the crag or after completing a grade-pushing pitch it's definitely a mix of elation at the achievement, the endorphin release from the strenuous exercise and the adrenaline shot of fear. My original question came from having completed my first overhanging lead during an evening at Craggy Island. It wasn’t a tough grade (only a 4) and had it been on less steep ground I'd have danced up it, but, I find overhangs deeply intimidating. They stir something visceral which just makes me want to run and hide. I've got to say it was bloody hard work, definitely not elegant and I made some glaring errors (including z clipping the second quickdraw and having to down climb to rectify) but I got to the top and I felt incredible. By the time Matt had lowered me off I was a quivering, sweaty mess. My legs and arms turned to jelly by the adrenaline and lactic, my mind singing from the endorphins and I was on top of the world. What I was feeling was akin to the "runner's high" but the extra loading of fear turned it into something far more powerful.
It started me thinking of the concept of the "sublime" as described by Robert Macfarlane in his excellent Mountains of the Mind. This concept of sublime is not the modern use of the word so beloved of Loréal and the like where Cheryl Kerl minces about telling us her hair "feels canny sublime, pet" This is the Sublime where you are elevated closer to your respective deity by proximity to the force of nature, the search for this Sublime is the force that drove respectable Victorians to swoon at the sight of a glacier and to haul cases of claret to the summit of Mont Blanc to quaff merrily in sight of their god whilst their toes (and servants) succumbed to frostbite. To my mind this is what we Climbers are experiencing, this "Runner's High Plus" we attain, is actually a little bit of The Sublime.
We know now, in the 21st Century, that this feeling is just the effect of a few molecules of hormone on our bodies and minds, but to reduce this awesome feeling to mere science doesn’t, I’m afraid, do it justice so I’m sticking with The Sublime and I intend to keep grabbing little bits of it whenever I can.