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 three 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.
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 the Needles in South Dakota. This area is renowned for its physically easy climbing on mentally difficult terrain, and my family had an opportunity to go there just a few weeks ago.
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 just dirt. When climbing at areas like the Needles, 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.
I think this concept of exposure can also apply to life off the rock. Its easy to get stuck in a rut, going through 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.
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!
Photo Credit: Manuela Eilert