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TED2009

Matthew Childs: 9 life lessons from rock climbing

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In this talk from TED University 2009, veteran rock climber Matthew Childs shares nine pointers for rock climbing. These handy tips bear on an effective life at sea level, too.

- Marketer, rock climber
Matthew Childs is an advertising lead at Razorfish. He is a lifelong rock climber and climbing guide. Full bio

It's pretty simple. There are nine, sort of, rules
00:12
that I discovered after 35 years of rock climbing.
00:15
Most of them are pretty basic.
00:19
Number one: don't let go --
00:23
very sure success method.
00:26
But really, truly -- often you think about
00:28
letting go way before your body does.
00:31
So hang in there,
00:33
and you come up with some pretty peculiar solutions.
00:35
Number two: hesitation is bad.
00:39
This is a friction climb, up in Tuolumne Meadows,
00:41
in the Yosemite high country.
00:44
Friction climbing doesn't have any sort of hard positive edges.
00:46
You're climbing on little dimples and nubbins in the rock.
00:50
The most friction you have is when you first put your hand
00:54
or your foot on the rock.
00:58
And then from that point on, you're basically falling.
01:01
So momentum is good. Don't stop.
01:05
Rule number three: have a plan.
01:08
This is a climb called the Naked Edge,
01:10
in El Dorado Canyon, outside of Boulder.
01:12
This climber is on the last pitch of it.
01:14
He's actually right about where I fell.
01:17
There is about 1,000 feet of air below him.
01:19
And all the hard pitches are actually below him.
01:22
Often what happens is
01:25
you're planning so hard for like,
01:27
"How do I get through the hardest part? How do I get through the hardest part?"
01:29
And then what happens?
01:32
You get to the last pitch. It's easy.
01:34
And you're completely flamed out. Don't do it.
01:36
You have to plan ahead to get to the top.
01:39
But you also can't forget that each individual move
01:42
you have to be able to complete.
01:45
This is a climb called the Dike Route,
01:47
on Pywjack Dome, up in the Yosemite high country.
01:49
The interesting thing about this climb is it's not that hard.
01:53
But if you're the leader on it,
01:56
at the hardest move, you're looking at about 100 foot fall,
01:58
onto some low angle slabs.
02:02
So you've got to focus.
02:04
You don't want to stop in the middle like
02:06
Coleridge's Kubla Kahn.
02:09
You've got to keep going.
02:11
Rule number five: know how to rest.
02:13
It's amazing. The best climbers
02:15
are the ones that in the most extreme situations
02:17
can get their bodies into some position
02:20
where they can rest,
02:22
regroup, calm themselves, focus,
02:24
and keep going.
02:27
This is a climb in the Needles, again in California.
02:31
Fear really sucks because what it means is
02:33
you're not focusing on what you're doing.
02:35
You're focusing on the consequences of
02:38
failing at what you're doing
02:40
because any given move should require
02:43
all your concentration and thought processes
02:45
to execute it effectively.
02:50
One of the things in climbing is, most people
02:52
sort of take it straight on. And they follow the most obvious solution.
02:55
This is the Devils Tower in Wyoming,
02:59
which is a columnar basalt formation
03:02
that most of you probably know from "Close Encounters."
03:05
With this, typically crack climbers
03:08
would put their hands in and their toes in
03:10
and just start climbing.
03:12
The cracks are too small to get your toes into
03:14
so the only way to climb is using your fingertips
03:17
in the cracks,
03:20
and using opposing pressure
03:22
and forcing yourself up.
03:24
Rule number eight: strength doesn't always equal success.
03:27
In the 35 years I've been a climbing guide
03:30
and taught on indoor walls, and stuff like that,
03:32
the most important thing I've learned
03:34
was, guys will always try to do pull-ups.
03:36
Beginning guys, it's like, they thrash, they thrash,
03:39
they get 15 feet up --
03:41
and they can do about 15 pull-ups right --
03:43
And then they just flame out.
03:45
Women are much more in balance
03:47
because they don't have that idea
03:49
that they're going to be able to do 100 pull-ups.
03:52
They think about how to get the weight over their feet
03:54
because it's sort of natural -- they carry you all day long.
03:57
So balance is really critical,
04:00
and keeping your weight on your feet,
04:02
which is your strongest muscle.
04:04
And of course there is rule number nine.
04:06
I came up with rule number nine after
04:08
I actually didn't plan for a fall,
04:10
and went about 40 feet and cracked a rib.
04:12
Once you get to that point where you know it's going to happen,
04:15
you need to start thinking about how you're going to let go
04:18
because that is the critical piece
04:21
of not getting hurt --
04:24
how you're going to fall onto the rope,
04:26
or if you're climbing without a rope,
04:30
fall to a place where you can actually control the fall.
04:32
So don't hang on till the bitter end.
04:36
Thank you very much.
04:39
(Applause)
04:41

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About the speaker:

Matthew Childs - Marketer, rock climber
Matthew Childs is an advertising lead at Razorfish. He is a lifelong rock climber and climbing guide.

Why you should listen

A specialist in digital branding and interactive services, Matthew Childs seeks out new trends in competitive markets. As an advertising lead at Razorfish, Childs draws from extensive experience in the marketing world, having led Nike's global internal communications department. Before that, he was a writer and editor for Outside Magazine and Playboy.

Apart from his career, Childs' passion is rock climbing.

More profile about the speaker
Matthew Childs | Speaker | TED.com