Short Changed?

My chalky fingers felt around for the best part of the hold. It was a long, horizontal crease, kind of shaped like a nervous smile. More pursed in some corners than others, it wouldn’t take a uniform crimp comfortably. So I lined up my digits as neatly as I could. It would just take my pads.

The author's very cute little shoe next to that of a regular sized human's. Image Michael Hampton.

As I settled my right heel on an irregular bump, I heard somebody say, “That’s unfair how small her fingers are.”

I was about to pull one of my unfairly small middle fingers off the hold and point it in a different direction when another voice said, “She has to have some advantages.”

You see, small hands come with other things; like small muscles and a small reach. “Just stand!” is the most common advice hurled in my direction, to which I would like to say – to all the six-foot-two bumbling oafs out there – that isn’t always a solution for people who are five foot flat.

“Normal-sized” people, I often grumble, just don’t get it. They don’t get that reaching a hold they could kiss with their eyelashes can, for short people, involve more tricks than you see in Cirque du Soleil. They don’t get that those tricks can require more power (or technique) than a taller person would expend on the entire climb.

That said, I don’t often wish to be tall. I imagine that with giraffe legs, balling up with high feet to deadpoint a hold would be cumbersome; and that doing a hand-foot match would be akin to being turned into a grasshopper and being asked to use my back foot to scratch my ear. No, despite my frustrations, there are many solutions (and advantages) to being small, and my greatest obstacle is not my height, or even my weak muscles. It is my brain – which is the same size on everyone.

Just a few weeks ago, I was taking lobs off one of my projects. I didn’t get past the crux. It wasn’t because I couldn’t reach, or I wasn’t strong enough – it was because I hadn’t solved it yet. Yet. Later, the person who was belaying me said, “You’ll get that next time, for sure.” I stared back, incredulous. I hadn’t even done the crux. But this person knew something that I didn’t: that I already had everything I needed to finish the climb.

It is natural to focus on the things we don’t have. Height. Strength. Small fingers. Our bodies are always too short, or too tall, or too heavy, or too slight. Looking around at the crag, it’s dawned on me that everyone has their own demons. Tall people, with the problem of too-long limbs; people with sausage fingers that don’t fit in small cracks.

But it is amazing what we can get away with, despite all these “setbacks”. Nobody has the perfect body for climbing – and this is the very thing that makes every movement upwards a small victory, and the riddle of climbing so endlessly fascinating.

Chelsea Brunckhorst

2 thoughts on “Short Changed?

  1. Will

    I loved this article. Being a short 12 year old kid I’m always being shut down on big moves and then have to figure out some spectacular beta to finally allow me to stick the move!!!


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