Rather than react to the Krakauer or Stempf readings, I'm going to devote this blog post to the part of our climbing wall experience this past Thursday that I found the most interesting. I had fun bouldering and rappelling, but, largely because of my sailing experience, I had the most learning to secure my harness with the climber's figure eight knot. It might not be the most thrilling or adventuresome mountaineering (or boating) skill to practice, but knot tying has this mysterious appeal to me, especially when they serve such a vital purpose.
In sailing, I'm used to relying on knots to hold together the various mechanisms that propel and control a sailboat. If a knot fails while I'm sailing, the result could result in a temporary loss of control or a fallen sail, both of which leave the boat functionally paralyzed (if temporarily). It could also go totally unnoticed or, when using a harness to hike (like this), drop a crew member in the water. None of these are ideal, but they don't compare to what happens when a climbing knot fails. I understand the importance of correct knots, but I've never faced consequences that could be considered mortal. It’s definitely an intense feeling to be potentially wagering your life on whether a knot is tied correctly, but the raised stakes somehow make knots even more appealing to me.
Removed from their importance in a climbing context, knots have an inherent beauty and order that appeals strongly to me. The act of taking an ordinary, linear strand of fiber and manipulating it into a useful knot with bracing, twisting, pulling and pushing forces seems almost magical to me. Knots are governed by mathematical truths about the natural world that I guarantee I’ll never understand, making them almost mystical allure. Even their aesthetic qualities captivate me, with flowing lines, perfectly even curves and complicated but discernible patterns that I could stare at for hours. Check out this star knot and wave mat for examples—both are tied from single strands of cordage. Adding such an element of danger and mortal importance to such a naturally appealing object just makes it even interesting to me. I’m excited to visit the climbing wall more this semester, and I admit that part of this desire comes from my excitement to interact more with the climbing knots.