OCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"> On the Dream Experiences of Big Wall Climbers A Pilot Study by Charles Winstead
Spiritwatch.ca

<

On the Dream Experiences of Big Wall Climbers

A Pilot Study by Charles Winstead

send mail: Puntalejos@aol.com
Visit: My homepage
Tour: Yosemite Valley




A big wall climber is a person who spends multiple days climbing a single rock wall. Some rock faces are so tall that climbers spend up to a week climbing, living, eating and sleeping in the vertical environment. Living in this environment engenders experiences very different than what may occur on the horizontal plane, i.e. flat ground. It is felt that the dream experience may be substantially different as well. For this paper, I have chosen to examine the dream reports of some big wall climbers.

Specific details on the method used in gathering data for this study. "Rec.climbing" is a news group on the Internet where members discuss rock climbing, ice climbing and mountain climbing. I am a member of rec.climbing, and posted the following message:


Subject: Dreams on Big Walls From: puntalejos@aol.com (Puntalejos) Date: 23 Apr 1995 23:09:00 -0400 Message-ID: 3nf4oc$aoi@newsbf02.news.aol.com> I'd like to hear if you have had any unique dreams while sleeping overnight on big walls. Basically, what I am interested in is whether the location and circumstances have an effect on the type and content of dreams. Please send a brief report of the dream including: Location (What route, what pitch, etc.) Dream content (What was the dream about ...) Any thing else you may think is significant about the dream and the fact that it occurred while sleeping on a big wall. Thanks, Puntalejos@AOL.com


This request elicited five direct responses, and a few flames. Flames were ignored as non-responses and the following five responses were kept for analysis:

From: JB
When I climbed the Triple Direct on El Cap while sleeping @ Camp 6, I had a very strange dream. I had a dream in which I was being tortured by having my fingers hit with a hammer. My partners were entertained by my talking in my sleep saying such things as No, No, Stop. While doing the route my fingernails had been really worn down, and the pain was incorporated into my dream. A little aspirin and I was fine.

From: PW
Here's a good one. My first wall was the Nose, I was terrified.

Sleeping on El Cap Tower, 1500' up. It's a very flat ledge, about 3'wide, making a 90 degree corner with the wall. It smells like urine there.

A restless night, I had my face pointed toward the corner because I didn't like the idea of rolling off the ledge. I dreamt I was in jail, but I couldn't remember what I was in jail for. The 90 degree. stone wall and floor, the urine, and the fear all combined. This lasted for a few seconds after I woke up, then I thought "Oh shit! I wish I was in jail- I've got two more days of terror on El Cap before it's over!"

Afterwards I would say that route was the most intense and rewarding one I've ever done. I've done other walls, but like sex, you don't forget your first one.

From: GM
I haven't done (been done by??) a wall since the passing of the "iron age", i.e., when a 60 pin rack weighed 50 lbs. or so... but in that era, especially one period of time, I was probably best described as a wall-rat, i.e., over 31 days, 26 or 27 were spent off "the ground". (nose, muir, dihedral, NW face, south face, gobi wall etc. - all the standards).

But, to dream? who had the energy to do such? what I remember best of peapod nights were how nice the hammock felt in the evening, how fast/easy one fell asleep, how deep the sleep was... and how totally crushed the shoulders felt by morning... and how long partners bitched the following day about the snoring "machine" that kept them awake all night... ;-)

I wonder if the change in the character of wall climbing doesn't/won't have an effect on this [dreaming], i.e., in the late 60's, early 70's, big wall climbing was more of: reach the base, bang in the first placement, clip it, step up, and repeat (for the next n days), while carrying at least one and maybe two racks - very physical, but brain dead work. Today with clean climbing, the racks are much lighter, and the focus is on high standard climbing - much more brain taxing, a la, could this be more like trying to sleep after a protracted heated discussion, vs. after a three hour (how about 14 hr) run.

From: HJ

You mean people actually get some sleep on walls? :)

My first wall bivvy was on the North Face of East Quarter Dome in Yosemite; I'd been climbing 8 months. Chuck Carlson and I were wrapped up in spare rope and slings trying to keep ourselves on this piece-of-shit "ledge." Chuck's spot was about 10 times worse than mine and yet he snored loudly all night (I know, cuz I was awake to hear it).

I still remember lying there for hours staring at the campfires on the shoulder of Mt. Watkins thinking how much I would give to trade places with anyone on that side of the canyon.

I think I slept 10 minutes, and the only dream I had was that I stayed up all night.

From: EB
Well, not a wall, but last weekend we had to bivvy on top of a climb. We had some warm clothes, but no sleeping bags, etc...

I kept dreaming that I was dreaming about being stuck on a climb. In the dream in my dream I thought to myself, "Hey, if I just wake up everything will be ok." At which point I would wake up and we'd still be there...




Due to the small sample size and the brevity of the protocols, I will not be doing a full phenomenological analysis of these dream reports. Rather, I will discuss each dream separately and conclude with a discussion of their common themes.

From: JB
When I climbed the Triple Direct on El Cap while sleeping @ Camp 6, I had a very strange dream. I had a dream in which I was being tortured by having my fingers hit with a hammer. My partners were entertained by my talking in my sleep saying such things as No, No, Stop. While doing the route my fingernails had been really worn down, and the pain was incorporated into my dream. A little aspirin and I was fine.

The Triple Direct is a difficult aid route on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. JB reports that his dream was unusual, but there seems to be a direct connection between his waking experience prior to sleeping and his dream experience. The physical pain experienced as a result of the abrasion of his fingernails returned as a dream of his being tortured with a hammer.

From: PW
Here's a good one. My first wall was the Nose, I was terrified. Sleeping on El Cap Tower, 1500' up. It's a very flat ledge, about 3' wide, making a 90 degree corner with the wall. It smells like urine there. A restless night, I had my face pointed toward the corner because I didn't like the idea of rolling off the ledge. I dreamt I was in jail, but I couldn't remember what I was in jail for. The 90 degree stone wall and floor, the urine, and the fear all combined.
This lasted for a few seconds after I woke up, then I thought "Oh shit! I wish I was in jail- I've got two more days of terror on El Cap before it's over!"

Afterwards I would say that route was the most intense and rewarding one I've ever done. I've done other walls, but like sex, you don't forget your first one.

Again, this dream report is from El Capitan, Yosemite National Park. This dream also seems to incorporate waking experience in a symbolic fashion. A stone corner turns into a dream of being jailed, and the dreamer does not know why he is in jail. Upon awakening, the dreamer finds that he would prefer jail to his current situation.

From: GM
I haven't done (been done by??) a wall since the passing of the "iron age", i.e., when a 60 pin rack weighed 50 lbs. or so... but in that era, especially one period of time, I was probably best described as a wall-rat, i.e., over 31 days, 26 or 27 were spent off "the ground". (nose, muir, dihedral, NW face, south face, gobi wall etc. - all the standards).

But, to dream? who had the energy to do such? what I remember best of peapod nights were how nice the hammock felt in the evening, how fast/easy one fell asleep, how deep the sleep was... and how totally crushed the shoulders felt by morning... and how long partners bitched the following day about the snoring "machine" that kept them awake all night... ;-)

I wonder if the change in the character of wall climbing doesn't/won't have an effect on this [dreaming], i.e., in the late 60's, early 70's, big wall climbing was more of: reach the base, bang in the first placement, clip it, step up, and repeat (for the next n days), while carrying at least one and maybe two racks - very physical, but brain dead work. today with clean climbing, the racks are much lighter, and the focus is on high standard climbing - much more brain taxing, a la, could this be more like trying to sleep after a protracted heated discussion, vs. after a three hour (how about 14 hr) run.

GM does not report on any specific dreams, although he must certainly have had plentiful opportunities. In his list of accomplishments, he begins with the Nose, a prominent route on El Capitan, and mentions several other routes in Yosemite National Park. He also mentions that it has been at least twenty years (since the passing of the iron age) since he has done a big wall. It may be that he did have many significant dreams, but with time has forgotten them. His hypothesis that the changing character of climbing big walls may change the nature of the dreams of big wall climbers is interesting but beyond the scope of this study.

From: HJ
You mean people actually get some sleep on walls? :)
My first wall bivvy was on the North Face of East Quarter Dome in Yosemite; I'd been climbing 8 months. Chuck Carlson and I were wrapped up in spare rope and slings trying to keep ourselves on this piece-of-shit "ledge." Chuck's spot was about 10 times worse than mine and yet he snored loudly all night (I know, cuz I was awake to hear it).

I still remember lying there for hours staring at the campfires on the shoulder of Mt. Watkins thinking how much I would give to trade places with anyone on that side of the canyon.

I think I slept 10 minutes, and the only dream I had was that I stayed up all night.

HJ is the first respondent who does not mention El Capitan, but he does report on a dream that occurred in Yosemite National Park. HJ's experience occurred while he was still a novice (only climbing eight months) and this may have had an effect on his dream. It certainly seems to have had an effect on his ability to sleep, he states that he only slept ten minutes. During that ten minutes of sleep, he reports that he dreamt that he stayed awake all night.

From: EB
Well, not a wall, but last weekend we had to bivvy on top of a climb. We had some warm clothes, but no sleeping bags, etc...

I kept dreaming that I was dreaming about being stuck on a climb. In the dream in my dream I thought to myself, "Hey, if I just wake up everything will be ok." At which point I would wake up and we'd still be there...

EB does not give any clue to the location of his climb. However, he does give a dream report. This dream contains another dream. In the embedded dream, EB experiences being stuck on a climb; a replay of his waking experience. He seems to experience some lucidity in this dream in that he has the awareness to know that he is dreaming, and the ability to make a decision to wake up. In his last sentence, EB describes waking up from his dream and still being there, stuck on the climb. I wonder if he is describing waking from the embedded dream into the original dream, or rising fully into waking consciousness.


In the conclusion to this paper, I would like to discuss the common themes encountered in these dream reports. In all of the reports that give a location, Yosemite National Park is mentioned. Unpleasant events figure prominently in these dream reports. Being tortured, jailed or stuck comes up in three out of the four reports that include dream descriptions. The fourth describes insomnia as a dream theme. All of these reports have as part of the dream content some reference to the waking experience of the day prior to the dream. This referencing of waking experience seems to point toward a blurring of the boundaries between waking and sleeping. Not only are the waking experiences incorporated into the dreams, but the dream experiences find their way into waking reality. JB's cries of "No, No, Stop!" are heard by his partners. PW's dream of being in jail lasts for "a few seconds" after he wakes up. HJ's dream of insomnia is both preceded and followed by an inability to sleep. EB dreams about being stuck on the climb, decides to wake up only to find that he is still stuck.


In summary, there seems to be three common themes. These dreams were reported from Yosemite climbing experiences. These dreams did not show clear boundaries between waking and sleeping. And these dreams had negative or unpleasant content.

YOSEMITE: Yosemite National Park is a world renown climbing area. El Capitan has without a doubt the most widely recognized profile of any other rock face in the world. It is not too surprising that climbing in this area engenders memorable experiences.

NO CLEAR BOUNDARIES BETWEEN WAKING AND SLEEPING: There are at least two ways that this theme may be understood. This theme may reflect the possibility that these climbers were not able to achieve a very deep sleep while on their respective big walls. Another possibility may be that the climbing experience has such an overwhelming sensory impact that it forces itself into the dream content.

NEGATIVE OR UNPLEASANT CONTENT: I must admit that I was surprised by this theme. However, there may be several explanations for the overwhelmingly negative content of the dreams reported. It may be that such dreams have a greater impact, resulting in a longer memory retention than pleasant dreams. Another interpretation may result from reviewing the question that was originally asked. I asked climbers to report on "unique" dreams, and it may be that only negative or unpleasant dreams were considered unique.



I wonder what kind of response I might have gotten if I had asked climbers to report on "any" dreams they may have had while sleeping overnight on big walls. It seems likely that "ordinary" dreams would not have been reported due to their very ordinariness, and I would still have received reports of the "unique" dreams.


I would like to end this paper with some suggestions for future research and a few comments on using computer networks for phenomenological research.

Future research projects may inquire about the "any" dreams mentioned above. Other projects may ask climbers to describe dreams they have had about climbing, but not necessarily occurring while sleeping on big walls. I, for one, have had climbing dreams which have some similarity to flying dreams. Instead of flying in the sky, I am climbing freely and effortlessly Some projects may attempt to incorporate positive and creative visualization into the dream in an attempt to improve climbing performance.

There are several advantages as well as several disadvantages to doing research on computer networks. Until the final draft, this has been a paper-less project. This has an environmental advantage, no trees were cut down for this project. All research and writing has been done right here, at home, with a computer and a modem. Via the Internet, I have been in contact with climbers from around the world. I have saved many dollars and much time, by avoiding the previous necessity of travel. My request was available to a large number of people, and my co-researchers were both self- selected and anonymous. All participants independently chose to participate so power dynamics were not an issue. Because anonymity was assured, all participants could feel free to fully disclose their dream reports without confidentiality concerns.

This anonymity also creates some disadvantages. I have no personal contact with my co-researchers, all body language is invisible, and the warmth of human contact is impossible. Due to the type of contact involved, most replies were extremely brief and there was only a limited possibility of follow-up interviews.

I have posted this report back to rec.climbing allowing this project to realize a full circle from asking the question to presenting the results. This is more than a paper for a class, this is my small contribution to a "virtual" community of climbers whose common ground or town square exists in the electronic space of rec.climbing (Internet/Usenet).

Charles Winstead, 1995




A few related links and references:
Big Wall Climbing Guide, Yosemite.

Big Wall Gallery

Big Wall Climbers Page

Internet Climbing Guide

Hiker 's Guide




(Original paper a course requirement for Psychology of Dreams. Daniel Deslauriers, Instructor. Also published in Electric Dreams 3(11) 1995.
Modifications for WWW format by Charles Winstead, Puntalejos@aol.com )

Back to Top

 

VirtualWorlds   |    Lucidity Letters   |    Consciousness   |   Bio   |   Contact   |    Links   |    Acknowledgements

Facebook