Sometimes pushing your limits can be scary.
The past month in Red Rocks has been a test of physical and mental capabilities. We spent our entire stay in the area sport climbing, and both Graham and I pushed ourselves beyond what we had previously accomplished. Graham pushed his flash level by two grades, flashing three 5.13a’s while we were here, and ticking a send on a total of eight 5.13s. I pushed my onsight level three grades to 5.11d, my flash level three grades to 5.12a, my redpoint level two grades to 5.12c, and finished the month with eight sends at 5.12.
|Monster Skank (5.13b)|
I have been reflecting on my climbing a lot recently, as this winter marked ten years since climbing took over my life. I have always loved the physical challenge of rock climbing, the beauty of movement, the camaraderie, and the community, but it has taken me a very very long time to begin to truly grasp the mental aspects of climbing. Climbing is SO mental. I have always been a nervous lead climber. I am afraid of falling and for over six years this fear gripped me to the point of being unwilling to lead outside and rarely lead indoors. In the gym I used to take intentionallead falls to “get comfortable”, but never with my waist above a bolt. When trying to climb further I would often freeze to the point of not being able to continue. Although it seems fear would create obvious set backs in terms of what I could do physically, I have been fortunate enough to have wonderful (and strong!) climbing partners who would generously allow me to top rope on their ropes, thus enabling me to pretty much climb whatever I wanted.
Honestly, a number of things. The biggest drive however, was the desire to be self-sufficient, influenced by three main things: 1) There are many incrediblefemale role models in the rock climbing world, however it is still a male dominated sport where you typically find more men than women at the crag, and more men crushing hard. This may be a bit of the feminist in me talking, but I wanted to be a strong and independent woman, equal among the boys. 2) Graham never has a problem putting up a rope for me, but this expectation on my part is very unfair – for example, he doesn’t necessarily always want to climb the same routes as me. 3) Graham is my #1 climbing partner, and I am his. But to really be partners, we need to treat each other as equal partners. That means swapping leads on multi-pitch. Taking turns hanging draws. Belaying and supporting each other on our respective projects, whatever they may be.
So how did I begin to overcome my fear of lead climbing? I wanted to overcome it. I really really wanted to. And I used that desire to start the slow process. On a 2012 trip to Smith Rock, I created a goal of leading as many moderates (5.7-5.10 range) as I could. Around the same time Graham and I created spreadsheet “climbing pyramids” so we could track our mental and physical progress on different routes. I also started trying to lead harder routes for me, after first dialing the moves as best I could on top rope. Over the next few years in the gym and at local crags I continued this pattern, coupled with several other techniques. Visualization. Positive reinforcement. Climbing moves in my mind so that the beta is solid when I’m back on the rock and it is all about the movement. To help me with commitment (like moving above a draw, or big/unknown moves) I use mantras. My favourites are “I am a strong and confident woman”, and “this is within my ability”. Cheesy, I know, but they seem to work. Graham has been infinitely patient and encouraging with me as well, with tips like… “climb until you fall” and “fall only in upward motion”. AKA: fall when committing, not when giving up. He also frequently reminds me – “if you fall, what’s going to happen? You have a belayer you trust, you’ll go for a fun ride, and then it’ll be over”. These make a huge difference, but are in no way foolproof. Good and bad mental days are as frequent as physical on days and off days. Fear is a process.
Beginning to overcome the fear of leading has also opened doors to other mental improvements. Like the ability to focus so intensely when executing hard moves that nothing exists beyond the move itself. It’s funny how after filling the mind with tricks to be able to work through a fear, in the end the most effective climbing happens with a sharply focused and clear mind.
I am still very far from where I someday hope to be, but I finally feel like my progress is measurable. While in Red Rocks, I did not do a single top rope burn on any of the 5.12s I sent. This is monumental for me, and wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the desire to do it, and the incredible support and encouragement from my wonderful friends and climbing partners. Again, fear is a process.
All this being said, it sure doesn’t change the fact that have to fight the instant need to poop every time I tie into the sharp end….
|It’s all about perspective… “you’ll go for a fun ride, and then it’ll be over”|