Now, I am not suggesting that all routesetting should shift away from the dazzle of a dyno or parkour move, BUT when we normalize parkour moves as a part of the everyday climbers existence we are creating a barrier to access if you are short or old. As a woman of 5'3" the early days of my climbing experience meant lots of tall boys trying to tell me how to reach. With parkour style of setting, I cannot necessarily access my technical skills for success because the move involves just jumping. Or reaching if I was 5'7" as I see my taller friends do.
As the human body ages, flexibility decreases, strength decreases, joint stability decreases, the fluid in joints is reduced and therefore the potential for injury increases. Bones become more fragile and the potential for a break from an impact fall increases.
Having run a climbing facility for a couple of decades now, I can tell you that what keeps the business healthy isn't the young guns. 💪 Sure there are many young people now making a little money and paying those membership fees and they are going to soon have kids with whom they want to share their love of the sport. But if a child under four feet can't climb past a certain level because of their height, they will pick a less height dependent sport where they can have success.
Now consider... who are your routesetters? How tall are they? How can a tall person ever understand, actually understand what the difficulty is for a shorter person? Consider who has put up and graded outdoor routes. How tall are they? If you are near or over six feet tall and you think you can accurately assess the grade of outdoor routes, you, my friend are discriminatory.
Climbing as a sport is now fairly gender diverse with most gyms seeing a close to 50-50 split between makes and females using their facility. Now toss in youth who make up many climbing teams and bring a climbing facilities mean population height further down the height scale.
I would suggest average height is no longer five foot ten inches as it was when I started out. Are your setters able to accurately set and grading with inclusivity in mind? Are they setting in such a way to allow older bodies to continue to challenge themselves up the grades without a lot of dynos?
We celebrate the firsts because for the person who is willing to go first, there is a strong willingness to fail. It takes courage to step out on the limb when one is not sure it will hold them. It takes tenacity to try, try again when one is not sure that what one is trying is even possible. It takes patience to allow optimism. It takes a vision, a strength of mind to believe what is not seen.
It is easy to be the third, the forth or the tenth person to do it.
It is easy because you know it is possible. And telling yourself something that has been done by others is easy. To tell yourself something is possible before you ever see it done, that is hard.
There is a phenomenon often witnessed in climbing when a number of people are trying the same route or boulder problem. Everyone will be falling, but willing themselves and their friends to try again. Then one person will unlock the combination of the right sequence and the right amount of strength and mobility and complete (send) the route. After that, the inspiration in the group goes up and sure enough, the route will be accomplished by the other climbers. We call this phenomenon the send train.
It happens in large part because it is now certain the route is climbable and not only that, there is a thought, ‘if that guy can do it, surely, I can too.’ It is a part of human nature to mimic what we witness. In fact, this is how most of us learn a new sport. We mimic the actions of others and then learn from our mistakes, continue to witness, and the learning continues.
According to what we have chosen for competition and in what the community enjoys reading about, we love the effort and the courage it takes. Winning an Oscar happened with Alex Honnold’s solo ascent of El Cap. Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson introduced the larger world to the drama of climbing first ascents free with The Grand Wall. Competitions value the climber having no previous knowledge of the route and not having the ability to watch others before attempting the route, regardless of bouldering or lead climbing. Speed climbing is a rehearsal of movements and moving as fast as possible.
And yet, within the larger climbing community, outside of the competition arena, so many boulder problems are now described and explained in guides online with videos showing you how to climb it. The same is not done for route climbing since video taping roped climbing is a much more complex thing. When bouldering however, I have been with folks who refuse to even try the boulder problem without first watching the video. As a coach, my heart breaks a little when this happens. This is when outside becomes the gym experience. Everyone watching everyone else and figuring out how to mimic what they see.
At this, I become nostalgic for the wildness of the sport I love. I long for the silence and intimacy of just yourself and a partner or two. I miss the struggle akin to what we witnessed on The Dawn Wall where the rock holds onto her sequence urging you to learn more about who you are and how you can grow, not just in strength, but in strength of character. Nature challenges your courage and willingness to lose again, and then to pick yourself up and continue to try. And a partner holds your secrets, desires for you as strongly as you desire for yourself. That is where the wild in the story of climbing resides, and that is the true potential value.
But all of that is not the point of this piece. The intention behind this piece is perspective taking of the moment. As I look at this photo, I am reminded of where we were, who we were with and the most prevalent events in my mind that day. AND it also reminds me of an identity I once had, considering this photo was taken two decades ago. This memory is shaped by both the environment that is external - the place, people, and snakes. And the internal dialogue that was chattering on for me that day.
I am distracted. There is the danger and dis-ease at the idea of encountering a snake. There is a longing to return to a gym and work with some of my clients rather than be here while the strong boys sent projects and I tried the problems that were their warm ups. Finally, my life seemed to be making headway. I had finished writing the book and it was in the hands of an editor. In the moments before returning to a climbing road trip, I felt important to the larger climbing community. I felt my ideas mattered. But here with my partner who is spending more time connecting with another climbing partner, I had returned to the feelings if being insignificant. I cannot climb what they climb. I do not even want to try topping out some of these boulders that seem more like roped routes than boulder problems to me. Getting twenty feet off the deck with only a three inch pad beneath me isn't my jam. On this day, despite living out of the back of a truck, I have taken efforts to look fresh and pretty. I coordinated my sport bra and shorts, have refrained from tying my hair into the typical ponytail to hide the dirt and grime of days living in a truck and climbing everyday. My partner is more distracted by the other climbers we are with, all higher profile in the climbing world than me. And of course, he is also distracted by the climbing. Climbing seems to be enough for him. I am not sure it is for me any more.
Even as this image is being taken, I know I am not going to try hard. Not hard enough to do this route. Today I wanted to be more than just a woman who climbs. Or worse, just a person who climbs. I wanted to be his beautiful, strong and intelligent woman who matters.
As I look at this photo twenty years later, I smile. I was worth admiring. I was worth attention. I had just finished the first draft of a book that would be published months later. I was strong and pretty. I had grown, rather, I had outgrown my life being defined by just the grade I climbed. I no longer preferred the escape to the rocks, getting lost in a project. I was now defined by ability to help others achieve their goals, by my wisdom to define and articulate a path to success.
This route reminds me of the recognition of the need I felt to give to others the gift of my understanding. It is the moment when I recognized that need was stronger than my need to climb for myself. It is the moment I recognized I was no longer a climbing bum, rather, I was a coach at heart.
I want you to find an image that sparks in you a sense of positivity and possibility and write about it. Don't worry - you don't need to publish or share what you write, but write as if you had stepped back into that moment. It will tell you more about who you are than you may imagine.
Recently watch a documentary on eating disorders entitled, Light. The message is about the prevalence of eating disorders in the climbing world. I have witnessed eating disorders numerous times in the 25 years of coaching. And from lived experience. The woman above is me, if you had not guessed.
In the documentary, the women interviewed discussed their road to recovery and how hard it was. They are obviously very driven to succeed and therefore were also very successful at their eating disorders. They are still successful but have now accepted that success and the relationship of food, in their particular circumstance, is not the only thing to focus on in life.
I see a parallel in any relationship that is used to feel good. Some folks I know define themselves through work and using work to feel adequate. Some folks use being good at cooking, or their social media success to define themselves.
Bottom line - when we feel inadequate and attempt to control something in a way that becomes unhealthy it is a disorder. Is one recovered when they no longer use the thing? Or when they no longer feel a need to prove or be defined in a particular way?
If you have an eating disorder (ED) and get to healthy behaviours around food, are you recovered? Or just behaving in a healthy way even if the thoughts about needing to be smaller are still running wild through your mind? Or is it based on the homeostatic balance of the body that determines recovery from an eating disorder?
My own experience illustrates that it is not about how you look or whether the body is healthy. It comes down to the mind and how one handles the thoughts that rage through. Being able to restrict, to do a lot of exercise always gave me a sense of control and power. I used food to feel powerful and in control. However when I look back over the number of years when I was lean and strong and climbing hard, I also see how mentally tortured I continued to be. As I flow through photos I can remember how much I weighed at the time or what my body fat percentage was. I remember feeling not enough. I felt a need to be better always. The method to achieve was through restricted diet and lots of exercise.
COVID has led to a 400% increase in the number of people seeking support from Eating Disorders Nova Scotia. Research shows that an increasing number of women going through menopause are now indulging in disordered eating behaviours in an attempt to rid themselves of menopausal weight gain. The numbers of people on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication continues to rise. The number and frequencies of gun violence is on the rise.
Anyone else see a link to a very unhappy population and very destructive behaviours?
I wonder how many people would be in healthy relationships with themselves and others if they did not feel so out of control. To be vulnerable is difficult. To compare oneself to others is to create suffering for oneself.
Maybe then the treatment is to find new management strategies for the things we resist, the things that make us feel threatened. As I see it, the challenge COVID has illustrated is how much - or how little - emotional regulation and resilience people have. We all feel threatened when we are on social media and reading comments we disagree with. We all feel threatened when we are wearing masks in public. We all feel threatened when we cannot get on a plane and travel. This virus makes us all feel out of control of our daily routines.
Last week I listened to the news - only because my car stereo is not connecting to my phone - and I heard 3 stories in my ten minute drive about how people felt they deserved more control. Unfortunately, we have no control over what life will bring. Life is not fair. Control doesn't exist. That is what a lifetime has taught me. It is OUR responsibility to manage, regulate our emotions, and shape our perspective on things. It is not the responsibility of some organization, government or God to ensure we are safe. Life is the ups and downs, the imperfections, the storms and the sunshine.
The thought "if I were 10 pounds lighter" is just a thought that initiates feelings of weakness and powerlessness. These thoughts are initiating feelings of fear. Following fear increases feelings of stress and usually the stress response initiates a behaviour. That behaviour will either be helpful or unhelpful. It may be helpful in the short term and more harmful in the long run. But in any moment YOU and I have the choice what behaviours we choose.
The best teaching I have learned when I am in the storm of negative thoughts... is to ask... Is it true?
This comes from Byron Katie who has many videos, free resources. Just check out The Work.com
Often times the answer is that you cannot absolutely irrevocably know what you are thinking is true. And if you turn the thoughts around, you can often find that the opposite of what you are thinking is also true. This process leads to a less tightly held belief and it is only from that mental/emotional place - from curiosity and openness to thinking differently that change can happen.
In that space of curiosity, of a looser grip, a person with ED can make a more skillful decision. It lightens the pressure of negative provoking thoughts. We can all chose more skillfully if we slow down and take a moment to question our thoughts.
Perhaps true recovery is the ability to disrupt compulsive thoughts and behaviours.
In Buddhism, the middle path is the skillful choice. Buddhism has been around for quite awhile. As have the teachings of Sri Vidya which holds similiar values. Maybe these ancient teachings brought into our lives a little earlier on is really the education we need.
The metaphor in a climbing world example would be for example when you are climbing a tall route and start getting that sense of exposure - all that space behind you making you very aware that you are high off the ground. The elephant wants to get down. The elephant may begin to violently shake the legs, over grip the hand holds. The elephant starts looking down and stalling about moving up. The rider is usually off line. But may come online and begin to calculate how far out from the last bolt you are and what kind of a fall you might be in for. The rider may begin to calculate the odds of getting to the next clip, assess what moves will be required, whether the clipping stance is adequate for the amount of pump you feel.
In this example, what drives both the elephant and the rider is the fear of harm, or more accurately, the desire to avoid harm. In order to get the elephant to move toward the next clip has to be a motivation that is greater than the motivation to avoid the fall.
“Sparks come from emotion, not information.”
Let's use a specific example applied to the image depicting the body's effort to be in homeostasis.
1. The body is too hot.
2. There is an imbalance in body temperature.
3. This information goes to the autonomic nervous system. (control centre).
4. The brain signals the body to respond.
5. Widening of the blood vessels (vasodilation) occurs and sweating results.
Then back to step 1. to determine when to stop the response.
Still -- it can be fun to understand what you are made up of and use that information to help guide your decisions. As a coach, I am a strong believer in critically examining all the information out there and using what works. How can you know what you are made up of? There are countless quizzes out there and information describing what the quiz results means. The most cautionary piece of advice I will give you is that you were born with a particular prakriti - or nature - and everything happening today is influencing how you answer the questions, giving you your vikriti. Prakriti is you in balance, vikriti is you out of balance. Here is an article written by the amazing Kathryn Templeton who I trust when it comes to Ayurveda. Here is more information from Carrie Demers - also a western medical doctor.
Using lockdown skillfully
And it is worth it. Not paying attention and getting my heart rate up with a quick jog meant painful headaches, sleepless nights and body flushes in the days and weeks that followed that 20 minutes of jogging.
After a very stressful period in my life in 2015, I went to India and spent two weeks in an ashram. I did nothing but one asana practice and hours of meditation and journalling. I ate healthy food and slept. Practiced Yoga Nidra and I never, ever felt better in my life.
PS... During that very difficult year - 2015 - I started having double vision. I literally had to push my eye upward to see straight. After the eye doctor sent me to a specialist who mentioned brain tumour, I went to an Ayurvedic doctor, while pursuing western medical tests. Results came back... I have a fourth cranial nerve palsy... it is congenital. According to western medicine the solution was new glasses with prisms.
The Ayurvedic doctor gave me a prescription that involved changes to diet and to rest every morning with warm ghee in my eyes - soothing the optic muscles. The result - no more double vision. I did not get the glasses. A year later when re-tested, the result surprised all the western medical professionals who could not understand why I no longer needed the new glasses.
Like I suggested... use what works.
Here is a Mental training podcast on positivity. https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/heathers-mental-training-tips-tricks/id1553948003
Enjoy todays podcast and this week... check out the Meditation with the Breath.
Just looking at these two images we can experience energy. And if we consider our own experience of energy, there are times we feel full of life, energy and also times where we feel lifeless, depleted of energy. What is this energy? How can we capitalize on it?
Energy has been identified and labelled in various ways... scientists define energy in terms of potential energy and kinetic energy. Energy cannot be destroy, but it can be transferred or transformed. When we exercise, move around and burn calories, we are transforming chemical energy to produce kinetic energy to enable the muscles to contract and electrical energy to enervate the nervous system. When we use the kinetic energy it converts to heat or thermal energy. The chemical energy we are transforming is derived from the foods we eat, the air we breathe.
Grade 4 - my first foray into gymnastics. I had been staying after school, learning how to do cartwheels and front flips, balance on the balance beam and I was impressed with my own performance. The competition day arrived and we moved through the various elements. When I got to the floor routine, I stood at the front of the mat, took the required steps and planted my hands to flip. My feet went up and over, I rotated up to standing and then my body kept moving, the momentum propelling my upper body out of balance. Needless to say, I did not get the first place ribbon.
I did learned something that day, not that I understood the science of it. I understood the impact that nervous energy has on our skillful use of kinetic energy. I was so nervous about doing well, the electrical impulses of the nervous system produced too much kinetic energy, too big a muscle contraction and I wasn't prepared to stop that force at the end of the flip.
In the context of this kinetic energy we use, and electrical energy we require to execute movements, learning how to manage this energy can make or break our performance. We can eat healthy foods, get good recovery and rest to manage our kinetic energy, but the electrical impulses of the brain are nonstop. The rate of stimulation of the electrical impulses affects the 'mental state' and the autonomic nervous system of the body. The autonomic nervous system is made up of the fight or flight (sympathetic) system and the rest and digest (parasympathetic) nervous system. In rest there is a balance in the activation of both systems. Your body is not digesting food, nor is it climbing 5.12. Alert and awake. The mind is at rest, not ruminating about something or concentrating hard on some problem.
All this activity is done through neurons (nerve cells) sending electrical impulses (electrical energy). The activity can be detected with electroencephalography (EEG) measuring the speed of the brain wave frequency.
The body systems never turn off until of course you die. But they do need recovery - a time to return to rest, or what is called homeostasis.
Homeostasis is the ability to maintain a steady state around a set point. For example, you have a resting heart rate... when the heart rate goes up, the nervous system responds increasing respiration, you breathe more to attempt to bring in more oxygen to generate kinetic energy. However, when you stop moving, the breath rate and heart rate move back to a resting heart rate level. If you get cold, the body shivers to maintain body temperature.
In the gymnastic competition, I was on high alert - the sympathetic nervous system was ON! It was go time. Beta waves were active, probably on the high end of the frequency. This means my body started secreting adrenaline to fuel the physical activity... giving me too much energy and resulting in too much spring in my flip. You may well have experienced this sitting for an exam - so much nervous energy you can't focus because the body is diverting blood flow to your limbs, so you can run away from this stressful situation.
Have you had that experience where you couldn't sleep because you couldn't turn off your thoughts? That was trying to sleep with high frequency beta waves. To reduce beta waves, one needs to try to slow the brain waves. This is where calming music that meets the brain frequency can have a calming affect. Or smells that stimulate a more relaxed state help.
Conversely, have you had the situation of not feeling energized, awake? We usually reach for some caffeine, however, we could also choose to increase the speed of brain waves by tapping into the sensory experience. Rub the palms together and create heat, place the warm palms over the eyes, stimulating the eyes. Then notice what you see - the colour, the texture.
We can change our brain waves with external stimuli as mentioned above. One of the most common things I hear is, "I love climbing, I cannot think about anything else, like homework or exams. It makes me feel better." When you climb, you move the body - kinetic energy, electrical energy is used to stimulate muscles and problem solve. This still has you in beta waves, AND you are now using the exercise to manage your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. An experienced climber typically is not over-activating the fight or flight response because they have familiarity. A new climber usually has more fight or flight and this will not have the same reduction of beta wave stimulation.
If you are an experienced climber, you will have had the experience of being able to climb with less beta wave activation when you have all your moves memorized or the route is so easy, you are not problem solving, it is simply moving naturally and the brain begins to calm, or put another way, the brain waves slow down. Until you find something new to try to figure out and you turn on rational problem solving.
A cautionary consideration -- the brain is always regulating our experience - processing, planning. To work with the brain, you need to meet the functioning where it is. For example, if I am ruminating about something negative that happened, I try Byron Katie's worksheet and turnarounds. Why? I am meeting my ruminating thoughts where they are (beta waves) BEFORE I start trying to move them into a more creative and open state of processing (alpha waves). If I can't sleep, I try to focus on moving my breath in a specific count, or listen to calming music. I will look out at the moonlit sky and take in the vastness of space - reframing my focus from what I am ruminating on to a different problem solving, or contemplation.
I enjoy kriya meditations because moving from beta brain wave function to theta waves is hard. Kriya meditations usually coax me along with visualizations and calm the mind while asking it to continue to do some processing. Eventually the body is calm, the mind is calm and the mind can let go of the need to respond to all the stimuli - the sounds nearby, or sensing other people. Then it can drop into deep meditation.
Conversely, if I am groggy and sleepy, (theta waves) I bring awareness to the five senses... what am I seeing, what am I tasting, hearing, feeling (alpha to beta waves). By stimulating the sensory processing in a different area of the brain, I move toward more complex task slowly.
Give these things aforementioned activities a try and reflect on the experience. Next week we will dive into how these brain waves are related to the flow state - or the athletic zone.
When we are training, attempting to challenge ourselves, it is important to distinguish what motivates our goals. If we are driven by energy from the idea of winning, or proving, the shoulds or should nots, then we may be successful for a time, however, the energy motivating our actions can, and usually will eventually, run out. However, if we are inspired by love and joy, our energy can be endless.
Parenting is a wonderful example of providing evidence for this idea. The endless sleepless nights disrupted by the need to feed and settle a child would not be possible for the countless months it takes without that key ingredient, love.
When we are pursuing a goal we feel we "must" or "should", we often feel less inspired, or more challenged in the pursuit than we would feel if we were in love with the idea of the challenge.
I was spending my time writing a training book, and took a break to wander around the cliffs of Rifle to see what fellow climbers were up to. My partner and his friends were projecting a 5.14, and struggling to figure out the crux moves. I watched and considered the problem. Eventually I asked for a belay, despite the fact that the hardest thing I had ever one was in the 5.13- level. I hauled my way up to the section where they were struggling, gripped the handholds, reversed the moves and promptly demonstrated a potential sequence. Turns out my idea worked and later the climbers - much stronger than me - could make it through that section. They joked about how I should project the route. In truth, I had no interest in climbing the route, but I was very happy to have been able to unlock a potential sequence and helping others be successful.
That experience was a very telling clue, that when combined with my enjoyment of taking everything I learned along my own redpoint journey back to clients, the way I helped fellow competitors at competition, and my life long pursuit of coaching and instructing in a variety of sport fields, and academia, that pointed to the understanding that more than being a "professional" climber, I preferred being a coach.
So how do you discover what drives you? What you love?
Try the following exercise I learned from Rod Stryker through his work called The Four Desires.
I strongly recommend the entire program to have a complete picture of what gives you purpose.
This is merely one exercise of many powerful options.
First I want you to set yourself up properly.
Make sure you have a pen and paper in front of you. Not a computer... paper & pen, please.
We will start with a little breathing and relaxation.
Find a comfortable position for the body. Whether lying down or sitting in a chair, make sure that you are comfortable and will not need to move for the next 10 minutes.
Bring your awareness to your breath.
As you relax, notice the breath moving into the abdomen with the subtle rise and fall of the belly. Gradually, there is no movement in the chest, just the slight rise and fall of the abdomen.
As you watch the flow of the breath, intend, without effort, that the inhale flows into the exhale and the exhale flows into the inhale. Just watch, no trying.
Now allow a memory to come to mind of a time when you were filled with joy. A time when you were completely immersed in what you were doing and the result was a sense of joy, or empowerment, perhaps a feeling of being completely alive.
Allow yourself to fully remember the details of what led to that moment, the moment itself. The environment, the people with you or were you alone? The smells and sounds. How you felt as you went through that experience.
You may have more than one memory show up, that is fine. Just allow as much of the experience to come alive for you as you can. Just spend the next few moments reliving the experience.
Gradually when you have relived the event, or events, become aware of your breath again. As you become aware of the breath, notice the inclination for the breath to deepen and bring awareness back to the body.
Gradually, open the eyes.
Using your pen and paper you will now write a poem about the memory.
It doesn't have to rhyme, no one else will see it. Just allow yourself to write whatever comes to mind - free writing, no editing or reservation.
Just write whatever comes to mind about the experience.
Allow yourself 10 minutes or more if needed.
When you have completed the poem, we move to the next step.
Re-read the poem. As you do, note any words or lines that provoke a sense of marked response in you. Whether it is validation or surprise, just note any words or lines that seem to engage your attention.
Here is an example:
She stood on the precipice looking out across the valley.
She could see the path through the woods, at least some of the path. She had no doubt about knowing the way.
She would lead.
She encouraged those following.
The sunshine was bright and cheerful,
the crowds followed.
She moved among them, laughing and encouraging.
She saw what they did not yet.
They would be more than they believed.
Now - take the words, ideas from the poem and list them on a separate page.
see the path
She had no doubt
She encouraged laughing and encouraging
She saw what they did not yet.
They would be more than they believed.
When you consider these phrases and words, consider closely what they mean to you. If we examine the lines above, the words exude a few themes
- seeing what others don't see (visionary)
- they would be more than they believed - growth
She believes in the growth potential of others, can see a path for growth and encourages their progress.
She being the author of the poem. (or me). And it is true, it is what I love to do.
The deal is the experience of trying repeatedly. The deal is the very real problem solving and then creating the perfect conditions to be successful because it takes more than what you have when you start trying that particular route. The deal is moving into potential and possibility.
More than a few years ago, I went to Hueco Tanks, near El Paso, Texas. I was a newlywed, but my husband had been planning a trip to Europe before we had planned our wedding. He was overseas and I was trying this style of climbing called bouldering with some friends. Despite not being completely alone, I was feeling lonely, missing my partner and his support and encouragement.
I can not lay the blame solely at the feet of our friend’s mutt. My own two beasts were very disturbed at the missing pack leader. The golden was on edge around anyone coming into a twenty-foot radius of my being or our home, an ’84 Toyota van. Sebring, the spry jumper who loves to run was very disturbed with our decision to stay in this God-forsaken place that makes pet owners keep their beasts on leashes.
The uproarious howling that ensued when I would go bouldering with some of the many friends I knew in the park at the time was distracting, to say the least. I had Harvest torturing Sebring by stealing her toys, Sebring disturbed at being on a leash and tortured by Harvest, and a Golden, Autumn by name, who would whine whenever Sebring did.
It seemed to be better to climb with fewer fellow climbers. I had found one boulder problem that had sparked an interest in trying multiple times. I still wasn’t completely sold on the whole bouldering as a means to an end, but I was quickly coming to appreciate the serenity of being alone and the freedom of not being a part of any other climbing partners’ agendas. This particular project was not near a lot of other routes, so less dog drama, and it was relatively short so falling on my makeshift crash pad I made from rope bag tarps and old futon foam, was more risk avoidant.
It didn’t seem like I was really getting in a lot of climbing. A few warm-ups, twenty tries on a short boulder problem and then usually just a series of failed attempts on a couple of V0’s. I would cycle from the focus and interest on the problem to missing my partner and a sense of loneliness. He had always been there for me. I guess part of me was with him in France.
So here I am thirty tries and three climbing days later. This problem gave me something to focus on. I wanted this boulder problem. I had two, maybe three climbing days left before I was to leave the Park and return to Colorado. I had done a few V4’s onsight, but had not redpointed any hard problems. I have been climbing on the same problem for three days and I have invested time and skin into this one hope. And I want to accomplish something in my own climbing. I felt like I had been climbing the same grade forever. Here was the chance.
Day four, I approach the problem, I’ve had a day off. I feel fresh. I follow my regular warm-up ritual. I have had my Peet’s coffee, I’m wearing my lucky climbing shorts and sports bra, and I am ready to send this thing. Besides, I’m getting really tired of that sharp sidepull edge. I carefully weigh the pros and cons of wearing my Muiras over my Ghibilis. I decided that I will stick with the shoes I know, the Ghibilis. I place my lucky chalk bag on the ground, out of the landing zone. The dogs are parked in the shade and there are no toys to fight over. The crash pad has been carefully placed to protect me from a fall at the upper crux.
I lace up my shoes, layer the chalk on my fingers. As I approach the problem, I rehearse the moves in my head. I get into the starting position, with my left foot out in front of me and my right underneath me in an almost sit down start. I breathe deeply a few times and the gun goes off. I move quickly, reaching for the sharp edge, adjusting my feet, moving the left hand up. I set up for the big move out left to the slopey gaston. I shift the hips, through over with the hands… I’m on the crash pad. I hit it too low, again.
No matter, I can try again. That was just my warm-up. I will rest a few minutes and then give it another shot. I repeat the above performance. This lower section is beginning to feel so easy. Why am I getting stopped on that one move? I’ll rest a little longer. It is no use! Aghh! I thought for sure today I would do this thing!
I know, I’ll have a little something to eat, wander around a bit. Play with the hounds. Then after fifteen minutes, I’ll give it a try. The sun is moving around rather rapidly now. The heat feeling good on my skin. My tips are just beginning to feel a little raw. Do not think about that. Focus on the sequence. Plan how you will conquer this piece of rock. I laced up the shoes again, chalked the hands, looked at the sequence. Closed my eyes and imagined myself on the problem in my mind. I send. I know I can do this thing.
But not this attempt or the next fourteen tries that day. I switched shoes, I talked to some other people who came to test their talent on the same problem. I watched a fox as it watched me. The sun was setting now and I had spent the entire day at this one spot, trying this one problem and I had been defeated for another day.
I was down to three climbing days at the most if I climbed every day until I left. I was planning to leave around five in the morning so I could do the drive in one day and not have to camp anywhere along the way by myself. Should I climb tomorrow or rest? I decided to see how my skin was in the morning.
Another day dawns in the Park. I am up with the first inkling of light. I sneak out into the desert area with my three companions and let them off the leash. Well, actually just two of them got to be off-leash. They are gone, running madly through the cactus. Sebring bounds off to hit her stride. Autumn follows. Another morning with Peet’s coffee and my lucky shorts and sports bra. We make the required stop at the registration and pay station and we are off to my nemesis. The clouds are intermittent today and the temps seem a little cooler, but I think it must have been the breeze. I give myself time to warm up. I don’t feel so bad. Determination to get back to the problem begins to bubble to the surface.
I move into the sheltered spot beside the boulder and once again begin the ritual of getting ready. I gnaw on my Clif Bar as I rehearse the sequence. I carefully wipe my soles of my Ghibilis. I lace up. Chalk up. I begin. I miss the sharp edge. Ow!! The sting of my tips. Okay. I just need to warm up a little more. This excuse works a second time. By the fourth failed attempt at getting to the sharp sidepull, I decide I will just work on the crux move. A few feeble tries later, I come to the conclusion that today should have been a rest day. We pack up the homemade crash pad, the dogs pick up their toys and we return to the van. It will be a rest day. And, if I rest tomorrow too, it will be like two days off.
Later that evening, under the starry sky and light breeze, I think about Nick again. I wonder what he would be doing at that time, probably asleep. I think more and more about trying to go to France earlier than planned. What had we been thinking to plan such a long separation? I felt miserable. I eventually meet up with my friends at the campsite and discuss my day. I am quickly reminded of my own words. A climbing day is a climbing day and a rest day is a rest day. Today was a climbing day. I think about these pearls of wisdom that I was assuming did not apply to me. It had been a long time since I had taken two days off.
I did decide to take two days off. That allowed my skin to heal and my muscles to relax. But it left me with one last day in the park. If I did not send that day, I would just have to leave. The thoughts of self doom crashed around me throughout the night. I awoke feeling sore and tired. Why did I believe I could do such a difficult problem? I had never done moves this hard before, why did I think I could do them now, without Nick’s support and encouragement? Would it really matter to him if I did this thing or not? How much did it matter to me?
This is not exactly the best approach to take to trying to redpoint your project, but there I was feeling anxious. Sorry for myself. I really was ambivalent about what I wanted. I decided I would climb that day and I would try my problem. But more importantly, I was going to leave Hueco the next day and I was going to try to go to France earlier than planned.
My ambivalence was evident as I got a late start, chatting with my fellow campsite campers. I approached the problem after rushing through my warm-up. After all, when today ended and I woke up early the next day, I was on the road to France! I grabbed my shoes, laced up, chalked my hands. Looked at the problem. Took a few deep breaths and started. I moved out to the sharp sidepull and crimped on it. I brought the feet over and moved my left hand up. I got that left toe in the hole and looked at my target. I shifted the hips, moving out to the left. My hand reached out and grasped the hold. I was suspended. Both feet came off the wall. I was iron crossed between the sharp edge and the slopey gaston. I jumped to the ground.
WOW! I did the move! My excitement was alive.
I repeated this progress for two more tries. On the second try I actually moved my feet back onto the wall and slapped my right hand up to the sloper above my left hand. I heard people approaching. I could recognize only one person in the bunch. But all were friendly. We talked about the temperatures, mutual friends. I asked for a spot.
I wanted to do this thing, but now I was feeling a little embarrassed. I was a nobody, pitting myself against this boulder problem that was way too hard. They probably think I’m chasing grades. I told them of my limited chance for success. Of my reasons for selecting this boulder and this line. I got into position. There was another couple of Cordless pads now. Not just my nylon rope bag tarps filled with foam and held together with snaps, (the heavy-duty kind). I get into position, my heart is racing. I decide to remember that it really doesn’t matter. I’m going to France.
I move from the start. I get out to the sharp edge that feels like it is ripping my tips. I shift the feet. Left hand to the pocket. Right foot up to the hole. I shift my hips, reach with the hand. I can feel the fatigue. I grasp the slopey gaston, and readjust. Catch the swing as my feet release from the rock. I get my left foot on and slap the right hand up. I know I would be a loser to jump off now. I slap with the left hand. I can’t see my feet, but I paste them up on the smooth surface. My edge catches on something. It's enough. I move my right hand further over the top. I throw my right leg over the top and roll onto the top of the boulder on my belly. I am gasping for air and shaking widely. I felt uncertain about the descent. I might topple at any moment. The spectators mildly congratulate me as I babble in my adrenaline high and pack up my crash pad. My work in Hueco is done. I’m going to France.
The beauty of climbing is the story it creates for us. Some routes create a drama, some a comedy and others a frightful horror. In these stories, we are the star and we go through an experience that profoundly changes how we see ourselves and our potential.
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