This winter has gone by pretty quickly, thanks to my new interest in indoor climbing that luckily happens to be next door to my work, basically.
The ski touring season that I was planning on taking advantage of seems to keep slipping out of my reach, but because I have had much more luck finding friends with my same climbing goals, my focus has still been strongly on getting comfortable with my climbing skills to feel confident enough to climb above gear that I place myself.
I have been doing a lot of evaluation of myself when it comes to climbing. I keep trying to make sure I am pushing myself hard without risking injury from climbing too much.
I don’t know if it is the jitters of getting outside after a season of climbing inside or if it’s just due to lack of overall experience, but climbing outdoors is definitely more intense psychologically for me.
I had a rough day a few weeks ago climbing Steort’s Ridge with a friend of mine. I started up the first pitch and at the first hard move I squealed and down-climbed to my shame. I followed him through all 3 pitches, and even on top rope I just felt like I had lost it.
I spent the rest of that day and the next couple days thinking about it.
I began watching videos and reading posts, searching for the answer to my the problem… How do I get over the fear of falling on my own gear? How do I progress past this mental crux?
I did start to find answers in my research and it’s kind of funny because it’s so obvious.
I found an article on the Momentum Climbing Gym’s blog called “Learing from Failures.”
I understand learning from failures and have failed many times and later learned and grew from the experience, but I just felt different about failing this time and I couldn’t wrap my mind around it.
A quote from the article above really stood out to me. The author, Jon Vickers says:
“…successes also show what we are capable of. Once a climber has climbed a certain grade they should be able to climb other routes of the same grade, right? This is why successes lead to expectations. From your success, you feel entitled to others. This leads to putting forth less effort and expecting the same result. Expectations lead to failure.”
A few days later, my friend Kirk and I did a late afternoon adventure climb up Down, Dirty and Double-Crossed at Mule Hollow.
We had tried the route before but because of time constraint we could only finish the first 4 of the 5 pitches.
It’s pretty easy climbing, but it’s really sketchy because of how run-out the bolts are. They are also the same color as the rock and in the late afternoon they are almost impossible to see.
Kirk had done the first 2 pitches last time, so we swapped and I started my way up. It’s about a 30ft run-out between the first and second bolt, so about halfway between I pulled out a cam to avoid hitting the ground if I fell. I set the gear and clipped in as the little voice in my head began to tell me I shouldn’t go on.
I started above my piece and was to the next bolt after a few more moves. I clipped in and suddenly remembered how to breathe.
I made it to the chains of the first pitch and kept climbing. I clipped the first bolt and continued on. About 15 ft about the bolt there was no sign of another one. I climbed a little further with no luck. So I placed a cam and continued my search.
I now found myself slinging a horn and clipping to it as I left the inclination to even look for the another bolt. I was breathing calmly and my head was level. I thought only of climbing. I could see the chains about 35 feet above my sling and began to climb to them. I reached a small ledge and tried to place a nut in a small crack, but it wasn’t really taking. The bolts were close so I just moved on. I reached them with no trouble and clipped into them.
I belayed Kirk up and passed me as he climbed two more pitches. I met him at the top of the 4th pitch. The last pitch had no bolts and we didn’t know if it even had chains. Since it was Kirks mission to reach the top he headed up the last pitch towards a patch of trees that we could sling for a rappel if we needed to.
He placed a few pieces and was to the trees. There were chains. I climbed up to meet him. We were both pretty excited because it was the longest multi pitch climb that either one of us had completed. It was also, consequently the tallest wall we had climbed to the top of.
We rapped down and hiked back to the car. Both of us were psyched!
After the rush of success wore off I began to think again. I started relating the more recent climb to my climb a few days ago that felt more like a failed attempt. I was confused why I was able to push myself through fear and climb in an almost zen-like state above my own gear when a few days early I almost had a nervous breakdown in the same situation.
Another question arose. Why is my mental game so inconsistent? Why do I fail sometimes and succeed others and still, why do my failures fall into the mentally weak category 9 times out of 10?
Later that week, I watched a video highlighting several climbers in different realms of climbing. One of the climbers in the video was talking about climbing Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. He was thinking back about the good and bad times on the wall.
He explained how he has really bad days climbing and that everyone does. He explains that in climbing you cannot have an ego.
“If you measure yourself by your climbing ability or how well you are doing then you can only have fun while you are climbing well… If you are at your best all the time, then you are going to have a lot more fun.”