Friday, September 23, 2011

Sutble Little Things About Climbing Rocks

When I mention that I'm breaking into lead climbing but I'm still uncomfortable with it, it's worth clarifying that I'm uncomfortable with it in a kind of fear-paralysis-let-me-verbalize-how-terrified-and-upset-I-am-every-second-that-I'm-on-the-rock kind of a way, not in any kind of stoic way.  I pause interminably at tough points, I still often give in to the temptation to hang on the rope as soon as I get to a point where I can clip in, I yell at myself, I curse, I cry, sometimes I even say things like "I'm gonna fall ahhhh!" even though I'm not at that moment falling, which is a really uncool thing to do to your belayer, who stands to have a pretty rough experience as well if you do actually fall while on lead.

I've gotten that down a bit, but it's still a pretty lame show of self-challenge. Improvement comes slowly: last time on real rock I merely paused at the one hard part for a minute, called myself an idiot about ten times, then pushed through without even crying.  I even lead an overhanging route on the outdoor wall at the gym without having to verbalize or pause at all, although I was shaking the whole time. 

But most significantly, I'm still uncomfortable with it enough that I never try to lead on routes anything like my actual climbing ability, I'm still uncomfortable with overhangs (even though they are actually safer for lead falls) and I'm still pretty much unwilling to lead a route that I haven't ever climbed before on toprope.  Which means I don't reach my limits, physically or mentally.  Which means I don't know if I particularly want to reach my limits or not.  I think I do--at least--I want to know what they are, and I like to think that shouting and crying Lead Me is not a real limit but just a layer of immaturity that has to fall away.  When you push your limits you find out who you really are, and I don't want that to be who I really am.


Last night at the gym I fell about 10 feet, right at the top of a bouldering problem. There's about a foot of springy padding on the gym floor, so although did feel a kind of slight head rattle, I think I was mostly shaky after that because I hadn't expected to fall and had been surprised by it.  Which highlights a problem with climbing: you're supposed to climb until you fall, meaning all falls should be more or less a surprise.  You aren't supposed to climb until you reach something you aren't sure will work so you give up and go back down--because then how will you ever get to practice the moves that challenge you?  You might be aware that in this move a fall is kinda likely, but if you don't even try because a fall is possible, or, if you try something crazy without at least some mentality of "this IS going to work," you are missing out on some crucial steps that lead to improvement.

I usually do give in to the temptation of "I don't see this working so I'm going to get off the wall and think some more," but this time I didn't.  There were a lot of people watching, one guy in particular giving really good advice, and I thought hey, I'll try that move, I bet it's possible..and hello air.  (That guy really should have been spotting my head, though.) Just like that, I made a conscious decision to do something that I knew was risky but also knew was likely possible--a decision I don't normally make but somehow found the power to do this time. That the surprise made me shaky highlights how I need to take risks more often, so that safe falls are not something jarring but something I'm used to.  
Split-second hesitation is so, so easy, while the alternative requires unwavering will. These are beginner lessons--and yet they keep coming back. It's not that anything suddenly gets easier, is that you grow enough to be more equal to the challenge.

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