Lessons learned leading

And so ends my first “real” season of outdoor leading and climbing.  In actuality the season ended over a month ago but I’ve been keeping my gear stashed near my front door in the (faint) hope that it might be nice enough to go climb.  With this week’s ongoing blizzard I think it’s safe to say that I need to pack up my gear up for the season.


This is the third year that I’ve been climbing but I only started leading about 6 months ago.  I’ll be honest – I had a really rough go at it.  I went from being able to confidently top rope some very difficult climbs to being irrationally terrified over the easiest leads.  The most frustrating thing was that I knew I had the ability, I just couldn’t wrap my head around climbing without my top rope security blanket.  But somewhere along the line, between September and October, something changed.  Every time I went to the gym I was a little less scared.  I started looking forward to going outside and being the leader.  I don’t think it was one thing in particular that changed my perspective, more so it was an accumulation of experiences that helped me learn to let go of the fear.  So in no specific order here are a few things I’ve learned along the way …

1.  There is great value to be found in community.  Nothing is worse than feeling alone.  I mean hey, don’t we all know the saying “misery loves company?”.  Not knowing a lot of more experienced climbers, I decided to join twitter and looking back, I’m so glad I did.  It was really therapeutic to articulate what I was feeling and to know that others either understood how I felt or could give advice (thank you to the ladies who commented on my posts – it meant a lot!).

2.  Learn to be content.  This was a big one for me and it had an effect on more than just my climbing.  It dawned on me one day that I needed to quit fretting about whether I could/should have been pushing myself harder and instead start enjoying what I was capable of climbing.  I climbed 5.5’s and 5.6’s like they were going out of style and loved it.  If I was feeling a climb, I lead it – if not, I didn’t.  I stopped comparing myself to who I thought I should be and started being content with where I was and what I was doing.  Because in the end what you define as “hard” climbing is really subjective.  I don’t think I have any less fun leading 5.7’s outdoors than say, a person doing 5.12’s.  But that was a really hard lesson to take in – something I’m still working on.  There is a quote I really like that is to this effect:

“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude” ~ G.K. Chesterton

3. Focus. I think this is one of the reasons why I fell in love with climbing in the first place – it focuses my attention so singularly on the task at hand that everything else dissolves into the background.  I can have the most miserable day/week at work and somehow when I get to the gym and get on a challenging route, I forget everything because it’s just about where I am in the moment and what my next move is.  Cliche, maybe, but it’s true.  Keeping that focus when you’re scared is not always the easiest and I’ll admit I let it get the best of me sometimes but I’m finally learning to keep it under control.  I found that the key was practice.  If you practice confronting your fears it becomes easier each time to push past them.

Mostly though, I’m just really grateful that somehow this whole climbing thing landed in my lap.  A while back I was talking with a good friend and he told me to  be careful with getting into climbing – that it would change my life.  At the time I blew the comment off but looking back, he was dead on.  I’ve changed a lot – but all in good ways.  Climbing has been such an enriching experience and I’ve met so many great people and had such awesome adventures that I can’t imagine going back.

Anyways, enough contemplation – time to enjoy the last day of the weekend!

Leave a comment


  1. This pretty accurately sums up my experiences this year also, my first year climbing, and even getting in a few “easy” leads at Skaha. Thanks for the post.


    • Glad the post was enjoyed! Half of why I like writing them is because it helps me reflect on things. Getting into climbing is definitely a learning process and it’s great to be able to share that journey with others.

  2. Great post! These are great lessons, thank you for sharing :)

    For me, I joined Twitter for reasons completely unrelated to climbing, but I was extremely happy to discover other climbers there, some of whom I’ve now climbed with (and many others who I hope to climb with one day).

    Content is something I have to work on, in all areas of my life, including climbing.

    Focus is also a big part of why I climb :)

    Climb on! Sad the rock season’s over… time for ice :)

    • Thanks for the comments!

      Contentment is for sure an area that I’m still working on. Some days I really feel I get it and some days, not so much :) But I guess that’s the point though right? If you think you have nothing left to learn you’re probably on the wrong path!

      I’m glad we were able to connect over twitter – would be nicer if it could be over rock in the future :)

  3. Great post! I have been going through the same thing with leading. At first it was really bugging me but I’ve stop worrying about it because that takes the fun out of climbing.

  4. I’ve really been enjoying reading your blog. Do you climb ice? It seems all my climber friends in Washington are traveling to your neck of the woods to go ice climbing…

    • Glad you’re enjoying it! I started it more for myself but it’s awesome to see that other people are reading it as well :)

      I do ice climb though not terribly well. I just started last year so although I’m learning I’m an excellent belay and climbing partner (on the positive side!). If you or any of your friends find yourselves up here feel free to give me a shout, I’m usually out in the mountains (or looking for a reason to get out) most weekends.

  5. Great post! I think you’ve got the right attitude. I didn’t start leading until well past my first year of climbing as well.

    I’d also like to say that I’ve glad you’ve found the community on Twitter, I think it really gave my own climbing motivation a shot in the arm as well and has lead to many new friendships, climbing partners and fun Tweetups :)

    • I think that twitter was, for me too, a push in the right direction for my climbing as silly as that sounds. I really hope that in the near future I’ll be able to make it to a tweetup so I can meet everyone!

  6. Climbing is definitely something that has changed my life in a very positive way. Sometimes I think it might be the only thing keeping me sane during the winter months. I have met some really cool people through climbing too!

    • Funny how so many climbers will attest to climbing having had such a positive impact on their lives. I can definitely say that holds true for myself! At least summer is finally rolling around … :)

  1. Chicks Climbing » Blog Archive » Catching up with the Gossip; what have you heard?

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