Back in the days

I had a good laugh over this old-school magazine advertisement.  Hard to believe that this used to be the prevalent attitude towards women.  I don’t think I would have lasted long checking out men’s climbing sweaters.  I probably would have swiped the sweater and rope and organized my own climbing trip.  Wonder what the boys back then would have thought about girls today who are climbing hard and kicking ass like Sasha DiGiulian?

 

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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.

Skaha

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!

To lead…. or not ?

Went to the climbing gym today “sans partner”.  Not that I have a lack of partners to go climbing with, I just wanted to see who else was out there in the climbing world.  Unfortunately my little foray led me into a head on collision with my climbing nemesis: leading.

I’m not going to lie (this is where someone should say – please don’t!), lead climbing is the most rewarding and f-ing terrifying part of climbing for me.  The terrifying part usually comes first.  And it comes from a fear of falling which (according to me) is not entirely irrational.

When I look at potential lead climbs,  I can picture in my mind what a fall from any clip would entail – and usually it is not pretty when you’re:

a) at the first/second clip
b) climbing on ledgy rock
c) on slab
d) at the first/second/any clip on ledgy rock

So to start off, I haven’t even tied myself in and I’ve already scared the sh*t out of myself.  The end result of this visualization is that I either back out of the climb or whimper my way up and finish the climb feeling like a the world’s biggest wimp.

BUT, there are times when I find leading super rewarding.  The rewarding part usually comes from conquering my mental demons more than challenging myself physically.  I’ll eye a certain climb down. I know in my head that I can climb it – but I can also picture my whimpering self slowly making my way up (or falling).  And I’ll want to push past that and confidently climb it.  And when I do it’s seriously the most amazing feeling in the world.  To push yourself mentally to a point where you don’t think you can make it – but then you do.  That’s seriously kick-ass.

Unfortunately those awesome moments are few and far between for me.  Especially when I climb outdoors.

So therein lies my dilemma.  I love leading when it goes well, but when I climb outdoors I probably have a better chance dying at russian roulette than I do of actually completing and enjoying a lead climb (this may be a slight exaggeration).   Where does that leave me?  I’m not too sure to be honest.  I’ve had a lot of suggestions: “You need to fall more often”, “Just climb stuff you won’t fall off of”, “Maybe leading is just not for you”, “You know, unless you’re leading you’re not really climbing so stop being a wuss and just do if you actually want to be a climber”

Right – I’ll just get over myself, take a mega fall and be good to go! Haha

In the end I think I have to remind myself why I go climbing – to enjoy the challenge.  And when it’s not enjoyable – perhaps that’s where I draw the line for myself.  Maybe that means I won’t ever be leading difficult routes.  Maybe it means I just need more time to work my way there.  But in the end if I’m having a great time does it really matter what I’m climbing?

Side note: according to the book “Where the Mountain Casts It’s Shadow” by Maria Coffey, the probability of dying descending K2 after summitting is close to that of dying at russian roulette.