I’m trembling uncontrollably. My mind races as I methodically go through the imaginary scenario of me falling 20 feet, my skull cracking open like an egg on the large rock below.
“Just reach up and lunge, you’ve got this.” Squirrel calls.
I stand there, frozen, unable to speak, pinching a ledge of rock about a knuckle deep for dear life. We had bushwhacked our way up the south side of Castlewood Canyon to hang out on some walls and get our climb on – however at that moment it was the last thing I could bring myself to do. Half way up a route the holds went from gentle 5.9 jugs to grueling 5.11a finger killers. There I was, stuck in my sick fantasy on how was I going to fall to certain death. Suddenly, tears started to trickle down my face.
“JUST GO FOR IT. What are you doing?!” Squirrel pressed.
“Well,” I sniffed “Currently I’m having a breakdown. I’m crying ok!” Aggravated at myself more than anything Squirrel began to talk me out of my mental cliff jump and back down the wall.
Life can get funny on the crag, but you always come away stronger.
Crushing a Crippling Fear
I’ve been consistently climbing rocks for a little over 2 years. That’s a small miracle. To be completely honest with you heights terrify me. When I say terrify I really mean paralyze me. My fear is so strong that when I first started out I pulled muscles in my arms thinking that the rope was surely going to give way when I let go. So why did I start climbing in the first place? Well, in short, Squirrel wanted to get back into shape. He loves to climb so in order to support him I said I’d give it a solid try.
It’s taken me a long time to truly get over my fear of heights, and I still struggle from time to time. That being said, I wouldn’t put myself past crying on a wall again. But I’ve learned that the more you face your fears, the less scary they become. By nature, I want to succeed and I’ll work hard to do it. So I continue to try. I allowed myself to let go. No sport has ever really enlightened me on my own qualities the way rock climbing has.
Trust Yourself and Go Conquer Anything
About a year ago I started lead climbing. This is when the person at the bottom, the belayer, feeds you slack and the rope follows you up the route. There is no safety net sensation of the rope pulling you up like top rope. Furthermore, if you fall you aren’t falling inches, it’s more like several feet of free-fall before there is tension in the line and the person below you catches your fall.
The first time I learned to lead climb the instructor made me fall. I nearly died on the inside. My legs were shaking so uncontrollably it was next to impossible for me to let go. When I did I tried to grab the wall. The second time, the rope. The third I drug my feet. All of these habits are extremely dangerous for obvious reasons.
Despite this I knew Squirrel loved lead climbing and as I’d watch him head up the wall I too wanted to try. So I kept trying. Each time I’d come down and proclaim that it wasn’t for me and I’d never do it again. But week after week, time after time I’d try again. Little by little I’d gain some sense of confidence and trust in the gear.
Soon I would head up the wall, get my last clip between my thighs and feet and let go. I would force failure on myself, something that made me so uncomfortable I’d almost have a fit. Relentlessly, I’d force myself out of my comfort zone and into the land of failure. What did I find? I didn’t die, I didn’t get hurt, I’d be just fine. The gear would hold and someone was there to break my fall.
Now I can push myself further, up harder routes, in more uncomfortable situations and when I think of the possibility of failure it doesn’t phase me. I will be just fine.
Don’t Bother Comparing Yourself to Others
Climbing is a mental game as much as a physical one. It’s personal. The struggle is with yourself and you alone, with your partner to guide you. Connections with a climbing partner typically evolve into a deep trust. However, at the same time it’s just you and the wall. The focus and physical exertion create the challenge. It’s not about what the guy next to you is doing, it’s about your inner focus. What are your goals? What do you want? How are you going to improve?
Bad Day? Big Deal.
No one can go out there and crush it day after day. No one. We all strive to be our best and put our best foot forward, but sometimes that just isn’t going to happen. As a climber, this is a lesson I learned early on. There are days where I can just rampage up a technical 5.11d and I’ve had days where I’m lucky to struggle my way up an easy 5.9.
It’s ok to have a fun day doing easy stuff. Not every day will be progress. Not every route will push you to the max. That’s ok. It’s getting out that counts. It’s not worth getting frustrated over it.
Mother nature has a funny way of reminding us that we aren’t always in charge, but we are always experiencing life. As long as your mind is open to the experience you’re doing just fine.
Life on the Rocks
Nature has a funny way of showing us our own reflection. No where else I have seen that more clearly on the rock. The ultimate lesson I take away from spending time on rocks is that in order to overcome your fears you have to look inward first and accept yourself for who you are. That builds strength, and with strength and determination, you can overcome anything.
Girls Gone Into the Wild
A super special thanks to Girls Gone into the Wild for providing this post with some stellar images. Girls Gone into the Wild focuses on three feisty females and their journeys in the great outdoors.
You can check out their website here: Girls Gone into the Wild
And thanks Dan for taking those awesome photos!