How To Rock Climb (And Really Enjoy It)

First time climbing after the accident

I’m sitting in a quiet café, on the second-floor terrace of the Borders store, sipping Italian soda, soaking up the distant sounds of a spicy Mexican band, broken foot propped on a chair. And I can’t help but wonder if I’ll ever bicycle to work again. Don’t get me wrong, I love biking a lot and my gas-hog of a car being totally awesome for outdoors is not so good for commute. But being grounded for two months because of a silly accident that didn’t involve climbing is just too hard to process. So, I guess I must like rock climbing a lot.

I started climbing exactly two years ago and I’ve never been sidelined by an injury in all this time. I slowly progressed through the grades and was inching in on the coveted 5.12’s. The last project I was working on before the accident was a short, negative and pumpy 5.11d. I attempted to redpoint it five or six times and was getting closer to sending it, but I was peeling off the same second-to-last move. The frustration with my lack of progress and inability to learn grew bigger with every failure. Because I was not getting results, I was starting to dread doing something I supposedly loved. How did I get from the shivers of excitement to this?!

A couple of months ago my girlfriend and I visited Squamish - a stellar climbing destination in British Columbia. Fantastic cracks, mind boggling slabs and plentiful bouldering - a dream destination. On our first climbing day we decided to try an unknown crack at the base of the Chief’s Bulletheads wall. I didn’t know the grade of the route, but but it looked within my range. We swung by the wall, I quickly racked up and Adrienne took me on belay. The first moves were solid and I proceeded to jam a few feet before stopping to place some gear. The crack was dirty and my pro felt sketchy. The next section was too wide for jamming and required a transition from solid secure jamming to strenuous and precarious laybacking. But I kept my feet high and moved past those few feet to a good stance with perfect hand-sized gear placements. But then the following ten feet were too wide for pro and too runout to afford a fall on a slabby wall below. I spent a few minutes getting enough courage to climb that section. But when I reached the next solid hand jam and placed a cam, my enthusiasm evaporated completely - directly above me was a bolt, but the hanger was spinning like an Aspen leaf in a light summer breeze. And the bolt itself was moving quite a bit. This is where I needed to think clearly and I wasn’t. All I could think about was how crappy that bolt was. I was picturing myself falling and pilling the bolt out. In a haze of frustration my decision was to place a nut, equalize it with the bolt and lower to the ground, cleaning on the way down. And so I did.

But the bolt was unnecessary - I was sitting in a perfect hand crack with plenty of potential for bombproof gear placements. I just needed to place a couple of pieces and move on to the roof traverse. However, earlier looking at that lengthy traverse from the ground, I decided that if I found it too hard, it would be okay to leave some gear and bail.

So how did a beautiful climb within my range turn into a disappointment so quickly? The answer is simple - it didn’t, it was doomed from the start. I made a prediction and then worked hard to make it true. Our mood, our emotions are not created outside of our brains. The way we react to things is influenced by the language we use to think and talk about our experiences. (Have you noticed that great climbers call scary climbs “exciting”?) It’s hard to enjoy a dirty crack with insecure stances and sketchy pro. But it’s an entirely different experience when you think of the same route as a pristine, adventurous one, with thin gymnastic stances and creative pro. When you fail the same impossible move twenty times in a row - it’s no fun. But when you learn something new and interesting about your body and mind every time you fall - you can do it all day long and never get bored or discouraged.

September 9, 2010 |

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About Me

George Sudarkoff Climber of rocks, maker of things, husband of wife and father of kids. Manage DevOps @SurveyMonkey. Views are my own, but damn they are good views!