A Little About Why I Climb

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Climbing outside makes me extremely apprehensive.

I am afraid of heights. Not in the way where I get vertigo or can’t go to the edge of something and look down-if supported I have no problem with that at all. Rationally I understand that the harness and rope are as safe as we can make them and the gear we attach to is the same. I am also aware that things go wrong. Part of my brain is constantly reminding me that a bolt could blow, a rock could fall on me, something could go wrong and I could die. I do not find this feeling exhilarating or liberating.

I really just find it terrifying.

Much of the time I spend on real rock, especially if lead-climbing, there is a part of me that is out of my mind with terror. If you could play the soundtrack in my head you would have one voice that is shrieking mindlessly and another calmer voice talking me through it.

Breathe. Hand up. Foot up. Shift your weight. Reach. Breathe. It’s ok. You’re safe. Trust your feet. Nice. Take it easy. Relax your grip. Breathe.

Clipping myself to a steel bolt on the side of a cliff hundreds of feet in the air with a couple carabiners and a bit of rope does not exactly make me feel safe. And yet despite my fear I continue to do it. If you ask me why my first answer is probably not going to be anything about ‘fun’.

Climbing is amazing.

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The view from the top of “Emergency Rainbow Generator” 5.7 – Quadra Island

The reason I climb isn’t because I always find it fun. I climb because the awe I feel when I am standing at the top of a climb on Quadra island and seeing a massive stretch of Vancouver Island and all of its largest park. Or looking out across Howe Sound and the Tantalus range as the sun goes down. Or standing at the foot of The Chief in squamish and staring straight up at 9 pitches and 1000 feet of the most beautiful granite I’ve ever seen.

These moments are what keep driving me outside.

Standing in awe of nature, and in awe of the human spirit that inspires us to scale a sheer cliff face with fingers and toes and constantly push the limits of what is possible.

It’s pretty awesome.

And before I forget: Today I am choosing to be thankful for my friends, who want to do all the things I do and then some. They encourage and push me and help me do better.

-Not Lost Girl

What leaves you in awe? When was the last time you felt that way? Let me know in the comments!

(Today’s Post inspired by The Daily Prompt: Awe )

Thank you, Self – Day 1 (again)

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Today I went to work planning to climb tonight. I have decided that Wednesdays and Fridays are climbing days for sure. Every week. Partway through the day Rhea asked if I wanted to climb outside if the weather held. We’ve not had decent weather the past week, and I wasn’t holding out hope. I did not respond right away as I had planned to climb with a different partner per my carefully set schedule. However that friend had to do other things and then the weather tanked and as I entered my local gym’s 8-week climbing competition I figured I should probably go and try to send something related to the comp.

By the time I got off work the LAST thing I wanted to do was climb. Sitting on the bus from work I was writing in my journal when I realized that the feelings I have that tell me it would be better to go home and be by myself because I feel overwhelmed and I need to recuperate are wrong. I do need time to recuperate by myself. I need quiet time without interacting with other people in order to work through my thoughts and feelings. But that crushing feeling I had, the one that tells me it is better to be by myself, that I’ve pushed myself too hard and have overextended myself…this time it is a lie.

And it has been a lie more times than not, recently.

So realizing this, I took the bus all the way into town and grabbed some food before heading over to the gym. Rhea wasn’t there yet and I didn’t really want to climb, so I went into the studio to stretch a little–my back has been bothering me quite a lot the last few days–before climbing. Harrison (one of the staff) wandered in and we had a chat in which he said I should take my lead test. This let me bring up the fact that the word ‘should’ is causing me a lot of  trouble lately. It is a word that-in my head-I’ve been using almost as a punishment. There is an implied judgement with that word, and I’ve been hanging it over my own head for so long that its use in conversations has an almost immediate negative reaction. He immediately rephrased it. “You could take your lead test.” This I agreed with, but did not end up taking my lead test today. I still find the words “you should be able to take your lead test” echoing in my head, but they’re quiet today. I do not have to take it. I will not judge myself for taking it or not.

It also strikes me that this is just one more example of how supportive and amazing the climbing community here in Victoria is. When I honestly tell someone that I’m struggling or that something is hard for me to react positively to the people around me don’t belittle it. They’re supportive and encouraging. They don’t pass a negative judgement on it; instead they admire my honesty about it and encourage me to keep on striving for a better place.

Harry also suggested climbing easy routes slowly and statically. ‘Static’ is a word we use in climbing to describe movement that is controlled and deliberate. There are no leaps or wild grabs in static climbing. Every movement flows into the next, your body is poised between balance and effort and you don’t make sudden ‘dynamic’ movement to reach anything. Thinking that climbing some easy stuff extra slowly would be good endurance and technique training I started climbing a pretty low grade at first.

Now I’m not always a huge fan of easy climbs because they often feel like they have too many holds and the feet are in the wrong place and they’re too much like ladders to be flowy. It turns out I am actually wrong and I’m just climbing them wrong. When you slow it down, when every movement is deliberate and you’re not just rushing for the top, you can find the right movements. It also allows you to practice precise foot placements, saving yourself energy by not having to reposition.

But climbing easy stuff just makes me want to try other things.

So after warming up by stretching and then climbing some stuff well below my project grade, I climbed a couple harder things. But then I had to get on my project. It’s one of the routes for the House Feature Scramble Competition, an 8-week boulder and route progression comp at Crag X Climbing Gym that I signed up for on a whim last week. I mean hey, for 20 bucks I get entered into a bunch of weekly raffles, get to record my climbs, and get a tshirt. Totally worth it. I’m not much of a boulderer (climbing without a rope to much lower heights) these days, so I’ve mostly been focused on the routes. There are 16 boulder problems and 3 routes that change every week.

Week one I only sent two of the boulder problems. And I sent route 1, a tricky but flowing climb somewhere in the low ten range (the upper range for beginners). Route 2 has a dyno (dynamic, explosive move) in the middle and I didn’t try it. Route 3 was short, consisted of a technical corner and transitioned into a balancy top section on thin (read not very big) holds. It was the kind of climb where a foot or knee out of place meant you were coming off the wall. Absolutely unforgiving.

I loved it.

Except I hadn’t been able to send it clean. Four days I tried sending it, and every time I fell off because my foot was wrong or I forgot a hold or I was tired. So tonight I got back on it. I made it through the lower corner section (I love corners) and set up to tackle the technical face climb. And my fingers just slipped and my balance was wrong and I couldn’t recover.

It was the furthest I had made it up that climb without falling and it was the last day it would count for the competition. I thought about just giving up, after all I had tried, right? My left knee was shrieking from the angle I had put it into.

But I wanted to send it clean and get the point. So Rhea suggested climbing something easy to help my fingers recover. I climbed something vertical and easy, then belayed Rhea up something else. My knee wasn’t feeling better, I figured I had one shot to get it done. After all, up until today I had never climbed the thing in two pieces. My forearms were feeling ok. If I took rests in the right spot, I could push through the top.

So I got back on the climb.

This time I took rests at every good stance. The lower section being a corner, that meant about every two moves, but I didn’t let go. I didn’t fall. I got to the final corner moves before the transition and rested, leaning into the corner with my hands behind my back. Deep breath. Take the pinch. Reach around to the left, right foot onto the top edge of the sloper (friction, friction), right hand up to the pinch, shift weight to prevent swinging too quickly to the left. Left hand up, left foot on top sloper. Shift weight to the right, right toe up on the pinch from three moves ago. Roll onto it and reach for the hold, hook the edge with the fingers. Pop up for the left hand. Left foot high, right hand on the crimp, pull and lock off and reach for the left hand. Shift feet, hook the right fingers on the edge, left hand up to another thin crimp. Right foot to the chip and up to the final hold.

And I made every single move.

I did, at one point, make a desperate grab for a hold and punch another hold which resulted in me taking the skin off my right thumb. Only ironic because I made a rather desperate grab for something I was probably stable enough to not grab desperately for and my fingers were rested by the time I got there so it felt pretty comfortable.

So today I got to cross off another route for the comp, and I sent my first 5.11a clean in the new gym.

imageI did go home right after that and tape my knee-because apparently if I apply KT tape to my skin when it is actually clean it comes off in like three seconds. But if I do it after a whole day of doing things it’s totally fine and stays on for weeks. My body makes no sense.

Today, I am thanking myself for going to the gym, even though I didn’t want to. I am thanking myself for being willing and able to consider that feeling like I need to hide from the world and that life is too much to deal with is not actually my thought and is instead the Black Dog trying to take a bite out of me and drag me back down to the dark.

Today I am thanking myself for not giving up.

So thank you, Self. For pushing yourself beyond what the Blackness says you are capable of. Thank you for trying. Thank you for fighting the judgement that comes with the word ‘should’. Thank you.

-Not Lost Girl

What are you thankful for today? Leave a comment below!