I had some messy climbing today; first I want to tell you about the climb. Second I want to tell you about how I am CHOOSING not to see myself as someone who ‘just sucks at climbing’ but instead as someone who uses experience to MOVE FORWARD and to IMPROVE and someone who just LOVES BEING OUT and MOVING on the rock.
I found myself cautiously picking my way up a blocky sea cliff on the edge of the estuary of the Firth of Forth. The sun was warm on my back and even the sea breeze had some heat in it. The sea birds were chasing each other, and Siula Dog was curled up in a sunny patch between two rocks.
Not that I noticed any of that.
I had found some solid hand holds and my feet were strong on good ledges. Initially, I clung to the rock, wrapping my body around a spike while I fussed over trying to find a piece of steel protection I could squeeze into the rock fissure next to me.
Gradually though, I started to relax. I realised I didn’t have the intense feeling of being about to fall off backwards. I could climb quite easily higher than my last point of steel protection until I found another comfortable vantage point to place another piece in the rock.
My first need to pause came at a steep, flat piece of rock. I climbed up to the top edge of it, felt insecure and climbed back down to my last safe point. Trad climbing makes me feel insanely focused, which is mainly what draws me to it. The focus is very tiring though and at this point I realised my mind had been running at warp factor seven since I left the ground so maybe a little pause was called for. My safe point welcomed me and gave me space to think.
We need to think about what we need to do, not all the things that could go wrong. I need to end up standing on these ledges by my hips with my hands over there so I can get another piece of gear in that crack there.
Sure enough, after a little break, I found it easier to address my worries, I following my own mental instructions and I was through. Amazing what a calm down and a think can do for a girl.
After the ledge, the shape of the rock changed. There were less straight lines and obvious places for hands and feet. The rock was more rounded and it felt like it bulged slightly outwards against me. I got three pieces of gear in the space of an arm span which shows I was nervous. Why think about feet and body movement when I can think about placing surplus gear?
Took out the first friend because I deemed it to be unnecessary and throwing my rope line off. The last piece was a tiny blue nut at eye level. I
also felt out of range of Garth’s reassurances.
Even when another climber appeared on a route metres from me, he was the enemy that I needed to hide my fear from. I had my nice climbing pants on, he would think I was silly for having nice stuff but not actually being able to climb.
Who even is this man? Why is he in your head Jen? This is your brain, I’m playing tricks on you.
I’ve been stuck at this point just above the ledge for quite some time now and I’ve been in full body tension for most of that time. I look above me but can only see bulging rock. It looks like it might be straight forward to climb it but I don’t know that for sure. I can’t see anywhere more metal protection could go. I’m on my own and I’m going to be completely at risk, unprotected! I can’t see where I’m going and where my next piece of gear will be!
I recognise panic starting to creep in. Stop it before it sets in Jen.
The panic is under control, for now. A few more hesitations and attempts to move my feet up but I’m not going anywhere. I sign to belayer I want to come down. I’m not entirely sure he has got the message but the rope tightens. I realise I’m about to let myself be lowered off the tiniest blue nut that I own. I tentatively weight the rope. A little more, a little more, okay take your hands off the rock now. Jen, put your hands on the knot on your harness then you can’t unbalance yourself in descent. Garth lowers me to the ledge. He’s keen for me to just chill there and give it another go but I’m done. Another tentative loading of the blue nut as I step onto the edge. All I can see is it exploding out the rock and me tumbling to my doom on the rocks below me. I can almost feel myself falling through the air.
That’s not really a helpful thought Jen, let’s think about getting our body under control. Wide feet and slowly, slowly.
Everything goes quiet as I’m lowered down defeated off the easiest climb on the wall. The old women on the climb next to me are scorning the silly little girl who thinks she’s cool with her aviators and fancy clothes. You want to write a climbing blog and you can’t even climb a Vdiff?
Garth takes over the lead and finishes it up for me. I can’t help but notice he pauses in the exact same places I had to pause in…
I follow him up, nice and safe this time on the other end of the rope. I strip out all my own gear, hey this all looks pretty solid Jen. I race up the first half, climbing with confidence and ease on a route that now feels physically lovely, pushing and pulling and good hand and foot holds that seem to be exactly where I want them to be…
Up to my ledge. I hammer out the blue nut I descended on, fairly wedged in now having 70 kilos of girl hanging from it. Ah, the trouble area. Without even thinking I climb straight through the bulge, barely even recognising it as an obstacle. Over the exposed top area and straight up to Garth the belayer. Easy.
‘Bit tricky in places, that.’
He teases me, we laugh, we take some photos. What was the big deal?
Sitting with Garth at the top I feel the heat of the sun on my back. The warm sea breeze whispers through my hair and I can hear the birds. I look down and Siula Dog is still tucked up warm in the sunshine.
**The SO WHAT?**
It would be so EASY for me to let myself feel frustrated, annoyed and a bit stupid. After all, it was ‘only a VDiff’ and I got scared not once but twice, spent ages on it, had to down climb parts of it, messed up a lot of my gear and even then couldn’t finish the damn thing!
It would be really EASY for me to tell myself I am ‘a failure’ or that I am ‘just rubbish at climbing.’ It would be easy to think ‘I must be rubbish because I can’t even lead a VDiff!’
I could think all those thoughts and let myself feel really beat, unworthy and silly for even trying it.
But what would that achieve? First, It would make me FEEL rubbish. Second, it would stop me from thinking and analysing the climb, what did I learn, what could I do differently next time? Third, it would definitely not leave me psyched to go climbing the next time; why would I want to go and make myself feel rubbish again? Fourth, it would be hugely disrespectful to Garth the belayer and Siula-Dog the sun-hound; I would have been so focused on ‘failing’ at climbing I would have missed enjoying a sweet day in the sun with my BF and my dog!
I am choosing to realise that any time I spend on lead is time I am learning, experiencing, developing, becoming better. No time is wasted and potentially my failures provide me more opportunity to become a better climber than my successes do!
In summary, why am I choosing not to see this as a failure?
1. Because I don’t like feeling grumpy and frustrated, it’s not fun.
2. Telling myself I am a failure puts me in a weak position to go forward to the next climb.
3. I want to enjoy climbing; choosing to use it as a way to measure my failures is not fun.
4. I want to enjoy days out with Garth and Siula-Dog, not spend them crying into my soup because I’m having an existential crisis!
So choosing to see the route as a success, what did I learn?
1. I practised having the courage to step up and even try the lead.
2. I gained more experience putting gear in (and all of it was bomber).
3. I got to the first difficulty and it gave me an opportunity to practise down climbing
4. I got to the first difficulty and it gave me an opportunity to practise down climbing, chilling out, coming up with a plan, and executing that plan.
5. I got to practise using slings to reduce rope drag. The process confused me because I want to use a long sling to extend to keep my gear in a line for later, but the longer my sling is the lower my last safe point becomes for the next few moves.
6. I experienced mental lethargy on lead. I hadn’t realised that was a ‘thing’ before, now I know to prepare against it.
7. I got lowered off my *tiny* little blue nut and got to experience it holding me. Lowered! Down a good 20 m of climb! One more little notch of trust in my gear-bedpost.
8. I raced up the route on second, further giving myself evidence that my physical ability is not in question for a route of that grade (so one less thing to worry about).
9. I got practice of going through the mental masturbation that brought me from a fixed mindset of ‘I suck at climbing’ to a growth mindset of ‘Hey look at all the stuff I learned for the next climb.’
10. I became slightly more competent.
I’m sitting now with a cheeky G&T writing this; I’ve already planned tomorrow’s climbing adventure.