Lessons in Lead Climbing (Part 3): A Humbling

In September, the week before I got married, I sent my hardest route to date: a burly, overhung 12b in Deep Creek, Spokane, WA. Describing myself as psyched doesn’t begin cover how I felt after clipping the chains. I cried. I screamed. I laughed. I couldn’t contain myself. I’d just climbed 5.12.

And then there was the wedding, and the honeymoon, and nearly four weeks passed before I touched rock again. When my husband and I hit the gym on our first day back we felt like beginners. Our movement was flimsy, our footwork loud, and our fingers couldn’t stand the routes we wanted to test them on.

I’d always admired the strong women in the gym who were climbing and trying hard on routes with grades I’d never touched. In September, I felt like I’d started to become that woman myself. I started to become my own inspiration.

Along the way, though, my ego sneakily began it’s rise. I felt proud and badass to be climbing these routes. My head shifted away from the route I was doing to wondering what people were thinking of me. Did they think I was strong? Could they see my muscles? What would they think if I fell?

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This same kind of thinking lead me to take time away from climbing early last year. Climbing isn’t about what other people think of you. It’s not about trying to impress a boy or a girl or someone else who climbs hard. It’s about challenging yourself, discovering what you’re capable of, and tapping in to your self-reliance among many, many other things.

What a cruel form of self-sabotage to turn the mind away from the body. As soon as I started expanding my climbing beyond myself the worse my climbing became.

Coming back from four weeks off reaffirmed what I already knew. Although climbing is about the community we create and the friends we share these experiences with—when you’re on the wall, working through a pitch or your project, you’re the only one that matters. Not what you’re belayer thinks, or what the person walking by thinks, or what your mom thinks (sorry mom…). No, what matters is you focusing on you, boo boo.

I’ve pushed myself more both mentally and physically in the process of becoming a lead climber, and I think this is what gave rise to my pride. I have taken a 10-foot whipper when before I’d been deathly afraid of even falling on top rope. I have lead routes seven grades higher than I ever tried on top rope. I have seen muscles on my arms when in the past I hadn’t considered myself athletic.

I am proud of myself. I’m proud of myself for pushing beyond what I thought were my limits. I’m proud of myself for leading routes with 30 foot runouts. I’m proud of myself for getting back on the rock after it’s spit me off on the same move ten or twelve or twenty times.

I guess what keeps my pride in check is the constant falling, the constant failing. It’s tricky territory we climbers face—learning how to keep our egos in check. But I think as long as we’re aware, climbing can help to continually shape and mold us into the humans we want to be.

Keep on climbing, people.

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