Lessons in Lead Climbing (Part 4): I am Courageous

I’m fifteen feet off the deck and my first bolt glistens five feet above my head. I look down and notice a giant boulder in my fall zone. As I smear and wedge myself up the dihedral I continue to reassure myself that 1) a broken ankle wouldn’t hurt that bad, and 2) I got this, I flippin got this!

After I clip the first bolt and take my time chalking up, my husband sends up some calm words of reassurance. I glance up the bolt line and see the sun glinting off shiny metal another twenty vertical feet. First come the curse words, and the highly anxious thoughts like, why even clip the first bolt if I know I’ll deck from the second?, and other fun things like that. But then come the reassurances, the urges to be brave, the emphasis on delicate footwork and precise movements.

Before I know it I’m at the second bolt with confidence building. I notice the third bolt about the same distance as the two prior and push on. The success of the first two bolts carries over to the third, then the fourth, until I’m on the final stretch to the anchors. Each move I make I expect to see the chains, and each move I’m disappointed. A few more moves and the bolt below me disappears. I move tepidly up the face. The moves aren’t hard, but I can’t distract my brain from the giant whip I’ll take if my foot pops or my hand slips.

Finally, about fifty feet from the last bolt, the chains come into view. I anxiously move towards them, clip in, and breathe a deep, deep sigh of relief.

I clipped those chains with Elvis-leg and sweaty palms.

As I yelled down to my husband to lower, my pulse slowed and my hands stopped trembling. The first thought that came to mind was, hell yeah.

Hell yeah I just finished that super sketchy climb on lead. Hell yeah I stuck with it and didn’t need my husband to bail me out. Hell yeah I faced every fearful move I made. Hell yeah I clipped those chains with shaking limbs and sweaty palms.

Hell yeah.

A few weeks ago Coby asked me why I was writing about lessons from lead climbing instead of climbing in general (specifically TR), and I think this climb sums it up. On top rope, the experience wouldn’t have included the fear and consistent self-reassurance between each bolt. I wouldn’t have felt the surge of accomplishment in clipping the chains. On top-rope, it would have been just another straightforward, fun climb. Instead I experienced the roots of something deeper: courage.

Above all else I’ve learned from lead climbing (so far), my most important lesson centers on courage. When I don’t think I can clip another bolt or make another move, the consequences of inaction push me farther. A year ago I wouldn’t have believed anyone that told me I could lead a 12b. Forget 12b, not even a 10b. I lived in a bubble of safety. I lived believing my limits were extraordinarily lower than my capabilities. When I started lead climbing I wanted to shit my pants with every move. I wanted to lower to safety. A good majority of the time I wanted to give up. But every climb I finished I learned that I’m capable, that fear can’t stop me, and that I’m a brave MF who can do anything she sets her mind too.

I learned that I’m courageous.

Hell yeah, I am courageous.

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3 thoughts on “Lessons in Lead Climbing (Part 4): I am Courageous”

  1. Bah! This is literally exactly what I needed to read at just this moment. I have been staring at my computer trying to write about how last weekend I bailed early on every boulder in Horse Pens and I am so disappointed in myself about that. It’s not about skill, it’s about courage…. : )

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