climb like a warrior
well, it's that time of year again. the time when we peel our chalky digits from the curved comfort of plastic and throw them on real rock to be crimped, wedged and grated. and what better way to jump start the oncoming climbing season than with a dose of mental stimulation to tackle the old demons dangling from our collective climbing racks.
and where do you stand? are you starting out feeling strong and confident and ready to jump on that runout and poorly protected 5.12x that left you sobbing last year? perhaps not. but that's okay. spring is a good time to recompose. take it slow and breath deep to ready for the challenges that the new year will bring, both on and off the rock.
so maybe you spent the winter training in the gym and maybe you didn't. maybe you packed on a few pounds during your winter hibernation. maybe you dropped some by developing a positive fitness program. maybe you lost some muscle by sitting around watching all your favorite episodes of the sopranos. or maybe you got fit while climbing in the sweet sun soaked shores of thailand. no matter where you are starting out this season and no matter what ulterior motives drive you, we are all looking for the same thing: to get out and enjoy ourselves doing something that we love. sounds easy enough...
the pressure we put on ourselves to live up to our own expectations, whether based on what we climbed last season or what we dream of climbing this one, is a very limiting thing. our expectations keep us from being open to experience as it unfolds. it is a blinding force that feels entitled to the 'rewards' of climbing without putting in the attention and focus required for such 'rewards'.
think of standing below a climb with a grade that you consider yourself to have 'mastered'. any climber knows that route grades are a very subjective thing. grades the world over have been inflated or sandbagged to either throw climbers in over their head, or offer an easy ego inflation. in either case, they're just numbers. so... you're standing below this route. you check the guidebook and sure enough, this baby is a 5.10a. "in the bag" you tell yourself. but it isn't in the bag. this route offers a technical move at the crux that isn't so much difficult as it is hard to figure out. when you encounter the cryptic crux, you start to overgrip when the move doesn't seem obvious. you lose control of your breathing and begin to pump out on fairly big holds. you fumble your feet and blindly throw for nothing. or perhaps you merely slump into the bolt and yell "take" to your belayer. this scenario isn't about being a 'bad' climber. it merely illustrates how your expectations can keep you from accomplishing a very basic aim: to climb with full attention. consider this next scenario: you are standing below a route that you consider above your grade. you check the guidebook and sure enough, it's an 11d. you've convinced yourself this climb is too hard for you even before you set off. you start climbing and after a few clips, soon find yourself pumping out from overgripping the rock. your breathing is shallow and you're scared of the impending fall, since you are pretty sure you're not going to be able to pull whatever crux this route holds. and it must be up there. and it must be hard. so you pump out and you fall. or yell "take" to your partner as you slump in your harness, defeated. here, expectation is a self-fulfilling prophecy. you convinced yourself to not climb the route well. if you'd considered it possible from the outset, you could have spent a moment to scan the rock from the ground to eye out the crux and to try and visualize sequences, rests and clipping stances. you could have been focused on your breathing during the attempt and been aware of your grip on the rock. now what if i told you that in both these examples, the route was exactly the same. only the grade and your expectation were altered. anyone open to the experience of the climb would have seen the route for what it is: a piece of rock with a particular set of holds. the grade may be an indicator of what you might expect to encounter, but it's a grade based on someone else's idea of what's difficult or easy. removing expectation from the equation will go a long way in preparing you to climb with more attention and focus. just remember to leave the door open to possibility.
the way i see it, there are two worlds: the world where nothing is sacred except money, and the other world, where everything is sacred.