This summer started off with my fifth surgery in four years, this time to mend a broken wrist. (FYI, wet slab and small finicky gear isn’t a good combination.) For all of June, July, August, and a most of September I was sidelined, again, by an injury. Something different about this injury was the fact it’s the first time I was hurt as the direct result of falling off a rock climb. Before it was skiing, but this time the sound of that red C3 popping loose is vivid in my mind each time I tie in to climb.
For most of October I’ll be in Red Rocks, NV climbing and getting back on the horse, so to speak. It’s a process I’ve become too familiar with. I still know how to rock climb, the moves are as familiar as ever, yet my mind feels weak. I’ve been doubling up the small sizes on my rack – not comfortable trusting only one small cam. My comfort level climbing above gear (or bolts for that matter) isn’t where it was a few months ago, the grinding pop of that C3 failing in my ear. Does climbing feel the same now? Have my goals with climbing changed?
Right now everything feels a little uneasy, intimidating. My goal is the same – climb harder, longer routes by embracing the process. The process of recognizing where my comfort zone intersects with the list of (thousands) of routes I want to climb and picking a route just slightly harder than what I’m comfortable doing. I want my palms to sweat, my legs to tickle, my eyes to water, to compulsively read the comments on Mountain Project about what gear to bring or which sections might be runout. The night before I’ll lay awake trying to picture the route and in the morning I’ll have a pit in my stomach and debate taking a second wag bag. On route, I’ll nervously look up at every pitch analyzing where the hard moves might be, where the “pro” would be best. Unclipping my clove hitch and making those first moves away from the belay, I want to witness my thoughts and listen as an internal voice overrides my ego trying to stay within it’s comfort zone with a mantra: make small moves… the pro is good… it’s a clean fall… commit.
If the past is any indication, my comfort level with climbing well above gear will not only return but increase. I know this because each climb, each day the feeling of achievement as I build the next anchor and yell “off belay” is addictive. The grade doesn’t matter to me, only the feeling of being challenged. Admitting how frail I can be, both mentally and physically, gives me a place to build from. I’m addicted to the stress of being right at the level of possible, but not at all easy. I love the process.