You Gotta Love the Process

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.

A Culture of Stewardship and Learning

I couldn’t articulate to you the definition of “guide culture”.  If I probe my own self-awareness, I do know I enjoy teaching and sharing climbing with beginners as much as I enjoy any other day of climbing. I know I always try to be a steward of any climbing area I visit or work in. I also know I like to apply a level of professionalism to everything I do.

Guides tend to spend a lot of time in an area they work. We tend to climb popular routes regularly and, as such, are in a good position to be stewards. We watch out for loose blocks, replace weathered tat, and retrieve bail gear, stuck ropes, etc. for parties upon their request. Recently, FMG received an email about a pair of ropes stuck on the Peregrine rappels. Fortunately, a training session for work on passing knots was already planned for the evening. It was a no-brainer; we could take the training session to The Nose and grab the ropes while we did the training!

The latter part of my self-awareness, being a professional, is what drives an interest in technical knowledge. The AMGA curriculum provides a foundation for guides to build skills. While there is much to be learned beyond the curriculum, completing the AMGA guide track offers a valuable credential for companies and clients. As with most professionals, the best guides are (at least partly) identified by their versatility and capacity to efficiently execute an infinite variety of tasks with limited resources. The knot pass is not only an essential tool for guides and climbers alike, but it is also one of the “standardized tests”, if you will, of the AMGA certification process.

During the training session, on a ledge 260 feet up, we discussed different ways to enhance efficiency and speed without compromising security. Two teams were sorted out, ropes were stacked, and each team began lowering people to the ground. Our exercise lasted only an hour, but in the meantime, night set in and a light rain began. The need to pass a knot while lowering someone isn’t commonly encountered; however, you can bet the one time you need to assist your guest or an injured friend to the ground from more than a rope length off the deck, it will be dark and raining. Perhaps, it’s this conscious, concerted effort to learn and practice skills that is my favorite vestige of “guide culture”.