This past weekend my brother, Brooks, and I took a trip to Lover’s Leap to initiate me into the world of trad climbing; the goal being for me to get some experience following trad routes and for him to get in some laps. I was stoked! I expected my climbing skills and mental toughness to be challenged and hoped to come home with loads of new information about trad climbing to process. What I didn’t expect to learn was that I can be an overthinking, irrationally fearful baby. Like full-blown blubbering sniffling drooling sobbing BABY. While sitting on the belay ledge on the second pitch of Deception, my thought process went a little like this:
Wow, the wind is really picking up.
If Brooks took a fall right now he’d forsure break his ankles and probably a couple ribs.
Why is he running it out so far?
Man, if I follow that and fall right there I’ll swing all the way over there.
The cold crept its way in between all four of my layers and the wind picked up to what felt like an outrageous pace. Every time a gust of wind knocked me backwards ever so slightly, a lump welled up in my throat. Bad ‘what if’ situations repeatedly bullied my mind and I every time I tried to push them out of my head, 12 new ones popped up. The lump grew bigger every time I fed out rope to Brooks, and gradually my vision was blurred with tears. I tried to take deep breaths and remind myself that eventually we’d get to the top and walk off and everything would be fine, but I couldn’t help but think about all the situations where things could go wrong. I looked up at Brooks chugging along this ultra-classic 5.6 and yelled, “Hey Brooks? I don’t think I wanna do this anymore.” (The grade. I know. Would you judge me less if I told you it’s my first time trad climbing ever? No? Okay.) He paused, “Well, we’re already here, so we can’t really go back down.”
I knew this was going to be his answer, I had thought about the possible bail routes but all of them involved Brooks losing some expensive piece of gear and some seriously sketchy rappelling, I was just hoping there’d be some hidden alternative. The feeling of being trapped crept up on me; the only way out was up. Eventually the single tear became streams down my cheeks. I wanted anything more than to be on the side of this wall. The only thing keeping me focused was being a good belayer to Brooks because I was not about to be the reason that a bad ‘what if’ became a reality.
Brooks got to the ledge for the third pitch and called down to me that I was on belay, and out of nowhere I started sobbing. I gave into my fears and broke down, 100 feet up. I knew that I had to get off this wall, so with great hesitation I stood up and yelled back, “Climbing!”. With shaking hands I cleaned the anchor and started my way up this low angle wall. Every time a gust of wind came I pressed myself into the granite dikes and let out the most intense sobs I’ve experienced probably since my last broken bone. Why did I agree to this? I never want to do this again. I hate this, I hate this, I hate this.
Slowly, but surely, I made it all the way up the climb, leaving a recognizable trail of tears and snot every inch of the way. At the top, I started explaining to Brooks all the thoughts that were running through my head while I was sitting on that God Forsaken ledge, going on and on about why I was scared and what I thought was going to happen. He listened attentively, nodding his head, and all he said was, “well yeah, all those ‘what-ifs’ could happen, but what if it’s awesome?”
What if it’s awesome? What if nothing goes wrong and we send the shit out of the route? I started to think about all the things I’ve never done because I was too scared to. I almost started crying again out of frustration, but figured that would just be redundant. In the end, we didn’t bail on any routes, I followed and cleaned 6 pitches of trad, and climbed a total of 600 vertical feet. Brooks and I walked off the back of Hogsback without a scratch, and started on our way home.
I learned a lot about my mental toughness on this brief trip, and how to combat my irrational spiraling into unnecessary panic mode. For me, all I have to do is ask myself “what if it’s awesome?” This question unravels the all the knots in my stomach and the possible negative outcomes immediately hit the back burner. I start to think about the potential rad outcomes of every situation, and realize they outweigh the negative ones ten fold. Every single time. Now, instead of spiraling into a negative thought tunnel, remind myself that I am a capable, competent climber with nothing to lose and so much to learn, and I will not let stupid, trivial fears stop me from reaching my potential.
And you know what? Despite the crying and swearing and unpredictable weather elements and brief moments of complete terror, it was awesome. It was fucking rad.