Ups and Downs

As climbers, we spend a lot of time going up and down. We go up and down the trail, up and down routes at the crag, and up and down the road that gets us there.

I haven’t written here in a while because I’ve been having some ups and downs with my relationship to climbing. Mostly downs, actually.

I had a scary fall two weeks ago. I was climbing an easy (for me) route which I had climbed once before that day. The next bolt was at my waist, as-yet un-clipped, when I made a move for the clipping jug and missed.

I fell.

As I was falling, I felt the rope come behind my leg mid-air. I reacted instinctively, throwing my head and shoulders away from the wall. When I came to a stop, upside down, just the tip of my left toe touched the wall. I ended up with a small rope burn and seriously shaken confidence, but no other ill effects.

At the same time, I had just started graduate classes and was really struggling. It felt like I wasn’t good at anything I was trying to do–not classes, not climbing. I was definitely feeling down.

For me, a weekend trip to the Red entails 15 hours of driving for two days of climbing. It’s seriously tiring, and it’s hard to get any work done over the weekend. I began to question my decision to come climb–was it even worth it if I was going to suck so badly? The scary fall triggered a whole slew of questions about my commitment to climbing, my commitment to my career, and worries about my ability to have climbing in my life while learning and living in Chicago.

The Red is magic–always worth the trip.
Photo by Flickr user jcschu07, click through for more of his photos.

I don’t have answers to many of these deeper questions yet, but I am feeling much more positive now, mostly thanks to amazing friends in the climbing community.

I made a number of truly special friends on my trip, who remain friends even though they are now very far away. Talking to them helped me to process the aftermath of the bad fall and figure out how to move forward with my climbing.

I am making new friends in the climbing community here. They have encouraged me to get back on the sharp end, been patient and understanding when I get scared, and their psyche has kept me motivated. Last weekend, I went back down to the Red, took some practice falls, sent a few routes, and tried some hard stuff. The fear is still there, but I’m not letting it rule me.

Grad school is hard. Making it outside to climb when you live in Chicago is hard. Figuring out how to balance climbing and a demanding work schedule is hard, but this week, for the first time since I started classes, it feels like I’ll be able to pull it off. :)

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6 thoughts on “Ups and Downs

  1. Even if you’re clipping bolts, a helmet is a not a bad idea. Climb on – may the humidity be low at the end of your road and the deer by the wayside, free of suicidal ideation.

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  4. Hey!

    I just stumbled across your blog. I love climbing, I’ve been doing it for a long time, and while I don’t write about it, I enjoy reading what others have to say. So, for that, thank you for writing!

    You mentioned that you took a scary fall at the Red, and you’re struggling to get back in the saddle, as it were. It sounds like you got your lead head back on pretty well.

    I’m commenting because I’ve worked at a large climbing gym for a number of years, and while I was there, one of my favorite things to do was to help lead climbers and their belayers get better at taking and (more importantly) catching falls.

    As climbers grew to understand the dynamics of falling while learning to trust their belayer more than they ever thought they could, it opened up a whole new world of trying hard.

    I don’t think you need to learn to try hard, you’ve got that settled. But, maybe, you would benefit from reading a little bit about how we taught a lot of people to feel comfortable on the sharp end. I had a number of students who hated falling because of prior bad experiences falling. They were in your shoes.

    Anyway, here’s a link to the course curriculum. It’s just a Google doc – nothing fancy. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1FGa3LGY35nn1QPrQrXz-4JpJb99PAy1IY5syaKzUL7U/edit?usp=sharing

    It’s written to an instructor, not a student, so keep that in mind.

    Good luck out there! I’m going to the Red in two weeks – I’m going to try to avoid any bad falls. Hopefully you’ll avoid them in the future as well!

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