I clip the bolt in front of me, exhale deeply, and look up at the slightly overhanging face in front of me. While the route I am climbing is well-bolted at the higher crux sections, the next bolt above me right now looks particularly far. Damn, that looks kind of runout… I am currently only at the second bolt, and the thought of ground fall crosses my mind. The terrain looks okay though. I take another breath and high step my feet to grab ahold of plated jug above me. I work my feet up higher to reach a large flake on my left, now midway between the bolts. I pause, and ground fall crosses my mind a second time. Ugh, I think to myself and I silently give into my fears and gingerly down climb to my last bolt. “Take please,” I yell down to my belayer. A wave of disappointment arises in my stomach and coats my body. I shudder. Dammit I suck.
As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, I have always been unnecessarily hard on myself. I was (am still) embarrassingly the person who makes a list of New Year’s Resolutions and actually tracks whether I achieve them all. While I’ve always been motivated to work hard and push myself towards the direction I want to go in, I also am no stranger to self-deprecation when things don’t turn out how I want them to. Growing up, the worst thing my mother could do was to express her disappointment in me, as without fail, they took their intended effect on me. I remained sullen until my mother finally would sit down and tell me she wasn’t really upset with me and that she forgave me for whatever idiotic thing I had done. That trait followed me through life and has since entangled itself within my relationship with rock climbing as well.
At first, I was satisfied with telling myself that I needed mileage outside, and that each climbing trip was a learning experience. As my ability and confidence expanded, however, I started to come into climbing trips with a set of goals to achieve for myself. Try to lead every route I climb today. Lead a 5.10a. Climb a v3. Get on that super hard 5.9+ from last time and send it. Climb 10 pitches in a day…
Many times, I reached all my goals, and felt relieved and satisfied. By reaching my goals, I felt like I was inching closer to my overall goals of leading 5.xx or whatever. Last summer, I went into a trip with zero goals besides to explore and climb in a new-to-me climbing area. At the end of the weekend, when I didn’t push myself as much as I wanted, opting instead for a more social climbing trip, I felt let down. I drove 5 hours and didn’t lead as much as I should have…I need to be specific about my goals going into trips for now on, I sulked to myself.
When I discovered “training” for climbing, that was like opening a box of gold for me. Now I could create mini-goals every time I walked into the gym, all with the overarching intention of getting stronger and sending higher grades. I was [too] stoked, buying almost every rock climbing training-related book or e-book I could get my hands on. Like many naïve rock climbers before me, I started one training regimen and a couple of weeks into it, would hop into another training regimen that looked more promising. I hangboarded, limit bouldered, ARCed as much as I could. Deep down, I wondered if I was getting any better, but it felt pointless to me to go to the gym without a goal in mind of what I should work on for that day.
Even prior to my most recent trip to the Red River Gorge, I poured over the Rock Climber’s Training Manual and drafted myself a training plan for the next ten weeks, with an overtly strong focus on endurance. The Red is mainly long overhanging routes, so I figured that would be the most realistic plan for getting fit. Likewise, I subjected myself to climbing four days a week, focusing on mileage during the week and lead projecting on the weekends. Some weeks, I climbed 12-14 routes each session I went, with little room for strength and rehab exercises. While I was vigilant not to climb two days in a row, I also was also adamant about not missing a single session. The outcome from it all was that my mental game while leading did improve significantly, but my body was exhausted from being subjected to solely endurance training. Two days before I left, both of my ring finger tendons were sore and stiff. Reluctantly, I took a day off climbing, a decision that likely saved me from a finger injury during my trip.
One glaring goal never on my tick list? Have fun. In my mind, reaching my goals= a fun successful trip.
I don’t think it’s realistic to totally let go of climbing goals, especially my aspirations with the sport constantly expand. Complete first trad lead. Lead a trad multi-pitch route. Send a 5.11b outdoor…. The list continues as I let my mind wander. However, I do aspire to be smarter and more conscientious with intentions when going into a trip, and to drill into my stubborn brain that it’s not always about getting better. Sometimes- it’s about having fun with zero goals and climbing for the joy of it. Sometimes a dose of social climbing is good for the soul. Sometimes it is best to listen to your body and lay off of goal-setting for a while. There will always still be times when you will confidently ignore that run-out 3rd bolt, and cruise upwards for the send.
Scrambling up a delightful 5.4 at Seneca Rocks (photo: Blue Ridge Mountain Guides)