Paige Claassen once wrote an article about crying at the crag. While climbing can certainly stir all sorts of emotions and stir them hard, I can’t remember ever crying. When I read the article I thought perhaps I’m just not that girly or different people respond in different ways. Paige is one of my climbing heroes so I didn’t dismiss her words. Someone who gives everything they have every time they step off the ground certainly gets a bit more cred than your local gym rat.
But I digress. Today was probably the closest I came to letting loose on the water works while on the sharp end.
I haven’t been tradding for a while and my trad experience as a whole is limited. But my head space feels good at the moment and that environment is starting to resonate with me. And most importantly, I need to not look like a complete noob when a bunch of hard core Americans come to SA next month for the trad exchange which I have been roped into help organise.
Likewise, Charlie also needed to dust off ye ol’ nut scratcher and get back on the mountain. He chose Africa Lunch for our come back route. And while it is firmly within both our grade ranges…..we ended up with multiple mepics (mini epics).
My moment came as I set confidently off on the 23 pitch. I doddled up the crack, humming to myself, casually placing gear along the way, being careful to keep the red cam aside as apparently I would need it right at the top. I paused on the jugs at the top of the flakes and eyed the next part. The rail looked fairly good but it was hard to see what was happening up the arête. I checked the gear I had placed one more time and set off.
The rail turned out to be worse than expected and went from barely accepting my fingertips to narrowing even more the further you went from your protection. So I put this attempt into reverse gear and frantically down climbed back to the cams, burning precious forearm and shoulder juice. I eyeballed it again and made another go, this time getting just around the corner. By now my eyes were starting to bulge. The rail stuck true it’s nature and got progressively worse and the arête had not magically presented options. Reverse reverse reverse! By now I was breathing heavily and losing some of my composure. So I did what most people do in this situation – lace the hell out of the rail in front of you.
“I don’t know if I can do this Charlie. I’m terrified.”
“You only get one attempt at an onsight. You can do this. Calm yourself and go for it…..Although you’re looking pretty calm.”
I’ve been scared on trad. It’s like expecting to get wet when you surf. It’s inevitable.
Nearly every time we go out one of us remarks about how scared they are just as we are about to cast off into the crux. And either we suck it up and do it or the other manages to talk us through.
I think I gave it another go before asking him to take. Not a normal thing to do on trad. I sat looking balefully at the rock, silently begging it to reveal it’s secrets and feeling like I had broken some sacred rule. I pulled myself together and went for it, moving with confidence and getting further around the corner only to find no feet and no great ideas leaping into my head about how to go up. Tearing back to my gear I flamed out. My mind snapped. I was severely shaken. This time I had red lined. The holds were too bad. The potential swing into the rock too frightening. I was close to hyperventilating with fear.
Charlie suddenly remarked that perhaps this wasn’t the way. I looked up to the left and could see a sequence. I had just enough gumption left to try the new sequence. I focused in once again and made my way up the flakes, shakily reaching for the next rail only to find a polished surface. I was breathing like a steam train to hold it together just long enough to place some gear and yell Take. My shattered nerves said “no further”.
“I nearly didn’t make that!” I heard the quaver in my voice and felt the emotion burning the back of my throat. I was close to tears. I gulped down the emotions while Charlie apologized profusely for sending me into the great unknown. But even knowing that was the cause and not my poor onsighting abilities didn’t make it better. At least not until much later when reason had returned. I ended up stancing right there and then and our mepics continued for the day. But we arrived on terra firma no worse for wear and I even got to lead one of the ultra classics – Atlantic crag. Which restored a modicum of faith in my trad climbing ability and ended us off on a high note.
I lay awake last night dissecting the day and determined to push on. It got me thinking, perhaps I am no braver than anyone else (in fact, the way I was feeling at the end of that day, I certainly wasn’t). Perhaps the reason I hadn’t broken into tears before was that I hadn’t pushed myself hard enough. I studied the route guide and I know I will be back soon. I know I am not done.