Unburdened - A Climber's Mindset

July 8, 2022 26 view(s)

Unburdened - A Climber's Mindset


How I managed to maintain psych and not get frustrated, while projecting and repeatedly falling on the final sequence of “Mr Sweet” in Sinks Canyon, WY.


I feel the tension begin to rise with the burden of pressure. I must perform. I suppose it is not unlike being backstage before the curtain drops.


As always, I pre-clip the rope to the first quickdraw and sit down, facing away from the wall.


From within the amphitheater of the cave, my gaze drifts across the canyon. I settle my focus on breathing. Strong inhale, exhale slowly. In this landscape, I allow myself to feel small. There is little reason to take myself so seriously.

I pull a very deliberate length of rope between my hands, tying a skeleton figure 8. Aware of the sensation of the rope beneath my finger tips, I feed the rope through my harness, then deliberately follow each loop of the 8. Attention to these details is not just a standard of safety, it's something that I always do and therefore a perfect way to begin focusing the mind. I strap on the right knee bar pad, then the left. Wrap a layer of gorilla tape around each thigh to hold them in place. Undo my ponytail and retie it, so none of the strands are loose and in my face. Pull off my tennies and let my toes air-dry for a moment – while I clear my mind – before putting on my climbing shoes, the final step before starting to climb.


Here on the ground, I imagine my right fingers on the hold – hand move number 66, all steep – I feel the anxiety rise as it does when I'm about to do that next hard move...


I have fallen off this final sequence (moves 67-70 of 73) over a dozen times at this point. I'd been trying the route ~3 months. Each attempt threatened to add more emotional baggage on to the already fatigued self...


I pause my route visualization to unload the baggage.


I remember the joy of the movement, the sequences that I love. "I get to climb this again, I choose to climb this again." I remind myself. "Last time, I learned that I needed to relax a little more in that move. I am still learning from this climb. I am a different climber than I was when I began this journey." I smile, remembering what it felt like the first time I tried it, compared to the last time. "It doesn't matter if I send. My goal is just to reduce my anxiety in that sequence, to save some energy, so I can really focus on that final move."


The twinge of anxiety shifts to a tingle of excitement. I feel lighter.


Imagining my grip, the subtle definition on the hold, the precise position, engaging full body tension, I let myself emotionally relax. Tapping into the right state: a juxtaposition between full mental and physical engagement, trying hard, while simultaneously releasing emotional attachment, is elusive. I'm familiar enough with the state. In 20+ years of rock climbing, I've become pretty convinced that attempting (and often failing) to access that space "between" is the main reason I climb.


In order to send this climb, it would be necessary.


Within my visualization, in a brief flash, I find it, feel it: the sensation of the right level of focused, engaged, unattached – within that sequence. In that sensation is my self trust. It allows me to put myself out there, to try my hardest, unburdened by past “failures” or future expectations.

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