When I’m scared on a climb I usually start crying. I start freaking out and the worst possible scenarios go through my mind.
Recently I led Pine Line, a 5.7 crack at the base of The Nose on El Cap. We got to the base of the climb. I chugged a beer and geared up hoping a light head-buzz would help kill my nerves.
I got up a few feet and placed my first piece. I moved above it and got scared. I started to cry. I started to question whether I could actually do it or not. I started to panic and think I should come down. So what I did was place 3 very solid pieces within the two feet above me that I could reach. Talk about over kill.
I then struggled to get up. I constantly asked for Cam to talk to me. Hoping something he would say would help me up the climb. Of course there is nothing anyone can say once you are alone on a climb. I felt weak. I felt as though I was going to fall off of easy moves. I didn’t fall once or even slip but my brain kept telling me I’m going to fall.
I got to the top and set up a top rope. When I came down everyone told me I should be proud of myself for doing it. But I sat there and pouted for a good half hour.
I couldn’t stop thinking about how ashamed I was to cry and struggle on the climb. I had no reason to be as afraid as I was. I didn’t feel proud, I felt like I wanted to just go home and stare at the wall of my tent for the rest of my life (dramatic, I know). It wasn’t about impressing my friends. It was about achieving it for myself. Climbing something new for myself and conquering fear for myself. So when I start throwing a fit and crying I’m ashamed of myself not because other people might think I suck but because I think that I suck.
We climbed the 10d next to Pine Line and I crushed it. I fell a couple times but I moved through the cruxes with ease once I figured the sequence out. I needed that boost to remember I’m really strong. I just need to put my brain where my muscles are.
Before we left I had this strong feeling in my chest that I needed to lead Pine Line again and prove to myself that I actually want to be doing this.
Right before we left I geared up again. But this time we were all joking and having a good time. The situation felt less serious. Before I left the ground Cam told me to pretend I was Alex Honnold going for a speed record and that really helped my head.
As I climbed up, I climbed with speed and accuracy stopping only to place 3 cams instead of the 10 I placed the previous time. I climbed without fear of falling. In my mind I just kept saying ” go go go go” and it actually helped I didn’t give myself the time to feel the fear creep in and inhibit my climbing.
What I learned from this is that going into a lead with a clear head is key. Make some jokes laugh a bit and have fun!