I led the first pitch of Jamcrack a few weeks ago. I was gripped. I thought I would be confident because I was leading consistently and felt strong. But I was so afraid. This was the first true crack I was leading–no ledges to rest on if my feet started to hurt.
It’s only 5.7. But I got up, placed my first piece, moved above it and immediately came back to the ground to regain composure. I was scared. Cam is always so patient with me in these moments, but I could tell his patience was running thin. It’s understandable, all I do is freak out. It’s been ingrained in me since I was a child. I know when it’s coming. I can feel it swelling in my chest. I haven’t learned how to master it. When I think I have, I lead again and I’m right back to square one. This spills over into other aspects of life. It beats down my confidence and makes me feel weak and incapable of controlling my mind.
A couple weeks after Jamcrack I led Zee Tree on Pywiack Dome. 5.7 sport in Tuolumne. The crux is getting off the first anchor to the first bolt. I partnered with Daniel and it was three groups of two. Nathan and Cam went first. Nathan did an amazing job but was noticeably nervous. This made me afraid. After they crushed the first pitch, I got up the fourth class slab to the first anchor and got ready to lead. I already had Elvis leg and I kept telling Daniel I was scared. But it got to the point where there was nothing else to say or do but climb up.
I got on the route. Took my first step up onto a knob. There were really no hands, just feet and palming down to keep balance. I started to panic. It was more vertical than I expected. I started to feel the fear welling up in my chest. But instead of coming back down or crying I made another move upward. Then I felt the fear again, so I made another move upward. Before I knew it the first bolt was within reach! I was actually able to focus on the climb in front of me one move at a time. I didn’t think about falling and I didn’t let the panic I felt inhibit my climbing.
After the first two bolts it got even easier, the angle lessened and I was able to control my head even more. The bolts were still at least 20 feet apart but it stopped mattering. I was able to move up quickly. I got to the first anchor and felt extremely excited!
The next pitch only had 3 bolts but at 5.0 slab I wasn’t phased after that previous pitch. I got up it quickly with ease.
That’s when the storm hit. We had been expecting rain all day. We almost bailed a few hours earlier because of a cloud that sprinkled on us for a couple mintues. But then we decided to go for it. On the very last pitch it started to downpour. The wind was crazy strong. We wanted to bail. I even suggested it. But Cam and Nathan needed two ropes to rappel. So if Daniel and I bailed they would be stuck. Instead of waiting it out to see if it was going to let up, Daniel took the lead. His first lead ever! 5.4 slab with two bolts in the rain. He killed it! We got to the top and the rain let up. We were able to rappel down and head to The Mobil for dinner.
What I took away from these two experiences is that you are always training your head. It’s a conscious decision to make yourself ignore the fearful voice in your head. It’s a climb-to-climb process not something that will ever completely go away. All I can do is remain calm and be understanding with myself. When I get scared of leading I usually beat myself up for it. I call myself stupid or tell myself that I’m not good enough to lead this climb. Once even a spark of that is in your mind the calm you had is gone and that nagging voice telling you to quit gets louder and louder.
Stay calm and have fun!