I was lucky enough to have started skiing shortly after I learned to walk, so skiing feels more comfortable than walking most of the time. Climbing on the other hand, is a different story.
I began climbing at a young age, but sporadically, and mostly in gyms. I did not really get into climbing until college. Starting later, I had a greater sense of my limits, and my mind always seemed to get in the way. I was a strong follower for years, following mostly my brother Miles up such climbs as the East Buttress of El Capitan, and loving every minute of it. However, when it came time for me to be on the sharp end, I would hesitate, and always let my more experienced partners take the lead.
I finally started leading more four years ago, starting with a trip to Red Rocks with my friend Yoshiko, who I had just met on our AMGA Ski Guide Course in spring of 2010. I knew I needed to catch up on my technical skills, and Yoshiko was training for her Rock Guide Course. I tagged along, and learned so much from her that first Red Rock road trip, and by the following fall, I finished my second road trip (first official Rocktober), leading as much moderate as I could get on.
Working my way through the grades, and quieting my mind, I have been able to make progress in my climbing these last few years. Last fall I started out another road trip visiting Miles in Yosemite. We went up the East Buttress again, but this time I was able to take the .8 and .9 leads (I definitely gave the .10b away). Seeing how far I had come since I scraped myself up that climb the first time was rewarding to say the least. But the greatest gift that climb gave me was a confidence boost in my leading that I greatly needed. I finished last season with successfully completing my AMGA Rock Instructor Course, and some motivating leads under my belt.
This past summer, I had a lot more great leads (for me), some in the Bugaboos, and some in the Cascades, including the Gendarme pitches on Mount Stuart, which I was especially excited about.
However, starting this fall’s climbing season, I felt in a rut. I had been making great progress these last few years, and I felt like I hit a wall this season. It might have been my mind, or my body, or more likely a combination, but I was stuck. I wanted to get on a handful of .10’s this season, and it just didn’t happen. I did climb a lot though, which is never a bad thing. I was able to get on a lot of new climbs, and explore zones in the canyons that I had never been before.
Nearing the end of the season, there was one climb that I wanted to get on, “The Fox,” a 5.10d in Red Rocks. I top roped this climb my first time to Red Rocks with Yoshiko, and I remembered its quality even then, when I am pretty sure I could barely get up the thing. Two weeks ago, I went to the climb with a group of friends. I knew I was just going to top rope it, but I wanted to get a base line of my climbing. My first go on the climb, I hung during the crux, and then figured out the best way for me to climb through it. I rested a bit, tried it again, and I climbed it clean. Walking away from the climb that day, I thought to myself, “I think I could lead that.” Instead of going for it straight away, I told myself that I would try and lead it the last day of the season.
This was definitely going to be a jump in grades for me. Up to this point the hardest trad climb that I had led cleanly was a .10a. “The Fox” is an easier .10d, takes good gear, and has a clean fall, and I felt ready to push myself. I did not think this was going to be easy. The potential for hanging and falling was high, but I just felt like it was something I needed to do.
The final day of the season came. I hiked up the base with my husband Forest, and our friend Trevor who had been climbing with me the previous week. Looking up at this beautiful line, I felt ready to see what I could do.
My mind fell quiet, and my body felt strong. The climb started smoothly, and once to the splitter crack, I was ready to send. I made my way up, probably placing too much gear, but better too much than too little for my first .10d! I was just below the crux, and heart racing, placed a solid #4, and took a breather. I rehearsed the moves in my head, and once my heart was back to a normal rate, I told Forest it was back on me, and made the moves. It was over so fast, and it felt so smooth. But the climb was not over yet, and now I was really feeling my arms, and my heart racing. I made it to a hands free rest in the small chimney. I was so close to the top, only a couple more moves to make and I was at the anchor. I am not sure if it was because I thought I was through the hardest part already, or what, but I did not rest long enough. I went for the chimney-stem move, and while a little stuck in the crack, I reached for a good hold, but suddenly and unexpectedly I peeled off the wall.
I knew immediately that I had messed up my ankle. I am not sure if it was the twisting in the crack, or in the landing, but one thing was for sure, no second try for me this year. Forest lowered me down to the ground, and I managed to crab walk out to the main trail, where Forest and Trevor lent me their shoulders for crutches back to the car.
Pushing yourself is not supposed to be easy. If it’s easy and comfortable, then you are well within your limits. To get better, we sometimes have to get out of that comfort zone, and yes, flirt with the idea of injury or failure. I got unlucky on Saturday. It was a good climb to push myself on, with good protection, and a clean fall, but my ankle was just in the wrong spot at the wrong time.
I don’t regret climbing it. My sprained ankle will heal in time for ski season, and my mind is now opened to a new grade. I was almost there, and I now know I will get there next season.