Monday, August 6, 2012

It's the journey, not the destination

The summer has been going by so quickly. Since July brought with it the oppressive heat and humidity,  I haven't been climbing as much. Call me a fair-weather climber, but when it's so hot the rock is sweating, I lose all motivation to climb. Wake me up when it's fall.

In the meantime, I've been preparing for a climbing trip of a different sort. This time next week, I'll be on a plane, headed for Seattle. Our objective: to climb the Disappointment Clever route on Mount Rainier. Three ladies, no guide. Just us making the decisions for our team, shouldering our own loads, the only ones responsible for our success or failure.

I've never been on a glacier before. About ten years ago, when working in Colorado one summer, I did have the opportunity to play around doing some self-arrests on a tiny snowfield. Also while in Colorado I had the opportunity to hike 14,256 feet Long's Peak. I did OK with the altitude then, but I also had spent the whole summer living and working at 8,000 feet. That is the full extent of big mountain/high altitude experience. In comparison to something like Rainier, it seems laughable.

So Rainier is going to be quite an adventure. A foreign environment, new skills, and unknowns about how my body will perform. Part of me is very excited, part of me is scared to death. I'm looking forward to the challenge, but not sure how I will handle it if I don't meet it. This is perhaps the most important thing I hope to gain from this trip.

In my climbing, I struggle with remembering to enjoy the journey. I only count myself as having succeeded when I top out the climb, lead the climb or otherwise meet what a general consensus would consider the 'end point.' I often get so caught up in chasing numbers and grades, I forget to stop and smell the proverbial roses- to enjoy the journey of climbing.

But as I began to prepare for this trip, I have had Ed Viesturs famous quote, "Getting to the top is optional. Getting down in mandatory" repeated to me on more than one occasion. And it's a good reminder for me. The summit rate on Rainier is 50%. I have a 50-50 chance of reaching the mythical end goal. If I consider my trip a failure because I didn't summit, then what was the point? What was the point of taking time off from work, spending all that money, flying to the other side of the country and freezing my butt off? There will be no point.

To justify the sacrifice, I must learn something of value. There certainly is the potential to learn plenty of valuable things- how to travel on a glacier, how to travel as a roped team, how to pace myself for long, hard efforts at altitude, how to feed myself so as to maintain my energy, how to adapt to altitude in a relatively short amount of time, how to go to the bathroom on a glacier. But the real lesson while be if I can learn to value these skills above the value of the summit.

So stay tuned friends, for a report on the my trip, including what I learned along the way.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Plight of the Chicken-Hearted

We booked the tickets Friday night. I wasn't as excited as I thought I would be. Just that morning, I had seen on Facebook the news story about the park ranger who slipped and fell to his death rescuing 4 climbers who had fallen into a crevasse. More then anything, I felt fear and self-doubt. 'Why am I spending all this money to potentially end up dead?' I thought silently, from somewhere in the recesses of my subconscious, so remote I was barely aware of the coherent thought, only the emotion associated with it.

The following day I went rock climbing. We met up in the afternoon and climbed till after dark. As the evening deepened, it was my turn to climb the final pitch through a series of overhangs, the first of which is the biggest. I always struggle with that move, so I don't quite know why I suggested we do that climb. Belaying from under that first roof, I couldn't hear my partner yell, "Off belay!" so I had to rely on the movement of the rope. While she pulled all 70 meters of it up, I was still feeding it through my device and yelled back, "That's me!" when it came taut, hoping she could hear me better then I could hear her. I sat on the ledge and shivered. It had become uncomfortably cool now that the sun had disappeared, but I also shook from the fear. Several tugs on the rope came next as she pulled in the rope. I hoped, rather then knew, that meant I was on belay. I took a deep breath and removed the anchor carefully with one hand, too afraid to let go and risk a misstep that might send me hurtling down  the cliff. As I began climbing, the rope moved up the climb with me- a good sign I tried to remind myself. 'But just in case- DON'T FALL!' came the response, again from that mysterious subconscious place that was more clearly emotion then a coherent thought.

I climbed smoothly until I reached the roof. I removed the #1 Camalot in the roof and replaced it with my hand and found the secret, solid hand jam that would let me move my body out and around the roof to reach the jug. Too bad grabbing the jug was the easy part. The hardest part of the move for me is getting my feet up on the overhang since I'm not strong enough to campus off the opened handed jug and haul my ass up. I managed to throw a left heel hook up and the tried pull with all my might. My heart was pounding, "don't fall! don't fall! don't fall." I was stuck for a moment, my hands so wet with sweat they were starting to grease off the crucial juggy hand hold, and all I could do was lament how utterly useless my right leg felt just dangling off into space, doing nothing useful to propel me out of this predicament, but instead feeling like the darkness had grabbed ahold of it and was pulling me down, down, down into the eternal abyss. 'Why do I do this to myself?' I whined.

The adrenaline gave me enough of a boost to finally struggle up and over that horrid roof. As soon as I pulled both of my feet up and was again standing on them, the potent mix of fear & adrenaline became counterproductive and I noticed an odd sensation in my stomach- I wanted to hurl. Three pitches off the deck in the dark- god, I hope no one was standing below. I briefly thought of the parties that would do this climb the following day, would pull the classic roof only to recoil in disgust when they found my vomit all over the rock. But before I could actually hurl, the feeling subsided and I was able to take a few breaths and move on. There was now only one way to safety- keep climbing to the top.

The next day I tried to go climbing again. My nerves were so frayed from the experience of the night before that I felt physically exhausted all day. I could barely muster the energy to do anything. When I tried to lead a pitch that I've done many times before, I could barely keep it together. I climbed up & down several times, balking at doing one little move that felt too far out from the gear 2 feet to my right. I ended up shoving a few crappy cams in on the route above, too anxious to relax, find a good stance and place a good piece.

All this fear and frayed nerves prompted some intense self-reflection. I have dreams of big adventures and big mountains, but how to accomplish this when it turns out that I am a big chicken-shit? Even the smallest things that most climbers seem to do with ease- like anchoring in at a hanging belay, can send me up to the edge of having a panic attack. I so desperately want to lead harder climbs so that I can travel and do bigger routes in the mountains, but I nearly wet myself thinking about pulling through the roofs on some of the classic 5.6 climbs. It's a question that I wrestle with perpetually in my climbing- is there a place in climbing for the risk-averse people with a fear of heights?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Memorial Day Weekend Adventure

I love three day weekends. It gives me a little extra time to do a slightly bigger adventure- something usually involving a road trip of sorts. So three days before the long Memorial Day weekend, I got it in my head to go do the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Clocking in at over 22 miles in length and over 10,000 feet of accumulated elevation gain, the "Presi Traverse" follows an alpine ridge line that summits the 7 of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi, including the mythic Mount Washington, home of the "world's worst weather."

I was lucky in that my partner for this scheme is fairly strong physically, but more importantly, is not easily intimidated. When I first mentioned the trip to New Hampshire, I suggested we go hike Mt. Washington as training for summit attempts on Rainier later this summer. Talking him into going for the whole Presi Traverse instead was easy- like taking candy from a baby.

It seemed that some of my friends may have thought I was acting rashly- planning such a big hike in so little time to think it all the way through. I got questioning looks and not a few, 'are you sure you're not biting off more than you can chew?' comments when I divulged this plan. I understand that these people love and care about me, didn't want to see me get hurt and were really just trying to intervene in my own interest of safety, but their questions began to raise questions in my own head. I went from confidently thinking, 'I can do this' to anxiously pouring over the 'what ifs.' 

I know in climbing and the outdoors that considering the what ifs is what often helps keep us alive to climb another day. But there can also come a point where one reaches "paralysis through over-analysis" where consideration of the what-ifs becomes too great and squelches any and all action before it even happens. This is my problem. I have been raised to be a scaredy-cat. I come from a long line of professional worriers. In climbing I find that most of my frustrations comes from the reasonable risks I'm too afraid to take, rather then the unreasonable risks I thoughtlessly take.

I am actively working on transforming my relationship with these reasonable risks in both climbing and my life in general. From what I have learned so far, the key ingredient appears to be confidence. If I am confident and know that I can lead a 5.8 route, then I can do it. If I am confident and know that I can pull off a 22+ hike over some of the toughest terrain in the East, then I can do it. This is one of the things I love so much about traveling in the mountains; its such an opportunity to learn about one's self and to gain confidence from your successes as well as important lessons from your failures. 

We successfully executed the Traverse this weekend. By the end, we were tired and spent and my feet felt like raw hamburger meat, tenderized by the miles and miles of talus. I knew there would be pain involved. But I also knew there would be success.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A haiku:
It's Monday Morning 
Dirt under my fingernails 
Weekend was well spent
Even though I live only 20 minutes from the Gunks, I still live for weekends. Yes, I'm close enough that I can often get out for a climb or two after work when the days start getting longer. But the weekend days are a still sacred.

Climbing after work involves rushing home to change and grab some food and my gear. Then rushing to the crag, speed hiking into the climbing area, and usually only getting to the Uberfall to run up some top-ropes to fit in as much climbing as possible before dark. Rush, rush, rush. Multipitch climbs, climbs at the end of the cliff, all waste precious time on belaying and scouting instead of doing what you came to do: climb.

On the weekends, none of that matters though, when time is more "easy come, easy go." For instance, yesterday while climbing, my partner and I 'wasted' at least two hours hiking down to the end of the Trapps and then trashing around in the brush looking for the start of a climb. On a weeknight, this might have meant that no actual climbing got done. On a weekend though, we simply shared a laugh over our little misadventure. And as it turns out, that misadventure, even though it didn't result in any actual climbing, gave me the biggest lesson of the weekend.

At one point as we were thrashing around in the woods, I apologized to my partner. The route had been my suggestion and I felt as the 'local' it was my duty to lead him to it. Since he drives 2+ hours one way to come climbing in the Gunks, I felt terrible for wasting his time and his climbing day. Luckily my climbing partner is a pretty mellow fellow and his reply changed the tone of the rest of the day for me: "It beats a day at work."

Until that point, I had been quitely stressing about the number of people at the cliff and how best to avoid them to get as much climbing time in as possible. I also still had last weekend's unfortunate tradegy rolling around in the back of my head, causing me to second guess myself in all safety matters, even though every anchor I built yesterday could hold a truck off the ground.

But his nonchalant reply was a turning point. It reminded me to relax, to enjoy the simple fact that I was outside, in the sun and the fresh air and not in a stuffy office growing pasty under flourescent lights. (Don't get me wrong, I am very fortunate to have work that I am very good at and that I find very rewarding, but in every job there is a little bit of tedium and stress- that's what makes it work!) It also reminded me how lucky I am to get to climb and to live so near climbing. In a world where so many people struggle just to survive a day, we truly are privleged to get to spend our free time and disposable income engaged in an activity that makes survival a sport. So even though we didn't do anything hard or particularly challenging and even though I didn't rack up a big mental success like pulling off a hard lead, onsight, etc., it was a perfectly fulfilling day because I learned to slow down and enjoy just being able to spend my weekend climbing. And the dirt under my fingernails this morning is my little reminder of that lesson as I head for another day at work.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Thoughts on Risk

One of the things that has always fascinated me in the climbing community is how individuals deal differently with the inherent risks of climbing. Personally, I consider myself a "safety girl" (said in the exact intonation of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman) who prefers to be anchored in at all times when my feet are off the ground. A couple of weeks ago, I was climbing in the Gunks and was on a ledge about an arm span wide and a full pitch off the deck. As I was beneath a busy rap station, I chose to be anchored in just in case someone rappelling from above dislodged some thing. So I was little amazed when I saw a party walking along the ledge just as casually as they'd walk down the street. They were coming over to the rap station we were anchored by. Although some would not find this to be a safety hazard at all, its also not a terrible idea to give someone a little hip belay as they walk across such a ledge. So when one of these guys tripped on a root and lost his footing, my heart was in my throat at that moment. Please, please, please stumble in toward the cliff and not toward the edge and the abyss on the other side, I thought to myself. It was all over in split second, and this guy was back on both feet, continuing to walk toward the rap station like it was no big deal. Could I really have been the only person on that ledge that saw how easily, had things gone a different way in that moment, the results would have been tragic?  Since they didn't seem to notice, perhaps I am the only person that still even thinks of that moment and the terrible consequences that could have been. I eventually put the incident out of my mind but it came back to me this past week when a young woman died at the Gunks after her top-rope anchored completely and catastrophically failed.

She was 22 and going to graduate from college in a few weeks. She had her whole life ahead of her. For this terrible tragedy, my most sincere condolences go out to her family. It is still unknown exactly what happened and I don't know if we will ever know all the details. What is known is that she was top-roping the route Easy Keyhole, a popular route for first time climbers like her, that a previous climber had climbed and lowered off the route on the anchor, but when she fell or leaned back to lower off near the top of the climb, the system failed. The rope and several slings/pieces of webbing were on the ground next to her. She was initially conscious after the fall, but eventual succumbed to internal bleeding.

Many of us climbers respond to incidents like this with a near-pathologic need to know the details, as if knowing them will somehow protect us from making the same mistake- and meeting a similar end. Others feel the need to immediately critique the decision making process of all involved leading up to the accident as if demonstrating their superior-decision making skills will somehow insulated them from tragedy. But at then end of the day, I think we need to accept that our sport is potentially dangerous and that the biggest danger of all comes from habituation to that risk.

Now a caveat- I'm talking about real risk, not perceived risk. Because of this tragedy, this woman's family probably perceives climbing as significantly more risky then it actually is and will probably do so for quite some time. But all perceived risk is is just that- what we make up in our own minds, based on prior experiences and expectations, which may or not be based on anything real. Since its our own mind playing tricks on us, its harder to habituate to perceived risk, because as soon as we do, our brains will find a new way to create fear. After years of leading, being on the sharp end, even on a 5.3, has the ability to get my heart racing in a way that being on top-rope just doesn't.

But objective risks- rock fall, holds breaking, weather hazards, equipment failure- these are real risks that are always part of the equation. These are the ones we become habituated too. If you've ever thought to yourself, 'I don't need to wear my helmet here, I'm just top-roping and there's no one above me,' you've become habituated to risk. It's not necessarily a bad thing, provided you've thought through the risks and potential consequences and are prepared to accept said consequences. And that is perhaps the even bigger point here: when engaging in a potentially dangerous activity like rock climbing, it can be a matter of life or death to have a real and true understanding of the potential consequences. Once we become habituated to a certain level of risk though, we tend to get lazy and not do the work of truly understanding the risks we are taking and their potential consequences.

I doubt the climber who died this week had a true understanding of the such consequences- how could she have? It was only her first day climbing. The biggest risk she took that day was the person or persons she chose to trust to build the anchor that ultimately failed her. We can criticize and point fingers. We can obsess over the details. Or we can do something much more useful and check in with how we approach risk in our own climbing. Maybe we've been putting comfort and bravado ahead of common sense in what terrain we choose to stay anchored it on. Maybe we've been leaving the helmet in the pack more often. Maybe we've started climbing with a new partner and we've made some assumptions about that person's skill set based on our old partners, and not them. I'm not saying that there are any clear-cut answers to these scenarios, and the appropriate answer is going to be different for each person in each situation. That's why the most important piece of gear we have with us at all times (hopefully!) is the pink, squishy thing between our ears- our brains- and the ability to use them. To stay safe in the mountains, we need to consistently think through our situation, analyze the risk and make appropriate choices based on the consequences we are willing to accept. Perhaps that is how we got the saying,
"There are old climbers and there are bold climbers, but there are no old, bold climbers."

Friday, April 20, 2012

A good conundrum

The local ski season ended way too early this winter. Ditto for the local ice climbing season. The Catskill resorts were able to eek out the crumby snow conditions only until March 25 before they gave up in utter desperation. The ice climbing season had ended about 3 weeks prior to that. You might be able to ski slush, but you certainly can't climb it.

If you were a local skier/climber, it was a pretty disappointing season, but the blow was softened by an early jump on the spring rock climbing season. When we hit 80 degree temps in March, most of us were pretty psyched to put the layers of fleece away and grab some shorts and a rock rack and head to the Gunks. The bonus was that since it was still March, most of the crowds were kept away by things like school and spring break plans that may or may not have involved chasing the snow out west.

I know that I for one, made the transition pretty quickly. As did DH. Since he's a guide, that's kind of job requirement though. Usually I have a harder time letting a season go. In the past, this has pretty much applied to rock season. I get some good momentum in the spring, then the rain comes, then mid-summer's humidity and by fall, I'm trying to squeeze in a season's worth of climbing goals before the winter comes. I never quite seem to regain the same momentum I had in the spring though and instead of heading into the winter stronger, wiser and having learned something from that season of climbing, I seem to just spend the fall chancing the last bit of good climbing weather and resigning myself to the coming of winter. I do climb ice in the winter, but I'm not very good at it and spending the day freezing my butt off in some godforsaken canyon where the sun don't shine goes against my strong hibernation instinct. I manage to get my act together and get out ice climbing maybe half a dozen times in a winter. In a really good year. So for me, ice climbing season, is generally not the season where I make strides in terms of learning and applying what I am learning.

This was part of my rationale for taking up skiing. It was a winter sport that looked really fun. I felt motivated to do it. And best of all, I can go to the resort myself, no need to troll the interwebs for a semi-reliable, but probably sketchy, ice climbing partner. And boy did I fall in love with skiing this year! I know it was a terrible winter to get into a sport like skiing, but I think learning in crappy conditions is going to make me a better skier in the end. For instance, my last ski this year, St. Patrick's Day, the snow was so slushy, I decided to tackle my first black diamond trail, knowing that there wouldn't be any icy patches and that I'd be able to control my speed better in the sticky snow. Having crossed that mental hurdle, I'm hoping it will be easier for me to tackle some black diamonds next year. But how to hold on to that lesson until next year? Ski season seems so far away right now...

Shortly after St. Patty's Day, the temps turned summer-like and it was time to put the storage wax on the skis and get out the rock rack. I've been getting out a lot so far. And I've been applying some of the things I learned from skiing to climbing. For instance, I've been trying advance my lead grade, but I have a mental block at a certain level of difficulty. Much like skiing a black diamond on a slushy-slow-snow day to get over the mental fear of a scary 'black diamond,' I've been pink-pointing a couple of harder routes. (For anyone not familiar, this involves leading the route, but clipping into pre-placed protection instead of placing it yourself.) Since half the stress of leading harder routes is finding comfortable stances in order to place gear, dealing with just the other half of the equation- pulling harder moves above the gear where there is a greater fall potential- is a lot easier to tackle then taking on both problems at once. Hopefully, both exercises will let me break the mental barrier of tackling a certain level of difficulty and simply focus on the climbing/skiing in future encounters with this difficulty level.

Unfortunately, ski season ended too earlier for me to know for sure how well this strategy will work out for me, but since its only April, with any luck there's plenty of time left in this climbing season to see how this strategy will work when applied to climbing. The luck in this is whether or not the weather will be cooperative in this. We're supposed to get a nor-easter this weekend- all rain of course. For the most part I'm looking forward to an opportunity to spend a lazy weekend at home, cozy inside. My right ring finger is certainly starting to send a message that its tired and in need of a rest. But a little part of me fears that this rain event might be the start of a long rainy period and just like the precocious end of the ski season, that I might not get to realize the fruits of my labors. While it can be frustrating at times, I think its a good conundrum to have: how to learn control of fear and control of one's self, in the face of something as impossible to control as the weather.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

My new favorite word: Alpinista

It seems like a lot of strong women climbers today grew up as 'tomboys.' Or at least with brothers they always tried to keep up with. Since I only have a sister, my childhood was fraught with typical 'girlie' things. I played with Barbies. My Barbie & Ken got married and had a baby once a week. When my mom taught me how to sew, I put my newly acquired skills to use making wedding dresses from scrapes of fabric for Barbie's weekly wedding. I played outside a lot too, but still squealed in disgust when the neighborhood boys chased me around with the crayfish pulled out from under rocks in the creek.

I was never very athletic. At one point my Dad decided to help coach the girl's softball team, so of course, I was forced to play. It was humiliating. I struck out more then I got on base and I was always put in right field, where no one ever hit the ball. Convinced that team sports were not for me, I had been the anti-athelete in high school: I was captain of my dance team. Friday nights were spent shaking my stuff for the fans at halftime of the high school football game, wearing an outfit that consisted of a dress that barely covered my backside, trimmed with long fridge to accentuate the curvy parts, a cowboy hat cocked coyly to one side and of course, the piece de la resistance- go-go boots. One of the rules our dance team had was that no one could physical touch us while we were in our uniforms. It was claimed that this rule was instated to protect our reputations- seeing a girl in that distinctive outfit, sweatin' it up making out with her boyfriend under the bleachers, gave us all a certain reputation by default. But if protecting our reputations was the goal, the rule simply could have been, 'no making out with your boyfriend while in uniform.' But the fact that the rule was no physical contact with anyone while in uniform belies the misguided, puritanical and sexist notion of protecting a women's virtue, as if her purity is her only redeeming quality.

I first tried climbing the summer after my freshmen year in college. I will never forget how I felt when I made it to the top of the climb- I was immediately addicted to the feeling I had of being strong and powerful. As I was lowered down, I forgot about the boy I had been trying to impress and instead, looked down at my arms as if I have never seen them before. I was like Hugh Jackman in the X-men, checking out my adamantium skeleton for the first time, with a mix of wonderment and disbelief. These feelings of strength and physical power were completely foreign to me growing up. As a young girl, it was always impressed upon me to be "lady-like" and well-mannered. I was often treated like something that was delicate and fragile.

But the power and freedom of climbing! I don't know that that first "hit" would have been nearly as powerful if it hadn't contrasted so sharply with my prior experience, but thankfully it was because it instantly created a radical shift in the course of the rest of my life.

As such radical shifts are prone to do, I initially took this feeling and ran as far as I could in the opposite direction. I could no longer stand hanging out with girls because they were too "girlie." For the rest of college, all my best friend were guys. I became increasingly uncomfortable hanging out with other girls because they made feel weak. Every time they whined about being fat, what to wear or why their boyfriend couldn't read their minds, I felt like I was be sucked in the vortex of the stereotype of what is means to be female. Climbing is how I pulled out and disengaged from this vortex.

I bought my own trad rack and learned how to lead. Where I was climbing during most of that time, there were few female climbers and almost none of them led. The few that did were generally pretty gifted climbers to begin with, they had boyfriend's who recognized this and encouraged them to take the sharp end from time to time. But they were still fair-weather climbers- if they broke up with the climbing boyfriend, unless they started dating another climber, they were never seen around again. I wanted to be different. I wanted to communicate my independence and my love for climbing. I could only lead 5.4, but man, having my own trad rack made me the shit. In my own head, at least.

Fast forward a couple of years and I move to New York and start climbing at the Gunks. (I also did a little growing up in that time too.) There are some seriously badass ladies climbing here in the Gunks. Pulling off a 5.11 trad lead here in the Gunks is no joke! I was awe struck when I saw pictures of the likes of Sue Kligerman and Julie Seyfert Lillis on burly leads like Erect Direction. Just having your own trad rack was nothing special here, you had to have the guns & the skills to go with it. But what impressed me most was how these ladies could be strong and be women at the same time. These attributes were not mutually exclusive! I know to some that sounds silly, but this was was a big revelation to me at the time.

Another badass climbing lady I admire is Janet Bergman (her official badass resume includes winning the women's dry tooling comp at this year's Mount Washington Valley Ice Festival and being a Mountain Hardwear sponsored athlete). On her blog, Splitterville, earlier this week she posted as article titled "Wanted: Alpinistas." While the post was lamenting the lack of women from the realm of alpine climbing, I found myself really drawn to this word, "alpinista." To me, in tidily summed up the juxtaposition between being a woman as well as strong climber. So there you have it, my new favorite word, and my new aspiration.

Monday, January 16, 2012

It really is all about having fun.

"The best climber in the world is the one having the most fun!" ~Alex Lowe

I am not a strong climber. I can top-rope .10 on a "low gravity day." My trad leading abilities top out at about 5.6 and I can't even get my ass of the ground of V1 sit-start.

Of course, when I started climbing, I had big dreams and big goals. I wanted to be a 5.10 trad leader and a 5.12 sport leader. Now, I'd settle for 5.8 and 5.10 respectively. But since I've been stuck at the 5.6 level for the last 3-4 years, I'm beginning to question even that. I'm physically strong enough to pull off harder leads, but haven't figured out how to slay my fear dragon yet, so I stay on more or less comfortable terrain. But that is a blog post for another day.

I use to get really down on myself for not climbing harder. I didn't train enough or didn't know how to train properly. I was too lazy to work enough at it. I just didn't climb enough to be that good. I had a bajillion internal conversations with myself about why it even mattered anyway; its not like "she climbed hard" was going to be on my epitaph or anything. Whenever a climber is killed in the mountains or passes away, people always remember what kind of person they were- the deceased's endless energy or megawatt-smile or how they encouraged new & struggling climbers. I have yet to read the obit of a climber and see any reference to what grade they climbed. (Although to be fair, if they had the first ascent of some proud and classic lines, they might be referenced.)

Yet I couldn't seem to give up my focus on climbing harder. I tried to justify my obsession; I wanted to travel to other climbing areas and climbing harder was a necessity for enjoying more of the terrain instead of hunting all over the place for the few entry level lines. At my home crag in the Gunks, there are plenty of fun moderate routes, but if you're climbing on the weekend, expect to spend most of your day waiting in line to climb them. I told myself that I wanted to climb harder so I could climb more. The funny thing was, the more I focused on not being good enough, the less fun climbing became, the less I wanted to climb and surprise, the more I sucked at it when I did go! On more then one occasion, I contemplated selling off my rack and just giving it up altogether.

Many times when I would bemoan my quandary to fellow climbers, the above quote would be thrown back at me. It got to the point where I hated that sentence. I hated the sentence because I got to the point where I no longer knew how to have fun. I know that sounds strange, because why would you get into a hobby that involves hanging off the side of a cliff in potentially life-threatening conditions if you don't get something out of it? But seriously, there was a time when every climbing outing just resulted in disappointment and frustration. I wanted to have fun, but I just didn't know how.

Then I figured it out.

You don't focus on what you don't want to happen (having a bad day), you focus on what you do want to happen- to have fun- and then you just do it. When I started going out without any expectations and instead, just focused on having fun, well, hot damn! I had fun and I found myself climbing harder. Then I wanted to climb more because it was fun, and by climbing more, I also noticed my climbing improved. I was feeling more confident on lead, climbing stuff on top-rope I didn't think I could do- it was Zen and the Art of Climbing.

I didn't realize that I finally figured it out until this past weekend. I had the opportunity to take an ice climbing clinic with the fabulous Zoe Hart at Adirondack Mountainfest. I was nervous about looking like a totally gumby in front of Zoe. And the cold! We had our coldest day of the year on Sunday- our local guide Jack told me later that the high was probably 0 degrees in the canyon where we were.

Going into the clinic, I was initially afraid of the cold. In fact, I almost missed it because I stopped by EMS to rent a pair of double plastic boots just in case. I had packed just about every layer I owned. But when I finally met up with my group, my fear suddenly changed. Maybe their coffee hadn't kicked in yet, but those folks looked serious and I started to doubt that I was going to be able to keep up. These folks looked totally badass and when Jack said we were going to go to Positive Reinforcement, I felt myself gulp hard. (In retrospect, I may have confused Positive Reinforcement with Positive Thinking, which is a much harder line.)

I'll spare all of the details because in the end, what matters is, I had a great time. I remembered that Zoe is a guide, not a talent scout, so it didn't matter if I failed, only that I tried. It didn't matter if everyone in the clinic was better then me, all I could do once I walked in that room was try my best. And instead of fearing the cold, I decided to take it on as a challenge, to see if I could dial in my system and stay toasty is the coldest conditions I have been in yet. I surprised myself with how well I climbed, not compared to anyone else, but just for me. And I had so much fun dancing to the songs in my head as a belayed- a fantastic way to stay warm. I felt I met the challenge of managing the extreme cold pretty well and learned some areas where I could improve as well. I met some great folks, traded some emails and will hopefully have some new climbing partners in the future.

And when it was time to leave, as I steered my little car back on to the Adirondack Northway and pointed her south for home, I continued the good vibes by having my own little dance party in the car on the way home. I had a smile from ear to ear. In that moment, I realized I was the best climber in the world.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Celebrity Death Match 2012: Resolutions vs. Goals

I love Christmas. I suppose its because I have a lot of great memories from when I was a kid. But I dislike New Year's. This year, I down-right despised it. In fairness, this may have had more to do with the fact that instead of skiing or climbing over the holiday, my husband and I moved our entire apartment. I hate moving. I always end up infuriated with myself for having too much stuff. Maybe that will be another blog post.

But I digress. Why do I hate New Year's? Because if making a change or a shift in your life is so important, why wait to do it? Start now, whatever day that happens to be. A few days after bemoaning this point on my Facebook page, Kelly Cordes made the same point, except his was way cooler because you just can't top a mullet.

Case in point. Between the holidays and not having a serviceable stove for about week, my previously squeaky clean diet has gotten a little out of hand. I actually patronized a fast food restaurant today. Eww. How did it get that bad? I gave myself license to wait till January 1. With the deadline fast approaching, I often found my brain saying, "hurry up and eat this piece of crap before you go back on your diet." And now here it is January 4. I'm carrying around 5 extra pounds and I'm cranky & irritable. That's classic addiction, folks. All because I got suckered into the "New Year's Resolution" B.S.

So I resolved not to resolve. The definition of resolve is "to come to a definite or earnest decision about." A definite decision about. The very word implies a permanence, a lack of backsliding. The problem with this of course, is that when we "resolve" to do something, and then fail to adhere to said resolution, our human nature is to just give the whole thing up. How many people do you know who resolve to go on a diet January 1, slip and eat one donut and instantly go back to their old ways of eating? Exactly. 

Of course, this has a lot to do with how we go about resolutions in the first place. The majority of the time we resolve to not do something. No more smoking. No more fridge raids in the middle of the night. No more carbs. I think anyone who understands human nature would agree that we are more likely to follow through on positive goals we set instead of resolving to no longer engage in negative behaviors and habits we would like to change. 

So I've been toying with the idea of "setting goals" instead of "new year's resolutions"- maintaining focus instead on fun things I want to accomplish that will add to my overall quality of life. I know the timing is rather auspicious, after all its only 4 days into the new year and this all sounds a lot like these pesky resolutions I keep railing against. But with the move to the new apartment, it reminded of this article I recently read on I encourage you to read the whole thing, but the long & short of it is that Vietnam soldiers who stayed in Vietnam while they dried out from their heroin addiction did better staying cleaning stateside then vets who came home to get clean.  Why? Environment. Many of our habits are subconsciously tied to environmental cues. You have a better chance of changing the behavior if you also change the environment/routine surrounding them. New apartment = new routine, so why not be intentional about creating a routine and environment that really works for me?

The deal was sealed though after reading this inspirational article from Erica Lineberry over at Cragmama. Just a humble list of her goals for the 2011 season with an intimate report on whether or not she achieve them this season. What I loved most about her list was her response to the goals she didn't achieve this season: "no biggie." That's the beauty of positive goals: even if you don't achieve them, you're still better off for having tried. Whereas if you resolve to stop doing something, and then you fail and do it again, where has that left you? Feeling like a failure. No beuno. 

So what are my 2012 goals? Well that's another blog post. :-)