Although I haven’t been getting out as much as I did last year, I’m still having one of my best ice seasons yet. Nearly every day out has brought with it a new “hardest lead yet,” but most importantly, I’m pulling that off because my mental game is stronger than ever. In addition to enjoying this success on the ice, I’m really hopeful that this stronger mindset will come along for the ride when the ice melts and I get back on the rock full time.
All climbing is both physically and mentally challenging, though the balance between the two can vary. But in general, leading harder ice is mentally challenging in a way that’s more direct and in-your-face than rock, especially the comparatively safer arena of bolted sport routes. On the ice, you just can’t fall...plain and simple. So you have to overcome the potential fear and, more importantly, be fully aware of exactly what you’re doing and what’s going on with your body and the ice--you have to manage the mental game in order to manage the physical one. To push into harder terrain, then, I’ve found I need to be much more in control--I need to climb with confidence and deliberateness, processing how I’m feeling with each tool placement and foot move, attuned to when the pump starts to set in and ready with a plan to manage it, prepared to adjust when the screw pulls nothing but air in questionable ice.
I don’t always climb with that same focus and deliberation on rock, and I’m pretty sure that’s part of why my progress has stalled at bit, or at least not moved as much as I would like. I definitely suffer from redpoint anxiety, and a lot of that stems from feeling like I’m not fully in control of what’s happening while I’m on the route. Just this past weekend, I headed up to American Fork for my first day of sport climbing in months (when it’s 50-plus degrees in February, don’t argue with it!). After a few warmups, I got on something a bit harder and took a couple of falls. I figured out the moves I fell on quickly and I know I was capable of sending. But rather than give it a redpoint burn, I opted to get on a different, more difficult route (my first ever at the grade, in fact). Physically, it was a much harder endeavor, but mentally? Mentally, it was a cop-out. I took the easy road because I didn’t want to try hard up there, in my head.
I’m cutting myself some slack for that decision because it was kind of a fluke day of hard sport climbing coming in the middle of winter. But I have some pretty big goals for the upcoming year, and in general, they are objectives that I know--or SHOULD know--I’m physically ready for. So the name of the game as I gear up for rock is mental training--I need to figure out how to take the mindset I have on ice (which the medium dictates as necessary) and bring it onto rock...bottom line, I think, is that I need to stop being mentally lazy.