For Labor Day weekend, I flew out to Denver with a couple of friends. We spent a day out in the mountains, hiking, socializing, and eating some delicious fresh lobster, but came back to the city for a couple days of climbing. The weather felt ABSOLUTELY AMAZING in the mornings, but quickly warmed up to the hot temperatures that we’re used to in South Texas. On Sunday morning, I warmed up on a 10c called Vixen at the Wall of the 90’s in Clear Creek Canyon. This was a fun little climb up to one slab move, followed by a few moves on an exposed arête. Once onto the arête, I remember having some slopey little crimp with my left hand and a decent but still not terrific 1-pad crimp with my right hand. Feet were scarce, and I’ve had a few bad experiences with smearing, so I usually save that technique as a last resort. I contemplated bumping my left hand up to a side pull, but somehow knew deep down that the side pull wouldn’t be as great as I’d like it to be. Before getting too pumped, I found a tiny ledge for a high left foot and prepared for a big move to a supposed jug – a blind jug with a tick mark… somewhere way up above that I was too short to just reach from right there. Now, coming off of about a month of “rest,” a.k.a. severe lack of motivation, my lead head was a little shaky. Given my level of pumpiness and the strange positioning of my body, I had calculated that I probably wasn’t going to be able to stick the next move. I thought, “Alright, self… you’re probably going to fall here.” I wasn’t trying to be negative or pessimistic, but I obviously wasn’t confident in my ability to make the next move. My thoughts went something like this:
“Hmmm… I don’t like this. Where do I go from here? I hope that thing is really a jug. God, I hate slopers. Why do they even exist? I need to start training with slopers… What if I fall? Don’t let go! Where’s my last bolt? Oh good… way down there. I hate everything. Okay, I can fall here. I’ve taken bigger falls before. It’ll be fine. Crap. I really don’t feel like falling right now. Ugh. Am I missing something? I’m getting pumped. I need to make a decision soon. Oh, who cares? I’m on a rope. If I fall, I fall. Okay… here goes nothing!”
And much to my surprise, I stuck the move! I was basically overjoyed. I mean, it was only a 10c, so I’m not talking about sending a really hard project or anything, but it made me realize a few things about my climbing: Sometimes you have to use your mind over matter, but other times your body is much stronger than you think. Sometimes you can be trapped by your mind, and you have to rely on positive, “just go for it” attitude. Chances are that many of you have had a similar experience. I think the reason I was able to stick that move, besides the fact that my body was strong enough to do it, was my “why not” attitude. Now don’t get my wrong, I don’t always have the best attitude about climbing and falling. Many times I get really tired of pushing my limits and sometimes just feel like playing it safe, but when I do challenge myself mentally, I usually end surprising myself.
I grew up playing basketball as a child, and if you grew up playing just about any sport, then you’ve heard the phrase, “It’s all mental.” Whether it’s free throws, field goals, penalty kicks, putts, serves, or starts, it’s all in your head. As you practice proper form and positive thoughts, you develop favorable habits and begin to see improvement. Although pulling the hardest move in the middle of the crux involves muscle memory, the right state of mind, and proper preparation, it all starts with overcoming and controlling your thoughts. Cross training and weight lifting can obviously provide climbers with many benefits, but don’t forget that your brain is a muscle too. It needs stimulation and challenges in order to get stronger and more efficient. I am still learning how to control my thoughts on the wall, but as I surround myself with other encouraging and supportive climbers, my sense of determination, perseverance, and self-confidence grows stronger every day.