I tied into the rope and sat down to lace up my climbing shoes. I clapped my hands together and a cloud of chalk hovered in the air before me. I began picking my way up the steep limestone wall, placing my feet precisely on the tiny edges scattered like pennies on a sidewalk. The steep wall fueled a fire that had slowly started burning within my forearms. I paused as I reached a blank stretch of rock that blocked my next solid hand hold. I became acutely aware of the last bolt I had clipped, now just below my feet. My fingertips grew sweaty and slowly started peeling off the small edges. Shit, I’m going to fall. All hope of making the next move was lost as my body became rigid with fear. As I half-heartedly reached up for a sloping groove, gravity took hold and ripped me from the wall.
At that moment I lost the one chance I had to onsight the route – but I was okay with that. When it comes to climbing my biggest weakness has always been my mental strength and the ability to deal with the prospect of falling. All too often I’m a prisoner of fear the moment I move above my last piece of protection. While successfully onsighting my hardest route to date would have been great, it wouldn’t have held as much value as falling did. Failing, especially in climbing, often provides you with the opportunity to improve; an opportunity to learn that you may not have seen had you succeeded right away. While success is often perceived as black and white – sending or not sending – changing our definition of success can have a huge impact on whether or not we succeed.
I embraced the opportunity and climbed back up the wall. This time I made the crux moves past my previous high point. My body remained soft and fluid with each progressive move. The next bolt was an arm length away, but instead of making the move to clip I released my fingers from the rock. Once again I was falling through the air, only to feel the rope pull tight. This time I had let go of the wall on purpose. Just like ring locking or heel hooking, falling is a technique and unless we put in the time to practice we will never feel confident. For a third time I climbed up past the bolt and through the crux moves. My mind was clear and focused. I didn’t think about falling or whether or not I would stick the next move. I simply executed. The next bolt actually appeared closer than the first time I had looked up at it. I changed my mantra from “take” to “try” and seamlessly clipped the next bolt.