So, I’ve been talking awhile about this hard, steep route in the gym that I’ve been pretty much singularly obsessed with since trying it and just *not* being able to put it together despite more than the average amount of work and dedication. It looked like a killer lead project for me… steep, good clipping stances, clean fall potential, pumpy, and fun enough to spend the time working it. I spent a couple good gym sessions on it, refining the moves, working out the sequences, identifying the best rests… but even so, it took a lot of work to put together. Last week, I tried mock leading (no luck) then finally nabbed a clean run on toprope, and could almost get it clean on toprope back to back… leaving only one option…
Getting on it on lead. I climbed last Monday, but then because of the holiday and other interruptions I didn’t get back into the gym until tonight — a full week later. That whole week, I’d had the route stuck in my head. This weekend, I even passed on a chance to climb with my climbing life partner (I’m so sorry, Kari!) because all I could think about was coming home and getting on — and taking falls on — that route. I am usually such a tentative leader… I’m very risk averse, and honestly, I think I could count the number of times I’ve actually committed on lead in my four-ish years of climbing on one hand. I usually take, climb bolt to bolt, and am a total pansy about it.
But, this route was different.
Tonight, I warmed up, pretty amped to get on that route. I didn’t feel 100%… I felt a bit weak after the week off… but I figured I’d at least get on and work it, and finally, take some lead falls. I tied in, my belayer checked me, and I walked up to the start of the route. I’ve started giving myself a pep talk as I approach and start climbs, since my natural tendency is toward negative self-talk. I gave myself my little pep talk and started climbing. I worked through move after move, just like I’ve done it so many times before. I milked the good rests, and then moved tensely up to the crux of the route making an excessive amount of noise … grunting, and yelling with tension and exertion… the crux is a slap to a big sloper you have to hit just right to get your fingers behind a sidepull ridge ridge for a bit of a crimp, then move your feet up just so… then push up to a jug off the less-than-stellar sloper. Clip, then a pretty good sidepull to a tough kind of dishy fingertip edge, another foot adjustment then…
I just couldn’t pull it. I was two and a half moves above a bolt and I couldn’t pull it, so I took a real, live, lead fall. I didn’t even give it a thought… I knew my belayer had me… I didn’t want to take… so I gave a half-assed push toward the next hold and fell. I was so amped to have actually taken a lead fall that I didn’t care that I’d blown the route. The feeling of wanting the move so bad that I’d risk a fall… without even consciously *thinking* of the fall because I’d already scouted the falls from the ground and knew they were safe… was incredible. I was embarrassed at all the noise I’d made… but stoked by the effort, and really, really pumped.
I took my turn belaying, then decided to get back on, on lead. I took a good rest, talked my way up the route, calmed myself down, and decided to try to do a silent ascent, instead of making all the noise I’d made on that first go. I tied in, pep-talked, and started the route…
Made the crux move to, then off the big sloper… got the jug, clipped the rope. Moved to the sidepull, then up to the dishy fingertip edge, then got my feet into place. My hand almost gave as I reached for the next sidepull out left, which I barely stuck. At this point, I’m a good distance out from my bolt, and my hands are both at about 20% and headed toward failure… but I wanted it so bad, that I wanted to really try, despite the risk of a big lead fall, instead of giving up.
I pushed with my legs… and hit the finish hold.
I wasn’t *totally* silent… I think I probably grunted a bit at the top… but my tension level was much lower… I felt calm, and had fun, the whole way up. I didn’t worry about my belayer, I knew if I fell I would be safe, and I wanted that send so bad, that it was worth risking the falls.
At first, I thought — great, now I never have to do that again. But a few minutes later, I started to pine for the route, again. I could do it smoother. Quieter. More solidly at the top.
I’m not going to say that my leading-chicken-ness is gone, but that was definitely a step in the right direction. That success is really, really sweet. And the success of taking a lead fall is also really, really sweet. Now, I’m super excited about getting back outside, finding an outside project that’s equally inspiring, and pushing my leading outside to my next level.
But first, sleep. How are your winter projects going? Add your comments, below!
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