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The inevitable ebb and flow of climbing

Sara Lingafelter
Sara Lingafelter
3 min read

This week will be a bit quiet since I’m in full swing of preparation for Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2009, which I’m attending for the first time, as working media. I’m very excited to see and meet so many industry folk I admire, and to get a peek at what my favorite brands are up to for next season. I’ll be covering the event here at and via Twitter. If you’re going to the show, please drop me a note so that we can try to meet up.

In climbing news, I’ve spent most of the last few weekends getting my ass handed to me on trad routes at Index, WA. While the logical progression would be to spend some time at Squamish and Leavenworth, which have an abundance of good, confidence-building 5.7 – 5.9 trad routes, my schedule hasn’t allowed for Squamish, and my climbing partners have been at Index, so that’s where I’ve been. And, that’s where I’ve been getting spanked, repeatedly, by routes that are well within my climbing ability, but which feel absolutely impossible when I add in the complexity of placing my own gear.

I’ll figure it out. I’ve had some successes each weekend, even if I haven’t ticked off a bunch of routes. I’ve tried routes on lead even with the risk that they’ll be hard for me, and so far I’ve had a strong showing on the technical cruxes of routes like Godzilla and Toxic Shock, but I haven’t had the tank full of bold that it takes to finish the entire route. I get half-way up those long-ish pitches, and I just can’t summons the bold to set out into the unknown any longer. I had a success on Toxic Shock last weekend, even though I didn’t finish my lead — I bailed off the lead after the crux, after the slabby transition, and partway up the upper crack. I pro in, which I knew was good, but I just couldn’t get myself to commit to the upper crack. Every time I’ve toproped it, I’ve wound up in a lieback, so my muscle memory was of how strenuous that lieback is, and my thoughts were about how difficult it would be to place gear from that position. I tried a few times to advance without liebacking, and ultimately, gave up. I lowered off, my partner finished the lead, and I set out to clean.

That time, I was determined to climb the upper crack straight in, without liebacking. A funny thing happened — I did exactly what I set out to do. I climbed the crack straight in, and it actually felt EASY. I felt, at each step, like my jams were solid, and like I’d be just fine to place gear on that part of the pitch (contrary to my worries from the stances I bailed off of). The climbing was much easier straight in than in a lieback — it just takes discipline to stay in a straight-in position, ’cause the crack really tries to throw you into a lieback. I’m optimistic, now, that I can lead Toxic Shock, and look forward to getting back on it.

I’m also proving my worth as an incredibly good gear cleaner (knock on wood), having now recovered a #4 Camalot and a yellow C3 that the leader thought were stuck. That gave me the epiphany… I’m really good at the things that I have lots of experience with. I have a LOT of experience as a gear cleaner and follower, and I’m really GOOD at it as a result. I have less experience as a gear leader, so it’s just going to take me awhile to build up that base of experience, and I need to be patient with myself.

Luckily, my climbing partners climb with me even when my head’s in one of these “not bold” stages. And, I just had my first fantastic post-rehab climbing gym session tonight, where I climbed hard, on lead, and took risks, and succeeded part of the time and took some fun falls the rest of the time. So, hopefully I’m getting over the psychology of coming off an injury, and I can get my bold tank back to “Full” for my next few tries at trad leading.

How’s your climbing season going? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Sara Lingafelter

Sara (Grace) Lingafelter takes steps forward and backward toward a right-sized life on a daily basis.