Blogging A to Z – Angst, Anne, and Alex Honnold

OK, I know I’m starting this a couple of days late, but the plan is to make these quick posts, each with a photo and all climbing related (and I say that with a half-hearted apology to all the people who are sick and tired of my current obsession…).

First, up – ANGST – of which there is a lot when I try to lead climb. Here’s me leading a crack climb (I like cracks, that’s why I chose it) at Sunshine Slabs yesterday.

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Usually, crack climbs are protected with traditional gear you plug into the crack and then clip your rope to that secure (you hope it’s secure) nut or cam. Leading using gear adds a whole new level of OMG to the effort… In this case, though, there are permanent bolts on the face just to the left of the climb. This, I’m pretty sure, is part of the reason why this particular route has a grade of only 5.6 – which is to say, not very hard. Did that stop me from developing a terrible case of Elvis leg partway up? Or reduce the likelihood of a panic attack right near the top when the anchor bolts were within spitting distance? Nope. Even though the bolts were plentiful and I was never going to be more than a body length above the last safe place where I had fastened the rope, despite the fact the climbing was pretty easy and in a style I usually enjoy (when someone else throws the rope up for me), I still had about 47 heart attacks between the ground and the top. This whole leading thing messes with my head in ways I never would have thought possible.

Fortunately, I have a brilliantly supportive team of fellow climbers who say kind things like, “That corner was terrible. Not a fun climb at all.” Anne, speaker of those reassuring words, is always positive about my efforts, even when my efforts… let’s see, how to say this delicately… when my efforts suck. This is hugely important, though, because without my crew of encouraging people willing to stand there forever and cheer me on while I claw and scrape and quiver my way up the easiest of climbs on those days when I grit my teeth and decide to give leading another try — well – I wouldn’t be making much progress. So, thanks Anne – you get the big shout-out because today is Letter A day, but I could say equally nice things about so many kind climbers who have given me advice and encouragement and hugs when things were looking less than sunny.

Alex Honnold makes the cut because, well, he’s ALEX HONNOLD. I have never had the pleasure of meeting him, but even though Alex does insane things like climb massive vertical walls of granite without a rope I have the feeling that if he saw me struggling away on my version of Heaven (a tricky climb he does rope-free in Yosemite) he would be kind and offer some advice because, despite all that he has accomplished, I like to think he is a climber first and wouldn’t laugh at me. At least, not to my face.

Just watching his videos makes my heart race. And, no – don’t worry. I have no aspirations in the free soloing direction at all… But wow, you have to hand it to Alex – pretty incredible. Watching him boldly climb where no human should go without backup inspires me to try to get out there and try, try again… Because what’s holding me back is not actually a lack of climbing ability (I’m leading stuff that’s much easier than what I can climb with a top rope), but some complex fear psychology that is utterly paralyzing. What happens when I overcome that and actually make it to the top of something that has me quaking in my climbing shoes is a feeling of exhilaration and triumph that is nothing short of intoxicating.

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Anne is one of my heroes because she is willing to lead even though she doesn’t like doing it much better than I do! But she does it anyway (though maybe that’s because if she doesn’t lead and we go out together, we won’t get to climb much). Her willingness to keep trying (and her huge improvements every time she does pick up the sharp end of the rope) is as much an inspiration as watching Alex do his thing… Black Diamond take note – sponsor this woman. She represents all the rest of us sport climbers who are not pros, who don’t climb 5.14, who feel nauseous when we think about leading and who spend a lot of money on climbing stuff… 

 

 

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