Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Major Minor Breakthrough

This weekend I cruised, albeit slowly and with trepidation, the start of Raunchy(Gunks, 5.8). For a lot of people who know the route, the response to that sentence would be a variation of "....And?", but for anyone who knows me, the response is probably much more enthusiastic.

You see - I seem to have a commitment problem. Or fear of failure, or success, issues. Or something! For much of my climbing path, I've consistently found myself giving up before even trying whenever I come to a place where I can't fully guarantee success.

It wasn't always like that... Well, that's not true. It has been always like that. I recall my first time on real rock(with maybe 10 gym days under my harness) and coming to a mantle sequence. I stopped and sort of went into suspended animation. The guide, who I'd had some conflict with because he thought I was too know-it-allish for a newly minted gymbie, said " the gym, when you come to a tough spot, do you wait for the guys to stop and encourage you?"

He was implying that I was an attention-seeker, I am pretty sure, waiting for all eyes to adore me...

Well...that stung. It really, really did. But how could I explain how utterly opposite the reality was; that when I needed to struggle, or to analyze, or to attempt and then regroup, that what I most desired was to be completely invisible to everyone? That words of encouragement were more apt to shut me down further than to motivate me?

But that was, and often still is, the case. It's an aspect, so far as I can figure, of the PTSD I live with. The feeling of being in a vulnerable place, with others aware of my predicament, sends shock waves through my system. Fight or flight.

I always chose flight. It was the option that included an outcome I could control. In climbing, my version of flight amounts to failing and asking to lower off.

That same guide mentioned above, was partnered with a real old schooler. They were both excellent teachers, but the older one had softened his edge over the years and was more aware of things going on. These guys worked together taking adjudicated kids on wilderness tours; not the "tough love/bootcamp" approach, but to develop teamwork skills and to show them that the world had more to offer than an urban life of crime.

Anyway - the older guy, whose name escapes me, told us that in climbing we would be confronted with our life issues. Our weaknesses, our fears, our defense mechanisms, out ignorance and naivety.

He was certainly correct. At least that's been my experience.

Climbing and the inherent lifestyle has shown me a lot of my insecurities, down to the simplest aspect of fear of being left without(a tent space in a group setting, a climbing partner, a decent belay).

But back to Raunchy.....

I was partnered with my friends Irina and David for the day, with David as the ropegun. As we walked the carriage road, Irina suggested we get on the climb "Columbia." Which we did. It was a nice, enjoyable route, which I didn't have much trouble with until the last move, which entails an overly high step and rockover onto one foot.

I balked.

Couldn't guarantee that move.... And I was peeved especially because right over to the right, just the other side of a tree, was climbing so easy I could have done it unroped.

But the rope wasn't on that side of the tree..... I always choose the path of least resistance and gave David some guff for taking the more difficult line just because he could. He countered, saying the rope drag would have been increased by taking the route I was pointing to. Grrrrr.

After suggesting I might swing the rope over the (15-20 foot tall) tree, and David agreeing, probably just to get me moving somewhere, I realized I was being a wanker. I decided to try the route as my partners had gone, and....made it. Surprised myself, too.

We rapped to the cliff base and David decided he'd like to lead Hyjeck's Horror, which - he did. Then he set a toprope and I lowered him so Irina and I could have a go.

I'd attempted the route(on TR) once early this season, with my friend Diane, and couldn't commit to the step up move onto the little edge about 10 feet up. Fairly certain I'd be watching a rerun, I found myself in the same place, doing the same thing. Or, not doing, actually.... I simply wouldn't commit, even with a steady belayer that I knew wouldn't let me hit the ground.

Irina made the climb and I tried again, only to find myself refusing at the same place. Of course, after I got off, untied my shoes and started to pack up for the next route, I started in with the excuses and through them, began to see(as usual) where I'd foiled myself....

David told me that it's my turn to pick a climb, since he and Irina had chosen the other two. I tried to get out of it, and I know why - I don't want to be the one who makes a bad choice that others have to contend with. For a person who is frequently told I exude confidence, I find it odd that I undermine myself and worry about inconveniencing others so often.

I flipped through the guidebook as we are gathering our gear and snacking, looking for something nearby that would be of a level to challenge David on lead and be something off the three-star beaten path for Irina, who likes to climb onsight. As for myself, I am just hoping to go along for the ride and enjoy myself. I always do - even when I don't climb well.

The routes nearby weren't fitting the above criteria, but finally I come across Raunchy, which I have never heard a word about. But, it has two stars, and so I figure it's probably not going to be a disappointment.

Reading the route description, I note the phrase "thin, bouldery start," and think "Well, it's probably like Classic; a move or two and then a safe stance"....

David accepts the decision, though not with overt enthusiasm, and as we continue to talk, I try to come up with another case(doubting myself). I mention Higher Stannard, and that excites him. He says he doesn't think he's ever actually led the route, which surprises me. So, we get moving and head in that direction, along the base of the cliff.

Not far from Hyjecks, David stops and says "Here's raunchy. What do you think?"

I look at the route - and am.....dismayed. The start is a replay of Hyjeck's Horror. On steroids. I can't even SEE the sequence. Of course, I'm standing 10 feet away, but...still. "Thin" is accurate. The first possible protection is 20 feet off the ground, too.

David gears up, and I tell him I'll spot him until he hits the stance for pro. He tells me he has slipped off the route once before and accepts my offer, reminding me not to try to catch him if it happens, but to push him forward. He casts off and I watch, believing there's no way I can pull the moves, and feeling upset with myself thinking I'll be giving up and sitting the climb out as my partners continue to the second pitch.

Though he doesn't seem in danger of coming off, he doesn't make the climbing look easy, either. That I can plainly see, and I'm glad when he's reached the first, bomber, protection point.

Irina goes second, and she gets the sequence too, but not without working hard for it. I make a pointed effort not to watch her for beta. I didn't notice David's choices either, since I was watching him as a spotter. Even though I don't believe I can make the route, I still have my standards. Beta is a form of lowering the climb's difficulty to me. I like onsight climbing too, and piecing together the puzzle is is my favorite part of the game.

After Irina is safely onto the upper portion of the pitch, I begin to look at the route's start. The internal dialog, telling me where I will probably fall, has begun, but at that point, I recalled a different conversation I'd had with myself as I fixed breakfast earlier that morning.

I'd told myself that, when I came to a difficult part, I was not going to give up; I was going to focus my energy and work through the thing.

And so, as I looked at the thin, slablike face ahead of me, I took note of the divets, crimps and rough patches I could smear on. I heard a voice inside say "David did it, and so did Irina. Others have done this route too. So can I."

I specifically hunted the various points of contact, and told myself "They're big enough. They'll hold me. They're thin, but the pieces are all there; I see the sequence, and I will commit to it."

When I started up, I was challenged as soon as my second foot stepped the ground. But I landed myself, and had good balance. I was on the climb.

I recall that I began to feel the familiar feelings, of vulnerability, insecurity, and the worst of all - that I would waste my partner's time.

This is a very persistent problem for me, and one that takes a big toll. Others will hangdog up climbs, and I'll belay them patiently, but I can't turn the table. I cling to the old school "fall, get lowered off" credo, but it's not an ethic I'm adhering too. Something inside tells me I don't have the right to take more than the smallest share of whatever's being served up.

On lead, this doesn't tend to happen, but that's probably because I am honestly in survival mode. It's one place where I will take what I need, though I take care not to get on routes that have a high potential for risk. But I do know that, in times when I have been struggling to commit, and my belayer voiced impatience, my anger surfaced immediately.

Following or on toprope, though, and these issues are there.

Anyway, there I was. Four points of contact, a decision as to what to do next to be made, and voices telling me I probably can't do it so I should just blow the sequence with a half-hearted attempt.

But then, as I said, I recalled my earlier self-instruction and promise. "NO," I heard myself tell me. "THERE is the foothold. You SAW it on the ground, and you KNOW it is good. TAKE IT."

I did, and I made it! Shifting my weight onto that foot, a sensation of pride coursed through my body at the same time. Solidity! My brain and my body were in unison.

Then I had to make the next move..... The fearful body memories began to bubble again, and I consciously shut them down. "Look! Where's the move? Find it and commit to it.," I commanded myself. I did.

I was making progress, and a hideous crimper I'd spied from below was the hold I needed next. "Dime-edged" like Bachar tends to say, I heard somewhere in myself. "But, it's more like a quarter...I wonder if that is technically dime-edg...." I silenced that dialog, and reminded myself that hundred of people had been able to pull down with only that bit of rock, and so could I. I committed, squeezed down, bounced up, and....made it.

I was actually elated when I got through that one, because that had been a "no way" hold when I first saw it. And yet - it held me just fine. I have never in my life gone off something that thin, and the paradox of such a small edge having such an ability to assist me was a pretty amazing revelation. I knew other people made use of such holds, but I didn't think I would be able to.

Once I got to the section of the climb where I could fully rest, I gave myself the time to enjoy my success, and I even took more time than a minimal "I did it" would require. In fact, I took so much time that I think my partners were ready to tell me to get a move on.....

The crux of the pitch lay ahead, and it gave me a challenge too. I moved a little higher than I should have, where a move upward would be 5.9(as per the guidebook). I knew I was supposed to move left, but I couldn't figure it out, and that sucked. Then David made a comment about going lower, and...well, it was what it was. It was correct, of course. Whether I'd have stepped down on my own, or fallen off trying something else, I will never know. But the step over left was no gimme at any rate; I earned the reward I felt in successfully navigating through that section.

What an incredible sense of accomplishment I felt, when I gained the belay. I'd honestly not believed I would get ten feet off the ground before I'd stepped off it.

Pitch two was an interesting experience too, and if I had made it all the way through, I think my partners would have had to cork my mouth in order to get a word in edgewise the rest of the day. Lucky for them I fell off at the overhang.

Too be continued......

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