12 in 12: Scaredy Cat


Looking composed on a winter free solo of the Third Flatiron, she’s actually pretty much scared shitless. Photo by Alton Richardson

Now I’m just putting it off. Spring is here (kind of), and climbing outside has ramped up considerably. Two weeks ago it was four days of blissful sandstone bouldering in Joe’s Valley, Utah. (Gotta get that power up! It’s legit cross-training.) Last weekend it was multi-pitch climbing in Boulder Canyon, Colorado, where the hardest pitch I climbed was 5.9+. (At least I’m clipping something.) And this coming weekend’s plans are to hit up Turkey Rocks in South Platte, Colorado, to get seriously schooled on some cracks. (Diversifying my climbing resume…right?)

Well, what it really means is that I’m not outside sport climbing and trying hard routes. I could legitimize it at first—we all need breaks from training hard and singularly pursuing “goals.” But when my climbing partner Alton asked, “Don’t you want to go to sport climbing this weekend?” I couldn’t deny my procrastination. Keep in mind Alton is a self-proclaimed boulderer and trad climber (notice the omission of “sport climber”). When he is asking to go sport climbing, I know there’s an issue.

I don’t feel ready, though. The thought of going outside and leading a 5.12 makes my stomach queasy and my palms sweat. My fingers are sliding around on the keyboard as I type this. Maybe it’s because the last time I tried to toprope a 5.12, I got shut down so hard on the crux that I thought, “This will never happen. EVER.” And it wasn’t just one bad experience that has made me feel this way; I felt it before that disastrous TR attempt. Maybe it’s time for a psychological evaluation by a trained professional. Or just a serious sit-down with myself.

When I think about it, I can easily replace those anxiety-inducing thoughts with notions of unicorns and rainbows and put leading 5.12 off for another day. The blessing and curse of the natural procrastinator. But I guess the fear comes from the idea of operating my body for extended periods of time at my absolute limit. I’m used to the short burst of cruxy moves that happens on 5.11, and yeah, sometimes I have to try a few times. But what about falling over and over again over the course of a few weeks when I’m trying my hardest? I thought I wasn’t scared of falling, but now I’m starting to reconsider.

Ultimately I’m facing a challenge. It’s physical and mental and feels monumental. I’m scared and frightened like a dog in a thunderstorm, but my couch is not big enough for me to run and hide under. I don’t feel afraid of failure or not doing well; it’s a fear of going outside my comfort zone and the mental game that comes with it. It’s a fear of falling when I’m trying my hardest, and also just a fear of falling. Fear of the next step, the transition, moving on from the place I’ve been for the last few years. It’s time to graduate.

A fellow magazine editor, Andrew Bisharat, wrote about trying hard in front of others in a recent blog post: “Trying 100 percent and failing is often more inspiring to people than succeeding.” (The whole post is quite the gem, read it here.) That makes sense, and I know it’s true when I see other people operating at their max. The send outcome is less important than the fact that they got up there and tried. I just don’t think that will inspire me when I’m the one failing and falling all over the place. It’s already affecting my psyche, and I haven’t even left the ground.

I’m a downward-spiral kind of gal. Once I can’t do something, I think I’ll never be able to do it. Then I get frustrated and usually have to quit to keep from getting more frustrated. Staying positive on a route that’s physically difficult is going to be more of a battle than anything else. And I’m going to fall—a lot. But I have to do it. If this is the level I want to be at, I have to do it. It’s like taking those first few falls when learning to lead: Once you figure out it’s safe and you’re not gonna die, it gets a bit easier. Must get over the initial hump. It can’t be that bad…

Questions and comments absolutely make my day: jellison@climbing.com

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