12 in 12: Biting the Bullet - Climbing Magazine

12 in 12: Biting the Bullet


I’ve yammered on in several blog posts about “just doing it.” Thousands of words of feel-goodery are great, but they don’t really matter when compared with action. Until recently, I’ve gone out climbing every week and managed to avoid actually attempting to lead a 12. That changed two weeks ago.

I was inspired by my friend Hale’s attempt on a 5.13 in Clear Creek Canyon, west of Denver. He clipped, rested, clipped up, rested again, tried some moves, clipped up again, rested, rested, rested, took a fall, and the cycle continued. He eventually got to the top of what we thought was a 13—we later found out a broken hold had made it 5.13+. He’s one of the strongest climbers I know personally, and he seems to send everything he touches. Here he was trying something a full number grade harder than what he’s actually sent before, hangdogging and falling all over the place. After 45 minutes of him working his project, it was my turn. I bit the bullet and forced myself to tie into the sharp end for my first go on a 5.12.

I was still a little unsure of what I was doing. Motions were mechanical, and my mind was blank. I used that blankness to overcome the smart part of my brain that was telling me, “You stupid idiot, what are you doing??!” It’s that little pause in your synapses that can be a window of opportunity to do something reckless, dangerous, and just plain fun. I used it wisely and kept moving forward: figure 8 follow-through, draws on the harness, belayer locked and ready to go, a few steps toward the climb, start climbing. Clip the first bolt, then the second, take. Hang out for a minute, climb to the third bolt, clip, take. And so on. I think I went three clips in a row at one point. Yippee!

Then, on that route, it occurred to me that I was actually pretty afraid of falling—OK, that’s a natural fear. But let’s take a closer look at that: I’m afraid of falling. I’ve talked before about getting over that fear of falling (read it here), which I thought I had. What I realized is that I’m not over it and I may never be. Dammit. My body is strong and capable, but my mind is getting in the way. It’s really a matter of learning to control that fear in every situation on every climb. So how do I do that?

I made a mental checklist mantra to run through any time the fear bubbled up in the back of my mind. 1) Am I going to die if I fall? No. 2) Am I going to break a leg or have any major bodily harm? Highly unlikely. 3) What’s going to happen? I’m going to fly through the air, feel weightless for a second, and eventually come to a relatively soft stop. Hey, that actually sounds pretty fun.

I made it to the top of that climb, not without a few whips and a gratuitous amount of taking. I was psyched, and now I have a project: Wet Dream (5.12a) at Wall of the Nineties in Clear Creek Canyon, Colorado. I feel like I’m telling people I’m about to have a baby or something; I’m excited and anxious and want to shout it from the rooftops. I HAVE A PROJECT!

12 in 12: Biting the Bullet

Now I’m sitting here, poring over everything I can find on it. Like Googling yourself and clicking on every link you can possibly find. Just be careful when you type “wet dream” into a search engine… What are people saying about it? What hidden factoids from the past will resurface and lead to a send? Is it truly a 12a?

And that’s where you’ll find me this weekend, hangdogging, falling, resting, cursing, and muttering that mantra under my breath. I can’t wait.

What’s your project? Email me at jellison@climbing.com

Click here to read all the 12 in 12 posts.