Sarah Jane Alexander - Reader Blog 3

Sarah busts an outside flag during practice. Photo by Jenna Lange

Sarah busts an outside flag during practice. Photo by Jenna Lange

My homey, a longtime climber, called, checking on whether I was pulling down any sweet climbs.

“Not outside,” I said. “It’s too cold.”

An Arctic front had blown in. Winter’s frigidity had swallowed California’s Central San Joaquin Valley. Still, I was knocking out practice.

“I had so much fun yesterday practicing flagging at the gym,” I said.

I paused. Waiting, hoping for his praise.


My mind raced to find flaws with my efforts. Maybe good climbers had decided that flags were for noobs and nitwits, and I hadn’t gotten the memo.

Finally: “Oh, that’s technical,” he said.

His tone wasn’t condescending, though. “I never learned that,” he said. “I just pull myself up.”

Whew! He wasn’t saying I was a dumbass.

“I don’t have that option,” I said.

Sarah references “The Self-Coached Climber” for technique exercises. Photo by Jenna Lange

Sarah references “The Self-Coached Climber” for technique exercises. Photo by Jenna Lange

I guess. I haven’t tried to pull myself up. I know I use my arms more than I should despite trying to live by the mantra “Use your legs.”

But I am improving – using another mantra: “Knowledge is power.”

I am teaching myself in the gym, gliding from wall to wall paging through “The Self-Coached Climber,” [By Dan Hague and Douglas Hunter /] churning through its exercises.

Now I sow the seeds of knowledge that will serve me when I emerge from winter’s cold cocoon as spring thaws the sleeping rocks.

January’s gray cold enshrouds even typically sunny Fresno, California. Photo by Sarah Jane Alexander


I dub this The Winter of the Ill Technique.

Even indoors, this is a beautiful, exciting climbing season.

Everything is new and exhilarating. I have so much to learn, every day is filled with endless possibility for improvement. That is that is one of the sweetest aspects of climbing no matter the climber’s level of mastery. But the chasm of my ignorance is so vast that every pearl of wisdom gleams supremely illuminating.

Slowly, my awkwardness fades. I used to be so tense that I sometimes slipped out of sheer nervousness. I have moved past the point of desperately clinging just to stay upright. Now I can bust a few moves that I find divinely elegant when I watch other people execute them. My movements have become less strained, more instinctive. When I flag correctly, it’s as comfortable as sitting on my couch watching TV. But infinitely more rewarding.

Fumbling through exercises awkwardly, my lack of climbing ego serves me. If I were ashamed to look like a noob, I would be mortified from the beginning to the end of my practice. However, it’s more likely that the people who watch me end up being embarrassed.

Like a few days ago, I was doing the climbing blind exercise, tentatively groping for holds as I ascended with my eyes closed. (“The Self-Coached Climber” suggests a blindfold, but closing my eyes is simpler.) When I reached the top of the wall, I felt stares boring into me. I opened my eyes and turned around. The two people staring up at me could not hide their shock.

The lady quickly ducked behind the bouldering wall, apparently embarrassed to get caught staring. But her friend lingered as I downclimbed (eyes open).

“Were you climbing with your eyes closed?” he asked when I reached the floor.

“It’s an exercise from my book,” I said.

“My friend said ‘She’s blind!’ ” he said. “Then you turned around and looked at us.”

“Miracles happen climbing,” I said.

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