Get Up Off The Mat, 'Cause Trying IS the Crux!

The Story You Tell Yourself Becomes Your Reality.
-Chad Kellogg

(so tell a story that matters)

Despite dealing with a couple nagging injuries to my shoulder and elbow, I have managed my hardest rock cimbs this year, sending trad, sport, and new alpine pitches from .12+ to .13+ and succeeingd on some unforgettable enduro-days in the Cascades and Red Rock with my two favorite climbing partners, Jens Holsten and Scott Bennett. I'm not any stronger than before, I'm just embracing getting knocked down by my goals. And I'm telling myself that success can take the form of another day trying hard and not sending.

Perhaps this bump in ability is due to improved fitness, having stuck around home since February. But I think this progress owes more to learning lessons of resilience from my partners and climbers who inspire me. My achievements are very modest in the grand scheme of climbing, but they are personally meaningful to me, precisely because they WERE difficult, intimidating, and humbling, but also obsession-inducing. If they had been easy, they would have been worthless. Adversity wasn't an obstacle, it was the purpose. Finding satisfaction didn't come about as much from achieving the final redpoint as it did from committing to the process, trusting in my partners, and applying 100% of my abilities day after day, whether at home or up on the wall. I'm not a gifted natural athlete, I never climbed until college, and I get scared leading at the crags. I fall off 5.11 and freeze up on 5.10 slabs. But I keep trying. I'm stubborn. And sometimes that's enough.

After probably many days of effort I sent a couple of the Lower Town Wall's 5.13 testpieces, including the third ascent of the Full Amandla, a 5.13d and perhaps Index's hardest pitch. This Andy DeKlerk masterpiece originally ended at anchors on the hanging arete that splits the Lower Town Wall, but Ben Gilkison extended it to its logical finish past the arete, and over the roof to a ledge. I owe a ton of fresh-baked bread and belay sessions to the friends who gave me catches on my numerous TR/whining sessions, and to the other climbers and friends who inspire me to try hard and brush myself off for another attempt. Thanks for reminding me that I CAN keep trying. Speaking of which...

A couple days after climbing Moonlight Buttress with my friend Max Tepfer, we shared Utah's famed Cathedral sport crag with Bill Ramsay and his partner. Both of them seemed to be on the far side of 50 years old, and both were coming close to sending the .14a masterpiece "Golden". Bill has climbed many 5.14 routes, and has also written extensively on the philosophy of climbing, applying effort into a task, and how those lessons translate to everyday life. After returning home, I listened to an excellent interview with Ramsay on Chris Kalous' Enormocast. Please, please check it out. Ramsay said something that has struck with me, because it is undeniably true, and because it I had never heard mentioned before. (Begin listening at about 33:00 in)

"When somebody guts it out, and they keep getting up off the mat after repeated failures... that tells me a lot about them as a climber. Finding out that Adam Ondra can onsight .14d, that means nothing to me, that's likely finding out someone's acquired the ability to levitate." 
But Ramsay's most insightful comment comes in response to the idea that trying a goal repeatedly somehow cheapens the end result.

"You hear a lot of people say things like if I tried that many times, I could get up that route too. But THAT'S the rub, right? You can't try that many times, you're not capable of trying that many times."

The very act of repeated 100% effort in the face of repeated failure is itself the crux, both to climbing and to so much of life. It's not the route, it's the act of willing yourself to try the route one more time. And its a crux that many folks can't or wont overcome. It's the crux of handling the loss of a loved one, fighting back against cancer, overcoming failed summits, and scrapping together the time and money for one more plane ticket, one more shot at route you dream about. But it's also the aspect of climbing that's 100% a choice for each of us. Make yourself capable of trying that many times.

Ramsay's comment in the interview is casual and off-the-cuff, but to me it's profound. I have repeated it to myself throughout the fall and winter, while climbing, while training, while freezing my elbow against a block of ice to self-induce the screaming barfies, while choosing those hippie-seed infused kale smoothies instead of christmas cookies, and while turning down those post-climb beers in favor of some (chalk)olate milk and whey-protein and recovery slurry. I will seldom be the best technical climber at the crag, but I want to be the hardest-working and most disciplined climber at the crag. I want to be the most enthusiastic and positive climber in basecamp when it's snowing for the 4th day in a row. And I want to be the guy who NOBODY doubts will be giving his all-out effort regardless of the pitch, or grade, or how many times I've already fallen to the mat and not wanted to get back up.