Recently I read a Crux Crush article titled Conquering a Fear of Falling. I am certain I’ve always had a fear of falling. I was always nervous about pushing my boundaries, taking a leap of faith, and jumping into the pool first. Even after 30 years of jumping into pools, I know for rational fact that I never regret the cool feeling and immediate release of anticipation that never had a chance to fester uncontrollably. However, I’d say half the time I still torture myself and creep in, one fleshy inch at a time. My fear of climbing falls has been 32 years in the making!
Rest day in Thermopolis at the hot springs.
In Chelsea’s Crux Crush writing she finds herself in a place of torment. I’m in that place every time I get on lead while sport climbing. I cry, I yell, I scream, I get so frustrated and angry that I contemplate quitting climbing all together. “Forget it,” I say, “I’ll just top rope everything, for the REST OF MY LIFE.” Then I silently pout and skulk about the crag until it’s my turn to climb again. The Husband says, “pull it, or top it?” referring to the rope. I almost always say pull it because I know in my heart’s heart that I’ll regret not leading the route before me, and make a bad day worse.
So how did Chelsea overcome a fear of falling? I don’t want to regurgitate too much because I want you to actually read her great article. At a breaking point she uses her determination and a systematic approach to find a solution. I will tell you about my experience, which is based mostly on her insight, program outline, and hard work. I started writing all this on day 2 of my climbing trip, hoping that by the end of my stay in Ten Sleep I would have successfully fallen for falling!
Good thoughts and well wishes for this trip…
Day 0 – Setting and Communicating Goals.
Each day is more or less a significant moment where I challenged myself to set realistic and measurable goals, then attempted to execute them on a specific climbing route/day.
First, I had to pen two lists. A list of all my Triggers, and a list I called my Helpers (positive tools to support me in my moment(s) of fear). I did not spend too much time contemplating, just wrote down what came to my mind first.
Feet passing a bolt
Moving past a bolt to clip
Looking up for the next (far away) bolt
Letting a grade stress me out
Anticipation building, especially at a crux
Working on the current move, not thinking about what’s to come
Breathing, using my ujjayi breath
Finding and using rests
Self talk out loud
Minds eye, visualizing my success
Doing something silly right before
What I found most surprising was my list of Helpers was longer and more detailed than my list of Triggers. A win for me and a promising start. Then I set my goals for the first day of climbing, and communicated them to the Husband (an equally important part of my journey for all the work I was about to put in).
My biggest fan and cheerleader, the Husband, Louie!
Discovery, Mistakes, and Successes:
Day 1- What’s in a name grade?
There is always variability of opinion in the grade of a climb, but at the end of the day, you have to pick lines that inspire you, and naturally encourage your desires to be out on the rock and out on the sharp end of climbing.
A large chunk of the climbing in Ten Sleep, a beautiful long band of Limestone.
My first structured goal was to become acquainted with the local rock, it’s charming limestone, and pockety pockets. I thought this would help to gage what is realistic for me on this trip, and create a base for my future goals. I wrote down that I wanted to fall 5 times, and not take at the bolt. But each time I went to fall I just couldn’t, and decided to keep climbing instead. It’s that quick moment of hesitation that sends me down the wrong path. I also tried a super hard, five star, 12b, Happiness in Slavery. That really sent me down a spiral. I had a tantrum up the entire route on top rope. Full of swearing, crying, and self hate. An awful way to end the day, and start the trip.
Although I had good intentions for the day, I failed in a few key areas. First, I didn’t communicate my goals with my climbing partner, afraid in the end that would indefinately commit me to them, without any exit. Second, I didn’t actually do any physical committing to my goals, as in I never took a fall once. Not even a teeny tiny one. Third, I didn’t use ANY of my awesome helpers. Not once did I verbalize to myself out loud (my best helper) any positive words of affirmation. The next day of climbing would have to go much smoother and be filled with commitment.
Louie has a long standing tradition of kicking rocks off the trail as we hike.
It also slows him down so that I can keep up!
Day 2- Fall 5 times, for realz!
In teaching (my past life) we offer students information in small packets. Sometimes, for some students, very small packets. At other times, for other students, VERY small packets. This can make information (or experiences in my case at the moment) seem less overwhelming and achievable, all the while you know the students (me) can be successful with the bigger picture!
I took a step back from my goal of falling 5 times, and asked myself to fall just once. I pretended that was my only goal: a simple clean and quick fall. I pushed to the back of my mind that I would do the other 4 falls that day, and I gave myself all day to accomplish this. I had to put aside all my expectations, all my desires for immediate fulfillment by success, and humbly accept my current limitations and stating point. (None of which I am personally known for!)
I wrote down very specific directions. Another helper I had not thought about earlier. I like list, I like writing them, and they help me stay organized and focused. 1. Fall at my waist, 2. fall at my thighs, 3. fall at my knees, 4. fall at my feet, 5. fall above my feet. I also added that I would communicate better with my husband what my specific plans were before and during a climb (and much later how I felt after a climb). That helped him to encourage and guide me, when I wasn’t able to find the immediate courage at first.
French Cattle Ranch or Valhalla area today?
Someone’s left over dinner…
Trees you just have to go up and over.
Finding my Zen before a climb.
The first climb of the day is always full of jitters. Planning my falls is so stressful. All of my energy goes into the anticipation. I whined up a 10a, and only took at the bolt, and maybe my thighs. Whew, two down, sorta, but I knew I could do much better. The rest of the day was spent at a second wall on the various 5 star climbs there (5 out of 5 stars being awesome routes to climb in Ten Sleep).
A fantastical thing happened at the Back 40 Wall. The raddest bunch of badass women joined us. They oozed girl power. I was totally inspired to a) keep my cool, b) be extra brave, and c) onsight a climb called Crazy Wynona, 11d. I peered up at the climb and asked Louie, “lead or top rope it,” and he in turn asked the Power Posse (my own name for them) what I should do (knowing exactly what they’d say). In near unison they all cried out, “lead!”, and the rope came down.
The climb had several cruxes for me, and I pushed through all of them, except the last. I had briefly magically found that zone. The one where all other sounds pull away from me, except I can hear my heart beating in my ears, I’m focused entirely on the one move I am making, and time is encased into a little bubble surrounding me. I make deliberate movements, calculate sequences to decipher my next hand or foot placement, and with the most natural subconscious ease clip my rope and my way up the route.
When I slipped from this magical place, I found myself dead center of the last crux. Success came down to one thing… no, not strength, not power, not endurance, not even a specific skill. There I was, perched, perfectly placed to face my fear, hesitating for that millisecond too long. The irrational thought entered my mind, that if I in fact I blew this shot (which technically was a possibility), that somehow there would be dire results, instead of a short fall and a soft catch. I sputtered out, heard my confidant inner voice give way to hemming and hawing, and crawled back down to the bolt, without even an inch of falling.
I’m glad that I did not have a complete success and send of this route first go. It would have taught me much less than I deserved to learn. My expectations would have been heightened for the rest of the trip, with a much higher failure rate as well. What it did show me was that I still had that magical zone inside me, that I could nurture and strengthen it, and that I had to protect it to secure future tapping into and successes.
The amount of support I received from the lovely lady crew down below erased any anger and frustration I might have otherwise let fester the rest of the day. I had taken one of the first big steps in my journey, one of a thousand to take in my lifetime. I started up a climb I knew very little about, and put my positive energy to good use. I also felt reenergized and confidant. Directly after, I clambered up another climb, and took my 5 falls, per my exact written directions. Each time telling my husband what I was going to do and then actually doing it! I screeched with each fall, and laughed off the jitters. The Power Posse laughed with me, and were genuinely proud of my progress. My husband the most proud of all. A much better day with an extra boost of estrogen.
Perhaps like a lady bug, a Ten Sleep butterfly is good luck!
My new hat promises to protect me!
The ever busy, can’t sit still, seat building, Louie Anderson.
Day 3- Send Crazy Wynona.
This day started a bit shamefully. I whined up a warm up climb, a corner stemming route, that was a little over hung, with an achey hip I dared to complain about. There may have been some yelling at my husband, and I’m embarrassed I did it. He has been my strongest cheering force, and I was just plain mean to him through my frustration, anger, and fear. I resolved to not only be kinder to him, but to myself because it started there and tended to infect others.
Despite the hiccup I was determined to turn the day around. The Back 40 wall awaited, and so did 100 foot long Crazy Wynona. Another couple was already there, with their 2 dogs. A little petting therapy and my heart felt light enough to float me up the climb. The climb went down after two go’s. I faltered in the same spot, and took at the bolt. Being afraid down right sucks, so I climbed back up and before allowing myself to chicken out, took the intentional fall directly at the crux. I decided that I didn’t want to be afraid anymore. I had had enough of my own crazy!
On my second attempt of the day I am sure I sounded like a cranky toddler. Louie said, “Underneath all the tired, you know you really want it!”, and I really did. I pushed on and then found myself at the same crux, again. I knew the only thing stopping me was fear. I didn’t hesitate long enough to think about anything. I simply executed, pretending this move was just another move, and not THE move I had built it up to become (I outwitted myself). Success, and a small quiet send party at the anchors ensued. There may have also been a Ten Sleep Brewery beer waiting for me back in town, and a full day 4 of rest coming up!
Working on Crazy Wynona, and peering down at one of our many new friends met along the way!
Fields of Arrowleaf Balsomroot and sage line the trails to the crag, and sometimes deer pass through.
My favorite flower of the Bighorn National Forest, the Sticky Geranium.
This tree fell and wedged itself perfectly between all these trees, like a fence.
Day 5- Stay Cool and Calm.
The weather was turning hot in Ten Sleep, so we decided to climb at higher elevation. Lake Point is a short hike up past Lake Meadowlark, and into the cooler woods. I neglected mosquito duty and found 6 new bites on me later that day, including one on my face (the only areas exposed on the hike in). I was losing my mind to a different kind of fear, those blood sucking female biters.
Careful with the gate, may take a crew to pull it closed.
Catching the shade any way you can. Climber crafted.
Power couple number two, and more friends made!
Bonnie and Clyde, 12c.
All of these trails brought to you by local climbers, from the Bighorn Climbers Coalition.
Focus for the day: find a climb that was mentally hard, and project it. Riding the wave of confidence we ended up at the His and Hers wall with another fantastic couple, three dogs in tow this time. Bonnie and Clyde, 12c was a tall order in my opinion. I’m not saying I couldn’t have projected it and sent it with time, but I wasn’t interested in mentally AND physically hard climbing at the moment. I knew I would have success on a lower graded route and support powering up my mental climbing game. I was looking at strategy, and staring it right in the eye, deciding to bite off only what I could chew. Getting real with myself!
I opted for Sid and Nancy, a short punchy 12a with 6 bolts and a tough pull over a bulge. I dedicated myself to a fact finding mission. Laying down all expectations of sending first go, and simply learning the movement of the climb. Submitting to my current limitations and lowering my expectations is not a talent I possess. Projecting is not one either. I lack the patience and humbleness to work sections of movement, eventually piecing it all together. Day 5 was all about feeling comfortable in the very uncomfortable place of submitting to projecting.
Sid and Nancy begins so sweetly.
Working the crux, a small crimp, a high step, and a cross through to a pocket before moving right to the clipping “jug”.
First go up the route, I took once at the crux, near the middle. I looked long and hard at this area. To set myself for success I came up with a bunch of possible scenarios, and then began the task of dismantling the many arguments for failure. Could I be injured in the fall, no, nothing but air below the bulge of the rock. Could I panic at the difficult rope clip, yes, but moving past it to the better hand hold is an almost guarantee that the clip will happen with less energy spent and in a calmer fashion. The arguments went on, and I defeated them all as best I could. I learned the movement for the rest of the route, taking note that I would be tired at the very top after a long steep section. I just had to keep it together, be calm, and rely on my healthy endurance.
Sid and Nancy, 12a.
Sid and Nancy was a success, second climb up it, with pure mental ease. My head game was on point, and I was learning (as well as submitting to) the motions and emotions of this journey.
A very powerful 11, Oftedal Serenade, in the Lake Point area.
Lake view there and back.
My ever supportive husband!
A quick sit down at Meadowlark Lake.
Day 6- Keep the Wagon Wheels Rolling.
A scorcher of a day, my husband and I walked up and down the long Mondo Beyondo area. Cranky, sweating, and exhausted, we finally found shade in the middle of the Valhallarattic area, at the Drugs and Sex wall. There before me stood Cocaine Rodeo, a Ten Sleep classic, and a solid 12a climb with 5 stars. A powerful start, a punchy middle, and a pumpy finish. I revel in a climb with beautiful rests in between cruxes. I listened to my head, and my achey body. I decided to top rope this climb first, work through the sections making my plans, and commit to a lead at another time.
The left end of the main Ten Sleep crag. Route and shade searching.
I surprised myself with a clean send on top rope, no falls. I didn’t feel any stronger than I had the day before, and in fact felt more tired and more sore than ever. What this told me was that purely and simply I was letting fear weaken me. I could climb Cocaine Rodeo, next go, if I didn’t overdose on fear.
The hardest crux section for me, was a particular type of movement I am not fond of doing. A dead point, requiring me to poise, lock off, push, and punch to the next hand hold with extended body force. A high risk movement, with the bolt below me, and a fall zone waiting to catch me. When it came down to executing the difficult sequence, I had prepared a slew of positive words, to be uttered under my breath. Go, You Can, Push, Just GO!
Cocaine Rodeo, 12a. Taped my fingers today, with them being a bit achey.
Each new climb brought new Triggers to surface, and I created new or used old Helpers to overcome. It wasn’t any easier, as each day passed on my trip. In fact, shortly after sending Cocaine Rodeo, I had all but a nervous breakdown on a much easier route with long spans between bolts. The fear became so irrational that I sobbed uncontrollably and nearly hyperventilated off the route. I came to my senses, got back on lead after a short break, and finished the climb to the anchors. A small salvaging of my pride and a large investment into the future of my climbing. After all, tomorrow is another day, and it would be one filled with the natural hot water springs of Thermopolis, Wyoming.
Cocaine Rodeo, 12a.
Day 8- The Try Hard Day
Louie heard about a newer area, not yet published in any guides, filled with intermediate to hard routes. Although the area of Crag 6 was the most beautiful sight so far, rain loomed in the air. With fewer visitors this crag was cleaner and more pristine. Everything had a sparkle to it.
The road out to Crag 6, storms brewing.
“Across the field toward two lone pine trees” was all the directions we had to go by.
It did end up raining, thundering, and hailing on us. When I say us, I mean Louie, since I was high up a steep 13a by then. He used the rope bag for shelter when the pelting started. There were no expectations for me on this route. We both wanted to see how I would fair overall on a grade that was possibly at or just past my limit.
I’m not sure why I started crying. I think there was some frustration, and simply acknowledging 13a was hard for me broke a little piece of my heart. My finger ached, and the rain was worsening. All of it culminating. When I came down from the top, after fighting my way through to the end, Louie was perplexed. He thought I had done a fantastic job, especially on the reachy parts of the route. We hugged it out, I talked about my feelings, and accepted the comfort of another person, my husband. Add that to the long list of things I don’t do well, but was learning.
There were many tracks along the path… and later we heard a moose calling.
The send selfie, all smiles for all the work and progress.
Behind me the sky was gathering, and getting ready to dump water!
Definitely a fossil of some sort, embedded in the rock we were climbing on.
The struggles of a solid 13! The Husband making the movement look easy!
Day 9- The Circus.
The Ten Sleep Climbers’ Festival was over the weekend that day 9 fell on. We wanted to stay cool, and so did a couple extra hundred people. The Circus area become just that. We all wanted to hide in the cool recesses of this steep skinny canyon, and Louie and I had the foresight to head out early. By the time we were done with this area the sun was creeping away from the walls at the mouth of the canyon, and even later would be defeated altogether by more rain clouds.
Alive and well, in many stages of transformation.
Butterflies of all sizes and colors were always flittering about.
After a solid week of climbing all my bones and muscles ached. That day was supposed to be a climbing ‘rest’ day. But once I looked down at Might Turn Into Something, 11d from the anchors of a comfortable 10 I was sure I needed this route in my life.
Finally, a stroke of pure inspiration. Before this climb I was giving into the process of projecting, but this route I wanted first go, on the sharp end, on lead. My mental limit. As I moved into the first crux sequence, I knew immediately I had read it all wrong. However, there was no turning back, already above the bolt and past return.
When you know you have chosen the wrong beta and you still commit on the off chance that you might be successful, high risk forms. I failed, missed the hold, but another form of success occurred. I had calmed the fear. Peering up at the hold, I then looked down at the bolt below my feet. A quick calculation told me the odds were high I would miss and fall. Another calculation told me all would be well, and I would be safe. As I plummeted down a high pitched and short scream lurched out of me. When I came to a stop, I beamed down at my husband, smiled grandly, and said, “I took the fall!”
My heart felt light, and I tried the route two more times before freeing it and myself completely. Pleased as punch, they say. With still a few more days of climbing ahead I knew I had come full circle. I even enjoyed the ride down a little.
Around the corner was the Question Wall, and a 12b named Why You Gotta Be A Bitch. Purely exhausted by this point I gave it my all on top rope, leaving nothing behind, and sent it clean, just as big gobs of rain began to fall. I would come back for this climb another trip. A driving force turned inside me.
Just before the send of Might Turn Into Something.
Local Indian Paintbrush.
Day 10- The End?
This turned out to be last day of our climbing. I was absolutely okay with that. I felt sure that what I came out to Ten Sleep to do, was complete, and I could do no more but enjoy the area.
Across the way from the main climbing area was the Godfather Boulder and the Psychoactive Wall. The Husband and I scampered up some 10’s and 11’s. My heart was half in it. Fingers, toes, elbows, shoulders, all ached from being beaten down. One final 11b/c climb, Gloom, broke my spirit. I was done, and my first bail biner was left behind.
Another reason we were done climbing, too many falls for this rope.
The rest of the trip was filled with town activities for the 4th of July, driving back to the Tetons through the Togawotte Lodge, and into Jackson Hole for a last scenic view, flying out the next day.
For more information on the rest day and town activities see my next post soon, Rest Day.
I sign off this post…
I was Adventurous,