Archives for category: climbing

Now that I’m in a mental space that allows me to lead into the high-5.11s and pull moves on lead with the confidence I have on top rope without that paralyzing resistance I used to feel leading low-5.10s just a couple weeks ago, I’m left wondering — what happened to the fear?

I guess I should back up first — what is my fear? All the fear I contend with in my everyday life comes from an irrational space. With regards to climbing, I’m tied into a rope, clipped well above decking risk. Rationally, I can understand that I’m not in danger, but I sometimes can’t make myself believe it. This fear is a wasteful use of energy. It’s anxiety; it’s my brain dreaming up the unreal what-ifs that won’t happen, distracting me from what is right in front of me. It’s always my brain, isn’t it?

I know for a fact that the onset of the climbing slump happened when I fell off the daily meditation wagon. A schedule change hit me pretty hard and “I’ll practice tomorrow” turned into weeks of postponement. I also know for a fact that the slump abated when I started meditating every day again.

Meditation is an exercise in disciplining the mind. I can find meditation in my activities (climbing, riding, playing music), but in all those exercises, the focus is diluted by involving more variables (physical movement, auditory input). When I’m sitting, my effort is in keeping my focus on one thing and one thing only. This is how the formal practice differs from the informal practice. In any other activity that might feel meditative, there is no way to limit the focus to just one thing. This isn’t to say that the informal practice isn’t important or invalid (on the contrary, the informal practice is a necessary application to make the formal practice relevant to real life — why practice at all if it only benefits me on the cushion?), but I do believe that there is nothing that can take the place of a formal meditation practice.

The expert expects to find a way to climb through the hard sections so he quickly homes in on that way. He expects to be able to rest, and he finds rest positions. We, on the other hand, home in on the difficulties, the obstacles, and the certainty that we will become exhausted. The expert knows there may be difficult moves, but is confident he will find a way, and that he has enough reserve for a climb of this difficulty. We balk at hard moves because we fear we won’t make it unless we do them exactly right. We fear the moves will exhaust our reserves,and we won’t be able to cope with what follows. These are mental habits produced by our image of our abilities. This image, not our lack of strength or technique, is our most limiting factor.
       Arno Ilgner, “The Rock Warrior’s Way”

I’ve noticed that since I’ve started sitting regularly a couple years ago, I second-guess myself much less often and I regret those split-second decisions less and less all the time. I perceive situations more accurately and I’m able to do it more quickly. Nothing happens in a vacuum, so it makes sense that these changes would affect how I climb, too. It’s helped me see routes from the perch of curiosity, not fear, and I’m able to use my brain for problem-solving, rather than fantasizing fear-inducing scenarios. I don’t know how the practice works; I just know that it does and so, I sit again tonight.

TR 12a[12b stem](11b)
L 11a(11a)
B 3/4(2/3)

I’m finally out of my slump that lasted seemingly-forever and I’ve had multiple personal-record-breaking sessions in the last week — on-sighting high-5.10s/11a’s on lead, plus leading 11d’s indoors. Woopwoop. Climbing (and falling) is fun again! (And a reminder to self: meditation works. Duh.)

I’m worked. I have a decent amount of mental energy and upper body strength left, but my lower body hasn’t been this exhausted in a very, very long time. Admittedly, I tend to have a weak lower body, but a five hour hike (75% of it with a 20+lbs pack with lots of uphill stair-casey single track and scrambling) and lead-climbing for almost nine hours of non-stop movement really tested my physical limits.

The shitty thing about climbing is always the approach and the descent. Unfortunately, whether you’re a large-framed 6′ tall male or a small-framed 5′ short female, the minimum amount of gear required to climb safely is the same. And carrying gear is a part of climbing. I was lucky today to have a partner who was willing to swap packs after I’d finished testing my physical limits, so I got to max my body out in my fun(??) experiment in seeing how fatigue, hunger, exposure to the sun and wind, and a demoralizing one-hour off-trail detour affected my head game once on the crag.

After years of needing to coddle my body, I’m extremely happy with how well I coped physically. I successfully led and multipitched for the first time with my also-learning partner with minimal verbal guidance from below. I never felt unsafe until the surprise rattlesnake encounter by our hike leader on the hike out. I’m writing this after getting home and going to a social event, while not having a headache. It still feels borderline miraculous to have a body functioning this well.

Trip summary: We should have been much more prepared for the strenuous hike, navigating, and having enough sustenance. But I’d consider it a personal success and I think a group success in how we overcame obstacles and worked as a team.


Beautiful rocks and beautiful people to witness my learning to lead and rappel outdoors and working on my nerves.

I went bouldering indoors in two different cities in Japan, and realized that it’s still quite a men’s sport, even more so than in the States. Shortly after I started warming up this morning, I heard a voice behind me exclaim, “すごい〜” (Wow!). I down-climbed to applause and once I got down, I turned around to see a small girl, maybe four, grinning at me. She saw my face and looked at me with curiosity, then narrowed her eyes before carefully saying, “…お姉さんなの?” (Are you a girl?). Her mom snapped, “ゆい!” (her name, in admonishment), but I smiled at her and replied in affirmation. Her eyes widened in wonder and I could practically see the gears turning in her head, “A girl! Climbing! To the top like the boys!”

She asked loudly in succession, “お姉さん何歳?” (How old are you?) and “結婚してるのぉ?” (Are you married?) much to her mom’s chagrin and I kept blowing her mind with a view of female adulthood rarely celebrated in Japan. Here was a 31 year old female, unmarried, living with a cat and a dog, still quite capably climbing routes that might as well have been V10s to her. It turns out that my voluntary barrenness doesn’t hinder my abilities. 

She followed me around for the next fifteen minutes, shouting “もっと見せて!” (Show me more!) and clapping as I sent routes. She shyly refused to climb until I coaxed her to climb a rainbow route before she had to leave and she clambered her way up, muttering something about not being very good. Midway, she stopped and said, “できない!” (I can’t), but with a little coaching, she found another foot and grabbed another hold. Her mom watched her daughter in awe as she climbed higher than she had ever climbed before.

When she got down, I told her, “クライミングに「できない」はないからね” (There’s no “can’t” in climbing) and we chatted about what it means to be “good,” something I wish I had heard when I was younger. As long as you have the persistence to practice and the courage to try, there is always a path to the top. I hope she remembers that as she grows up in a far more constrained society than the one I was blessed to grow up in and I hope her older sister who was much more inhibited and hanging back but still watching us, overheard snippets of my conversation with her little sister. Japan isn’t an easy place to grow up as a bold woman, but I know it can be done — I know of successful women in my lineage who refuse to bow to the superficial demands of femininity as deemed by the society they live in. I’m lucky to be surrounded in my everyday life by women who dare to do what makes their heart sing and march to the beat of their own drum, the one that resonates from deep within if we find the quietness to listen. I’m grateful to those who have mentored me and those who have shown me how to find peace by example and I’m excited to stand among them as teachers to the next generation, especially with my young niece just starting her journey.

On a relevant note, A and I saw an Engrish sign in Kyoto for a women’s clinic whose slogan was “for Female Fetus Family and Future” and I couldn’t agree more.

TR 11d[12b stem](11a)
L 11a(10d)
B 3/4(2/3)