This was supposed to be the easy line. Soft sticks, a fun groove, and good stems made for fun climbing. Somewhere along the way though, everything changed – Now I’m 20 feet out from my last screw snd I’m absolutely terrified.
How did I even end up here? Chris started the line but decided at the midway ledge that he just wasn’t feeling it. I volunteered to finish it off… it looked like it might be a hard 4 or a 4+… nothing too bad really. It’s a little tricky getting onto the pillar from the midway ledge, but looks straight-forward from there on.
About 3/4 of the way up the pillar I manage a bomber left tool. I move up a bit and place my right tool. A sickening feeling engulfs me as I watch a fracture form a dinner plate around my right tool, the crack running down along what once was my well-seated left tool. At this point I’m maybe 10 feet from my last screw and the calm, confident feeling I had moments ago has disappeared into the ether.
Fear engulfs me. At this point I’m supremely focused, only seeing the path above when the situation calls for a broader view. There is a path above, but I fail to recognize the other options. All I need to do is replace my right tool and put it back in the pick hole below from which I had removed it. I can move down a foot and place a screw, thereby paving the way for a safer path upward. I don’t see this though. All I know is that I have to move, and in climbing, the obvious line is up.
I commit to the two dubious sticks and bump my feet up just a few inches… enough to allow me to reach above the dinner plate with my right tool. All is now good, except no one has told my overactive imagination. My confidence is shot. I’m afraid. All I can think of is “don’t fall”, when I should be focusing on finding good feet, relaxing, breathing, avoiding over-gripping my tools.
I keep moving up, but I’m holding on for dear life. I’m climbing scared, like I’ve never climbed a steep line before. I forget everything I need to keep things in control. My forearms are completely pumped and I need to get in a screw. I don’t know if I can hold on if I stop though. I know I’m running it out, risking a huge fall if I fuck up. It’s only another body length to the top of the pillar.
I throw my tools into the top of the pillar. Perhaps that’s a bit too strong a statement – in reality, I flail with limp arms, hoping that I’ll be able to get the two tools to stick. The left is good, but the right seems wobbly – I’m too spent to be able to work with just the left though, and the shaky right will have to do. I’m finally off my arms, though I’m still holding on to my tools like they’re life preservers.
I work on getting in a screw, but it’s a slow, arduous task. Once it’s started, I have to stop and shake out with what seems like every half turn. Finally, it’s in and I clip the rope. Now at least there isn’t the risk of hitting the ledge 40′ below me. I scamper up onto the ledge above the pillar and camp out for what seems like an eternity. I never want to leave the flat-footed stance. I don’t want to climb the 20 or so feet of easy ice above to the trees. When the feeling returns to my arms, however, that is exactly what I do.
There’s no avoiding fear in life. That we we are afraid doesn’t matter; how we respond to that fear does. I will continue to challenge my fears, to face them down, to control my responses, and overcome them. I won’t let my fears overwhelm me and cloud my judgements. The fear will always be there, but I’ll adopt a broader point of view, open myself up to all the options, and I’ll find the best line.