The Chains That Bind Us

The top.  The summit.  The chains.  No matter how you refer to it, success is often measured solely by whether or not you've "sent".  Fact is, seeing the "chains" as the sole representation of success is holding you back.  And you.  And you.  

Last Tuesday, I went to Red River with my friend and climbing partner, Justin Riddell.  We're both excited about training, about climbing, and, well, about sending.  Justin had whittled his project, "The Return Of Darth Moll" (13b) down to the point where it seemed the only progress to make was to send, and that was his goal for the day.  As temperatures were still in the mid-high 80's, and my project, "Swingline" (13d) involves a few slopey, condition dependent crux holds, my goal was to try and onsight a 12d called "Mind Meld".  

"The Return Of Darth Moll", like most lines at the Darkside, is in your face from the first move, and doesn't let up until bolt #4, where it culminates in the crux move, hitting a finicky sidepull from a tension demanding undercling, and unwinding out of it.  On his first run of the day, Justin hit the sidepull... barely.  He didn't quite get into the hold, and wasn't able to make the tough transition out of it.  However, it was progress, and he felt even closer to the goal of the day.

Up next, I planned my sequence on "Mind Meld", taking note of thumb prints to determine the direction of pull on the temperamental pockets, making decisions about where to clip the scary 3rd bolt, and coming up with a plan B for the cruxy pocket section.  I pulled on, climbed without hesitation, quickly found myself clipping the high 3rd bolt, and moved into territory I had misread from the ground.  I had to really fight through a hard to read sequence, and with fingers opening, faced one last big move to what I assumed was a jug leading to easier climbing.  I blew it.  My high right heel hook got in the way of my arm, stopping my momentum, and I just missed latching the jug.  Rejection.

Attempt #2:  Justin knows it's close, and is gunning for the chains.  He climbs fast through the long intro sequence and just as he had planned, hits the move again.  And is stuck.  Again.  Not the plan.

Attempt #3:  After a short rest, and feeling ready, Justin fires up to the undercling again.  This time he hits the sidepull solid.  And is stuck.  Again.  He digs in deeper, unwinds, and doesn't quite get to the next hold.  Knowing he doesn't have the juice to try again, he continues up the unrelenting top to keep those moves fresh in his mind for next Tuesday.

Justin on Darth Moll.  Photo by Elodie Saracco

No chains, no summit, no send.  No parades or screaming, adoring fans.  We both failed.  Or did we?  One of the beautiful things about rockclimbing is that we're only pitted against ourselves.  We'll never be stronger than the rock, it simply allows our passage from time to time.  The real goal everytime we get on a route, or step up to a hangboard isn't to emerge victorious.  It's to better ourselves.  To improve.  To find evidence that we're moving in the right direction.  Justin stuck the move.  A move that 2 years ago felt nearly impossible for him.  Soon he'll stick the move and climb past it, and clip the chains that were his goal last week.  Tuesday was progress.  After twice freezing at the move, he was able to dig in and unwind toward the next hold.  At the top, at the end of the day, he dug even deeper, and had to really convince himself to keep going.  It worked, and now he knows he can get through that section with little left in the tank.  That's progress.  Progress that will soon yield big results.

As for me, you either onsight, or you don't.  I didn't.  However, there are a number of positives I can take away from the experience.  "Mind Meld" is a far more bouldery route than I've ever onsighted at that level, and I nearly pulled it off.  I moved confident through the long bouldery section, never second guessing my planned sequence.  I fought until total failure, pulling out tricks and staying patient, and it nearly got me there.  Soon it will.  My chance on this route is past, but there are thousands more waiting, and "Mind Meld" was just a springboard. 

Progress can come in small doses.  Look for those little bits of improvement with every attempt.  Something as small and subjective as feeling more comfortable on a foot smear can mean the difference between sending or not, so learn to be happy about every little tidbit you get.  I love clipping the chains just as much as you do.  I also love the journey.  Failure is what provides us the roadmap to that journey, and without it, we'll never see success.