Our egos are ruthless. Whether we want them to be or not, they are always there, hiding just beneath the surface ready to throw a wrench in the works. I recently spoke with a climber who was feeling, for the first time ever, competitive about his climbing. I've seen climbers stop a workout early because they, admittedly, didn't want to "look bad" by failing on a 5.11 in front of people. This past weekend, at Rocktown in Georgia, I encountered it myself, for the first time in quite a while.
The day started off strong, having onsighted a V5 while warming up and sending my V8 project, "The Vagina", in a just a few attempts. I figured that with temps nearing perfection, now would be the time to go check out my ultimate "dream boulder", Golden Harvest (V10). As I approached the boulder from the backside, I could hear voices, and strangely, found myself hoping that the climbers were working on the V4 next to Golden Harvest. They weren't. There were 3 guys working on Golden Harvest, and according to the incessant spray, they were all close to sending. They looked strong. They were obviously dedicated boulderers, while I toted around a pad thats older than their climbing careers. I took a little time to commit, not wanting to make a fool of myself by falling off the first moves, which from the looks of things, were quite difficult.
After watching several attempts from the climbers, and taking a deep breath, I found myself standing at the start holds of one of the most beautiful boulders in the Southeast. I had watched the beta intently, visualized myself making the first couple of moves, and stepped on without hesitation. To my suprise, the (what had appeared to be difficult) first move went easily. I almost hesitated on the second move, thinking that I must be doing something wrong for it to feel this doable. On my first try, I was able to get set up for the crux move, and move toward the distant, hard to snag hold. I was nowhere even close to hitting it, but on my first attempt, had equaled the high point of these "stronger" climbers, and more importantly, had vanquished the jitters.
While sitting there on my ancient pad, psyching up to commit to trying, I had a few important thoughts. Regardless of the outcome, the situation was going to end up a positive one. Here's why.
1. Playing It Safe Is The Biggest Risk Of All.
How many times have you returned home from a climbing trip only to say to yourself, "Damn, I should have at least TRIED it while I was there." The cost of missed opportunities is far greater than what you pay for the attempt. In my case, it was important for me just to try the boulder. I had admired it many times, and many times had left, wondering what it would take to climb it. Now I have a much better idea.
2. "Trick" Yourself Into Believing.
The human psyche is a complex thing. If you don't believe something, you can't just tell yourself to believe it, and POOF!, it's done. While it isn't necessarily a "trick", you do have to find creative ways to convince yourself to believe. Because it isn't steep, and the holds are sloping sidepulls and odd underclings, it became immediately clear that Golden Harvest is all about balance, body position, and subtle movement. If I had to rank my climbing skills, those 3 would be at the top of the list. Also, while watching, one of the climbers, the most vocal of the group, claimed to have gotten a foot "not quite right", though it appeared to me to be a straightforward foot cam that any crack climber would own. This boulder was mine for the taking.
3. Throw Your Hat Over The Fence.
If you want to climb the fence, but can't muster the courage, throw your hat over. Now you've got to climb the damn thing, or the hat is lost forever. For me, it makes me work harder if I announce my intentions. When the guys asked me if I wanted to try the problem, I responded "Someday I'm going to do it, so I may as well try it today." Sometimes I talk without thinking, and maybe over confidently, but it's worked for me so far. I had already told my friends I was going to check it out, and now I had told these guys. At that point, there isn't much choice but to give it a go. More often than not, I'm glad I speak up.
4. When In Doubt, Remember The Ewoks.
Now, I'm not a Star Wars nerd by choice, but by default. Two roommates of mine in a row knew more about the stories than George Lucas did. I've lost more games of Star Wars trivial pursuit than I can count. Regardless, there are stories in the films that I constantly refer back to. One of these is the Ewoks. Originally, Lucas had Wookies in mind for the battle with the Empire. He wanted to accentuate the idea that simplicity could overpower technology, so he created a new species, the Ewok, to fight (and beat) the Empire. I'm also not a full fledged boulderer, but I've become part boulderer by necessity. No, I didn't have the latest crash pad, or a brand new chalk pot. I still climb more like a route climber than a boulderer. I hadn't done a single V10, and only one V9, while these guys sprayed about their packed tick lists. In short, I was intimidated. Once I took a minute to remember that my training and my skills were what I had to fall back on, and that the only competition was between Golden Harvest and I, all of what I wasn't didn't seem to matter so much. What mattered is what I am, and that I was standing exactly where I wanted to be.
To wind up, let me leave you with a video short by Derek Thatcher that nicely captures the beauty and subtle power of the boulder problem known as Golden Harvest.