Foreword: I chose to write this blog on three specific days. The first was shortly after I failed to climb the route, the second was when I learned a crucial lesson from my failure, and the third is today, the day I am publishing the post. Three essential stages of reflecting.
1 - Failing
Today is the second day since I tried la danse de l'Ours (the bear dance), a beautiful 5.12a route on the slab section of Montange D'argent in Quebec's Laurentides.
I first saw the route last Fall when I first began climbing outdoors. I remember appreciating the diagonal lines which formed large diamond shapes on the slightly overhung face, thinking to myself how I would place my body between them. Two days ago, on an overcast, grayish day, Facundo, Hani and myself headed to the mountain for some casual climbing, and while looking through the listed climbs I was drawn to the grade 5.12a, which stood out amongst the easier routes within the sector.
Standing below the route I was quickly reminded of my previous memory of it, and rushed to my friends to ask if I could climb it later on in the day, they happily agreed and Facundo was excited to try it with me.
My friends climbing Luck Luke 5.10b
After casually climbing up the crag classics: Pathfinder 5.10a and Lucky Luke 5.10b, I felt ready to dedicate the rest of the day to the 5.12a Bear Dance. Without a break I strapped into my "dad sandals" and scoped out the first few moves of the route. I quickly established a sequence to reach the first bolt three meters above.
Trading in my Velcro strap sandals for my nicest pair of La Sportiva climbing shoes I shakily performed the sequence over dagger-like rocks, which I imagined impaling myself on as I pulled the rope through the first quick-draw. My climbing instincts kicked in as I shifted my weight to the nearest crack to my right.
I am in uncharted territory three moves into the climb...
I hold my breath as I push and pull my way to the nearest "hold"; a two finger needle pinch three inches too high for my shoulder to activate properly. I squeeze my core and power through my feet in a full extension to a two finger pocket. The second bolt is level with my eyes, I can see it over my inflated cheeks, still holding my breath desperately. I raise my left foot below my waist and pull up to a standing position.
I feel the heat of my chest rising through my long sleeves towards my softening fingertips. While my left hand nervously searches for my quick draws, I imagine pebbles of sweat collecting around my right hand.
"Just clip in" I repeat in my mind.
My body softens as I feed the rope through the quick-draw. I relax, eyes shut... moments pass... and I realize: I am still comfortably holding on to the mountain face. "I'm not pumped? I haven't slipped off? I can still keep going?" In great excitement I scanned the wall for my next movement. Left? Right? Up? The possibilities were endless, I have all the energy in the world! WHERE DO I GO?
"WOW! Nice try!": an ecstatic voice sounded from below.
It was over, I slipped.
Facundo lowers me to the ground as I make sense of it all. My mind clears and I quickly reset for a second attempt.
We pull the rope back down and again I climb through the unknown, this time with a bit more confidence and bravado. I reach the second clip feeling an uncomfortable tweak in my left shoulder; it reminded me of the weakness I felt when I tore my rotator cuff while Kitesurfing. Shaking it out I continued onward.
I pull myself to the left while balancing on millimetre thin edges towards a decent hold above. My eyes hastily scan the dark granite for chalk marks as my legs begin to shake with nervous excitement. I reach up to another good hold and place my feet higher.
Two moves to the next bolt!
Another three finger pinch for my left hand allows me to spread my legs along the top of a diamond shaped fissure. My right hand awaits instruction as my mind battles between pulling the rope into the next quick-draw or climbing on to the next hold.
Hesitation gets the best of me and I hang once again, in the rope.
After a self imposed 15 minute break I repeated this process three, four, five times in a row with no progression. Frustration, anger and self pity clouded my childlike spirit as a soft drizzle turned the dry rock face into a chalky, slippery mess.
As I untied myself from the mountain I felt an unparalleled disappointment in myself and was convinced that everyone whom considers me a "climber" shared that disappointment. I felt alone, in a corner surrounded by my darkest emotions. This failure meant more than an incomplete route, as it suggested that all my efforts of the past year: practicing in the gym, hanging on a hangboard, building muscle, learning technique, training during quarantine, investing my entirety, amounted to failure in the face of my first worthy challenge.
In my mind I deserved this route.
2 - Learning
Reflecting inwards into the root cause of my frustration with failure, it is clear to me that it reaches far back into my privileged childhood. Though I was far from being a spoiled child (rarely asking for material things) I definitely was a privileged child, often getting what I wanted, when I wanted. Luckily the things I wanted usually revolved around athleticism, creativity and adventure, which resulted in a generally "down to earth" character. Ultimately the instant gratification I experienced at an early age has weakened my ability to commit to long term challenges.
I felt I deserved to succeed that day, as if I didn't have to try my best to achieve what I wanted to, and rather that it should be given to me. That all my previous training and efforts at the gym should magically manifest into success. This made me wonder how the top climbers in the world experience failure, and what questions it raises in their minds.
When challenged: how far do their natural talents take them? How much of their success is owed to training and how much of it stems from effort? How hard do they try?
I require guidance.
And so I looked where any climbing addict would: a 10 year old Rock and Ice magazine titled Wild Lines.
In the final section of the magazine a single page is dedicated to reviews of rock climbing related books. While in bed wiggling my toes to some tunes on my phone, I came across the book that would change my mentality forever.
The Rock Warrior's Way by Arno Ilgner
3 - Change
My second day trying The Bear Dance 5.12a
It had been five days since I had tried The Bear Dance.
Me and Hani returned on a sunny, crisp day to Montange D'argent for me to retry it., and this time I had a new strategy to succeed on the route: The Rock Warrior's Way; a system to focus your attention on pure performance. The idea is to rid yourself of all your doubts and preconceptions of the approaching challenge and quiet your mind to allow your intuitive nature to come forward. Allowing you to face the challenge for what it is, rather than nervously fighting to escape it.
I stood beneath the route with a clear mind and felt casual in nature. Although I truly desired the success it was not the first thing on my mind, as I prepared myself to learn from every outcome the route could present.
My performance would be as intentional and vital as a Samurai Warrior facing off against his most matched opponent.
With a rhythmic breath I would flow through the climb unhindered by the approaching possibilities.
I felt free as I stepped onto the rock. I felt weightless.
With no desired outcome in mind, my explorative nature guided me from hold to hold, from foot-placement to foot-placement. With a beautiful breeze up my back I carried myself up the route. As soon as I clipped myself to the chains I recognized that I wasn't chasing any sort of finale nor was there a climactic "finish" to the route, instead I was consistently in the zone, flowing up the rock face.
Having learned so much from accomplishing my goal, adds a richness to the experience. Not only was I able to successfully climb my first 5.12a, I also learned valuable lessons which I can apply to all the challenges I will face in the future.
I would urge all climbers to search for some literature which would help guide them to success and progression. At the end of the day the mind should be trained as thoroughly as the muscles, for your most matched opponent is often found within yourself.