We’re All Beginners In Some Way

We’re All Beginners In Some Way

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s such a strange experience to be continuously revising and changing my climbing technique at this point in my climbing career. It’s about 10 days until my 20th anniversary of the first day I ever went rock climbing, and yet I often still feel like a total beginner out there, particularly when I’m on steep rock climbs with powerful moves.

This was Alli Rainey describing her feelings after reaching a new understanding about an aspect of her climbing she had struggled with previously.

For me its these types of moments, moments that are often unexpected surprises, that keep the sport of climbing interesting.  Even though the act of climbing is innate in all humans, the application of this innate activity through the sport of rock climbing is something that offers continual opportunities for us as climbers to grow both physically and mentally.  It’s one of the reasons we put up with all the downsides to climbing—expense, injury, general sacrifice of other life priorities, etc.  These thoughts were in the forefront of my mind as I returned from a trip to the Red River Gorge the other weekend.

I had an uneven late winter in the gym so my expectations for the trip were low.  The first couple of days were spent climbing new-to-me routes and the last day we ventured to Bronaugh Wall where I had hopes of sending a route called Belly Of The Beast (5.12c), a route that had rebuffed my efforts previously.  5.12c is obviously not an extreme grade, but it is a grade that I don’t climb all that often.  In adddition, the combination of a high volume of climbing and excessive alcohol consumption in days prior had me feeling a little worse for the wear.  Expectations were low.

My first try of the day went poorly but I chalked that up to a beta burn.  The second try went much better.  I climbed through the physical crux only to find myself hanging on the rope after failing to decipher a tricky sequence guarding the anchors.  In my desire to save energy I had not revisited this section of the route on my beta burn since my memory was that this section was not hard.  I was wrong.  Lesson learned.

After much back and forth I decided to give the route one last go.  Last day best day, last go best go.  Isn’t that what all the cool kids say?  So I set off for my 3rd try of the day, feeling haggard the entire way.  I somehow managed to pull the physical crux at mid-height and found myself on the top section in a similar state as my prior attempt:  totally out of gas.  Thanks to my previous burn though I had a better game plan for how to recover before tackling the brief redpoint crux, and I managed to clip the chains.  Psyched.  And another lesson was learned.

So, this post was not just a long, thinly veiled humble brag1.  Rather, it was an attempt to highlight two simple, yet sometimes forgotten lessons of sport climbing:

  1. Make sure you know where you are going.  Once you fail on your onsight/flash/redpoint burn use that time to make sure you are familiar with all that a given route entails.  Besides, if you’re over the age of 15 your memory is probably a lot worse than you think it is.
  2. It’s amazing what your body is capable of doing when you least expect it.  Leveraging the familiarity of a recent burn to more efficiently climb a route can yield surprising results, even if you feel like garbage while doing it.  Remember, it’s not about how terrible you look when sending the route, it’s about how many points you’re to get for logging that send on your 8a scorecard.  Not really.  Sort of.

Obviously these concepts are not new or groundbreaking, but I know that I personally tend to forget them quite frequently.  I spent several years at the beginning of my sport climbing career constantly waiting to feel 100% fresh before trying to send harder routes.  This might be necessary for climbs at the upper limits of one’s skill level, but that seems like the exception to me.  So, next time you’re feeling that you’re too tired to send follow these simple rules:

  1. Take to your favorite social media platform and lament the fact that your day is hopeless2.
  2. Crush your hopes of sending by wasting a few attempts re-learning beta and botching the send on your first couple of goes
  3. Give up for the day
  4. Send
  5. Celebrate by eating pizza at Miguel’s

Piece of cake!

  1.  Besides, it’s hard to brag about climbing a 5.12c when a 10-year-old girl climbed 5.14a in the same area just a few days earlier
  2.  I recommend using twitter and tweeting using the hashtags #lastdaybestday and #lastgobestgo

Posted In: From The Narc


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6 Responses to We’re All Beginners In Some Way

  1. texasclimber April 23, 2012 at 8:48 am #

    congrats on the send!!!! belly is the JAM!

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  2. eric April 23, 2012 at 9:11 am #

    That route was my nemises last summer. I sort of did what you did. I worked it one day, but mostly the crux at bolt 5, then came back and went for the send a couple days later. I fell going to that last bolt. Then I gave it another burn, and got through the lower crux and had a jug break off around that 6th or 7th bolt area causing me to fall. but third time that day was a charm. Nice send!

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  3. ktmt April 23, 2012 at 9:19 am #

    Perfectly put. You nailed it! The majority of my climbing is done evenings after work. In the summer, this means trying hard projects at 9 o’clock at night, following the stress of a long work day, when it makes much more sense to be at home collapsed on the couch. But it’s amazing how, if you just get yourself to grab the first hold of the climb and start up, in spite of your conscious mind crying “sleep” “beer” “food”, the adrenaline kicks in and somehow the body responds and you can find yourself performing at a high level.

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  4. climb2core April 23, 2012 at 10:37 am #

    I think that the quality of one’s climbing technique is how composed they can appear even when thoroughly gripped. Narc is a climber that defines that concept. He appeared to effortlessly send that rig (and several other lines). Upon lowering you would hear him lament “I was pumped and barely made it!” Personally I think we can credit your send to the fresh brushing that Belly had received 😉

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    • Narc April 23, 2012 at 10:42 am #

      Yes! That brushing was crucial!!

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      • climb2core April 23, 2012 at 2:07 pm #


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