Why I nearly gave up climbing.

Last Saturday I nearly gave up climbing for good.  We’d been away, and been busy, and it had been a whole month since I’d approached a wall.  My calluses were all soft.  So was the rest of me.  But I was looking forward to working hard, pushing up, and feeling strong again.

Little did I know, the gym had something else in mind.  We started just traversing around the gym.  It felt a little less balanced than I remembered, but otherwise fine.  My feet and my fingers remembered what to do.  I slithered into my harness, and it felt a bit strange, but familiar.  Then I chose a good route to start – nothing on the edge of my abilities, but not the easiest thing.  A route with big holds, no massive reach, but with good flow.  It’s an interesting sequence because you’re forced to switch your body weight around, moving right or left as well as up.

Off I went: push up, grab, balance, lean; push up, grab, switch feet, lean; onward and upward.  It felt smooth and strong and controlled.  But three moves from the top, I got stuck.  Completely, perplexingly, stuck.  I was sure I’d done this route before, but it now seemed impossible.  I tried and tried, switch feet, turned my body, lost my grip and swung.  I swung back, grabbed on and tried again.  Why couldn’t I do it?

Eventually Ryan let me down, but I was angry and frustrated.  I tried a couple of stupidly easy climbs, but they didn’t make me feel any better.  Anything remotely difficult had me beat.  I belayed for Ryan for a bit, relieved that he was no longer watching me climb so badly.  He climbs extremely well and he’d scoped the gym for the newest, hardest climbs.  Of course, he scampered up two with no problems before he found one that he couldn’t flash.  This mostly made me feel worse, but at least I felt I was being a useful belay slave.

He came down to discuss the move he was having trouble with.  It looked tricky – leaning over a feature almost his full reach, while balanced on a small, crimpy foot hold.  Really no hand-holds for balance.  I gave what seemed an obvious suggestion, and was met with a response of “Well, duh!” and he turned back to the wall.

Duh, indeed.  I kept belaying, but I think I shut down all communications.  I couldn’t climb, and it seemed I couldn’t say anything helpful about climbing either.  I wanted to leave.  Mostly, I wanted to cry.   I couldn’t figure out why I’d bothered so long with a sport I was obviously unsuited to.  All the people I climb with are much stronger climbers than me, and at that moment it seemed pointless tagging along any longer.

We left.  On the way home I wondered if I’d ever feel like going back.  It didn’t seem likely.

That evening, I was due to attend a bellydance party where many students would be performing, some for the first time.  I went, despite my deepening bad mood, and had a wonderful time.  Here were a bunch of beautiful women, all getting up to dance.  Some were nervous, some were happy – some were amazing and skillful, and others had only enthusiasm and shiny costumes to keep them up on stage.  But everyone was radiant.  I got suckered in to support a beginner class in a choreography I’d never learnt.  After two practices, I was up there in front of everyone, shimmying my heart out.  I didn’t mind at all when I misstepped – after all, I could hardly be expected to know it perfectly.  I danced at the back of the formation, grinning and laughing and dancing – and turning around a LOT to see what my teacher was doing.  It was a wonderful night.

I’ve been climbing twice since then.  I’m still not as strong as I was, but I’m getting better.  My attitude has certainly improved.  I’m trying hard to apply my dance perspective to climbing: it doesn’t matter how well I do and it doesn’t matter that I look different to everyone else.  There’s no point comparing this performance to the last one, because the next one will be different again.

All that matters is that I’m up there.  And joyfully.

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2 responses to “Why I nearly gave up climbing.

  1. mate, it happens.

    the first time i went climbing was in 2001 as a teenager at sydney uni. i enjoyed it but the demands of study, work and lack of money seemed to thwart my attempts of progressing.

    i left sydney uni and transferred to another uni. my interest in climbing became sporadic after that.

    i seemed to continually reach a plateau and either lose motivation or get sick, etc, causing me to stop.

    eventually i would return to a gym and see the people i knew climbing higher grades. there is a general feeling of being ‘left behind’. this feeling would be repeated over the next six or so years as i dabbled in climbing.

    being focused about climbing turned it into a grinding, routine affair. taking a break from climbing meant i lost progress which was discouraging.

    i have never climbed outdoors (despite wanting to) and never climbed beyond 19 inside a gym.

    but last week i returned to the gym. i’m a beginner again, in my mid-twenties. i think the key is to enjoy climbing and not think too much about progress. it has taken 7 years for me to learn this! maybe this time will be different!

    good luck to you.

  2. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with your belly dancing. The most important part is to have fun.

    I used to climb a lot with a group who were all better than me – mostly male climbers but even the ladies were strong. I would hit the gym twice as hard, be at the crag every weekend (work commitments permitting).

    My efforts to keep up with the rest of the group found me pushing boundaries I never thought I could extend beyond. I climbed grades I thought were impossible when I first started climbing. But I realised that the moment I took a break, my climbing would take a nose dive and it would be the most frustrating thing – one step forward, three steps back.

    For the longest time, I couldn’t accept it and every time I was forced away from the wall because of working weekends, business travel, I would come back harder than ever before to build it all back.

    Some events in my life made me take a very long break from climbing. When I went back to it, it was like starting all over again. Circumstances change and I no longer had the time to devote to training like I used to. Although I managed to bring up my climbing level a lot more quickly the second time around, I never got to the level I was at the first time. But, somehow, I was okay with that.

    Now I’m a Mum and I haven’t climbed for 2 1/2 years. Although I plan to climb again when my son is older, I realise that I’ll never climb like I used to.

    I’ve often thought of this realisation as coming to the second level of climbing – a sort of maturing process where I realise that I can’t climb as well as I used to and it’s totally okay.

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