How one of my worst climbing days led me to my greatest achievement
Women Rock Climbing | Rock Climbing | Training for Climbing | Climbing Tips
When I think back on one of the proudest moments of my climbing career, I almost immediately remember one of my worst experiences. Both occurred at Indian Creek, Utah.
The first time I went to Indian Creek (an area known for sandstone crack climbing), I was truly awful. I stood terrified at the bottom of my very first 60’ splitter crack looking up in vain for anything I could grab onto (spoiler alert: there was nothing).
What happened next was what I like to call my denial phase. Sure, in crack climbing you're supposed to jam your hands and feet into the crack to climb up. However, surely I, your very average Colorado Front Range climber, could figure out a way to climb the route by completely avoiding jamming anything into the crack in front of me.
There I was ten entire minutes later: sweating, grunting, and mostly flailing. I was an entire two feet off the ground.
It was then that I realized that it might be smart to stop fighting the crack and instead try some actual crack climbing technique.
Another ten minutes went by, as did many unsuccessful attempts at jamming my hands and feet into the splitter cracks. I gave up--I had no clue what I was doing. Completely frustrated, I burst into tears.
In the midst of all of those tears, I happened to look up and see an awesome woman cruising up the route next to us. That's when I distinctly remember thinking, 'I'm NEVER going to be able to do that.'
I left that trip feeling like a failure.
I didn’t go back to Indian Creek for a long time—my ego was bruised (and so were my hands and feet). Eventually, the beautiful blue skies, desert landscape, and my nutty friends who were so stoked on climbing in the desert pulled me back to the base of another 60’ crack climb. My only goal that day was to have fun and strangely, with an open mind and very few expectations, I did!
Over the years, I continued to return to this crack climbing paradise with a new goal each time: get to the top of a route; get to the top of several routes; work on more efficient crack climbing technique; lead a route.
Four whole years after my first not-so-great trip to Indian Creek, I stunned myself by leading not one, but two 5.10s. I was so overwhelmed after my first lead that I cried tears of joy when I got down.
Left photo: Elisabeth placing gear on a short route in Indian Creek, Utah. Right photo: crying tears of joy after leading what once seemed impossible.
I immediately thought back to my very first trip to the desert and how I never in a million years thought I’d accomplish what I just had. I couldn't believe that for a few moments, I was just like that crusher I saw on my very first trip to the desert!
After reflecting on my experience, I identified a few tips that helped me get from the miserable sufferfest that first trip was to one of the best climbing days of my life:
- Don’t limit yourself. The brain is a very powerful thing. If your first thought is, ‘I can’t do that!’, you probably won’t. Try approaching a route with an open mind and see where it takes you—you’ll likely surprise yourself.
- Don’t let “the shoulds” get you down. You know what always seems to make a frustrating climbing experience worse? Telling yourself that YOU SHOULD HAVE been able to it better. Climbing can be an incredibly humbling experience with never ending opportunities to learn (about climbing and yourself). Don’t sit in your shoulds. Get up, dust yourself off, and focus on what you’re going to try to do better next time.
- Look for the opportunity to learn. No matter how bad a climbing experience seems, most of the time there’s always a lesson to take from it. If you find yourself getting frustrated, stop, breathe, and try to break down your challenge—what is one thing you want to work on improving and focus on that. Better footwork? Trusting your feet? Better body positioning? It may feel like a sufferfest at the moment, but it won’t always. I promise.
- Persistence is key. Most big climbing wins aren’t generally won by luck or chance. Showing up consistently, even when you don’t want to, is a great way to snag your next big climbing victory.
Elisabeth Williams is the Digital Content Manager for Movement.