How I feel on most of my climbing days.

Constant Falling and Other Sweaty Setbacks


I keep hitting the mats with my feet angled out in a squat position, my knees buckling inwards under my own weight, collapsing the way a trainer would tell you not to squat. I always forget to aim when I fall (understandably, I suppose) and then worry that I’ll tear my legs apart one day soon.

Next to me, a little kid makes a huge stretch move off a tiny toehold and hand pressed on a ledge. No grip, just trusting the friction. He misses his mark — his arms are so short — but still manages to be way more bad ass than me in the process.

I’ve stalled out.

I pick myself up from the chalk-soaked mats, and spend 30 seconds staring at the route, moving my hands unintelligibly, as if I’m puzzled by the beta.

In reality, I just can’t climb it. And it’s an easy route.

Why is my fear reflex so strong? I keep worrying that my sweaty, loose-fitting shoes will slip and I’ll come face first down this deadly 3-foot wall. Visions of crushing my groin on a jug or dribbling my face off the rock like wall ball dance in my mind. Worrying about falling makes my palms sweat, so I fall even more frequently.

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After an appropriate amount of time pretending to dial in the moves, I back away and wander to get water. En route to my bottle, I inevitably see another V4, attempt it without sufficiently resting, fall again and become so angry that I have to restrain myself from pulverizing the perfectly pH-balanced water bottle someone left on the mat’s edge.

I’m hooked on climbing, and I’m not good at climbing. (Not yet, I keep telling myself.) I’m not disciplined in the moment, only in my planning, ignoring my frequent promises to work my ‘power-endurance’ laps instead of just climbing random shit. I found a week’s free training plan online the other day. $40 seemed high to pay for it — after all, I’m new to climbing, I can’t have stalled out that quickly…

I figure that doing the week’s plan a few times should help.

I tell myself to do some of the laps — hard route, hard route, easy route that I won’t fall on — but I’m so pumped I don’t really get the quality of work now.

I slip a lot. My shoes feel like warm puddles, like the suspiciously-warm baby pool toddlers play in. I’m sliding around like those toddlers. But climbing in these ‘anti-performance’ shoes forces me to get better at footwork right?

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Silent victory as I hang, back parallel to the ground, and don’t make much noise jamming my feet in some holds. Caves are definitely my weakness (as are a majority of route styles) and I’m almost halfway through this one!

Then, once I’ve fallen, I notice the little girls warming up on this one. They lap it, with downclimbs, as I sit and stare at the campus-style crimps that have defeated me for a month. This route will probably be gone before I can send it.

One of the better gym days — meeting my climbing inspiration, the man himself: Jimmy Chin

Technically, I’m a V4 climber right? I sent one this summer. I’ll pretend that I didn’t hear that setter say it’s really a V3 with one big reach. You rated it V4, buddy, it’s a V4.

V4 isn’t too bad for a new climber. My buddy Tad has only climbed V6 in his life! Then again, maybe that’s cause he was too busy climbing Patagonia, Alaska, Indian and Pakistani Himalayas, and lapping the Sierras for breakfast…

I’m actually excited for tomorrow’s hangboard work, even though I’m bad at picking holds. I don’t usually fall off hangboards, which is morale-boosting. I think that my half crimps are pretty much the same as my full crimps though. I make a mental note to focus more on fingerwork.

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I walk out of the gym, livid and fully defeated. My work clothes are tight and suffocating, clinging to me in sweat. I probably didn’t need a shower right? I wasn’t drenched in sweat, just my back.

Good, because I didn’t take one. I need to get back to work.

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At my desk, I think about the slopers I can’t hold, the crimp that keeps ripping the calluses off my right hand. I feel my toes inching around in my shoe, trying to stay on the invisible crack that Frank said I’m supposed to stand on.

It is beyond…exhilarating.

I love it. Suddenly, my spirits turn around. I may not be great (not yet) but I train hard, I plan thoroughly, and I’m always rushing back for more. That seems to be the essential element.

I’m hooked. Endeared. Captivated. Whatever word fits best here. I’m ready to go fall and scream again, already.

I think that’s a sign that I’m on the right route.

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