Mind of Steel, Heart of Gold

Rosie and Katinka rappelling off of "The Great Game"

Rosie and Katinka rappelling off of “The Great Game”

I have been climbing consistently for almost 10 years now. Taking no more than 6 months off at time. I climbed competitively for 4 of those years and have been coaching for 2. When I am coaching the team at Mesa Rim, other climbers and patrons of the gym are usually in awe of the talent of these young climbers—as am I. They ask me a lot of questions of varying degree and detail. Then at the end, almost as if on cue, reflectively say, “if only I started climbing when I was that age”. That phrase sticks with me—on to me. I have heard it since I started climbing. It comes back and bites me in instances like today when I am humbly reminded that one more year of climbing doesn’t always mean a year of tangible progress. But, specifically that phrase latches on to me and invades my calm mind. “You’ve been climbing since you were 13! why can’t you finish this 12a” it says,  as I slam the cams into the crack out of desperation and fear, swearing at myself for not being braver, stronger or calmer. Then I do the inevitable and yell, “take” at my belayer.  I sit back in my harness, trembling at the thought that the cam I pushed far into the back of the crack will probably pop out and I will fall, fall.

It is easy at the beginning of an extended climbing trip to imagine yourself heroically finishing your climbing projects and overcoming your fears. It is easy to picture yourself, music playing (heavy on the bass) taking a huge fall off the wall and then– cut fast to you at the top–you reach the finish line, clip the draws and jump back into space. That is easy. Reality is– unless you have a climbing movie of you out there–sh** like that never happens. Usually, the heroic send is preceded by a shaky gear placement, a few “Elvis legs”, chicken arms and blood curdling yells.

I am constantly reminded that the heroic me isn’t the one who finishes the hardest climbs or moves bravely above a small nut placement. Rather, the heroic me is the one that falls and fails–is afraid, but gets back up and tries again. That notion is so cliche it makes me nauseous. But, it is true. I will explain.

Yesterday at the crag Connell, Jonathan and I were checking out a route, “The Masses are Asses” when 4 fixed lines were chucked over the edge of the wall adjacent to us. A guide ran down after and forewarned us that a large group of people were headed our way and would be rappelling and yelling motivational things at each other. We all kind of laughed it off, the snide “well hopefully that will help us send” was mumbled. We roped up and began to “top-rope tough-guy” the route when low and behold a group of about 20 adults began trudging up the dirt trail, cheering and helping those in the back up to the base. “Come-on mamma bear!” they all cheered and yelled to a larger woman in jeans who, helped by three others made her way up far behind the rest of the group. The three of us watched suspiciously as they harnessed up and hiked up to the top of the cliff. A group of four with helmets and gloves stood their ground at the base, holding the fixed ropes taut for a “fire-man” belay and slowly but surely each one of the adults made their sloth-like rappel down the 60 foot fixed lines.

Connell and I began to assess the moves on our climb. Initially, we struggled. Many frustrating foot slips and botched sequences to be had. We swore and rested and climbed and fell, on repeat. In the background of our frustration those at the base of the fixed-lines began to chant mantras to those rappelling down. They would first ask “what do you give up?” The person rappelling would respond with something like, “speaking negatively about my boss” or “worrying about the judgment of others”. They would reach the ground and an older African American man yelled, “come down for hugs, come down for love!”. They embraced and cried.

At first we laughed, mocking the mantra–yelling it to each other “hey, Connell ‘release all negative thoughts, you make your own realities!'” But then it all started to sink in. The more times those on the ground repeated, “you have a mind of steel a heart of gold!” the more Connell and I began to figure out the moves on our route and the frustration dissipated. The group all made it to the ground–having released their negative thoughts. They hugged, laughed and continued their journey back to the car. Another group came up and the chanting resumed. By that time Connell and I were exhausted, but this climb which first seemed improbable became realistic–our spirits were up as we walked back to the car chanting softly “mind of steel, heart of gold”.

I believe in positive thought, I believe in belief and faith and gratitude towards yourself. I am also kind of a cynic and have a hard time admitting that motivational mantras and ideations really work–it’s all a contradiction. But today when I hung on that 12a and pulled on gear to the chains all I was doing was swearing to myself–and I tell you what, if motivational mantras don’t work self-deprecation doesn’t either. I have always had high expectations for myself. I have always known that great things would come, but I haven’t always respected who I am and how far I have come along the way. I fall and get mad, a lot. It is a habit, a routine that I have trained and perfected since I was taught that on-sighting gets you more points.

So yeah, I have been climbing for 10 years but in that 10 years I have developed a reality for myself that isn’t so keen to falling on a 12a and this is where I begin to re-direct that train of thought. No matter how long you have been climbing it is always a battle and each person fights their own–their own demons. What this trip has taught me more than any other climbing trip is that I create my own reality. Admittedly it helped that yesterday “I create my own reality” was repeated at least 20 times, the mantra worked. Hallelujah.

Anyway, climbing is hard–all types of climbing. Some times I wish I could just focus on bouldering so I wouldn’t have to scare the sh** out of myself on gear, but then I realize bouldering scares me too and is just as hard. No matter where I hide I can never escape the nagging feeling that what I do just isn’t enough. But when that feeling comes, I will repeat to myself, “I have a mind of steel and a heart of gold, I create my own reality” and continue the battle.

So now that everything is out, here is a comprehensive tick list of the past couple of weeks here! Still have more days left to get gnarly. 

Tick List:

Day 5:

Borderline 5.10d/11c (7 pitches) to Angel’s Crest 5.10b/c (9 pitches)

Connell chalking up for Angel's Crest

Connell chalking up for Angel’s Crest

Day 6:

Morning rest (rain)

Banana Peel 5.7 (6 pitches)

Upper slabs of "Banana Peel"

Upper slabs of “Banana Peel”

Day 7:

Full rest (rain)

Katinka and Davis arrive

Day 8:

Rock on (first three pitches)

Rappelling off of "Rock On"

Rappelling off of “Rock On”

Smoke Bluffs: Crime of the Century (11c), 12c to the right (hard, no-send), Connell and Davis: Popeye and Raven (10c/d)

Jonathan arrives–

Check out his instagram and website for amazing pictures:


Day 9:

Nightmare Rock: Grandaddy Overhang 11c (Rosie and Connell), 11a to the right

Calculus Crack 5.8 (6 pitches)—wet

Katinka on our evening ascent of wet "Calculus Crack"

Katinka on our evening ascent of wet “Calculus Crack”

Day 10:

Seal Cove: Traverse to Blown Away 5.9 (Davis and Katinka), Sole Mate 5.10b (Rosie and Connell), 5.10b on left (Katinka, Rosie and Connell), 5.10d in middle (Connell and Davis)

Crank Worx!!, Red Bull Joyride

The Red Bull "Joy Ride" course at Crank Worx

The Red Bull “Joy Ride” course at Crank Worx

Day 11:

Slahanay: The Great Game 10d (4 pitches)

Exasperator Crack 10c (Davis and Katinka–onsight!)

Classic "butt-shot" of Davis on-sighting "Exasperator Crack"

Classic “butt-shot” of Davis on-sighting “Exasperator Crack”

Day 12:

Rest (Davis and Katinka leave)

Day 13:

Borderline 2 pitches (5.8,10b)

Daily Planet (first pitch) 12a

Day 14:

Murrin Park: The Reacharound 5.9, Masses are Assess (5.12b) TR projecting.

Day 15:

Nightmare Rock: Perspective 11a, Claim Jumper (11d/12a), Sentury Box (12a—no send…still)


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