Friday, July 17, 2015

What You Don't Know Can Hurt You

There's been some rain around here this spring/summer.
Some as in, my class of fifth graders went outside for recess  three times in the month of May.
In the last month of school.
Believe me, it was awful.
The teachers were all crying...
But seriously, the last week of school is when the students make up in extra recess for all the time that's been taken from them the rest of the year.

It has continued to rain since then, sometimes our normal 20 minute afternoon showers, and sometimes not. Naturally, this has affected rock climbing. We have to stay off wet sandstone in the neighborhood, and my favorite climbing area, 45 minutes away, has been closed at times due to flooding of the river in the canyon. So we've been trying to get used to a local granite canyon, one of our only close options after a storm. We've been there twice now, weren't thrilled with the place the first time, but the second time was sure a doozy:

We got to the wall, and there was no one else climbing there.
That should have been our first clue.
Especially because in the guidebook most of the climbs were listed as 5.7s and 5.8s - perfectly climbable for most people.
The author did say in the guidebook that, in his opinion, most of the climbs were sandbags.
I didn't know what that meant.

Until later.

So I roped up for the first climb, listed as a 5.8 in the book. I'm going to spare you most of the details. Let's just say I didn't really climb that route. I did manage to get to the top, but it was mostly by "cheating" - i.e. using the quick draws to pull myself up and the bolts to step on for most of the way. I can definitely say it was the hardest climb I've ever completed, and no fun on top of that. My man wanted to lead it once I was done, but I convinced him not to, and boy was he glad I did. There was literally nothing to hang onto on that rock.

Needless to say, we got home and I immediately went to the computer to look up what the term "sandbag" meant. It means that a route is given a rating much lower than it actually is. Lovely.

When my favorite canyon opened again, we were back up there as soon as possible, which was last weekend. However, many other climbers had the same idea, so we didn't have our choice of routes. Some guy pointed us to a couple routes that weren't in the guidebook, one which he said he thought was about a 5.8. We located it, and realized we'd climbed half of it about a year ago. We had had to bail off it because of weather. This time it was time to finish it. We both led it easily, and then Ariel wanted to do the route to the left of it, also not in the guidebook. The guy next to us had not attempted it because he said it looked more difficult, but Ariel really wanted to try. He headed up and got the first two bolts clipped, but after trying and trying, just couldn't climb any higher. While I was watching him struggle, the only thing I kept thinking was, "After climbing the "sandbag" route, I think I can do pretty much anything.  So he came down and I headed up. At first commentary, I want to say I got up the route with no problem, but that's not true. I climbed that route just like I climb most of them - with my legs shaking and scared and worried I'm going to fall and out of breath... But what constitutes a "no problem" route vs. a problem one is that if it's a route that gives me problems, I seriously don't know that I'm not going to take a bad fall, be unable to finish, or think imna die. I never felt like I didn't have control on that climb. Hence, no problem. I finished it, he top-roped it, and we headed home.

Once again I got on the computer as soon as we walked in the door to look up the routes on Mountain Project. Sure enough, the one was listed as a 5.8+. The other? A solid 5.10. Now, I'm pretty sure I've led a .10 or two before, but they have been few and far between. I was amazed that this had been a .10, and I'd climbed it relatively easily (and my ego's been doing pretty well since then).

I've been thinking lately about how physical activity - climbing, especially - and age relate. Maybe this is a generalization, but I think people get more cautious with age. For instance, I am absolutely terrified of falling on ice. Not while ice skating, mind you, but while walking. In my driveway, across a parking lot... So I move very cautiously when it's icy.

Anyway... I've climbed with people in their 70s who are still leading fairly difficult routes. For me, although (and last weekend is proof) I can still physically climb well, I've noticed the mental part of climbing is getting to me more than it used to. And believe me, if you've never climbed, the mental part is well over half of what determines how well and what you climb. I've sometimes wondered how much longer I'll be able to do it, because as I get older I get more afraid, and fear is debilitating. I don't want to start climbing like I walk across ice.

So I needed last weekend. I needed that 5.10. I guess I even needed the sandbag route. I needed to know that I can still climb hard. I'm not happy with the lack of information I had either time. I'm not sure I'll tackle a route again when it's described with a word I don't know the meaning of.  I'm not sure how often I'll tackle a route again that I don't know the rating of. Climbing is dangerous enough even with all the information you need. What you don't know can seriously hurt you. But in both these cases, what I didn't know didn't hurt me at all - it showed me that my fear is perhaps quite needless and, like most things mental, just needs to be looked at from a different perspective. Preferably a higher one. :-) 

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