Why is it that whenever I reach a new high in any endeavour I inevitably find myself falling immediately back into a level of fear and uncertainty?
On Tuesday at the gym I practised falling and it was no problem. Neither was looking down from the top of the climb. I even tried at 5.10c and made it to the top with only one rest (or "take.") I was on fire, and left the gym feeling like I could do anything. Seriously. Thoughts of medical school applications crossed my mind.
However. Last night I tried another 5.10c, but this one has an overhang, so when I got close to the top where I took a rest and sat in my hardness, I had no points of contact on the wall and realized I was 30 feet up with only a teeny tiny little rope holding me by a teeny tiny little band of material no thicker than my finger and I started freaking out and had to be lowered back to the sweet, sweet ground. So today, I felt frustrated because the fear is back. Will my harness hold? Did I check my belayer's device? What will happen if I slip and fall? Why am I feeling nauseous and panicky at the top? My technique was fine till about 2/3 of the way up every climb and then I started "folding in," instead of keeping my arms straight and breathing slow and easy.
I was totally on my way, defeating the fear and gaining strength, balance and form, and then I suddenly seemed to lose it all in one fell swoop.
It's amazingly ironic that the self-preservation style of facing the wall and pulling in with your arms – effectively wasting energy and throwing off your balance – is precisely the opposite of what is actually going to keep you from falling off a wall (or rock face). It's the strangest, most unnatural feeling, climbing properly. You have to keep your arms straight, leaning out from the wall and turning yourself sideways a lot of the time. You need to step with just the smallest side of your toe rather than the whole shoe. Often, you need to have one foot or hand completely free of the holds. When done in the most efficient and elegant way, climbing in no way feels safe, at least to the beginner (like me). It's also a sport that will teach you to not get cocky.