Accidentally Pushing Limits

11 01 2012

This past Sunday I had the pleasure of taking my friend Sharona climbing on rock for her first time. The location we climbed isn’t a serious climbing destination, but it is right in San Diego and offers climbs at all levels of difficulty and up to 140′ in height. The rock isn’t very forgiving, it being relatively smooth and tough to find purchase on. On top of that, the routes are said to be “sandbagged,” meaning that their given difficulty rating is easier than reality has it.

We were climbing at an area where the top anchors were inaccessible except by leading a climbing route via traditional techniques. As a new trad leader, I am generally comfortable leading easier routes graded around 5.6 (higher decimal = harder climb), and generally climbing routes rated 5.8.

Sharona, Ready To Head Up The Rock

Sharona, Ready To Head Up The Rock

I figured that in an area where grades are sandbagged and the rock is a bit slick that I would start off on a 5.3, a climb that I should be able to do without much effort. I jumped on an 5.3 named “The Stairs,” an appropriate name for an easier climb. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the route was really awkward and pretty tricky. I protected the climb well, eventually made it to the top (80′), and set up an anchor system which would give us easy access to a few other routes.

I rappelled down and toyed with the setup, realizing that I should have built the anchor a bit differently. There was too much friction in the system and the rope wasn’t running as smoothly as I wanted. The 5.3 that I had led was kind of rough, but I figured that with the safer system that now existed I could try a nearby 5.6 and re-rig the anchor. I flew up that 5.6 climb, pretty happy with how smoothly it went. Maybe it was just the mental game on lead that made the 5.3 seem so tough?

Fast forward about 15 minutes, and I’m looking through our guide to the area, picking out nearby routes to try. I’m looking more carefully at the map of the routes that I had just climbed, and a light bulb went on in my head. “The Stairs” – that easy 5.3? – it was really a route called “The Trauma,” described as “The toughest 5.6 lead you will ever do.” Wow… okay…

That 5.6 climb that was surprisingly easy? It was a 5.9 called “Clear Light.” Holy crap! I just cruised up a 5.9?! And led a ridiculous 5.6! In a sandbagged area!

The Epiphany Caught On Camera (Not Staged!)

The Epiphany Caught On Camera (Not Staged!)

I’m still not sure what emotions I was feeling, but I know two things:

  1. In the future I’m going to read route maps much more carefully.
  2. The only reason that I was able to complete “The Trauma” and “Clear Light” is because I thought that they were easier than they were. It was all mental.

I had accidentally pushed my limits and had learned something important about myself. I can climb a lot harder than I had previously thought. Some of my limitations really were in my head rather than in my strength or technique.

That’s a lesson that I won’t forget.

posted by yair

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