Yesterday was the last day of climbing in Ouray. One of Kim's instructors from the festival took us out and said she would help us with our leading. It was a mellow day of climbing. The crowds were all gone and the excitement had died down. She took us down to the only area of the park that we hadn't climbed in called South Park.
We learned so much from her and it was great to talk to a woman about leading. She said she had at one time been leading Grade 5 ice (scary sustained vertical ice), but she had since gotten freaked out and hasn't been able to lead anything above a 4 in awhile. It was good to hear a climber as good as her gets scared too. She talked about something that I have been discovering over the past month or so. There are two kinds of fear when you are climbing. One kind is the kind that is mild and you can work through it. This kind of fear doesn't really have any base in reality. You know you can climb the route 10 times over without falling, but you still get nervous. She said this is normal and you can work through it by taking a deep breath and staying in control. The other kind of fear is the crippling kind. The kind that makes you freeze up and panic in the middle or even the start of a climb. This is the kind of fear you need to recognize and back off immediately. If you don't have your head straight you should not be on lead.
She walked Kim and I both through a lead. We were actually still on belay from above though so that we could relax and work through our problems, so we were not actually leading. When it was my turn I picked out something that looked a little above my ability level and went for it. She talked me through it. She told me to squeeze my cheeks and pull my hips in, try using my left hand to place screws (this is difficult), walk up further on my tools so that I don't have to swing as much, and most importantly kick out good foot placements for my feet and breathe so that I can relax before I attempt to put in a screw.
She also encouraged us to go leashless. Before a few years ago most tools were made with leashes that loop around your wrist. You can rest in your leashes and loosen your grip and it prevents you from dropping your tool to the ground if you happen to let go. But you use a ton of energy getting in and out of your leashes when placing screws. Also, when climbing with the leashes on you can never switch hands on your tools. Sometimes you swing a tool with your right hand and then realize that you want to swing your next tool to the right of that. With the leashes you have to move your right tool first, then put your left tool in the spot where your right was. It can be dangerous to traverse like this and it wastes energy. Leashless tools allow you to rest the left tool on your shoulder, grab the right tool with your left hand and then swing the rested tool with your right. I'm sold. I did this twice during my lead and it felt more elegant.
I worked my way through the vertical part of the lead, stemming my back foot out onto some rock and even putting in a screw with my left hand. It still felt a little awkward leading on vertical ice, but I learned a lot and have a ton of things to work on when I get back to Alaska. But that is not for another week.
I'm in the Salt Lake airport right now, heading out to PA for a well needed rest. I never did get to go skiing. The ice was just too good. I'm sort of sad that I did not get to ski at Telluride since it is so close, and they just kept getting pummeled with snow, but I came here to learn how to climb steep ice and I succeeded in that so I'm happy. I'm going to ski and party in PA!