Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Starting off the New Year right

Usually my New Years Day is spent recovering from the night before. I wake up around noon, eat some greasy food, and settle on the couch in my pajamas where I stay for the rest of the day watching movies. I get up periodically to rehydrate and visit the fridge.

This year was a bit different. Brian and I spent New Year's Eve with his parents, eating dinner and drinking wine, but the next day I woke up at 9 and packed my ice climbing bag for the first trip into Eklutna Canyon of the year.

With the high of leading last week still looming in my brain, I was itching to get back out and lead something, anything. Kim was eager to lead too. We passed Ripple, which is starting to get fat and lovely. There was already a party on it so we continued down to Boonesfarm. At the end of the season last year, Kim and I climbed the first pitch of this climb, only to be backed off of the second pitch because it was melting out and crumbling. So I had not been to the top of the climb as of yesterday.

The bottom of Boonesfarm is low angle ice, to series of short bumps, and a little vertical section that leads to the first anchor. Kim lead up it, and I followed. I was feeling the affects of the wine I drank the night before, and thought, maybe I won't be leading today.


It's funny how my mind goes through different stages on a day out ice climbing. On the hike out I was ready to go. We got closer to the climbs and I started to get nervous and I thought, well maybe I won't lead today. I saw Ripple and I was psyched to lead it again. We stood under it as we were passing by and I thought, yikes, that looks scarier than it did last year. Kim wanted to lead Boonesfarm, because she didn't think she was ready for Ripple so I relaxed again. I started following up and felt strong. I got to the vertical section and my calves were burning, my arms were tired and the damn rope above me was pulling me and annoying me again.

Looking up Ripple

When I got up to Kim I hooked in to the anchor for a rest and she said she was done leading for the day. I looked up at the vertical curtain and it looked harder than anything I've led thus far. But something in my mind clicked and I knew I could do it. I had no nerves, no doubts, no fear. It was like a moment of clarity. All of the fear and anxiety about leading that normally cloud my brain were washed away.

I took advantage of this moment and told Kim that we could swing the lead. Which means, now that I have just climbed up to her, she had the rope neatly stacked on the anchor, and she already had me on belay, I could just continue on lead up past her.

The curtain was steep, but the ice was just about as good as it gets. Leading on a vertical curtain is tricky because there are no nice little bumps to make you feel secure when you stand up. You have to kick your crampons into the side stand up and hope that they stay. I felt confident that even if my feet slipped out, my tool placements were bomber enough to catch me. At one point I had to stand with most of my weight on one leg to put in a screw. Usually you try to get your weight balanced over both feet with your left tool overhead to form an "A", while you push in the screw at your hip. But sometimes you can't avoid standing in an awkward position. And it hurts.

It made me think about the issue of working at your full potential. I read a blog post recently about how most people could accomplish more than they actually do, but their minds get in the way. Your mind tells you to stop, you think your muscles are fatigued, but really you could push a lot further. This situation where you have to put a screw in and you have to keep standing on your feet in order to not fall proves this theory. I stood on that one leg long after I normally would have stopped if I were doing a calf raise. After I believed my muscles was fully fatigued, I stood on it for another full minute. The pain was excruciating, and exhilarating at the same time. It made me wonder how long I could actually stand there before my calf gave out.

Looking down from the top of Boonesfarm

I figured hanging on the side of a climb 200 feet off of the ground is probably not the best place to test this. I finished the last leg of the climb with a feeling of complete control and comfort. Leading is starting to feel so natural for me. I had so much fear last year that I thought I would never get to this place. I don't doubt there will be more fear in my future once I move on to more difficult climbs. But this comfort is giving me the leverage to do just that.

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