Resting my body on the wall, hand deep in a sharp, three-finger limestone pocket, I gaze up at the crux of “Ride me, Cowgirl”. This is a crux where I have spent a lot of time falling. In prior attempts, I get to this very point of the route and suddenly am frozen in fear, pumped from uber-gripping and lack of adequate strength, and scared of making the final seemingly long/reachy moves to the chains. Somehow, this time on a chilly September afternoon, my mind is silent, and my body feels fresh and strong. For the first time ever, I feel that my mind and body are in sync. It is so obvious that this is what we are all seeking when we climb, these moments where your mind is simply moving your body, delicately, intentionally, from hold to hold, move by move.
Jackson, WY doesn’t have a climbing gym. Take a moment to let that sink in, the home of the Grand Teton, and the town with a backyard full of granite to wrestle on the weekends has no world-class training facility. How am I, or anyone excited about sport climbing, supposed to prep for trips to climb without the ability to grunt through bouldering 4x4s, hang on my fingers, or practice footwork and technique on some hard “yellow 5.11c” project? Weekend trips to Lander and climbing in the park during good weather windows are great, however, there is a fitness benefit to having a gym in town, and not having one proves to be a large inconvenience for those of us who do not have woodys in our garages or treadwalls in our basements.
I have never been a gym climber. I learned how to climb outside, and went to a few different gyms in Fort Collins with friends on rainy days, but until recently, I did not really see the draw to climbing in a gym when you can just
Last off-season I signed up for a climbing fitness progression course at Wright Training. In the course, we focused on conditioning and strength training through a combination of weight lifting, cardio, hang boarding, campusing and endurance time spent on the wall (and ceiling) of the wooden bouldering cave. In the beginning, I could hardly make it to my sixth round of “one minute on, constant movement” holding onto the steep plastic holds. Now, on my second iteration of the “climbing maintenance” program, I am able to make it through six rounds of “four minutes on, constant movement with alternating rests”. The program has proven to be super effective for growing my endurance and finger strength. I feel stronger than ever, and find myself able to hold on longer, make more efficient, powerful movements, and climb longer sequences than ever before! While my newfound fitness is proving effective in helping with my ability to climb harder, no matter how strong I feel thanks to the class, there is the tough reality that no class can improve mental strength. These are things that only improve with time spent climbing high above the deck, clipping bolts or placing gear, and edging on an exposed wall.
All summer long I felt a painful imbalance in my climbing ability. Feeling strong and able-bodied thanks to my class with Wright Training, I would attempt to lead harder climbs. Once on the wall, my mind would race, my breathing would become inconsistent, and legs would begin to shake, I simply could not silence the fear and reach the place of clear-mindedness required to excel on a route. I would whip all over cruxes, get too pumped to clip from a lock-off, and at times, not be able to finish a route that seemed well within my ability level. There was a clear disconnect between body and mind, and honestly, without accessible crags or a gym nearby, I was feeling as though I would not ever be able to link the two and become a stronger climber.
Clipping the chains on Ride me Cowgirl, my mind snapped back into reality. It was as though the moments leading up to completing the climb, my mind was completely absent from my surroundings. That is the true beauty of climbing, the ability to meditate on the wall when climbing something within your ability level. The perfect sync of mind and body, the desired “flow state” so often referred to by expert climbers like Hazel Findlay. As I lowered I felt a new kind of climbing bliss, one that I wanted to hold on to, to tuck away and keep accessible. Once on the ground reflecting on the experience, questions flooded my mind, “how can I continue to feel this way on the wall?” “What are some exercises I can do to maintain composure in a similar way on harder climbs?” “Without the accessibility to train my mental fitness, will it even be possible to hang onto this desired state?”
For the rest of the weekend at Wild Iris, I held onto this feeling and it shined through in my ability to climb harder, stronger, and more efficiently. This weekend left me with several thoughts, one of which is related to expectations of self at the crag. I think, for me, the second I start comparing my climbing ability to other’s I begin to shut down and climb poorly. This makes sense, why would I be able to climb well if my brain is filled with feelings of uncertainty and negative self-talk? It is unhealthy and counterproductive when attempting to hone in on my personal climbing ability. I must continue to silence the negative self-talk and lift myself up! The second thought of the weekend was the reiteration of the importance of training. While Jackson may not have a world class climbing gym, using specialized resources like Wright Training are highly important when it comes to keeping my body working and growing towards becoming the climber I would like to be. The consistency in training my body in the gym will certainly pay off at the crag, plus, there is a sort of confidence that comes with strength, simultaneously leading to added strength that comes from that confidence. I am excited to see what 2019 will teach me about myself through this fitness and mindfulness journey, and in turn, see what my hard work throughout the year will bring to my mental and physical fitness both on the wall and in the gym!