What is better than the anticipation of a big climb?
A question that can probably be answered a thousand different ways by a thousand different people. Yet in my experience there is a specific kind of anticipation is unique to climbing.
As a long time gymnast, I competed all through high school and even had the chance to compete a few times at the collegiate level. The anticipation before a meet was always a shaken, not stirred, mix of excitement and fear. Fear that I would miss the execution of a skill or fall on a landing. Fear of letting down my teammates, coaches, and mostly fear of disappointing myself. However, if I had prepared correctly, physically AND mentally, then I could calm those fears the moment I saluted a judge and prepared to perform. The calm and focus that comes with competing in that setting is very similar to the zone climbers get into when they set out on a long time project or difficult red point.
But the anticipation of a climb (more specifically for me…a big wall climb) is much more joyous than the anticipation of competition.
If you’re climbing for the right reasons, there isn’t any pressure or fear of not summiting. You’re there for the journey and the experience – whether you complete the climb or not. There is no performance that is being judged or score that you get upon completion. You climb or you don’t…it’s simple.
That doesn’t mean that I’m not nervous, obsessively checking my gear and food list, looking up the weather forecast multiple times a day, practicing setting up my portaledge, or texting my climbing partner about how excited I am. What it does mean is that I won’t be crushed if for some reason we don’t summit, are rained out, or have to come down for some reason.
El Capitan isn’t going anywhere.
I feel I must confess that I have summited El Cap twice before (Salathe Wall and East Buttress), so that does relieve a lot of possible pressure for me. My partner on the other hand has not and, like many climbers, it has been on his tick list for a long time. However, he and I have tried and failed together in the past only to come back and complete what we had previously started. (Half Dome) So I’m guessing he didn’t feel a ton of pressure either.
Because failure can be a good thing.
Once you’ve failed at something you expected to complete, often times that fear of failure goes away on future attempts of climbs at similar scale. For me this was my first go at Half Dome, I was crushed the first time we went up there and came down after 6 pitches…my previous 6 months had been devoted to training for that climb. But when my partner got hurt the decision was clear that we had to come down…and I am better for it.
Anticipation without the fear of failure is a wondrous feeling and one of the reasons I love climbing so much. Don’t be afraid to fail…you’ll be better for it.