The mental aspects of hard climbing

I asked Upskill climber Susy G to pen her thoughts about the process of climbing her latest conquest, Future Tense at Frog Buttress. This is an all trad route, grade 26 (7b+ or 5.12c). Here's what she had to say...

"Future Tense is a 40 metre route at Frog that branches out from Blood, Sweat and Tears, and also finishes on that route. The section that is uniquely Future Tense is about 18 metres long, and the other 20 or so metres above and below that, are the start and finish of B, S and T. The holds are an eclectic mix of jugs, side-pulls, fingerlocks, incuts, a micro-crack and just a couple of hand-jams, and it’s elegant, stylish climbing for sure.

I took me 12 shots over about 6 weeks to lead it clean on pre-placed gear, and during that projecting process, I got more awareness of the pressures that I bring to bear on myself whilst projecting, and formed opinions about which of those were useful, and which were not.

One pressure was “the timeline”. The timeline was an arbitrary expectation around how long, as in how many days or shots, it would probably take me to achieve my outcome of sending the route. After the first 3 shots, “will probably” somehow shape-shifted of its own volition into “should”. “I should tick after x more goes.” Somehow, it became important to me that I did tick it in that many goes. This was not a helpful pressure to put on myself. When I missed that milestone, I experienced frustration and disappointment. Interestingly, I didn’t have a timeline for the outcome before I started the route; it was after a few shots that I began to measure where I thought I was on the journey and compare how far I’d come to how far I had to go. I will not do that again.

The timeline pressure was brought about to some extent by my telling friends about my project. Naturally, friends will check in with you: “how’s it going with your project”. After a few weeks I felt a sense of embarrassment when I said I was still working on it. How stupid! Luckily, I was able to become aware that this was what I was thinking and feeling, and realised that I was creating a rubbish reality. I switched into the reality that I climb for me and not for anyone else, and my friends support me, not judge me. That change was very helpful, and I am sure enabled me to concentrate more effectively on the next shot.

The other pressure that I brought to bear on myself was also a time pressure, however it was compelling in a positive way. As I pulled through the crux, feeling a mega-pump creep up on me, it was the knowing in the back of my mind that this was my third and last shot of the day, (and having previously decided that I was not going to spend any more days on Future Tense) that gave me the mental and physical roar to slap the final jug.

That particular timeline pressure was a motivator, yet the other was a distraction. Curious, hey.

Future Tense is a beautiful climb. The process of projecting it was character building, and I really enjoyed being at Frog in the company of my friends Steve, young Gareth, Antoine, Mario and Rich."

-- Susy G

If you have any thoughts of insights along this line, please post up a comment.