Popping off can happen to anyone…. (But not me)
I know “anyone” can pop off the comp route at the Ouray ice festival, but I never expected that “anyone” would be me. I guess I have a rather self-inflated opinion of my climbing ability when it comes to accidentally popping off.
I felt strong, I felt ready and able. Of course, I couldn’t wait for the pressure of the competition to be over, but I also recognized the power of the pressure to help me perform at my best.
The route started with technical rock dry-tooling. Smooth water-polished rock for feet, I chose some insecure flat ledges for my tools, (I overlooked a bomber seam that offered great locker hooks). I felt I was moving too slow. We had to get to the ‘loaf’ (a half-way point) within 7 minutes. I found a rest and milked it. I told myself, “get off this rest, you don’t need it, the clock is ticking”. I finally peeled myself away from the security of the ledge and moved upward in a crack feature that offered many great hooks. I felt like I could climb for a long time and I couldn’t wait to unlock the path up the rock and onto the loaf.
Just after I told myself to get a move on, and I launched up the crack with the bomber hooks, and the pick of my tool unexpectedly slid out of the crack. SHIT! REALLY? I didn’t check the placement well enough. I assumed it was a drilled pocket in the crack. NO NO NO! I am not ready to be flying through the air. BOOOOOO!!!!! Crap. IS this happening to someone else?
Wow, the heartache and disappointment in that moment was overwhelming. I wanted to be a big person and smile, laugh and move on. BUT in that moment, I felt so sad for myself. Dude! I am strong and you’ll never know it. I wanted to prove myself. I wanted to enjoy the rewards of my training and years of climbing experience. I wanted to kick some butt. I don’t look like a contender. I am not athletic (‘ripped’) looking, i am older then most other competitors and only considered a good climber “for a girl”. I wanted to send the route and kick butt. I wanted to kick the butts of the boys too!
I got to climb on the route later in the day with some friends. I was happier with how I did. I got to the same high point as Emily did in the comp. At that time in the day I felt cold and had a lack of endurance. I still wonder how well I could of done. Getting off the loaf (past Emily’s high point) and onto the far wall was a crux. A really big move. Pretty challenging for me to onsight. The kind of move I might need to practice and figure out exactly how to launch upward to it.
The sunny side of this experience:
Training for Ouray has many other rewards. I love visiting Ouray. It’s the Disneyland of winter climbing. I love seeing friends and the tribe that is a part of the North American climbing community. I love teaching clinics to folks who come from all over to learn how to scratch and pick their way up the ice and rock. I love the support from my sponsors Petzl and La Sportiva. I love the hot springs and the short approaches!
I love that I was able to go to Patagonia and learn how to train while guiding and on an‘expedition’. I felt stronger this year then ever and I didn’t have to give up guiding work or an opportunity to climb Fitz Roy.
Last year at Ouray, I didn’t even study the upper part of the competition route. I surprised myself when I arrived there and I had no idea what to do. This year I learned how to do figure 4’s and 9’s. I had an idea of what to do when I got to the “loaf”. I studied the whole route. I had a vision of topping out. Much Progress. Without the goal of competing- I wouldn’t train, I wouldn’t be stronger and be apart of an amazing community that shows up at Ouray, Colorado every year.
On the way home, I stopped in Vail for a day to climb at the amphitheater with Emily Harrington. She shared her local mixed crag with me. I feel we have things to offer each other. I really value my relationships with younger, stronger climbers. I am inspired by their youth, strength and talent. I hope I can share my experience and perspective on climbing.
I am super grateful for my life. The cool thing about not looking like a crusher is that I am one of the only people that notices my failure, I don’t experience the pressure of high expectations of others — only of myself. I learned that “ANYONE” can pop off! Hopefully, next time I will choose security over speed. I am grateful that I am strong enough in character to want to compete (and risk failure) again (and again). I treasure the process of training and feeling strong. I love that I get to meet aspiring and accomplished climbers who are as passionate about the sport as I am.