Fear of heights has long been an overwhelming nemesis of mine, a fear that I have challenged for years trying to understand the illogical way my brain reacts when confronted with being up off the ground. High cliffs and suspension bridges have long been the places I feel the most overcome.
So climbing has been a hobby that I took on with the intent of challenging my fear of heights and that it has.
I havent really climbed higher than 50 ft. Thats been the tallest wall I have been up, that being said that was on a belay system where I am working with a partner on the ground who is controlling the rope and at any time I can drop and the belay system will break my fall. At that point I can just sit there and rest or be lowered. This system I am quite comfortable with, I still struggle some days with irrational fear but I find if I just get up there I trust the system and can calm down.
Now there is another system at the gym that I have not yet been able to conquer, and that system is called the auto-belay. This system does not require a partner, it is a resistance pulley system that you clip into and climb and when you let go it lowers you to the ground. I have yet to be able to let go, my fingers just wont. I come to tears, shake and panic and climb back down. I have felt embarrassed and weak and just.....gah why!!
So I did some thinking, how can I fight this rationally...knowing that I am likely battling a deeply rooted fear that I may never really know the origin of.
Logically what I came up with is this: I will jump with no rope at all.
There is a line called the boulder line from which it is determined safe to fall from without a harness.
So I am currently working myself up to that line, jumping from lower spots. And once I have jumped from the boulder line a few times and successfully done it calmly I will hook myself back in and auto-belay from the boulder line.
And after that I will climb a little higher, and a little higher until I can auto-belay from the top.
Releasing the pressure of the full act immediately but putting in a clear plan of action to eventually complete the action has settled me some. Instead of beating myself up for not being able to do it, I now see hope in achieving it.
This is what logical breakdown can do.
Now I have a plan.
And successful execution of this plan will give me confidence to apply such actions to other fears as they come up.
Isnt that something.
Today I finally took the plunge and attempted a wall outside of the beginner section at the climb gym.
Its rating was 5.7 (to give a quick reference all climbing walls start at a rating of 5 and go up 5.1-5.12 the higher the value the more difficult the climb)
Until today the most difficult wall I had tried was a 5.4
Man, this was not easy. In fact I tried twice and then got tired so went off to help others climb while I rested and then I decided to give it another go.
Once more up and fail and down.
But this time I stepped back and analyzed, what was I doing wrong? I kept getting stuck at the same place....
I knew in my head that I could do this one, just how?
My brother climbed it a couple times to show me where I had gotten stuck and what I was likely doing wrong.
We (my brother and my husband and I) talked it through and then I started up again.
I made it past the part that I had been stuck on the previous 3 times! Then (by no small feat as by this time I was quite tired) I kept going. I took 2 breaks on the second half and just hung there. I massaged my arms on the knot in the rope, caught my breath and analyzed where to go next.
And then all of a sudden I was at the top.
I DID IT!!
I climbed a next level wall. Like......I graduated!
I felt so legit, i mean I have felt pretty legit being there at all at my weight but I still was feeling like I had not yet really done anything that impresive.
Today I stepped it up.
Climbing is one of the first things I have ever done that I look forward to it being harder and harder.
I asked my brother to take some pictures of me climbing today as I want to show you fully that I am not small, that I sweat like crazy, that there is pain in my face, that I grimace, that I smile.
I hope I can inspire just one more large and lovely lady to give this a try.
Climbing is legitamitely a sport that needs muscle and being lean helps immensly, but so much of it is patience and problem solving. So I believe that you can do it!!!
Its hard to be the newb. Im really only up against myself there but still, I am a newb.
I am slow and big and it takes me a lot of effort to get out there. I am still wrapping my head around taking time on the walls, figuring things out, taking breaks, pushing to failing and letting myself fall.
I know my avoidance was not all because of work.
It was because of all these things, deep down my mind was scared of being there.
I still sometimes like the idea of things better than reality, breaking from the idea that I am going to have work hard for this sport. That it was not easy for anyone. Everyone there has worked hard on their bodies and minds to tackle the challenge at hand. I am not the only one having a hard time.
My hard time is just a lot more visual, I wear it on my body.
But I am determined to keep going. Already I have had such an amazing response on Instagram of women that I hope I have inspired to try it too.
And I know this is a niche spot where I can make a difference, I can directly challenge expectation and inspire people around me to do it too.
Expect that I will be posting a lot more about climbing.
I wont focus on a lot of techincal, as you can find that anywhere. I am going to focus on my mental challenges and physical restrictions.
But the way, I stand by my article of challenges of fat hiking, its the same for climbiing. SWEAT!!!
I swung out and back and grabbed the wall. I took a moment to re assess and went again. I got stuck, I got tired and I fell again. This time I came down.
I was elated.
HOW FRUSTRATING I DIDN'T MAKE IT!!! HOW AWESOME THAT I TRIED!! I WILL CONQUER YOU WALL!!!!! YOU AND I WILL MEET AGAIN!
As I raise the difficulty of what I am trying to climb I am seeing more of these spots, where the push is farther than I would like. Where the path isn't as obvious and I have to stop and re assess. Where I have to backtrack the path because I went the wrong way. And I find it all so stimulating. Its asking me to take challenge and pride from my failures. To try new things and see what happens. To push my body to its limits and see where they are....then ask for more.
Fail fast so you can try again
Fail safe so failing isn't devastating.
Feel good you failed, you found a limit. Try again.
Today at the climb gym the man who was working needed to test my dads skills, to do this I would climb and my dad would show that he understands the support position to the climber (belaying) So I picked a wall and the employee said "why don't we pick an easy wall that we know you can get up?"
I just said "i can get up this one, no problem"
He looked skeptical but just said "ok then, to the top"
And up I went!
I love when I get that moment. I dare you to say I cant do it and I will tell you I already did.
Im still on the beginner walls but I am already feeling better about it all. The first couple times my arms would cramp quickly and my hands would ceaze. Now, its not so much that I am stronger (though I am sure I am a little stronger) but its more that my body has memory and is beginning to understand that what is happening is not an emergency. After all climbing is using muscle that I am not used to using, so it makes sense that my body would react more strongly to that. Now I think my arms are a little more used to being used and they have accomodated.
Now that we have that over with I can get down to the business of getting stronger.
Wanting to climb better already has me thinking of dead lifts, push ups and (heavily assisted) pull ups.
I know I wont be an elite climber but I am going to surprise many a front desk guy when I go darting up some of these walls!
I never thought I would progress so quickly but in one month I have gone from feeling like I could never climb to thinking that I may climb a mountain next summer!? How does that even happen? I just went for it.
Its been so empowering, stripping down to a tank and hanging from a harness. Screaming out as I use every bit of strength I have to go for the next hold. I am impressing the hell out of myself.
I think I may have found a new hobby that will far surpass the gym, working every part of my body including my brain.
Climbing is problem solving. Where to go next?
Its your core
and its calm.
Feeling like I can trust that gear and just hang in the harness. trust the knot that I tied. Not feel like I am dangerously close to a weight maximum. All of this stuff is rated for an elephant of force.
Also! Feeling like I am an equal part of our team and that I am not holding anyone back by being slow or a beginner is an amazing feeling. Everyone in the center can take whatever route they want, I can support them. Then I can take my routes. Whatever level you are at. It is an amazing supportive sport to do it this way. You need a partner.
On top of all that the people we have met at the climbing center have been awesome, friendly, encouraging and helpful.
Conquering my fear of heights and my own self consciousness is happening people. Its happening!
In the near future I would like to arrange a group of fathletes to climb with me. Will it be you?