A Professional Climbers Broken Confidence

By: Paige Claassen

Confidence is a rarity in the climbing world. Many may disagree, using blogs and shirtless macho’s in gyms as counter evidence.

However, perhaps these things are signs of egos, which in fact lack confidence. I know I’m guilty of more than one of the aforementioned offenses. It’s not that these things are always bad, but they often turn into forced displays of prowess, like a peacock, except less elegant.

For the last year, or maybe more, I’ve suffered from a lack of confidence in my climbing. In short, I haven’t sent anything and I’ve grown frustrated with myself. This little conundrum is due, in part, to my preference for projecting. I fixate on one route and return over and over for days, weeks, and even seasons. This can be rewarding, and is often the path to break through grade barriers. However, I’m learning that projecting must be balanced by “play time” on other, often easier routes. Projecting at your limit, be it 5.10 or 5.15, is a physically and mentally exhausting process. While in the presence of patient friends and a beautiful setting, it can be enjoyable. But too much time spent on one project eventually leads to weakened muscles and, more often, a weakened spirit. We give up training, cross training, and easier fun routes, in order to push all our energy into one project. We may emerge as experts at the one route we try, but all others thwart our efforts. If we don’t succeed, aggravation makes its home in our minds.

After a year of working on the same route, I’m tired of failing. I feel strong in the gym, I’m improving at campusing, and muscle memory can pull me up to the last moves of my project. But on any other route outside, I wobble, slip, and embarrassingly, sometimes I cry. More devastating than the loss of physical strength is the confidence that seems to have escaped me. My stubbornness to only climb on one route means I haven’t clipped chains in…too long.

As I’ve grown as a climber over the last few years, I’ve skipped grades. I did one 13a and one 13c before climbing 5.14. Now, my expectations are high and my performance isn’t living up to those standards. So I’m stepping back to the start in order to “build up a ladder”. It’s a humbling process to work routes I could have previously onsighted. But I’m reminded that climbing is full of ups and downs, periods of success and periods of disappointment. Fortunately, Boulder is full of more classic 5.13s than 14s, so building up the ladder should actually be fun – I get to explore the routes I would usually pass by. And to no one’s surprise but my own, these old school Colorado lines are HARD!

Slave to the Rhythm, 5.13b. Jon Glassberg screenshot.

Now, at least for a while, I just want to climb. No matter the grade, if I feel challenged and the route looks worthwhile, why not give it a go? My friend Lisa Hathaway recently introduced me to the “consolation prize” – in case you don’t send, have a fall back so that you still end the day happy. Even small successes help build confidence. Sounds like the perfect storm.

Blankety Blank, V6. Big Bend, Utah. A Lisa Hathaway iphone masterpiece.

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