Around this time last year I read a great interview with Chris Sharma about projecting and the process of letting go. I remember that it made me feel a lot better about leaving Freaks of the Industry unfinished at the end of the 2011 season. Now, one year later, I might need to dig up that interview again, because another season has passed, and I have yet to complete Freaks.
I’ll be honest—I definitely expected to finish the problem this season. I felt on the verge of sending last year, so I was confident I could wrap it up this year. The season got off to a good start, and it seemed like all I needed was a little more time and some good weather. Despite being gone for a good chunk of the summer and fall, I ended up having adequate time and plenty of good weather to do the boulder. I have some excuses for why I didn’t finish it off, but in the end, they are just that: excuses. In all honesty, I had plenty of opportunities to send, but I never completely broke through the mental barrier that has become such a huge part of this process.
Freaks is a nemesis that surpasses all nemeses I have ever had. This is not the first time I have invested multiple seasons in a boulder problem, but it is the first time I have experienced a mental battle of this magnitude. I have done every conceivable link on the boulder problem, save starting from one or two moves in, and I know I am capable of completing it. Yet, I have climbed to the end section of the problem more times than I’ll ever be able to count, only to fall at or a few moves past what is typically considered the linkage crux. I have tried countless mental approaches—getting angry, relaxing, letting my mind wander, repeating a mantra as I climb, screaming, rhythmic breathing, acting like my life depends on it, pretending I couldn’t care less about it, even drawing positive reminders on my arm—you name it, I have probably tried it. But the battle continues.
About a year ago, I did an interview for my friend Kris Hampton’s blog. I talked about how I would have a different approach this season. How I would climb on other things more, and try to get in a good rhythm of sending instead of devoting all my time to a single project. In retrospect, I didn’t do a very good job of that this season. I was away from Colorado for a few months’ worth of time, so when I was able to climb around here, I felt the pressure of the short season bearing down and almost always ended up at Freaks. Granted, I did take a nice break to climb in the Southeast, and I even snuck in a few very fun days climbing at Wild Basin. The few short breaks I did take proved to be effective, and I did manage to get a new highpoint this season on Freaks after returning from Chattanooga. That progress, albeit a single move, was something I desperately needed.
I once joked that leaving a project for the winter is sort of like breaking up with a boyfriend. After all, there is a lot of time and emotion that goes into projecting, so many ups and downs, frustrations and successes, a high level of commitment. Of course comparing the two is a little melodramatic, and I don’t actually put projects on the same level as a committed relationship, but you get the point. After investing so much time and energy in a single boulder and feeling so close to sending for so long, it’s not ideal to walk away again.
It snowed a few weeks back, and I took a hike up to Lower Chaos expecting to pronounce the season officially over. It was quite miserable as I post-holed to the boulder, and I was pretty sure The Park was done. I’ll admit that I felt okay with that, and I even sat for a while and enjoyed what I thought might be my last hike of the season.
However, after 5 days of sun, I found myself at it again. I hoped to glean some motivation from the gift of time the weather had given me, but I just felt tired and stressed as I put in some less-than-stellar attempts. I knew it was time to take a break. My mind and body need some time away from the battlefield.
It’s been a week since I was at Freaks. It’s beautiful outside today in Boulder, and of course I can’t help but think it might be pleasant in The Park. Luckily, my trusty webcam tells me it is cloudy and pretty cold up there, so I am reassured that my decision to step away was not misguided. Still, it’s never easy to call it for the season, knowing that the next chance I will get to try that boulder is likely 7+ months away. Finishing a season without a “send” to show for all the time invested can definitely leave one feeling a bit unsettled. But it’s all part of the process, with sending just being the final piece of a huge puzzle.
The dissatisfaction that can come at the end of a season is countered by a sense of relief. Part of the battle this year has been keeping my obsessive tendencies in check. I have had more time to devote to climbing this season, which means more time to cater my schedule to my project. That can become quite dangerous for me, so I have worked hard to not let climbing consume me this year. All in all, I think I have done alright. When I begin to get down on myself for not completing this one boulder, I remember that I did get to go to Greenland and Paris and other wonderful places. My life’s not all that bad, and there’s much more to it than a single boulder. So, in a way it is a weight off my shoulders when the weather makes the decisions for me and forces me to focus on other things for a while. After all, it’s hard to try a boulder when it’s six feet beneath the snow...
Now, as the winter descends, I’m getting excited about what the next months hold. I am traveling to Kentucky to visit family, to Boston for two of the Dark Horse competitions, and to Mexico with my boyfriend’s family for a rare week that will contain no climbing. Then I will have to prepare for ABS Nationals and hopefully some outdoor climbing in the spring. Before I know it, the snow will melt and I’ll be ready to return to the alpine boulders. Until then, I will use my unfinished business as a motivation to get stronger, both mentally and physically. The boulder will be there…ready for the battle to resume, and when it does, I’ll be ready too.