In this edition of From The Field, one of our staff belayers, Alaina Krakowiak, gives us her thoughts on her first experience with lead climbing a few weeks ago. We’re sure you’ll enjoy her tale from the sharp end as much as we did! If you’d like to learn the ins and outs of lead climbing, be sure to check out our Lead Climbing Class.
There is nothing quite as disheartening as feeling that you’re not progressing at an activity that you love. This is how I felt about climbing towards the end of 2013. Falling off the same spot on the same bouldering problems over and over again, never consistently sending my more challenging routes cleanly…I was frustrated with myself every time I left the gym. This feeling was not new to me, though; when I felt this way about playing the violin, I took a break and learned how to play the guitar. That change reignited my love for music and ultimately made me better at playing the violin. Therefore, I knew that what I needed was a change. That change was learning how to lead climb.
On a cloudy Friday in December, Cameron, another team member at The Crag, and I went to the Obed’s Clear Creek climbing area. He hopes to be a single pitch instructor one day, so he didn’t mind teaching me how to lead. I’m sure I wasn’t the fastest learner, but I really wanted to be certain that I was doing everything right; I didn’t want to have any fear of equipment failure due to an error of mine lurking in the back of my mind. So, after practicing everything on the ground a few times, I top roped the route I was to lead. I started getting nervous on the way up, though (“Why would anyone lead this?” “I’m definitely going to fall here,” “Maybe I just shouldn’t try lead,” etc. etc.) I finished the route, came down, and tried to calm myself. After a couple of deep breaths and some friendly encouragement, I decided to go for it.
To my surprise, I felt significantly calmer on lead. I was trusting myself rather than doubting, like I had on top rope, and I felt confident in my movements rather than constantly second guessing myself. As I was quickly realizing, being frantic and unconfident isn’t really an option while on lead. I know that the route I tried was an easy one, and I know that I will feel scared on a route eventually, but I am not dreading that moment. I am swiftly falling in love with the feeling of concentration and fearlessness that lead is teaching me to have with all types of climbing.
So, I challenge you to challenge yourself in climbing this year. If you think that you know exactly what the hardest grade you can do is, try a route or problem beyond that. If you really love climbing in the gym but have never been outside, get outside. Learn to lead. Try trad. The possibilities are endless, and one of the greatest things about climbing is that your potential is endless, too. There will always be techniques improve, mental games to master, strength to build, and experience to attain. It’s all up to you.