There are more or less six stages to projecting:
One: Psyched. I have a new project.
Two: Confident. I can do all the moves, I can do the route.
Three: Intimidated. I don’t think I can link these moves together.
Four: Frustrated. I’m a terrible climber and will never accomplish anything ever again.
Five: Angry. Kick wall. Scream. Blame anything other than yourself.
Six: Send. That felt easy and I should have done it 30 tries ago.
In the climbing world, we typically hear of climbers’ experiences with working a route after they’ve sent. Sure, the recap of the process may offer tales of frustration, disappointment, and repeated failures, but ultimately the climber succeeds. Only then is it acceptable to post about the projecting process. Is this because we’re afraid that if we post about a project before we finish it, people might look down on us if we don’t? How humiliating.
What if the opposite were true? What if accounts of struggle and failure with no fairytale ending actually inspired people to challenge themselves further, to attempt routes they might not achieve in the one or two week span between blog posts? It’s easy to look around and think that everyone is sending all the time. We like to share our success stories, so that is what is available to read. But this is a bit misleading. In truth, very few climbers are constantly sending. Yes, there may be long sendathon streaks, but in between those streaks, climbers lay low. Whether it’s lack of motivation, bad weather, or we just aren’t sending, we drop off the map. Perhaps this is when we post a bunch of cupcake recipes (guilty). But this time, I want to write about the frustration in between the sending.
I’ve been working on the Bleeding, a route at Mill Creek, for the past five weeks. I tried it one weekend last spring and one weekend last fall, before seriously committing to the route this spring. I was confident that I could finish it quickly, as all the moves were well within my ability. Yet five weeks in, I’m still working on it. I’m frustrated, my ego is bruised, I have a massive rope burn from three weeks ago, my calluses are pealing off, and I feel time pressure. But I want to keep trying.
This is the nature of projecting. We become whole heartedly devoted to a route because we’ve selected that route to be our friend/enemy for the long haul, based on some quality we find attractive. We then invest countless hours, weeks, dollars, and split tips to its demise. We’re so involved in the process that we absolutely cannot give up.
Many of us throw wobblers when we fall. Wobblers can range from silent kicking and air punching while flying through the air before landing in your harness and sagging in defeat, to full on screaming, bloody knuckles wall punching, shoes thrown in the river rages. Most involve blaming the conditions, the route, your belayer, or some third force that willed you to fall. Rarely do we take the blame ourselves. However, my favorite wobbler of all time was when my friend Emily Harrington (who is marching up Mt. Everest for a summit attempt as we speak -GO EMILY!) fell off a route at Rifle and screamed “I am so disappointed in myself!” She took all the blame. Props.
Some may find this process silly, wasteful, or useless. In ways, it is. I can compost banana peels all day, but when it comes to driving six hours one way for a weekend trip to Mill Creek, I don’t flinch. Poor earth day style, I know. But alas, we have to go through all these motions to push our limits. Without the struggle, I don’t feel that relieving sense of accomplishment at the end. Given two routes of the same grade, I certainly value my experience on the longer, more miserable struggle, over the route I completed within a few days. That’s why I keep going.
So, I will return to Mill Creek this weekend. I’ll drive the six hours, drag along a patient belayer, destroy the underside of my car a little more, and I’ll try really hard. Because at the end of the day, that’s what makes it all worth while. Each time I fall on the last move, I lower down, defeated, but knowing I tried the very hardest I possibly could. And that is all I can give.