Why do women cry at the crag?

Over the last few months, I’ve found myself sitting at the base of a project, crying, more and more often. Crying over a rock climb is the worst. The actual crying, reflecting on the crying after I cry, and the dread of knowing that if I fall I will probably cry – these are all humiliating to admit. Crying about a rock climb is even more disgraceful when all day, as I fall and cry and fall and cry, I watch people in the land below who are simply trying to survive. How can I put so much effort and value into something that in reality means so little?

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Of course, climbing and completing projects means a great deal to those who climb, as I’m sure other sports/hobbies/jobs mean a great deal to those who devote their time and hard work.  We inevitably grow frustrated with whatever we dedicate ourselves to, and we express that frustration in different ways. For some, it may be the classic ‘wobbler’ – kicking the wall, screaming, hucking shoes into the river. For others, it may mean walking silently into the forest alone, head sagging with disappointment. Commonly, we as women cry.

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[here, I’m actually crying because I just killed a chicken in Peru (watch full footage here), but a climbing meltdown looks much the same]

I recently read two incredible posts about women crying at the crag, written by women, and found great comfort knowing that other’s shared my ‘method of frustration expression’, to put it in nice terms.  The first post included tips by Jen Vennon about how to calm oneself down after a bout of tears. I loved this. In the second post, Emily Harrington explained her experience on a multipitch route, wherein she took a big whip on an “ancient star bolt” and, even after discovering she was safe and unhurt, proceeded to cry.

I’ve been trying to figure out why we begin crying in the first place. Bystanders may see it as a dramatic act, a ‘cry’ for attention. I can tell you with certainty; I don’t want a single person to even breathe in my direction when I’m crying. I don’t want sympathy, I don’t want to be comforted, and I certainly don’t want advice (at least not in that moment). I’ve heard top climbers blame frustration on media pressure. I find this somewhat ridiculous as well, since none of us are being paid millions to perform at a certain level, a climbing sponsor isn’t going to drop an athlete because they didn’t finish a route, and none of our facebook friends will think less of us if we don’t complete our project, nor are they heavily invested one way or the other in our efforts.

Personally, I’m frustrated because I let myself down, and that frustration bares its teeth in the form of tears. I don’t throw fits, but I’m certainly not positive enough to give it a laugh, smile, and pull back up the rope. Ideally, I would like to cry to myself, by myself, and then pick myself back up and remotivate – via my own accords – to try again. This process includes no one but me. I know what I’m capable of, and when I fall short of the standards I set for myself, I’m disappointed.

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[When in tears, find a quiet, sunny spot where you can recollect yourself]

Previously, I saw crying about climbing as a sign of weakness, an indication that I was too attached to something that didn’t matter.  But recently, I’ve had to accept this display of emotion as just another part of my process. I’ve tried to detach myself, to reason with myself, to prevent the tears. But I’ve found they flow despite my deterring efforts. So now, I let myself cry. Then I give myself a mental scolding, think of something happy (like penguins or bunnies), consider the reasons why I visited this area on this day aside from sending (good friends, nice views, a workout), and I try again. On good days, this leads to finishing my goal. I never would have completed my first 5.14, Zulu, without tears. I never would have completed my hardest route to date, Grand Ol Opry, without tears.

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[happy thoughts. From awkwardfamilyphotos.com]

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[Good reasons for climbing – friends and views!]

On more disheartening days, I hike out empty handed. I’ve spent two years now crying over the Bleeding in Mill Creek. I spent a good bit of time over the last few weeks in Russia crying about Catharsis. I know I’m capable of finishing both these routes, which is why they frustrate me. But this intense form of frustration shapes me as a person and as a climber. It makes me try harder, push farther, and dedicate myself to what I love. The struggle makes the reward that much sweeter, although perhaps not always fun.

17 thoughts on “Why do women cry at the crag?

  1. Such a great post. I had my first experience of crying at the crag this summer and the roller coaster of emotion shocked me. It was all just because I had tried a route, got entirely too caught up in thinking about falling on a grade I should have been able to handle, and froze. My belayer made me come down and I wasn’t sure whether to laugh, cry, throw something, or storm off. I wasn’t angry at anyone. Just beyond frustration that I had let my emotions and mental game get out of control. I ended up storming off doing that whole dry sobbing thing… blah. But lesson learnt – it’s totally okay to fail (in fact, I had written a blog post about the experience: http://tendersandtrails.com/2013/07/30/lessons-learned-fail/).

    I think in the end, climbing is just one of those things that really knocks us down to a battle between body and mind. It’s scary… but still pretty exhilarating!

  2. Wow, thanks! I can relate to this so much! The actual crying over a route is bad enough, but the worst is crying about crying! I also have to go away by myself for a few minutes to recollect, because as soon as someone even looks at me or worse, asks me how I´m doing or tries to comfort me, the tears come back!

  3. Excellent perspective Paige! I can’t imagine there’s a single climber out there who hasn’t thought this at one time, “How can I put so much effort and value into something that in reality means so little?” But few of us ever voice that.
    And don’t tell anyone, but girls aren’t the only ones who cry at the cliff. I’ve been in tears at crags and on mountains all over the damn continent. I do my best to hide them but it doesn’t always work out. Penguins and bunnies 4evR!!!!

  4. Pingback: Why Do Women Cry At The Crag? | Climbing Narcissist

  5. Pingback: Why Do Women Cry At The Crag? | Climbing gear

  6. Paige, thank you for your post. One more think to add… “Scientists have found that relief is brought not by emotional discharge caused by sobs, but by … the chemical composition of tears. They contain stress hormones secreted by the brain at the time of splash of emotions. Lacrimal fluid is removed from the body being produced during the nerve strain. Cry on, a person feels relaxed and even cheerful.” )))

  7. Thank you for this post, I have always found you very straightforward and sincere – in a good way – and this post is a good example of this! I think what you say here might be very helpful to many of us. I just wanted to add one thought – I think girls cry because it’s way easier for them to do it than for guys. Guys are not used to be crying, they are raised to be strong, right? Guys are just more accustomed to other more brutal things like kicking the wall=) I don’t know if it will be better to raise both both and girls alike in this aspect, but right now I believe life’s like I’ve said.
    I too also think that it’s important to let yourself cry, to understand that it’s a way of letting the negative emotions go. But not wallow in it. You just have a violent little storm, let yourself go, and afterwards you wipe your tears away and go up to your project more determined than ever=)

  8. As a dude, even one who tries not to hew to any particular masculine stereotypes, I have a really hard time crying in front of other people, even when I might feel like it. Honestly I find crying very cathartic; if I could cry at the cliff when I was feeling frustrated instead of pouting or getting tense, that would probably be a more effective strategy… but I can’t! And crying definitely strikes me as preferable to the angry, furious wobblers you sometimes see guys throw, which can ruin everybody else’s day too.

  9. Huge respect for your words here but I admit I find it embarassing and totally uncool to engulf friends, belayer and whoever else in my emotional spikes. Kicking the wall and swearing, being grumpy for hours or crying because you fell is unpleasant and stupid, sorry.

  10. What a brave and vulnerable post, Paige! As a climbing cryer, I thank you. Simply having the solidarity and the “go-ahead” to cry makes the crying so much more manageable. I’ve been doing it all wrong–not letting myself cry, or being angry/embarassed at myself for needing to, which only perpetuates the dark cloud. A stifled cry often leads to resentment and anger, the latter of which is uncool (I agree with the previous post on that front). It’s best to cultivate a relationship with your belayer that is open and honest, and to talk through the crying with them when possible, maybe even apologizing or pausing to say that you need a moment, or need some inspirational words to get through that first stage of emotional spiking before it turns into the abuse that I think the previous post is referring to.

  11. Nice one Paige. It’s hard to put yourself out there like that, and you did it in a really honest and humble way (as always). I think it’s pretty normal for most people to express emotion while doing something you put your heart and soul into. It’s human and means that you care deeply about what you’re pursuing. Honest and poignant thoughts always bring about positive and negative feedback (I’ve learned this recently as well) and you should be proud that your words provoked interest and discussion. I’m glad you wrote what you did, and I hope you keep sharing your experiences. Thanks for linking my post too :) Missing you alot! – Emily H

  12. I loved this! As I become more and more invested in climbing, tackling projects that I never thought I would be doing, I have found myself reacting more emotionally when I feel like I have failed or am frustrated with myself. It is hard to own up to these emotions, and not be embarrassed, especially in front of a crowd of guys, but reading this post makes me feel more comfortable. Thank you so much!

  13. I never wanted to cry over a climb (I’m a girl). I get frustrated at myself if I thought don’t try hard enough, but never have the urge to cry, so I don’t get it when anybody cry or get angry/cursing. If I tried really hard and still didn’t send then I’d be pleased that I have given all I had. If I thought I may hurt (or kill) myself on a run out or bad gear, then I get terrified. Not crying type terrified, just extremely scared and shaky while trying to stay calm. I also hurt myself a few times from falling, from a minor one to a more serious one. Each time I was shaken but never cried. I have a slight cluster-phobia so the only time I ever lost it was when I had to go through a tunnel in a total darkness. I started screaming and hyper-ventilated, but never cried. I honestly would not be comfortable climbing with somebody who has that much emotion (cry or cursing) over a climb. It’s unstable and uncomfortable. Sorry.

  14. This is not the only article I’ve read recently about women crying at the crag. I was pretty surprised at first, because since I primarily climb with guys, I thought it was just me who melted down due to frustration. It’s good to know I’m not alone! My biggest melt down to date was a trip that I took over the Summer. It was my first time sport climbing after month of recovering from a painful climbing injury. When I got to the crag and warmed up, I realized that I hadn’t recovered enough to lead anything. I was so frustrated with myself. It took me a long time, but I finally calmed down enough to climb.

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