Tag Archives: anxiety

Diary of a Trad Leading Newbie: Part 1

Me up top, building an anchor.

Me up top, building an anchor.

Yesterday, I led my second pitch of trad, ever. For those who don’t know, traditional climbing means that you place your own protection as you go. Placing gear in cracks that will catch you if you fall. It’s cool because any piece of rock with a crack can be protected, and nothing is leftover once you’re finished.

The thing about leading trad, though, is it can be pretty scary.

I’m in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area this week, outside of Las Vegas. A rock climbers’ mecca. Easy to moderate trad is one of the specialties here. My big goal for the week was/is to get more trad leads under my belt. I knew that meant pushing myself, and I knew that it would be a week of growth.

I led that climb yesterday. I whimpered, I fumbled for gear, I lowered on my gear and started again from the bottom. I made it up, built an anchor out of gear, and brought up my second on it. It was scary, it was mentally tough, but I did it. It took a while and a bit of encouragement, but I did it.

That was yesterday. And then there was today. Our group moved to a crag with low-grade trad climbs. I led first. 5 feet above my first piece, the panic set in. That was the end of that lead. I downclimbed and swapped leads with Seth.

Frustration. Anger. Disappointment. I followed that route and only climbed one more for the day. My head was wrecked. Everything felt scary. I sat in the sun and took photos.

Back in the condo tonight I talked with my husband about it. He told me that today wasn’t a failure. It’s just part of the process. I needed that reminder.

Tomorrow Seth and Paul head off to climb Solar Slab, a long route that will take them most of the day. The other three of us will be heading out for some more single pitch trad. And tomorrow I’ll rack up and do what I can to get a few more trad leads under my belt. All part of the process.

—- Read Part 2 of this post here

So, you’re still doing the climbing thing?

This is a question that’s come up a few times recently. And it always takes me back a little. “Oh, so you’re still doing the climbing thing?”

I started climbing 5 years ago. I wandered into a climbing gym to get a gift certificate for someone else, but as soon as I saw those walls I knew I had to come back and climb for myself. And I did. The next week I went back on my own and climbed the auto-belays until I got hooked up with a group of folks to climb with. In the five years I’ve been climbing, I’ve spent a lot of time in the gym, but I’ve moved as much of my climbing outdoors as possible, climbing in Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, California, Nevada, and Colorado. I’ve done big multi-pitch climbs, climbed a mountain, and have ventured into the world of trad leading. I’m still doing the climbing thing. And I have no intentions of stopping any time soon.

This question makes me think, though. What *is* this climbing thing that I’m doing? Why do I love it so much? And why don’t I share that more with non-climbers?

Nearing the summit of the Grand Teton

Nearing the summit of the Grand Teton

In my calendar, climbing takes up one to two nights a week at the gym. When the weather’s right, I’ll be out a few times a month on the rocks nearby (or ice in the winter). And then there are usually a few big trips a year out to places with bigger and better rocks.

For me, climbing is so much more than a fun activity. It also makes me a better person. That probably sounds a bit cheesy, but there it is. Dealing with the risks and the fear involved in climbing makes most of the stuff in my daily life seem pretty small and manageable. It puts things in perspective. A challenging lead climb in the gym makes the rest of my week feel calmer. When I’m doing the bigger stuff, a nice multi-pitch climb perhaps, a lot of the unimportant stuff melts away. My goals are to stay alive, to stay as safe as possible, and to hopefully have a successful climb. That’s it. No room for worrying about anything else.

That simplicity bleeds into the rest of my life. I find myself more and more wanting to keep things simple in all aspects of my life. When climbing, simple is better. A simple anchor system is easy to check. Simplicity is often the most efficient, and efficiency is key when moving up big rocks. My life works better that way, too. The simpler the better. I want to spend time with the people that I love. I want to fill my life with things that I enjoy. I want to do good work and contribute to the world in a positive way. Anything that gets in the way of those things just complicates everything.

Looking for the next move

Out at Taylors Falls, MN

So, yes, climbing is a big part of my life. And it’s about more than just the climbing. But, I’m not very good at sharing that with my friends and family who don’t climb. I know that to some it seems really scary. “That’s crazy” is a response that I’ve gotten very used to hearing. I tell my mother that I’m going on trips, but I don’t give her the details. I know that it makes her worry, and I don’t want to do that to her.

The risks that we take climbing are hard to explain to non-climbers. In a society where risks are seen as something to be avoided, I’m sure it’s baffling to see people who deliberately choose to do something that’s seen as risky. Yes, climbing is statistically pretty safe, but the consequences of things going wrong are big. It’s a calculated risk, and it’s one that I’ve decided is worth it. I’d rather take that calculated risk than to sit in my home feeling afraid of the world. I’ve been there before, afraid of the world, and it was no fun. Climbing is a big reason that I’m not there anymore.

Calculated risk. That’s where I think we, as climbers, can connect with others about what we do. There’s a saying that goes “do something that scares you every day.” That scary thing is different for each person, but it exists for everyone, and I think that’s where we can find some common ground. What is that thing for them? Why do they do it, or maybe dream about doing it?

I’m interested in hearing how you connect with non-climbers about your climbing. Is it important to you that your friends and loved ones understand what climbing is to you? Or do you generally avoid talking about it? If you share, where do you find common ground?

Managing Fear: Where to Start

This is the first of a few posts I’ll be writing on the topic of fear and anxiety. Something that I, and many of us, have had a lot of dealings with. I am not an expert or professionally trained in any way, I’m just relating my experiences and the processes I’ve found that have helped me.

Managing fear in the Black Hills. With a crooked helmet.

Anxiety is something I’ve dealt with for a long time. I am very familiar with it and its tricky little games; always trying to take the fun out of everything and make me feel like a lunatic. One of the most tactile manifestations of anxiety is fear. Fear of everything from animals to flying to climbing.

I’ve learned a few ways to manage my fears, rather than have them rule my life. It wasn’t until I started climbing, though, that the process really made sense to me. Surprisingly, the climbing wall has turned out to be the greatest teacher of all. Continue reading


I’ve been on a mission to simplify my life.

Making room for the important things

It started a few years ago with my time. I was busy. Stressed. Anxious. Then, one day, I realized that the way I spend my time is my choosing. So, I made some changes and simplified my schedule. Cleared out to the essentials. Suddenly, I had a lot of open time, and that time that had previously been filled with obligations was filled, instead, by the things that I enjoyed. I had time to take walks. See my friends. Relax. Smile. Continue reading

Coping with Anxiety

I hear it a lot. Listen to what your body is telling you. It’s good advice. Usually, that advice is given in the context of physical activity. If your body is tired or needs a rest day, you can usually tell if you pay attention. If we are aware of how our bodies are feeling, it lets us know when to go and when to rest, and where our limits are.

Listening to our bodies isn’t limited only to physical activity, though. Our bodies and minds are connected. When something’s off for me mentally, it’s usually my body that tells me. Sometimes it’s subtle. I’ll be extra tired, or a little weaker than usual. Sometimes it’s not subtle at all, and comes in the form of intense anxiety. Feel that weight crushing down on my chest? That means I need to clear some things out or take a step back.

When I overextend myself mentally, it’s my body that shows it. There’s a whole scale of possible reactions,from simple tiredness and tears to full-blown panic attacks, left crouched on the floor gasping for air. Continue reading