Last weekend was our first time bouldering outside this season after our usual winter stint in the climbing gym and I was super excited to get up to Squamish. The weather was perfect, we’d been getting back into shape after being so sick and we were ready to test ourselves outside…well, kind of. The first time I bouldered outdoors I was utterly and completely humbled – it is a completely different sport and definitely a different ball game. My climbing skills were almost non-existent at that point so it wasn’t all that odd for me to feel like I couldn’t do much of anything, but the part that really shook me up was the fear and panic. I remember how I felt when I got stuck on a boulder about half way up and realized that I would have to either climb down or jump on to the relatively small and flat crash pad. In that moment I knew, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in the gym anymore.”
So, it was with some frustration that after nearly two years of climbing my first day back outside this spring was such a bust, or at least, in my mind it was. I was scared from the first boulder – from the first moment I touched real rock again. There were no fancy hand or foot holds, no soft and large mats to jump down on, nothing to really make you feel all that safe if you fall. And you know what? I really don’t want a broken ankle. I guess that’s what happens when you start climbing in your 30s, you care more about injury prevention and safety, which is great, but it also makes you extremely cautious because basically outside – you don’t want to fall accidentally if you can at all help it. This is where rope climbing has a serious advantage and one reason that Zeke and I hope to do more sport climbing this summer. Being able to fall is a rather huge perk for us boulderers. But, to be outside in nature is one of my absolute favourite things in life so even if I can’t climb a ton, it’s still wonderful to be there.
I was really proud of Zeke during the whole day. He set goals and he was actually able to check some of them off at the end of the day. His lack of fear and athleticism and technique is always inspiring to me. So he really rocked hard for his first day back and that gave me a thrill. I love the way that climbing encourages you to really support other climbers and I especially find this in bouldering which is such a social sport.
And while Zeke was finding his outdoor groove again I was having a serious internal battle. And I mean serious – like every possible thing I could stress and worry about was floating through my head in a series of not-so-comical but still cartoon-like images. It was so bad at one point that I just scrambled up on top of a boulder and sat there trying to collect myself. This is supposed to be fun! This is something I chose. I want to be here. This became my new mantra. I couldn’t climb anything without panic setting in, or fear taking over, or my body just not responding the way I hoped it would and could. After a good while of trying to let go of that beast, EGO, I finally brought myself back to a place where, even if I couldn’t accomplish much, at least I could enjoy watching Zeke climb and celebrate his victories (oh yah and keep him safe.) Still, the boulders seemed to taunt me….seemed to beg me to climb them..come on Kristi, you know you want to…you know you can’t go home without tackling just one more…. So near the end of the day Zeke found a problem that he thought I could manage. The problem was seemingly easy and I could see exactly how it should go for the most part, but I couldn’t seem to trust myself or Zeke catching me, or the mat, or anything else. Midway up on my second or third attempt I froze and panicked in an all-too familiar way. I was shaking and my head was fuzzy, my heart beat quickened, my entire body tensed in what can only be described as a cat ready to pounce position.
I quickly climbed my way back down and tried to drive away the panic. I knew this was ridiculous. The problem was well within my abilities, it wasn’t super high up so even if I fell I would be okay and Zeke was ready to catch my fall too. So, at a point where I thought I should just quit climbing entirely, questioned why I even do it and wanted to just sit and cry I forced myself back on the boulder. Not because anyone was telling me I had to do it, but because I could feel this was an important turning point in the day and maybe even in my climbing.
I got back on the boulder and this time I pushed through to the end of the problem and the fact that I had gotten that far truly amazed me. The adrenaline rush that followed didn’t make my heart race in the same way, rather, it calmed me. I could feel the blood pumping through my body in a way that was driving me instead of holding me back. I thought about pushing myself even further and climbing on towards the next problem but decided to call it a day. When I came back down my mind just completely stilled. I was proud, even if the accomplishment was seemingly small, and I suddenly felt more like myself again. The bizarre cartoons in my head were gone.
By the end of the day I had been through every emotion possible – fear, anger, frustration, sadness, embarrassment, joy, peace…you name it. And I came out feeling much more centered, focused on the tasks ahead, determined to not beat myself up but also to work harder on overcoming my fear of heights. With these lessons learned Zeke and I had a lovely rest of the evening enjoying what Beautiful BC has to offer. We stopped to watch a stunning sunset from Whytecliff Park in West Vancouver, and stayed until the chill in the air forced us away from the cliff.
So thank you bouldering, Zeke, my inner strength and the beauty around me for that day. I’m so grateful to have a sport that challenges every part of me and pushes me to grow. Can’t wait to be back outside again soon – outdoor climbing season here we come!