“Which route do you want to get on?” my friend asked, glancing at the guidebook and back at the routes ringing the cave.
The choice was mine, since I’d been talking the whole trip about how much I love steep, overhanging climbs – but every route in this cave at Rifle was several grades above what I had ever even attempted leading.
“I guess that one at least looks like it might be doable, even though it probably isn’t,” I pointed at the 5.11d. Before I knew it, the first bolt was stick clipped, I was on belay, and it was time to try actually climbing it.
My friends immediately started cheering me on, and soon I had made a clip. After a little bit of deciphering moves, I got up the courage to go for the next clip – and almost fell, but somehow managed to hold on and immediately take.
Hanging there, I realized I was halfway through the route. That had seemed impossible when I started, and that gave me motivation to keep going. A little voice in the back of my head started to think that maybe I could do this – and the loud voices of my friends echoed with encouragement.
Somehow, I made the next clip, too, leaving just one more bolt between me and the anchors – which, of course, turned out to be the crux.
But after a few false starts on the sequence, I discovered that I could make a deadpoint reach. I went for it, and took my first big whipper. But I knew immediately that was the beta – and that it would go.
So, being as stubborn as I am, I went for it, again and again.
I hit the move, again and again, and fell making the clip, again and again.
And my friends motivated me, again and again.
Finally, I had given it my all and was totally wiped (and tired of taking whippers), so I stick clipped the last clip, made the move one more time, and continued to the anchors.
I lowered down, exhausted and amazed at what I had done. It wasn’t close to a clean send, and it certainly wasn’t pretty, but I could actually make all the moves on the route, meaning it was a legitimate project for me.
And even though I screamed on every single one, I took more falls, longer falls, and harder falls, than I had ever taken.
I realized this meant I was capable of pushing so much harder on lead – and I’m ready to start doing just that.
I also know I would not have even gotten on that route without my friends telling me I should. And I wouldn’t have made it through to the chains without their infinite patience and support.
It’s so important to have climbing partners who are technically safe, and, for me to truly push myself, it’s equally important to have climbing partners who are emotionally safe – who can understand my head space and gently but firmly push me out of my comfort zone.
(If they reward you with a captain’s hat for being awesome, even better!)
But be careful, because if you’re lucky enough to find partners like these, you just might become a badass.