Compose Control Commit…
I looked between my feet, the green cam was nothing more than an illusion of safety. It was all that connected me safely to the rock. Its mechanical lobes had been cautiously placed behind a frozen block of stone.
The purple rope fluttered around in the wind and I could hear the distinct and hollow ting of the carabiner bouncing off the rocks around me. I felt like I was miles above the cam, and I was. My belay partner was miles below me and out of sight. I felt like he could sense my fear through the rope as I started to shake. I was becoming aware of my situation.
I couldn’t remember how good the cam was, but it must have been good as I was cruising and comfortable before the last few moves. But I started to second-guess myself.
I followed the rope back up and looked at the single points on my crampons. The single steel spikes attached to my feet were used to dancing up ice and rock, but now they didn’t want to move. They were causing my calves to burn. One was solid in a tuff of frozen dirt, and the other was starting to scratch and skate on the limestone. I wanted to kick them into the stone like I would into ice — I wished for the safety of that ice. My legs were getting heavier the longer I waited. I knew I couldn’t fall, and that I would break myself. I was too remote, too high up, and it was too cold to become injured.
One tool was in place, my arms were starting to get pumped, and my mind was focusing on the cam below. I felt stuck, and I needed a solid piece of protection now. I would take anything now…a small nut, a solid safe move, anything safe to reconnect me to the rock. I was feeling desperate and getting more pumped. I needed to move but I couldn’t go left or right, and down climbing was out of the question. I had to pull some tricky moves to get this far and reversing that puzzle would be even more terrifying. I kept swapping hands on the tool to shake them out. I was frantically searching for a way out, and I needed upward movement. If only there was ice! My mind was out of focus, and my stomach was in knots. I was losing control; I was wasting energy and feeling like I was about to fall.
I had been here before, but fear was on overdrive and was overriding what I needed. What I needed was control. I calmed myself, and my mind and my body moved into a blissful state. I forced myself to breathe deeply and smile. The deeper I breathed and the longer I smiled the more relaxed and focused I became. I said to myself. “I’m just going to pull up and lock off…Breath and go…Get ahold of anything”. “Compose, control, commit” became my mantra. And then I was calm and confident. When my tool naturally found a tiny crack, I torqued it in, but I couldn’t see the spot until I pulled myself high up. It was solid.
My feet skated themselves onto what felt like a paper-thin horizontal seem.
I wiggled the lower tool out put it on my shoulder. I started to shake as I reached for my nuts. The tiny tapered steel block gave me comfort as I wedged the nut into the crack and clipped the rope to it. Fear was trying to wash itself over me again, but I knew that the little purple nut was going to fit perfectly. I had to put the piece in; I needed to be safe. I had to keeping breathing; I had to relax. I tugged it down. I fumbled with a quick draw and fumbled to clip the rope. Then I was breathing, I was in focus, and I was in control.
I once heard courage described as “recognizing fear and still choosing to move forward”
As I remember this quote, I have started to reflect on the times that
I felt like I displayed courage and the times where I let fear become my primary emotion.
The times I let fear dictate my emotions always felt like failures. These times weigh the heaviest on me. They feel like failures, and at times they were failures. But they also gave me the opportunities to grow and learn and how to better dictate those outcomes later on.
There were times the internal battle of fear manifested itself into a physical response. This could be sudden or come on in waves depending on situations. At times they had life defining consequences. I have come to realize that recognizing the battle brewing before it grows into a physical response is key to defining your outcomes.
I learned I needed to recognize fear, but not to focus on it. I learned that shifting that focus onto positive outcomes would enable me to start processing those outcomes into variables I could control.
By Joshua Pelland