Redefining Failure

Failure…it is a rough word. If you say it slowly, it can sound like Fail you are…some backwards version of you suck. That is how I am feeling today. I promised myself though that I would learn something from it, and so here goes. Too often we only talk about our successes.

Ice season has started. It is always such a hard time to get out. Ice is usually thin, long approaches to get to it, usually a lack of previous travel on the climbs, a lack of acclimatization to the cold and the hardest one…is the lack of personal mileage and building of that necessary mental tenacity and self trust.

So far I’ve had some great days out with good friends. A fun day on Sacre Bleu with Kris Irwin, a sending day at the playground with Jen Olson, and some Ranger creek days with Brent, Christian and Margo. The last couple days though have been a good reminder of how climbing can give and take.

Beautiful Sacre Bleu!

A couple days ago my good friend Greg and I decided (at 10:30pm) that we should try Nemesis the next morning. Despite having only heard of one (strong) party climbing it, and Greg having not been on the ice yet this year, and myself only a couple days…we somehow thought this was a good idea. We started driving at 7am arriving to a full parking lot. We hiked in thinking likely we wouldn’t get on much but had the “luck” of having Nemesis free up due to the earlier party forgetting their screws. The climb looked hard, snowy, untraveled and the temps dropped while the winds respectively picked up. We RoShamBoed for the first lead. Both of us sorting of wanting to win and sort of wanting to lose. I won. At this point I stopped looking up and just racked up thinking happy positive thoughts. I headed off and started up the pitch. Midway I couldn’t feel my hands gripping my axes. I had a restful stance so I proceeded to endure a rather lengthy session of screaming barfies (the rewarming of the hands). This looked like mild body convulsions, cursing, some tears, ok many tears, and much silence. Likely 10-15 minutes of this, and I proceeded onwards trying to find my way through the crazy features. More freezing and more painful rewarming followed me up the entire pitch. By the time I built my belay I was exhausted from the pain, cold and slightly disgusted with myself for how long it all took. Greg followed, cold, also unable to rewarm himself. The climbing was slow and sort of unpredictable. He arrived at the belay and set off for the next pitch, but soon came back to the belay unpsyched. We both agreed it wasn’t fun, we were cold, scared and ready to call it. It took a while to be able to find good enough ice for a vthread, but eventually we got down safe and started the walk of shame back to the cars.

LESSON LEARNED: I think both Greg and I were secretly counting on the other to pull out the guns when and if needed, but neither of us talked about that. We entered it like partners but neither felt totally strong…and well, to climb Nemesis early season, you need to be a little tougher then we were!

I also realize that I just don’t “want” the climb enough. If I were guiding and I knew that someone was really focused on getting up the climb, I would be motivated…but for me personally ,early season, a day off with a good friend…comfort, laughs and fun times was more what my motivation was about. Sometimes it is important to be clear with yourself and your partner before you leave the car what your motivations are all about. If you are challenging yourself you have to want to be have to want to try and try hard!

Yesterday again I signed myself up for a day that I was not feeling ready for. I’ve been fighting a cold this whole week, I just had my Nemesis hour long screaming barfy session the day before, my body was tired, but my mind said “of course…GO”! Kris Irwin and I decided to try T2 on Terminator. On our approach we stopped numerous times identifying viable excuses to turn around and just have a fun day on Urs Hole. We would take turns motivating each other, and before you knew it we were hunkered in the little rack up cave before the ice. We had tea, laughed at the howling winds and cold and talked about if we were REALLY still going to go up there.

Of course…we did…and as I belayed Kris on the mixed pitch I became instantly unhappy being where I was. Cold, nervous, scared, and wishing I had used one of those wonderful excuses we had come up with earlier. Kris did an amazing lead and put me on belay. I started up with a mind that had already shut off. I got to the mixed section, started, and retreated…started and retreated again. All I could see was a crampon slipping and the rope pulling me into the very narrow and delicate icicle, knocking it off on top of me, dropping my tools, injured. How would I be able to work all winter? how would we get down? Usually this is an image I can escape from, clear my mind from ridiculous fear, but not this time. i was over it. Kris lowered me and I hunkered into my hunched overhooded body position at the belay and proceeded to hate myself. Fail You Are. I apologized continuously to a very good natured Kris the entire hike down, but it was probably more myself that I was seeking forgiveness from.

Lesson Learned: Usually i do not understand fears of seconding. As a guide I often tell people, “you are totally safe…the rope is above you, nothing can happen!” perhaps this was also true for my scenario, but I couldn’t see it that way and so I could not engage. Climbing requires trust. Certainly trust in your partner…but really that is soooo secondary to trust in yourself. Lead or second, you need to trust your own abilities and your own decisions and judgment. Days when trust in yourself is low are probably good days to not push yourself! You can’t push yourself everyday, nor expect yourself to perform under that sort constant pressure.

Excuses. These can really be a dilemma. I believe I should have listened to the mornings excuses. it was my subconscious telling me I wasn’t invested enough in this sort of day. Instead I shrugged them off, thinking I was being lazy. There is a difference between being lazy and being uncommitted. Commitment is important for those days that you know you are going to have to push yourself. Excuses are also a horrible way to reflect on a day. I had lots of excuses for Failure. I was tired, I had a cold, I didn’t want to drop my tools, I didn’t want to get hurt. I don’t think I would learn from thinking too much about these excuses though. The truth was…I had a bad day…i was scared..i didn’t trust myself…I didn’t have enough experience with the strength in that sort of hanging dagger and I didn’t want to find out 1000’s of feet up Mt Rundle. That’s my truth and I need to face it to learn something from it.

My friend said today “don’t let failure define you”. The only way to do that I think is to reflect honestly on it and come better equipped next time with the lessons learned. At the same time though, we can’t let successes define us either. Certainly we can build upon achievements and hopefully keep improving but we have to expect glitches, regressions and not just assume that because we achieved something one day that we should always be able to do it. This creates apathy and ego and both are dangerous when it comes to pushing climbing.

Bottom line for me is self awareness. Everyday we must check in with ourselves, our physical state, our emotional state, our motives our desires and respect the outcome that is our own truth.

So if you have made it this far- congrats to you! Sorry for the ramble. Time for me to attack a crossfit workout with the fervor that only regret and reflection can provide. I recently heard another amazing play on words…impossible can also be read as…

I Am Possible. Now THATs a good one!!!

4 thoughts on “Redefining Failure”

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this Sarah! I can completely relate to everything you wrote. I find it hard when some days I’m able to push myself so much more than others. The more I’ve climbed the more I’ve had to learn to be aware of what my limits are that day. Because in the end I go out to have a great day with good friends and if that’s not happening then maybe it’s beer time 🙂

  2. Great post! I know exactly how you felt on T2!! When Max and I were up there, I felt the same way. I think I respect you more for actually admitting that you were too scared and lowering. I kept climbing with too much ego to admit fear and fail you are and was petrified the entire pitch and entire day. Still looking back on it it was NOT enjoyable! I would have enjoyed turning around more. You are as always an inspriation in sucess or fail you are;)

  3. Thanks for sharing this Sarah. I find it amazing that in your reflections you are able to be so honest. Honest and willing to share it with so many people. The quality that makes you such a good guide.
    Thanks for being a mentor.

    That T-wall is a special place.

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