How Do You Define Victory?

vic·to·ry

noun  \ˈvik-t(ə-)rē\

: achievement of mastery or success in a struggle or endeavor against odds or difficulties

One of the first times I ever tried climbing, I wanted to hop straight on the overhanging roof in the Estes Park Climbing Gym. When you’re nine years old, you ignore the suggestions to try the easier wall, and you jump on that roof with all your nine year old might.

I did not achieve mastery in my endeavor against that roof, at least not victory as a seasoned climber would describe victory. But I doubt my aim in tackling that wall was to get to the top in flawless form and style, without falls, hangs, practice laps on toprope, stick clip assist at the first bolt, or sussing the living daylight out of every ounce of micro beta. I doubt I cared whether my wardrobe was properly chosen as a contrast to the rock color in order that my photographer could capture the obviously unstaged moment in all its natural form. I wasn’t going to rush home and log my ascent on 8a.nu. Nope. I was already on top rope. The photographer (my mother) made no comment on my chosen spandex tights, choker necklace, and high white socks. I didn’t read the route ahead of time, nor did I understand the concept of following one color of tape. I just started climbing.

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I fell, I lowered down, and I beamed with pride. Who knew that getting to the top was the objective? I was a beginner, and I knew no better than that I had tried a difficult wall and was satisfied with my efforts.

15 years later, the scene has changed. If I fall on an onsight of anything under 5.13a, I’m disappointed in myself. If I clip the chains on a weekend project but rattled like a bag of marbles all the way to the top, I think I could have climbed more smoothly. In the world of sport climbing, I am no longer a beginner, and thus I have lofty, often unfair expectations of myself.

Until Squamish. In the magical forest of thousand year old trees and the occasional strolling bear, I had no expectations. I was there to experiment, first with a sport route way over my head and second with the metal thingies. For years, I’ve wanted to learn to place gear, but I’ve never taken the step to set aside my sport projects and fumble on easier terrain. Quite honesty, I didn’t want to be a beginner again.

My boyfriend Arjan joined me in Squamish, and we set out to build confidence on new terrain, in the trad and multi pitch arena.

CHALLENGE #1: Exasperater (5.10c), 2 pitches

I knew that in order to enjoy trad climbing, I needed to set myself up for success rather than catastrophe. Exasperator became my first trad route in Squamish, and one of my new all time favorite routes in the world. A border of chalk outlines the lightning bolt finger crack, a reminder of its popularity as one of the more traveled moderates in the area. A quick victory meant a quick boost in confidence, and motivation to attempt more. Our fire was stoked.

CHALLENGE #2: Freeway (5.11c), 10 pitches

Following Exasperater, we were obviously ready for the big kids’ game of multipitch climbing. My experiences on multi pitch routes have typically ended in me sobbing because a) I spent 20 minutes trying to remove a fixed piece of gear b) topping out in lightning storms is not fun c) I chose to wear Solutions up a 17 pitch route d) a plethora of other excuses. Mostly, multipitch climbing intimidated me. However, it was Arjan’s birthday, so we wanted to go big. Our choice to make one lap up Freeway on the Chief’s Dihedrals paled in comparison to “other people’s” birthday challenges, and our newly appointed trad mentor, Blake Herrington, had warned us to save Freeway until the end of our trip, after we’d logged more practice. This advice came after observing our fresh skillz at Index for a day. [Note: Never have your skills judged at Index, you will never win.] But we went for it.

To summarize Arjan’s birthday challenge without too many beta details, and for the sake of the victory theme:

– We encountered no lightning storms.

– I did not epic trying to remove fixed gear.

– I only got off route once, and that was while following (don’t ask questions).

– I wore TC Pros instead of Solutions.

– I did not cry, nor come close to crying. Not even once.

– We swapped leads, setting it up so Arjan led the crux roof pitch.

– We sent. That means we didn’t fall. Not even once.

-PS: It turns out 5.11c multipitch on gear is hard. In fact, I tried harder than I tried on my attempts of Dreamcatcher (5.14d, sport).

– Fun.

VICTORY.

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Arjan leads one of Freeway‘s final pitches

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CHALLENGE #3: The Masses are Asses (5.12b), 1 pitch

Next on the totem pole, we needed to tick harder grades. It seemed reasonable to ascend a single pitch trad line two number grades below my sport limit. On my flash attempt, I pitched off the top thanks to flaming forearms and a foot slip. But my disappointment in not sending was masked completely by my beginner joy – I was thrilled to log my first fall on gear, and I hadn’t even said “take”. Victory.

A few days later, Arjan and I returned so we could both send The Masses are Asses. Double victory.

CHALLENGE #4: Flight of the Challenger (5.12c), 1 pitch

Feeling as though we should continue to up the ante, our next objective became Flight of the Challenger, another single pitch gear route. The midway dihedral baking in the sun stumped the compression and face tactics we applied, so I proceeded to work on my aid climbing skills. The great thing about Squamish is that you can place gear everywhere. Thus, in horrendous style, I choked the cobra all the way to the top, unable to do even a single move of the upper section. Again, being a beginner, I felt quite proud of my aid climbing efforts. In those 30 minutes of learning how to place a giant cam above my head while clenching the wobbly stopper at my waist, I felt victorious. Mind you, this was no heroic feat, and passersby (aka, Scott Milton and Sandra Studer) most definitely rolled their eyes, grimaced, and kept walking. But, I felt satisfied with my handywork.

Also learned that day: My stoppers are not to be trusted…yet.

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View from the Grand Wall

Our perspectives change as we progress, based on the time and energy we put into our objectives. 15 years ago, toproping a 5.10, with or without hangs, was a massive victory. Today, if my 5.12 warmup feels harder than I think it should, the day is a wash.

But shouldn’t we have fun every day we get to spend outdoors climbing rocks? How can we preserve that sense of achievement and pride we feel as beginners? We must change our definition of victory.

The big picture goals of getting to the top are often intimidating, or too much to swallow when we begin working on a new project. So we measure progress in increments. Today, I measure success by feeling more confident on a small smear than I did the day before; by discovering that in stacking my thumb atop my forefinger, a crux crimp becomes more manageable; by learning a small shift in body weight that will help me not to falter at a clip. Through these small steps, I have achieved mastery in an endeavor against the odds. These are my micro victories, but they are victories nonetheless.

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