Why do women cry at the crag?
Over the last few months, I’ve found myself sitting at the base of a project, crying, more and more often. Crying over a rock climb is the worst. The actual crying, reflecting on the crying after I cry, and the dread of knowing that if I fall I will probably cry – these are all humiliating to admit. Crying about a rock climb is even more disgraceful when all day, as I fall and cry and fall and cry, I watch people in the land below who are simply trying to survive. How can I put so much effort and value into something that in reality means so little?
Of course, climbing and completing projects means a great deal to those who climb, as I’m sure other sports/hobbies/jobs mean a great deal to those who devote their time and hard work. We inevitably grow frustrated with whatever we dedicate ourselves to, and we express that frustration in different ways. For some, it may be the classic ‘wobbler’ – kicking the wall, screaming, hucking shoes into the river. For others, it may mean walking silently into the forest alone, head sagging with disappointment. Commonly, we as women cry.
[here, I’m actually crying because I just killed a chicken in Peru (watch full footage here), but a climbing meltdown looks much the same]
I recently read two incredible posts about women crying at the crag, written by women, and found great comfort knowing that other’s shared my ‘method of frustration expression’, to put it in nice terms. The first post included tips by Jen Vennon about how to calm oneself down after a bout of tears. I loved this. In the second post, Emily Harrington explained her experience on a multipitch route, wherein she took a big whip on an “ancient star bolt” and, even after discovering she was safe and unhurt, proceeded to cry.
I’ve been trying to figure out why we begin crying in the first place. Bystanders may see it as a dramatic act, a ‘cry’ for attention. I can tell you with certainty; I don’t want a single person to even breathe in my direction when I’m crying. I don’t want sympathy, I don’t want to be comforted, and I certainly don’t want advice (at least not in that moment). I’ve heard top climbers blame frustration on media pressure. I find this somewhat ridiculous as well, since none of us are being paid millions to perform at a certain level, a climbing sponsor isn’t going to drop an athlete because they didn’t finish a route, and none of our facebook friends will think less of us if we don’t complete our project, nor are they heavily invested one way or the other in our efforts.
Personally, I’m frustrated because I let myself down, and that frustration bares its teeth in the form of tears. I don’t throw fits, but I’m certainly not positive enough to give it a laugh, smile, and pull back up the rope. Ideally, I would like to cry to myself, by myself, and then pick myself back up and remotivate – via my own accords – to try again. This process includes no one but me. I know what I’m capable of, and when I fall short of the standards I set for myself, I’m disappointed.
[When in tears, find a quiet, sunny spot where you can recollect yourself]
Previously, I saw crying about climbing as a sign of weakness, an indication that I was too attached to something that didn’t matter. But recently, I’ve had to accept this display of emotion as just another part of my process. I’ve tried to detach myself, to reason with myself, to prevent the tears. But I’ve found they flow despite my deterring efforts. So now, I let myself cry. Then I give myself a mental scolding, think of something happy (like penguins or bunnies), consider the reasons why I visited this area on this day aside from sending (good friends, nice views, a workout), and I try again. On good days, this leads to finishing my goal. I never would have completed my first 5.14, Zulu, without tears. I never would have completed my hardest route to date, Grand Ol Opry, without tears.
[happy thoughts. From awkwardfamilyphotos.com]
[Good reasons for climbing – friends and views!]
On more disheartening days, I hike out empty handed. I’ve spent two years now crying over the Bleeding in Mill Creek. I spent a good bit of time over the last few weeks in Russia crying about Catharsis. I know I’m capable of finishing both these routes, which is why they frustrate me. But this intense form of frustration shapes me as a person and as a climber. It makes me try harder, push farther, and dedicate myself to what I love. The struggle makes the reward that much sweeter, although perhaps not always fun.