• Archives

  • Categories

Fear, Style and the Unknown Posted on 05.29.2010 by greg.kuchyt

First things first. I’m not going to pretend like I’m setting any kind of benchmark for the world of climbing. I don’t pretend to believe that I do anything that matters to anyone other than myself. Everything I write here is really more of a chance for me to work through the mess of thoughts in my head. A lot of times I’m too diplomatic and consider too many points to be able to come to easy opinions without working them out first, so this helps with that.

In general I’m afraid of new things; I’m afraid of the unknown. I’m not afraid to fall, I’m afraid of not knowing what the fall will be like. I’m not afraid to make a decision, I’m afraid to make a decision when I don’t know the outcome of it. I’m not scared of new things, I’m scared of new things when I don’t know how they’ll integrate into my life. I think we all get the point now.

I’ve been using climbing to help work on broadening my ability to deal with “the unknown”. My emotions always seem magnified when climbing; I’m super excited when I have success, super scared when I get challenged, and super frustrated when I fail. Because of this, I’ve been really trying to push myself, on both rock and ice, the past 6 months to get into “uncomfortable” situations where I won’t know what’s going to happen. Through this process, I’ve run into a dilemma of sorts regarding rehearsing vs. on-sighting routes that are at my limit.

In my mind, the purest ascent is the on-sight, I don’t think that’s a controversial opinion. I prefer to on-sight routes rather than rehearse moves because I think it is an expression of skill level, again nothing controversial here. Where I was struggling was the notion that rehearsing/working a route (head-pointing) is a cop-out. I think I felt working a route was a cop-out because it’s me saying I’m scared to get on this route because I don’t know how it’s going to end. Will I succeed or will I fail? If I fail, what does that mean? This is the stuff that made me accept repeating the same climbs over and over last year, not putting it out there on something new.

So, an on-sight is an expression of current skills/fitness. On-sighting means you were able to put it all together there and then; that you were good enough to do that route. For me, it’s also validation that I’m pushing my comfort zone and not falling into the patterns I’d like to break out of. A couple weekends ago I put aside my on-sight mentality on two 5.10b trad routes I had my eyes set on. One was because the conditions were really cold and the crux looked thin (i.e. small, finnicky gear) and I didn’t think it was smart to go at it. The second was on a face route where I just didn’t see the gear. Keep in mind the gear was all there, I just didn’t see it, so I rehearsed it all on TR to make sure it was safe in my head. I struggled with this decision, eventually leading the second climb from the ground later that day and leading the first climb last weekend. I got through both routes fine, but after completing the first of the two routes two weekends ago, I felt like my accomplishment was somehow tainted.

In retrospect, when you’re learning something, you have to practice it to make progress. As well, progression happens in steps; big walls and hard lines had to be aided before they were freed, which bumped up the standard. In reality, head-pointing doesn’t do any harm, it’s a tool in the tool box to keep you safe and push your limit. Use it right and you can use it to propel yourself safely onto other “hard” objectives. The day after that second 10b, I on-sighted a fairly sustained 140ft. 10a face route that forced me to move above micro-cam placements. Progression; that’s probably one of my hardest leads yet in my 2 years of leading, and it was on-sight.

My dilemma was that I felt like I was wimping out, that I was falling prey to my fear of the unknown. I realized, I was willing to take risk, but sometimes you need to know what’s good for you and limit your risk. That same idea carries into life too, sometimes the unknown part of a decision is too much risk, and you change things to limit that risk. That 5.10a was plenty dicey in a couple spots (more so than the 10bs possibly). To quote Dustin Hoffman’s character in Confidence, “You know what I learned about style that day? … Style can get you killed”. A tad extreme? Yeah, maybe, but a valid point to consider as we push ourselves closer and closer to the limit.