Well, I finally sent Waka Flocka this past Wednesday on what was probably my last day this season in Rifle Canyon.  It is a really proud achievement for me personally, for many reasons, and an experience I will always recall as special and satisfying.
I started working on it in mid-august, barely doing the bouldery crux moves individually at that time.  I chose to climb on this route because I knew it did not cater to my style and strengths.  I do not consider myself powerful, or even physically strong compared to most elite climbers, and wanted to find a motivating way to change that.  The first third of Waka Flocka has the hardest moves.  It’s powerful and reachy, big moves on underclings with poor feet.  It took me a while to understand the bouldering mentality of giving every move 100% of my effort.  I finally had to accept that it wasn’t ever going to feel easy.  I just had to try harder.  Gradually, with the help of some very specific gym training, I developed the power to begin the linking the most difficult moves.
I started getting closer on the route a few weeks ago, linking big sections and eventually climbing through all the hard moves to the top multiple times.  I had entered what I call “one-hang purgatory”.  I would climb into the crux, fall at the last move before the rest, lower a few bolts, and climb to the top.  Maybe this didn’t happen as much as it seems (about 15+ times?), but it got annoying REAL fast.  Progress wasn’t halted, but it had slowed.  I’d feel minutely stronger everytime I tried, but not enough to complete the boulder problem from the ground.  Then, it became a mental game.  I could hear the clock ticking.  I was leaving for China, it was getting colder, and I was getting closer and closer by the smallest of increments.  I started to put the pressure on myself, wanting so badly to feel the satisfaction of sending.  I’ve never tried a route for so long, or invested so much emotional energy into the idea of completing it.  I know alot of climbers have projecting routes for years, hundreds of days, with relentless determination and commitment; but this kind of long-term battle was totally new to me.
Chris Sharma is a good example of someone capable of this kind of long-term projecting.  Sam and I spent a little time climbing with him near his home in Spain this past spring.  The guy has mega projects everywhere.  Sometimes he seems to be working on five or more routes at a time, and he appears to be in no rush to complete any of them.  He is at ease with being in “project mode”.  Always trying hard, just for the sake of trying.  I was there the day he sent two 5.15s at Oliana, and he showed up to the cliff that day with no apparent intention of sending.  He just wanted to try.  I really respect his attitude; he erases all pressure and anxiety associated with “the send”, and instead focuses on what’s important – the climbing.  The route, the movements, the rock, it’s all there for us to enjoy, not finish and move on without a second thought.  I remember seeing a recent  “What I’ve Learned” column in Rock&Ice with Chris, where he explained his approach to climbing: “My best redpoints are when I’m not expecting it, just going for it without any attachment to doing it on that try….I go through the same stages on every big project: becoming attached to it, then learning how to let go of it while still being committed to doing it. This is the great paradox of redpointing.  To be able to climb anything at your limit you have to want it more than anything.  But wanting it more than anything can get in the way of doing it.” *
I thought about this idea several times while trying Waka Flocka.  I kept trying to get myself to slide into that Sharma zen mindset where climbing is easier and more enjoyable without pressure of sending.  But I just couldn’t.  I kept falling, getting pissed and angry at myself.   All I wanted was to send.  I wanted success.
 This past week, I had a really hard time focusing on climbing.  It was getting cold and my impeding trip to China was just days away.  I was also tired of doing the same moves, feeling the disappointment of failing, expending so much energy being angry at myself.  It’s absurd to think about.  All that emotional turmoil and stress over a piece  of rock.  But I cared, and it was important to me, and I couldn’t help that.
Coincidentally, my dad happened to find the time to visit Rifle with Sam and I this week.  He used to be my main climbing partner, and (for those of you who don’t know him); he’s a very proud father, and my biggest supporter.  He was there when I sent my first 5.11, 5.12, 5.13, 5.14; when I won my first competition, every momentous occasion.  He was always there.  He loves everything about climbing, and he’s not afraid to tell you all about it.  He might be the most psyched person I know.
Sam, my dad, and myself rolled up to the canyon on Wednesday.  Once again, success was on my mind. I warmed up and tried. I climbed nervous and stiff, slipping off lower than normal, and proceeded to have a complete freak-out.  I’m sick of this.  I should just give up. I can’t do it. I hate this. I won’t do it.  I said every negative thing I could think of.  Let it all out.  Anger and frustration poured out.  Sam sternly talked some sense into me and we went to try his project.  I felt embarrassed, immature, and emotionally drained.  Why did I get so angry over something so trivial and inconsequential?  I had placed so much significance on this one route, and couldn’t let it go.  Despite my embarrassment, my little temper tantrum seemed to help in a way.  I felt calm and relieved, finally surrendering to the idea of failure.  I had given up, no longer attached. Now, all I was going to do was try.
I got ready to climb again.  Feeling relaxed and level-headed as I put my kneepads on, cleaned my shoes, and tied in.  I climbed up to the crux, feeling fatigued and certainly not as good as I have on previous attempts, but I had stopped caring.  I had stopped thinking about the moves, quit trying to do it all correctly, and let my body take over.  When I reached the move I was repeatedly falling on, I stuck it.  I couldn’t believe it.  I had felt weaker than I had before, but I just grabbed it, and crossed over to the jug rest.  While resting, my nervousness mounted, I couldn’t blow it now.  But I still had about 40 feet of hard climbing left.  I finally committed to leaving the rest, climbed swiftly and without hesitation, and fought hard to the chains.  It was the best feeling ever.
I learned alot from climbing on Waka Flocka.  I learned how to climb more powerfully, to try harder, and to have patience.  Like Chris said, every route is a process, and even the mental aspects don’t come easily.  Most importantly though, I realized through this experience how important climbing is to me.  I went through a phase a few years ago where I wasn’t sure if climbing was my true passion, or if I’d just gone down that path subconsciously because I didn’t know any different.  It took several years to realize how much I care about this sport and the lifestyle that goes along with it.  I am fortunate to have this life, and I wouldn’t want it any different.
I would ramble more, but I’m sure that was enough of a rant about my personal climbing project.  Plus, I’m leaving for China today for the Petzl Roc Trip, and I still have to pack.  Wahoo!!
*R&I # 196, page 36
Waka Flocka (photo by Colette,

6 responses to “Battlemode

  1. Pingback: 5.14b In Rifle By Emily Harrington | Climbing Narcissist·

  2. Great post, Em. I really enjoyed reading this. I’m still mulling over the part at the beginning where you say you had to accept that it would never “feel easy.” There are a few situations that it would benefit me to approach that way. And, you’re so right about your dad. Come to think of it, he’s probably the most “psyched” person I know. I’ve always loved that about him.

    Have a great time in China–BA

  3. Emily: Loved your post above and the video “Letting Go” and shared with a number of friends. You remain an inspiration. Perhaps I will see you ar Red Rocks next year – God willing! Keep climbing. Have a most wonderful trip to China!

    Phil Timm (that old guy who showed up at Red Rocks in 2010)

  4. Pingback: The Illusion of Easy Living « Next Level Executive Coaching·

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