BATTLE / by Angela Payne

Around this time last year I read a great interview with Chris Sharma about projecting and the process of letting go.  I remember that it made me feel a lot better about leaving Freaks of the Industry unfinished at the end of the 2011 season.  Now, one year later, I might need to dig up that interview again, because another season has passed, and I have yet to complete Freaks.

I’ll be honest—I definitely expected to finish the problem this season.  I felt on the verge of sending last year, so I was confident I could wrap it up this year.  The season got off to a good start, and it seemed like all I needed was a little more time and some good weather.  Despite being gone for a good chunk of the summer and fall, I ended up having adequate time and plenty of good weather to do the boulder.  I have some excuses for why I didn’t finish it off, but in the end, they are just that: excuses.  In all honesty, I had plenty of opportunities to send, but I never completely broke through the mental barrier that has become such a huge part of this process.

Freaks is a nemesis that surpasses all nemeses I have ever had.  This is not the first time I have invested multiple seasons in a boulder problem, but it is the first time I have experienced a mental battle of this magnitude.  I have done every conceivable link on the boulder problem, save starting from one or two moves in, and I know I am capable of completing it.  Yet, I have climbed to the end section of the problem more times than I’ll ever be able to count, only to fall at or a few moves past what is typically considered the linkage crux.  I have tried countless mental approaches—getting angry, relaxing, letting my mind wander, repeating a mantra as I climb, screaming, rhythmic breathing, acting like my life depends on it, pretending I couldn’t care less about it, even drawing positive reminders on my arm—you name it, I have probably tried it.  But the battle continues.

About a year ago, I did an interview for my friend Kris Hampton’s blog.  I talked about how I would have a different approach this season.  How I would climb on other things more, and try to get in a good rhythm of sending instead of devoting all my time to a single project.  In retrospect, I didn’t do a very good job of that this season.  I was away from Colorado for a few months’ worth of time, so when I was able to climb around here, I felt the pressure of the short season bearing down and almost always ended up at Freaks.  Granted, I did take a nice break to climb in the Southeast, and I even snuck in a few very fun days climbing at Wild Basin.  The few short breaks I did take proved to be effective, and I did manage to get a new highpoint this season on Freaks after returning from Chattanooga.  That progress, albeit a single move, was something I desperately needed.

I once joked that leaving a project for the winter is sort of like breaking up with a boyfriend.  After all, there is a lot of time and emotion that goes into projecting, so many ups and downs, frustrations and successes, a high level of commitment.  Of course comparing the two is a little melodramatic, and I don’t actually put projects on the same level as a committed relationship, but you get the point.  After investing so much time and energy in a single boulder and feeling so close to sending for so long, it’s not ideal to walk away again.

It snowed a few weeks back, and I took a hike up to Lower Chaos expecting to pronounce the season officially over.  It was quite miserable as I post-holed to the boulder, and I was pretty sure The Park was done.  I’ll admit that I felt okay with that, and I even sat for a while and enjoyed what I thought might be my last hike of the season.

However, after 5 days of sun, I found myself at it again.  I hoped to glean some motivation from the gift of time the weather had given me, but I just felt tired and stressed as I put in some less-than-stellar attempts.  I knew it was time to take a break.  My mind and body need some time away from the battlefield.

It’s been a week since I was at Freaks.  It’s beautiful outside today in Boulder, and of course I can’t help but think it might be pleasant in The Park.  Luckily, my trusty webcam tells me it is cloudy and pretty cold up there, so I am reassured that my decision to step away was not misguided.  Still, it’s never easy to call it for the season, knowing that the next chance I will get to try that boulder is likely 7+ months away.  Finishing a season without a “send” to show for all the time invested can definitely leave one feeling a bit unsettled.  But it’s all part of the process, with sending just being the final piece of a huge puzzle.

The dissatisfaction that can come at the end of a season is countered by a sense of relief.  Part of the battle this year has been keeping my obsessive tendencies in check.  I have had more time to devote to climbing this season, which means more time to cater my schedule to my project.  That can become quite dangerous for me, so I have worked hard to not let climbing consume me this year.  All in all, I think I have done alright.  When I begin to get down on myself for not completing this one boulder, I remember that I did get to go to Greenland and Paris and other wonderful places.  My life’s not all that bad, and there’s much more to it than a single boulder.  So, in a way it is a weight off my shoulders when the weather makes the decisions for me and forces me to focus on other things for a while.  After all, it’s hard to try a boulder when it’s six feet beneath the snow...

Now, as the winter descends, I’m getting excited about what the next months hold.  I am traveling to Kentucky to visit family, to Boston for two of the Dark Horse competitions, and to Mexico with my boyfriend’s family for a rare week that will contain no climbing.  Then I will have to prepare for ABS Nationals and hopefully some outdoor climbing in the spring.  Before I know it, the snow will melt and I’ll be ready to return to the alpine boulders.  Until then, I will use my unfinished business as a motivation to get stronger, both mentally and physically.  The boulder will be there…ready for the battle to resume, and when it does, I’ll be ready too.