Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Guest Blogger Aleya: "Fear"

Hi Everyone - While Mia's in Nepal, she's asked a few of us to post on her site about our latest adventures, as well as post updates from Nepal as we get them. Here's our first guest post from Aleya. Enjoy! - RCG HQ

Fear

Today I am exhausted. My back and knees hurt and my eyes are puffy from lack of sleep, but it’s worth it.

Yesterday I had an adventure. I got to climb six pitches on Seneca Rocks in WV, tackling four different named climbs, a summit scramble, one rap to the base and a steeeeep walk out. I’m sore, but I can’t stop smiling.

This weekend wasn’t supposed to involve climbing. Initially this was a “manly bonding” trip, and being of the female variety, I wasn’t invited. Then a week ago the instigating male decided that a “couples trip” would be more pleasant, and thus I received my invite.

The conversation about what we should climb went something like this:

George (my man): What were you guys planning on doing?
Mike (instigating male): I dunno, Ecstasy maybe.
Katie (Mike’s girl): The drug?
Mike: (Sigh) No dear, the climb… What are you guys planning?
George: Thought maybe we’d start on Skyline Traverse and take it from there.
Me: Um, hu? (Silently panics at hearing ‘Skyline”)
George: We’d have to pick another route at the ledge cause Skyline doesn’t summit…
Me: Oh, I see. (Pretending that was actually why I said “hu?”)
Mike: That sounds like a great time, fo sho.
Me: Ah, yeah. I think I forgot something back at my house… in Maryland… I should go get it… (Sneaks away.)

Skyline Traverse is my nemesis. The last time out we climbed the first pitch and I decided my nerves were too raw to keep going. This makes more sense if you understand that I’m afraid of heights. I’m still a beginner climber, especially outdoors, so these sensations and fears are new to me. I guess, more accurately, I’m afraid of falling. And hitting the ground. Or a ledge. Or a tree. Or a person. The first move on the second pitch of Skyline traverse is the ideal place to trigger this fear. Its one huge step off a ledge onto a tiny foot over a hundred of feet of air. Its not really difficult, but it’s exposed and a bit spicy, and much harder to do when your hands are shaking and your palms are sweating.

It’s a good thing I respond so easily to peer pressure, or I never would have agreed to do the route. We packed our gear and started the approach early, getting to the climb before any other long-weekend recreationalists. The first pitch is straightforward: Climb a dihedral to a ledge, climb another dihedral to another ledge. I followed my leader up, feeling pretty confident. At the first anchor I started to feel the familiar butterflies of fear. We transferred the gear, restacked the rope and commented on the perfect weather. Then he said. “Ok, I’m leaving.” After a few careful steps (which I had a hard time watching) he was past the crux and out of sight. I was alone.

I’ve read so much on fear and how to overcome it I should be an expert by now. Drink orange juice, vitamin C decreases anxiety. Pick a soothing aromatherapy balm. Have a mantra. Work up to it. I’ve tried letting go of my fears, but it seems I’m afraid of even that too. It’s like if I let go I’ll lose a safety net. But when it comes down to it, to the moment you have to take action, where your worst nightmare overcomes you, it’s all about making a choice to step outside your bubble of comfort, and jump.

As I stood on the ledge feeding out rope and listening for commands I took an inventory of the risks in climbing the next pitch. They were embarrassingly few. I’d be on belay from the top the whole time. If I fell it’d be over air so I wouldn’t hit anything. My fears were irrational and I knew it. I glanced at the changing fall landscape below me and watched a hundred golden leaves break free and swirl with the wind, then suddenly shoot skyward in an updraft. The effect was breathtaking. I’d like to say that in that moment I was set free as well, and climbed with confidence and grace over the abyss below…

Instead my stomach churned and I farted.

I did, however, decide in that moment to take that step outside my bubble, and fight hard for clarity. Climbing can be a spiritual experience, or an intensely temporal one. I felt my heart thump against my ribcage while a thousand voices screamed inside my head. My palms grew slick despite the chalk as they groped and clawed for security. When I rocked my weight onto the tiny, exposed ledge I learned the meaning of the term “commit.” That pitch, and the next three after that, was a sustained battle for control. And I won. I didn’t give in and I didn’t make any mistakes.

The last climb up Windy Corner was a good step and a half back into my comfort zone. I’d even go so far as to say I relaxed a bit and enjoyed myself. Then I realized that by persevering through my fears I’d also expanded my bubble so far to include routes like Windy Corner.

I may never be a badass climber, but give me a challenge and watch me overcome it. That’s why I can’t stop smiling.

“Today was such a relaxing day…” – Mike reflecting on the day’s climb.

Aleya lives and works just outside of DC and is lucky to know Mia through the wonderful world of Twitter. She blogs at www.rockandsky.com, tweets as Blueskeyes207, loves science, her dog, and long walks on moonlit beaches.

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