Comfortably, Scared

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James Buehler (@jimmy_couloir) walking the line 2,000 feet up the Bugaboo Spire, BC.

I’m anxiously awaiting winter to grace itself upon us here in the Wasatch. So for now, I am blasting from the past summer adventures.

Fear. Where do you go when you’re scared? How do you respond when you are trembling in your boots? The process of fear affects most of us all the same way, but why do we all deal with it differently. I’ve seen many friends shut down completely in the face of fear and I’ve seen many friends grab fear by it underwear and give it an atomic wedgie. We all feel the same fear though. The difference is just about how you handle it.

This summer, James Buehler and I took the long journey up North to the Bugaboo Provincial Park in Southeastern British Columbia. James had never been into the alpine and I had never been leading on such big walls. But we were mentally ready. I was definitely ready until I showed my friend in Fernie, BC some photos of where we were going to climb. Up until that point it was a little bit of a surreal, exciting thing to show people. Now that we were a few short hours away and about to hike 60lbs of gear high into the alpine, the reality hit. The fear set in. It really set in a way that I haven’t ever experienced. My chest felt heavy. It was hard to breathe. I had 100% doubt that we were absolutely crazy and couldn’t help but ask myself, “what the hell are we doing?”.

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The Bugs

My biggest lead before this was up on Lone Peak in Salt Lake City. I flashed a couple of 550 ft 5.10 routes. I also led the 2 crux pitches on the NE ridge of Pingora in the Wind Rivers, a 2,000 ft 5.8, the summer before with Clay. But I knew we were stepping up to a new beast. 2,000 ft walls of however hard you want them to be. Glaciers, bergschrunds, and crevasses protected the base of all the peaks. It was a truly foreign experience we were about to dive into.

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Fireweed for days.

We trekked all of our gear through the grizzly filled forest, up the steep switchbacks, past the Conrad Kain hut to Applebee dome. Home for the next 8 days. We were nestled nicely into a pre built wind barrier amongst hundreds of other climbers from around the world. The next day, we set off for the NE ridge of the Bugaboo Spire. A 2,000 ft 5.8 to get the juices flowing. Also a North America top 50 classics (top 50 busiest).  I was happy to get going on some easier terrain since I knew that a few other routes on our list were monsters. We set off from camp at 530. Scrambled our way past frozen glacial lakes and up to the base of the route. A gentle headwall with the tackiest (sticky) granite that has ever graced my rubber soles. Even though the climbing was easy, it was daunting to know that we had 2,000 feet of it to go. Especially because I’m awkwardly afraid of heights.

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NE Ridge of the Bugaboo Spire on the right. Snowpatch Spire on the left.

James and I were making solid progress. James even took his first alpine leads. Impressive on such a big route. It’s easy to call something a “route”. Until you get into a sea of rock and can pretty easily get off track. But we were smashing pitches. Even simul climbing(at the same time, one persons fall would be caught by the other persons bodyweight) long pitches until we reached nice ledges to switch leads. At the top I sent James to the very summit thinking it was the route and quickly realized it was not. Then I rapped into a hole. I thought I knew where I was going. Before I knew it I was below some sketchy 5.10 off route climbing with no gear and just my rappel device. A subtle 2,000 headwall allowed me to see straight down to the ground. Fear. I was now off route, on a single stand of a half rope, below 5.10 grit climbing with no gear. As a team, James and I decided to get James to the correct place and then I would end up top roping(TR) out of the abyss. It’s crazy how quick it all happened. I didn’t see it coming and before I knew it, I was in a bad spot. I am not sure how others would handle it. I would hope they came to the scenario that James came up with because I tried to get James to come to me and I was going to try to lead out of the hole.

It’s all about logical thinking. Staying calm and weighing in on the options you have, before you make them. Then you figure out the most logical and execute. We would continue to safely make it down the camp after I TR’d out of the hole. We swallowed our fears of the wall and over the next 5 days we continued to climb the 900ft 5.11 Sunshine Crack and the 2,000 ft 5.10 Beckey-Chouinard.

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The Vowell Glacier.

We navigated the glacial protected terrain and ended up with memories so branded into our heads that I can close my eyes as I type and picture the footsteps across the Upper Vowell Glacier. I can picture the chockstone with cut rope in it and my rope sitting in the exact same position.

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pitch 10 or so on the Beckey-Chouinard. Every pitch is a far as you can take it.

Some fear is legit. As we progress in society today, we now do things that psychologically we are not designed to feel comfortable with. It’s all about taking the time to learn, and executing what you know needs to get done in the face of fear. And don’t go out and be some Jackwagon and get in over your head. When you are prepared, don’t let it hold you back. Sometimes it’s the fear that will give you courage. Stemming from the fact that you are puckered out of your mind and the only way to continue is to succeed. That’s why I do these activities that I am often quite scared of, the fear gives me that extra motive to succeed.

How do you do fear?

 

Rip on Psyche,

Alex

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