Comparison kills your joy

I feel the need to set everyone straight right from the beginning. I am not a hardcore climber. I am the office manager of a climbing company. I married the hardcore climber. Frederick and many of the ONE AXE staff are hardcore climbers. I am just a regular person who has fears and anxiety about climbing. When I was invited on an all-women’s team to climb, I refused in 2016 saying that they were crazy and insisted that I was not hardcore. Incidentally, my big NO turned into a little “no” and then by 2017, the little “no” turned into a “maybe” and eventually a tentative “yes”. My small yes never turned into an enthusiastic YES! Why not? The months, weeks, days and even hours leading up to our multi-pitch climb in Red Rocks filled me with anxiety (some people call it excitement).

The main issue I had on the trip was that I was comparing myself to my girlfriends who I climb bi-weekly with. I am older than them. I am shorter than them. I am weaker than them. I have more body fat than them. I train less than them. I have fewer rippling back muscles than them. My foot wasn’t in the best shape either. I suddenly had a lot of strong feelings mixed with self-doubt and most of them were perpetuated by comparing myself to these lovely women. While some people believe in retail therapy, I bought extra insurance that specifically catered to climbers to help me feel better.

One of my teammates tried to assuage my fears and coached me by going through trusting the gear and trusting the guides; all the things that I totally trust in our own climbing company. But Frederick (Director of ONE AXE Pursuits) wasn’t the one setting up the trad routes. I had to trust someone else and this was out of my comfort zone. In fact, up until I climbed with my women’s group, I rarely let anyone else belay me beside Frederick or the ONE AXE staff.

The sandstone climb was five pitches and 650ft high. The first couple of pitches were fine (even though I tore my day pack on the chimney climb) and the rest ledges were ample. I would suggest people train with a small backpack at the gym and carry two litres of water, a couple apples and some granola bars to simulate the extra weight. Since we were climbing at my peak (outdoor 5.7 which feels like an indoor 5.10), the extra weight and cumbersomeness of the pack added to my stress. The lack of handholds on the third pitch (thanks goodness I could just lean in on the slab) and the exposure with howling winds on pitch 4 and 5 along with tiny rest ledges that couldn’t even fit my size W5.5 shoes, were anxiety provoking. But pitch by pitch, I worked through it. I focused on my upward movements and didn’t look down. I thought about my breathing much like during labour (in fact, giving birth was actually easier than climbing multi-pitch in my case).

What I got out of it when we were safely back down was that I did not regret the climb at all. But what I did regret was continually comparing myself to the other women and feeling critical towards myself about my fear. I run a climbing company for crying out loud (even if it is the business side)! You know that I am NOT a guide, right? Overall, what I learned is that I actually didn’t conquer my fear this time and I didn’t feel this great sense of accomplishment. What I did feel was that I learned to work through my fear. And that is okay. I need to accept myself for where I am and stop comparing myself to others. It is through that comparison that I am robbed of the joy I could be experiencing. The hardest part of the trip wasn’t the actual climb, it was the management of my self-judgment. Stay tuned because Girl’s Trip 2018 (also referred to as Women’s Trip) is already in the works. Looking forward to turning my anxiety into excitement!

Christa Niravong 2017