“I can’t get all this stuff into my pack.” Whether the first day, the second, or the day after a ten day re-ration, the comment is inevitable. Over the duration of a course my response will often change. From “OK, lets see what you have going on here” to “well, you got it all in there yesterday” to “maybe you should try a little harder,” my responses greatly depend on my student’s abilities and my rapport with the student. Saying “try harder” does not work with all students, though many times it is truly what they need to do. Whether taking out a nut, untying a knot, packing a pack or building a snow wall, trying harder or putting in just a little more effort is often the ticket to success.
Sometimes I need to take my own advice more. So often I hate trying. Trying means the potential to fail. Failing often means having to do it again or even worse, loosing. I try pretty hard at things I know I can do and do so in order not to fail, in order to save face. There is no reason for me to fall off of Elmo’s Fish up in Sinks Canyon and if I truly don’t think I can do it that day, then maybe I won’t even get on it. Trying hard and failing at something I have successfully done multiple times is hard on the ego and ain’t nobody got time for that. Much like many of my students though, I do not try hard enough at things that maybe I can do. However, I would like to think I know the difference. After thirty some odd years I should have some modicum of self-awareness. Students are generally novices at the skills they are practicing and it could be said they do not usually know what they are incapable or capable of doing when it comes to a new skill.
“Well, this sets you up to lead the crux pitch” I say to Anna as I gathered the gear from her and reorganized it on my harness.
“Un-uh” she replied, shaking her head. “It is all you”
“Well in that case, I am doing the Banshee 5.9 variation” I replied. “I remember getting shut down hard on the Grand Wall’s crux pitch of the same grade. It is all yours”
“Nope, I have never onsighted a 5.11- crack pitch… except at the Creek…” she putters out.
We are midway up the ultra classic Sunshine Crack that shoots up the north side of Snowpatch Spire in Bugaboo Provencial Park in the Canadian Rockies.
“Well there is a first time for everything” I add. But I know it is a lost cause; it will either be me leading it or we will turn around and go home.
Already in my mind, the idea of just pulling on gear has pushed its way to the front. We are in the alpine, I erroneously think, as there is nothing really alpine about our current endeavor. It will go free, just pull on gear. Whatever, I’ll stop build a belay and set her up for the lead. I launch out up the splitter hands to an easy squeeze and pull out on to a slabby crack. Above me the roof looms large and weird. Not splitter like the rest of the route. I inch up to it and decide that building a belay then hanging out under it will just intimidate me. I’ll probably end up leading it anyway, I think. So I continue and creep up underneath it. Tentatively I slide my fingers into its poddy cracks. I place a piece or two and pull myself close to its coarseness. I peer up and over and wiggle in a shitty jam. I let go of it and step back down. Ten seconds pass. With half a heart I step back up and give it a go. “Take” I yell down without expending much effort at all. I place a piece higher, grab it, then pull myself over the roof. Reduced to the ol’ french free without a fight, without even trying. I make a move or two and step right to a bolted belay station. Immediately I realize I should have tried harder. As Eminem once profused: “you only get one shot, do not miss your chance to onsight, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime…” or something like that. I kick myself and feel my self-esteem plummet. Right then I start concocting this blog post in my head. Try harder Spaulding, try harder.
Two pitches later I am standing at another two bolt anchor and staring up at a beautiful hand and fist crack. Anna’s question at the belay of whether I wanted to link the pitch below with the pitch above for, as one mountainproject.com user wrote “one of the best crack pitches of your life?” was fresh in my mind. As was the pulling on gear over the roof. Try harder Spaulding, try harder rings in my head. “How much rope?” I yell down. After a bit of estimating I hear “about eighty feet.” I think, try harder. Go for it. I suss my remaining rack. After a moment’s contemplation I step left off the ledge and into the crack. “Climbing” I yell down.
A couple pitches up and an hour after, Anna is stymied by the hard and poorly protected face moves just below the anchor. Eventually she backs down and builds an anchor. “I can belay you up and let you try or can rappel and leave a few nuts” she yells down from above. Try harder Spaulding, try harder. The easy way out is not always the best option. Aww hell, I should probably give it a go.
“I’ll climb” I yell up. “Why the heck not?” She puts me on belay and I cast off right across a beautiful hand traverse peppered with just enough good crystals for solid footing. The traverse curves upward and I jam beautiful tight hands for twenty feet before traversing back left with poor fingers to Anna’s belay stance. I take some gear from her, but not too much ’cause it doesn’t look like much will go in. I move left and take a look. I edge out a little further, then back. I go back out, then back in. No gear, I think, so no pulling on it; I guess that is good. I move back out a bit further and then back down again. Try harder. I move back out and commit to a crystal with my left foot and then a high step with my right. I find a small edge for my fingers and a pod into which I shove a poor number one Camalot. My breathing is steady and pursed. Another smear propels me high and I clasp the ridge with my right hand. I match hands and mantle onto the top, having tried a little harder, or at least hard enough.