Your Ego Will Make You Suck At Climbing


Tracy Wilson’s ego isn’t holding her back on Fairway to Heaven, Black Cliffs, ID.

It was an all too familiar feeling: butterflies on winter migration through my stomach. I was standing at the base of a route that I was projecting, getting close to the send. And it would hit like a ton of bricks, the nervous jitters, the anxiety, the anticipation. Often it would cause me to climb poorly, rigidly, tense but shaking with nervous energy, not wanting to “screw it up.”

Where was it coming from? It’s probably different for everyone, but for me, I think mostly it was the anticipation of what a successful ascent would “mean.” I was hungry for success, and reaching that next level. I felt like I “should” be climbing at a certain grade, my ego demanded it! In fact, I was attaching my sends so strongly to my ego, and this in turn was how my ego was rewarding me: with shitty climbing.

And then, like flipping a switch, something changed. I stopped caring, about what the send would mean, about what other people would think seeing me project their “warm ups,” about anything but my own experience on the rock. As cliché as it sounds, I instead focused on climbing for the joy of climbing.

Sure, I hoped to ultimately get the send, but that wasn’t as important anymore. The process had to become everything. In climbing, as in life, we often learn the most from our greatest failures and struggles. So why was I so eager to skip past that, to the part where I could check off the little box in the guidebook and focus on another climb to get nervous about?

My climbing in the last couple of seasons has been heavily influenced by the Warrior’s Way. For me, it rings true in many ways, and I’ve seen tangible results from applying its tenets. It’s been several years since I’ve been nervous about getting on a hard climb. And I struggle to put into words how freeing that has been.

A friend I lived with once talked about how he would get so worked up before a hard redpoint effort he sometimes felt like he was going to throw up. I honestly can’t remember exactly when things changed for me, but I do remember it having to do with focusing more on sport climbing. Which maybe is ironic, because as I started pursuing harder climbs and pushing my limits, it’s easy to see how it could have gone the other way.

But once I learned to detach myself from the end result, and truly focus on getting what I could from the experience, and climbing on things I just thought were cool and wanted to climb on, regardless of whether or not sendage was happening, it all changed.

It’s almost like looking back on a different person, and in some ways, I was. Too wrapped up in the ego of it all, too concerned about what others thought, too much of the BS quite frankly. These days, it’s personal and important only to me and, I’d like to think, for all the right reasons.

3 Responses to Your Ego Will Make You Suck At Climbing

  1. A great reminder for me to read in the midst of my current hard-project-obsession-mode phase!

    Tyler Smith May 23, 2014 at 11:53 am
  2. It’s such a bummer that the column Fairway to Heaven was on fell down.

    Michael Dunstan January 18, 2015 at 1:19 pm
    • No kidding, it was one of my favorites out there!

      BJ Sbarra January 29, 2015 at 3:37 pm
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