Sunday, May 04, 2008

Rain, Falling, Breathing, and Rope Burn

Friday evening was a late one for me. I've been on the Board of Directors of a small, non-profit farm for the past two years and Friday evening was our big, spring fundraiser (a silent auction). I didn't get home until about 11pm, and had to to make a couple of phone calls / e-mail checks before showering and heading off to bed. My inbox confirmed several folks were heading to Rumney on Saturday, and two of my phone calls confirmed that we had enough people going from Boston and back to warrant car-pooling. The forecast had changed a bit from earlier in the day. "Ratherbe" and I were thinking of heading to Rumney on Saturday and either Cathedral or Farley on Sunday, but the weather had played a mildly cruel trick on us by predicting rain for Sunday. One day of climbing at Rumney would have to do.


My alarm had gone off twice by 6:15am. I hit snooze each time knowing that I'd have time to get up, eat, cleaned, and clothed by the time "Ratherbe", "Gammie", and "GGF" met me at my place at 730am. I wasn't driving, so I had no need to get the car ready to take everyone else's gear. I had already packed the day before, and my clothes for the weekend, tent, pad, food stuff, gear, and toiletries were already packed and ready to go. Just a couple of more minutes...


I could feel the edges of my eyes where they had crusted over during the night. My comforter was heavy on my body, and I snuggled against the warm spots in my bed thinking about how premature I was in turning off my heat for the warmer seasons the weekend before. It was consistently in the 60s that weekend, and that was enough to bring the temperatures in my apartment over to a comfortable 70 degrees-plus. Why can't we store room temperature? Why hasn't anyone discovered a way to save excess heat from the summer so that it can be used in the winter, and / or vice-versa with cold weather in the winter? Why do I think about these things in my sle...


Who is meeting us there? And who is meeting me here? "Gecko" was meeting us at Rumney. So was "KITT". "Rank" lived near "Ratherbe" and I tried to connect them the evening before so that "Rank" didn't have to drive to my place just to ride in "Ratherbe"'s car. But it was only about a ten-minute drive from there to here if the connection wasn't made Saturday morning. A few minutes of needed sleep for me wouldn't hurt either of them.


The light in my room was a heavy grey and all but my dark curtains were blurry. I pulled the covers below my neck, felt the bite of the morning air, and pulled them back up again. Would we go to Cathedral and camp if there was snow on the ground?Farley is a much better idea...

RRRRIIINNNNG!!! "Call from "Rath-er-be"..." ...RRRRIIINNNNG!!! "Call from "Rath-er-be"..."

What the? ... RRRRIIINNNNG!!! "Call from "Rath-er-be"..." Crap!

I raced to the phone in the other room just as my alarm clock went off for the third time. When I picked up the phone, "Ratherbe" had the unfortunate news of rain at Rumney, which means we weren't going climbing on Saturday, and probably not on Sunday either as the forecast was now calling for rain all weekend. Bugger, I thought, as I was looking forward to getting on sport for the first time this season. I made phone calls to "Gecko", "KITT", "Gammie", and "Rank", and let them know that we could meet up at the gym at 1030am. Feeling the need for extra sleep, I crawled back into bed and closed my ey...zzzz...

I told you a couple of weeks ago about how I had read about relaxing while falling, and how breathing should help to do that. In that post I vowed to focus on breathing in general, and began taking falls on purpose in order to practice relaxing while falling. I noted that exhaling during a fall helps to relax the body, and that if I extended that focus on breathing toward actual breathing regularly and calmly during climbing that I'd begin to feel relaxed normally, and not just while falling. My goal was to first get used to falling while relaxed by picking a spot on the route before climbing, reaching that spot, and then falling unannounced to my belayor. The intent was to prepare myself to fall even though my belayor wasn't ready (thus getting over the fear of falling unannounced). What I've learned is two things: 1) that this helps get over the fear of falling, but not the fear of that moment before falling and; 2) that it's better practice for the belayor than it is for the climber.

But first things first - the breathing. I knew this was going to be difficult to get used to, but I have learned that if I do pay attention to it that does make a big difference in my overall performance. If you remember, my goal was to breathe at a consistent rate throughout the climb, regardless of the difficulty of the moves. The idea was that I would only make a climbing move when exhaling (as if I were weight lifting instead), and if my breathing was such that I wasn't exhaling when I was ready to move, then I'd wait until I did exhale.

As I noted above, this has helped tremendously, but only when I remember to focus on it. I can't say that I have enough information yet to confirm just how productive this is, but the small amount of evidence that I have collected is conclusive: it works when I get it right, and difficult to control when I get it wrong. Stay tuned, as I hope to have enough "data" collected to come to a conclusion by the season's end.

Now, as for the falling. My approach was to take unannounced falls that I had planned to take before climbing (i.e. - I know when I'm falling but my belayor doesn't). This was to serve two objectives: 1) that I'd get used to falling and; 2) that I'd get used to breathing while falling. Thus far, I have to say that the results have been phenomenal. No more am I afraid of falling, and I'm making falls easier on myself by exhaling when I push off. The problem? I really need a #3 under my objectives. The third would be to train myself to take an unannounced fall when I don't know that I'm falling, and I have realized this lately by watching "KITT" and "Ratherbe" take falls using my approach. It has helped them, but it hasn't helped me (to be clear: "Gecko" never needed my approach. The guy just falls and he's OK).

"Ratherbe" had been worried lately about climbing routes that she didn't know anything about. In fact, it has been worrying her enough such that she's been feeling insecure about disappointing her climbing partners by not being willing to climb something mysterious, regardless of grade. I tried to tell her that it was a phase; that we all go through days where we have good "head" days and bad "head" days, and that her recent experience was merely a bad "head" day. I told her today at the gym that she should take a couple of relaxed falls just to get her head back into a good comfort zone, and she did. She then went on to lead harder and harder routes throughout the day, several of which she took legitimate lead falls on. It should be noted, as well, that she doesn't like leading in the gym in general. So not only did she feel better about taking falls, but she actually took them on hard routes in an environment where she doesn't feel comfortable leading.

I, on the other hand, had no problems taking falls when I knew I was going to - but I shouted "take" whenever I felt as if I was going to take a legitimate fall (instead of just taking the fall). It seems that I'm getting too used to taking falls only when I'm ready. I guess the only way that I'm going get used to taking legitimate falls is if I start leading harder routes and going until I fall. So far, I think my breathing and falling experiment is working, but it isn't producing helpful results yet. There is still time, however, and at least I can say that I'm learning. But I need to apply what I've learned in order to prove that I've actually learned it. Thus fas, my partners are better learners than I am. I hope that I can muster the courage to learn with them, too.

One final note, I learned first-hand today why one should never have one's feet on the wrong side of the rope while leading. I took a fall on purpose and somehow didn't see that my feet were in the wrong place. Just as soon as I felt the back of my left ankle rub against the rope, I felt my ass stay higher than my head. This scared me, and so I immediately pulled my left leg free so that I didn't land upside down. However, I was left with a pretty bad rope burn going across my Achilles tendon. It hurt like a son-of-a-gun then, and also later when I showered. I think it is fine now, but I can easily see how, on a much bigger whipper, someone could sever tendons or loose a foot. This isn't just about preventing an upside down fall, but it's also about preventing potential injuries to your feet. So beware! Always make sure that your feet are not on the wrong side of the rope when above the clip, and if you can't help it, make sure that you are in total control and won't fall. Because I can say first-hand that it hurts like hell.


Ratherbe said...

Something I just thought of in reflection of our falls last weekend... I knew a fall might happen and made the conscious decision to go ahead and keep moving (instead of taking). And I consciously related it to the earlier exercise of deciding what hold to touch and fall at, while hoping that I'd be able to do the move. So for me, the practice falls helped me manage the "I'm gonna fall" fear. I guess my point is, when you hit a moment when you want to say "take," see if instead, you can shift your focus back into the same thought pattern you have during practice falls.

GB said...

Interesting point. That may help. Thanks!