by Laur Sabourin, Warrior’s Way trainer
This summer, I went to the Needles in California with my friends, Pat and Jeremiah. For months.
I had my heart set on climbing one line there, the trad route Pyromaniac (5.13b. PG-13). The route stands in the center of the main notch, a stunning, arched finger crack that sweeps across an otherwise blank face.
I went through my usual route-projecting-process for challenging lines with tricky pro: I top-roped the route, checked out the placements, and gained familiarity with the moves. I bounce- tested the pieces with my body weight to make sure they were solid. All this helped me ensure I could place the pro accurately on the go.
For the final process, I pulled the rope and practiced some lead falls, determining my “yes” and “no” fall zones. I gave the route redpoint burns, pushing my highpoint a little bit each time.
On the last day, I had time for one more attempt before heading back to Arizona. I pulled onto the route and felt like a superhero; the boulder problem intro moves felt easier than it ever had. I was calm as I pulled into the run-out traverse in the middle. By the time I entered the final undercling enduro-fest, I was cruising through the thin locks. At the end of the undercling sequence, with energy left in the tank, I threw to a perfect finger lock and stuck it. The crux was over.
And then I fell.
At first, I was too charged with adrenaline to feel anything, but then it washed over me. That was it. I had set a goal for the trip. I had really allowed myself to want it. I had taken rest days and been on top of my skincare routine. And I didn’t achieve it; I didn’t send the route.
How to shift attention from frustration to learning
Frustration occurs when there is a gap between our expectations and the reality of a situation. Frustration often shifts us towards self-critical thinking or other unhealthy thought patterns. But this uncomfortable space is filled with learning opportunities if we know how to shift attention; so how can we shift our attention from frustration to learning?
We can ask ourselves two questions:
- What did I do well?
- What do I still need to improve?
It can be challenging to ask those questions right away. In this instance, I took a few deep breaths, pulled back up, and finished the route. Then, when I came down, I took some time at the base to reflect.
What did I do well?
I was confident with my beta and didn’t stop to second-guess the moves that I had already rehearsed. I climbed continuously through challenging sequences and stayed committed to my yes- and no-fall zone decisions.
What do I still need to improve?
At the moment of the fall, I had allowed myself to relax because the “crux was over”, even though the feet were still quite slippery. I can stay attentive to the task at hand — finishing each move on the route — rather than being distracted by achieving the goal of climbing the route.
Shifting from F to C – Frustration to Curiosity
While reflecting, I felt my body relax and become more open. I remembered why I had chosen the route in the first place: it was beautiful and inspiring, and it pushed me to commit fully and work on some weaknesses in my climbing technique. The goal of sending the climb was important — it pushed me to work hard on the trip and optimize every attempt — but it was not the only reason that I was there.
Later this summer, I had the opportunity to project other granite cracks and apply some of the techniques that I had practiced in the Needles. By asking myself these two questions and shifting from frustration to curiosity, I continued to find new ways to learn and share the joy of climbing with my community.