This weekend I have been enjoying some highball bouldering. I haven’t been on a rope most of this month so I have been trying to find ways to push myself by upping the ante, climbing things that you would really not want to fall off of. Granted, boldness is a relative term, but this is my take on it.

Day 353 highball from Living Vertical on Vimeo.

Climbing is something that starts in the heart. Its like an attraction that you have to a given route–like a relationship in its infancy. You know that if you really feel strongly that it could wind up hurting you in the long run. But when it’s gotten under your skin, no amount of rationalization can stop the snowball from gaining momentum. In my head, there is a certain tipping point, that when it’s crossed, I know that resistance is futile.

Friday, out of nowhere, I got the signal. I just woke up feeling like today was the day for a big boulder to get climbed. Part of me was hesitant, but that part was sitting in the passenger seat, not driving. I drove down to one such boulder and set up a couple of cameras to capture some shots. Putting on my shoes I thought to myself…’is this a good idea?’ I had been looking at this particular line for a long time (years?) and I knew that it was just a matter of time till I gave it a go.

I thought about it and once I got to the top I concluded that it wasn’t a terrible idea. Climbing back down the backside of the boulder however proved to be a spicy affair. At this point I reopened the debate with myself about the wisdom of my choice. It would be the height (no pun intended) of irony to get injured or humiliated (‘excuse me, would you mind driving into town and returning with the biggest ladder you can find–oh and don’t tell anyone please!’) less than five feet from the side of the road…

Eventually after climbing up and down a few possible exit routes, I was able to put the pieces together and I was safely back on the ground, no worse for the wear. I thought about what I learned from this experience–why I had done it. What could I carry forward?

I learned that it’s good mental training. I knew that the rock was solid. I knew that all the moves were there. The only variable in the equation was me–and my goal is to be able to control myself in order to negotiate the moves. Part of this process is also about being honest in my self-assessment and knowing when and where to draw lines–knowing when to follow my heart and when to engage the brain.

The following day I chose to explore another highball boulder that I had scoped out earlier. This boulder was the definition of the siren song of climbing. A beautiful rock, with a beautiful line, straight up the face–in a beautiful position. The afternoon light hit it perfectly and as I walked up to it, I almost was able to overlook the ferocious maw of the yucca plant growing directly at the base of the fall line…

In this picture, I am placing my crashpad over the Yucca plant. I use the word ‘placing’ interchangeably with the word ‘impaling’. It just stuck there, floating, gored by the sinewy spines. I tried not to think about it. I didn’t want to psych myself out.

‘Just don’t fall’ I thought.

I got about 3/4ths of the way up and before committing to the face (out left up the line of obvious holds) I tested a few of the holds that I considered integral to being able to do the final moves to actually reach the top–and several of them crumbled in my hand. I was disappointed but read the handwriting on the wall and cheated up and right to the top via an easier line.

You can see in this photo the line of holds that would lead me to my left (out over the Yucca!) and these were the holds that were coming off…so while I finished straight up from this position, avoiding the truest line, I felt closure. I didn’t complete the route I had come out to do. I acknowledged that it simply wasn’t safe and I decided that I would not come back to it. It felt strangely good to exercise reasonably cautious judgement and not feel hounded by the lack of completion. It felt good to walk away knowing that this one would be better left as is…

But I found another boulder problem to fill this momentary gap!

This line isn’t as tall (although I swear the fisheye lens distorts the reality of this thing–it’s taller than it looks!) as the other two but the likelihood of falling, right at the top where the hardest moves reside, is a lot greater since the moves are harder, the angle is steeper and the holds are smaller!

I spent about an hour working out these moves but ultimately got shut down by my fear. I know that I can do the moves and the landing (should I fall) is a LOT better than either of the other two routes. Also the rock quality is very good, so in a lot of ways I have found a beautiful line that combines good movement and good rock with a spicy-but-not-too-dangerous top out.

I am really excited about this line because it represents a good balance that I am learning to achieve in bouldering. Each time I push my limit and raise the stakes I feel like I am learning more about myself and about my motivations. Fear is a part of any challenge–like diabetes or climbing. Learning to accept that fear after interpreting it is both important and rewarding. Its an ongoing process, I think.

I have been learning to experience and accept both sides of fear. The rational fear that is a legitimate warning of what not to do and the irrational fear that always challenges every decision I make. Its interesting seeing this from a climbing perspective because this is something I have dealt with in diabetes, long before I ever started climbing. I had a bad hypo (severe low blood sugar) episode when I was still in college that made me experience panic attacks every time I would inject my insulin for almost two years after. Even now, when I feel like my sugar is dropping I will eat like the world is coming to an end–because I know that it’s theoretically possible that mine is. But more often than not I am able to listen to the fear sufficiently to treat my symptoms and overlook the irrational fear that tells me to keep eating even while I am waiting for the food I’ve already eaten to hit my bloodstream.

Its just part of life–managing risk. It’s something you are faced with every day, living with diabetes, like it or not. I am excited to take advantage of every opportunity for this condition to pay back dividends in other areas of my life.

Sure diabetes is an obnoxious roommate, always leaving dirty dishes in the sink and being overly affectionate with it’s neverending series of floozy girlfriends in the common living area. I hate the loud music waking me at all hours of the night and the loud chewing noises. But moments like this, when I get to collect the “rent”, I feel like I might just be able to tolerate this unseemly tenant.