Saturday we were determined to climb something. We decided to try an area way in the middle of the Park, hoping the weekend crowds wouldn’t go that far from the entrance. We drove to the Geology Tour Road and down to the Towers of Uncertainty. Love that name! There were 3 5.5’s on the Crow’s Nest wall that we wanted to check out.
We found the towers about half a mile off the road and wandered through them until we found the Crow’s Nest. The first 5.5 looked really good and I wondered if I could climb it enough to get comfortable leading it. Dan said he was willing to stay until I led, all night if that’s what it took.
We found the walk up to set up the anchor. It was very civilized, an easy little scramble. We slung a boulder with our new 100 foot static rope and set up a great, simple anchor. Our one mistake was clipping both ends of the rope through a carabiner to hang the top rope over the climb. When climbing, the belay line rubbed the climbing line as the climber went up. Not good. Dan scurried up to fix it.
Then I climbed, checking out the moves, placing gear as I went. I think I forgot to place gear at times, getting wrapped up in the climbing moves. That’s ok, I just wanted a recon run. I asked Dan to climb it next.
He went up on top rope and placed gear. He focused carefully on where to place, which pieces to choose and how close to space them. Then he came down and led the climb. He did a great job, making leading look easy.
I went up again, placing gear. This time, I tied in to the end of the rope that was not in use. I clipped it as I went up to get a feel for what it would be like to lead. I enjoyed that but it did make me nervous to think of being only on lead.
I decided to do that again. I went up, placing gear and climbing. Thinking of leading made me nervous that all my pieces were bad and would fail if I fell on them. I recalled every story I’d ever heard or read about people taking catastrophic falls leading trad and dying or being permanently injured when their gear came out.
I decided to top rope again, this time I would really pretend I was on lead. It went ok during the bottom half. I found the climbing to be the most challenging there. I moved carefully and placed lots of gear. Then an easier section of climbing that I pushed through quickly. I then got to another challenging section. Feeling insecure, I decided to place a piece of gear.
Looking down, I saw my last piece, at the the beginning of the easy climbing, a good two body lengths below me. I realized that had I been on lead and fallen here, it would have been catastrophic. I freaked out. I knew in that moment that I would never be brave enough to lead on trad gear. It was too scary, too crazy. I was sure to die or end up in a wheel chair. I started to cry.
I made myself remember I was on top rope and in no real danger. I continued up the climb, going through the motions of putting in gear but the tears did not stop until I reached the top. I was so scared to try leading. And so frustrated that I was so scared.
But the idea was, we would stay out there until I led. I did really want to lead but I knew I needed more burns on the route to feel comfortable with the climbing and to learn the gear placement.
I went up again and this time, Dan called up reminders to me to place gear. I stopped more, I thought about it more, I placed more gear and made the spaces between placements much smaller so I would never risk such a huge fall.
I went again, practicing. Dan talked about placing gear high up, above my head if I could, so that my next moves would be well protected and I wouldn’t move above the gear so quickly. I had been placing around hip level, ice climbing style. That helped too and I went again, practicing that. Eventually, I was moving more confidently, thinking more about the gear placement, working on how to make it as safe as possible for me to climb on lead.
We lost count of how many times I climbed it. Dan thinks nine, I think six, probably somewhere in between. I was starting to feel more comfortable, still not to the point of wanting to lead, but feeling like I had learned a lot and was getting much better at placing the gear. I sat on the ground to eat and rest. My eyes were tired and my gaze was far and unfocused. Dan talked about maybe calling it a day. I think it was past 4 pm and we had been there since 8:30. I was so tired. He said probably not a good idea to try my first lead when I was so tired. I was disappointed but he talked about how much I learned and how hard I worked and to ease up on myself. He said we could return the next day and I could lead it then.