I have a dear friend, Carter, who is wiser than most. We have rock climbed together throughout the years, and a couple back we were discussing why we love it. What he said then I’ve leaned on in so many moments (his words paraphrased): “Some people climb for the crux, the hardest move in the sequence. Their goal is to conquer the most difficult part. But we climb for so many other reasons. To be in nature. To share a campfire and guitar strumming and good food with close friends. To be on the climbing route, moving our bodies, stretching and working and feeling the journey. In each climb we confront our fear, address it, keep moving, confront fear again, address it, keep moving. What I learn about myself from those routes is what keeps me climbing. Not just beating that crux.”
Yesterday I was climbing Red Mountain, on skis this time. A few hours in, we traversed a very steep, sketchy section on 8 inches of new powder, and a layer of ice underneath. With each tentative step I took, I heard circling in my head: “fear, address it, next step. Fear, address it, next step.” Then: “The more you do this, the less fearful you will be. You will have been here before.”
Once safe in a stand of trees, I said, “Let’s head down. I’m good.” Fear talking. I still had strength and power but didn’t feel the need to go on to be satisfied. But as an experiment, and a more stable way to continue, we then took off our skis and put them on our backs, something I had never done before. And we said “we’ll go maybe 10 steps, this is just to get used to it”. My highly experienced partner lead the way, doing a vast majority of the hard work, breaking trail. We walked to one set of trees as a stopping goal, then pushed on to another, then pushed on to yet another. We thought that we were 1000 feet from the summit and knew we weren’t going to make it to the top because of the time of day, but we kept on. We’ve come this far…just a bit more. As I hiked the last thirty steps to where my partner stopped in our committed finish spot, the blowing snow cleared. Like magic. After lunch, we looked behind us to see that the summit was just a few/five hundred feet above us. Within reach. But it was too late to continue, so we headed down. The steep slope giving us a whoop! inducing run, earned hard and well enjoyed.
When something induces fear, it can force us to either back off or keep going. There are only two choices. We don’t live in the middle. When we keep going, we lay down one more data point of possibility. And when we return to a similar situation, that data point reminds us that we are capable. We overcame fear and came out the other side one notch up, opening us up to the next challenge. Confront fear. Address it. Keep moving.