At Earth Treks, where I climb, there is a large motivational display. “What is your Dawn Wall?” it asks. Below that somewhat intrusive question is photograph of photograph of gym members tackling that one route that always seems to elude them. There’s an occasional 5.10. Most of them aim significantly higher. I try not to stare at it too long.
My Dawn Wall is a 5.5.
When I tell people this, I immediately become that annoying person who needs validation. I babble about how I know it’s easy, that I’m being ridiculous, that seriously, I climb 5.8! Sometimes even 5.9 (not successfully). There was that one awesome day I made it up a 5.10a! (Yeah. I don’t know how that happened, either. It was probably mislabeled.)
Stop it, you say. Accept yourself, be comfortable with where you are in the process, you don’t need validation, blah blah blah.
Easy for you to say. Your Dawn Wall is not a 5.5. Your Dawn Wall is probably a 5.13, or a respectable 5.10c at the very least.
It’s an easy climb. Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgenson spent 19 days on the Dawn Wall in Yosemite. On my little 5.5, I can reach the top in less than 9 minutes. The wall curves inward until about halfway, where it proceeds to gently curve in the opposite direction. I usually get about two moves from the top before I start to shake. Not because I’m pumped. Because I’m terrified.
The way the wall curves, if my foot slips while I’m reaching for the final hold, I will find myself dangling from the ceiling by my fingertips. This is not all in my head; I’ve actually seen it happen. Usually this is followed by awkward squirming until the climber realizes there’s no way to get his/her feet back on the wall, and then the belayer lowers him down. No big deal.
But every damn time, I get so close, that image pops into my head, and suddenly my guts sink to my toes. Even writing about this climb, right now, makes my palms sweat.
I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.
But I can. And someday, I will. I know this because I have an uncomfortable habit of doing things that scare me. It’s not one of those fears I never have to face, like cows. I’ll look up, see that last move, and wonder if I can make it. I’ll picture that fall in my head, feel it in my stomach. Will I slip? I don’t know. But I’ll go for it anyway.
And I think that terrifies me most of all.