After watching me curse my way up a few climbs, the Colorado Mountain School guide who was trying to teach me to trad climb paused for a discussion about keeping a cool head while leading.
I confessed I was terrified of falling.
And a bunch of other things about climbing.
What: Warrior’s Way Espresso Clinic
When: 6 to 10 p.m. Monday
Where: Boulder Rock Club
To work with the fear, the guide recommended a favorite book: “The Rock Warrior’s Way: Mental Training for Climbers.”
I devoured it. Twice. It filled me with such confidence in its methods that I immediately sought out a Flatiron route for an easy but mentally challenging lead. I got what I asked for: “deliberate breathing” (warrior-style) through a 60-foot run-out with heinous rope drag and occasional prayer to the sticky-rubber gods.
“The Rock Warrior’s Way,” by Arno Ilgner, is a philosophical treatise on your-brain-on-climbing, a systematic way to deal with climbing’s mental trials. And it translates easily into on-the-rock clinics.
Prolific first-ascentionist and former Boulder resident Jeff Achey will teach a Warrior’s Way clinic Monday night at the Boulder Rock Club, and at Rock’n & Jam’n in Thornton on Wednesday and in Centennial on Thursday.
To develop his methods, Ilgner drew from many places, but favored warrior literature such as Dan Millman’s “Way of the Peaceful Warrior.”
“Everyone has a different approach, including Arno,” Achey said. “But if you look for common denominators, it’s about clarity of purpose, and ability to focus attention without being distracted by fear, and not being too attached to end goals.”
Achey has been working with Ilgner since he started developing the Warrior’s Way; he said having a philosophical structure to work with appealed to him.
“I had some experience with mental challenge,” Achey said. “But it really surprised me how much Arno had to offer, even to an expert climber like me.”
Last year I took Ilgner’s clinic at the Red Rock Rendezvous (near Las Vegas) and shivered through a stormy day in the desert for the sake of my climbing mind.
A mere 10 feet up wet sandstone during the clinic, I came to a halt. Arno asked why I wasn’t climbing.
“My fingers are so cold! I can’t feel them!” Oh, the drama!
“Well,” Arno said with a calm smile, “Just focus on your breath instead.”
I stared him down and blew hot air into my frozen fists. Then I shifted my attention and climbed. Of course, it worked. I decided to ignore my brain for the rest of the day and just listen to Arno.
Despite cold, fear and other discomfort, I keep going back for more, and I’m not sure why. But Achey made two points that nailed it for me:
“If you don’t have any fear of heights, rock climbing is kind of boring.”
And: “Having a positive experience facing the fear — that’s a big part of what makes climbing rewarding.”
The Flatiron lead wasn’t a physical challenge; you can practically walk up. But managing the mental chatter about the heady downward pull of the rope, the nagging thought that I probably wouldn’t fall, but, if I did, I would fall far — that’s when it pays to remember to give yourself a calm smile and just say: breathe.