|Peggy's Cove - photo Chris Surette|
The first problem was an easy route with positive holds, short enough for me to not freak out on without a spotter. It gave me a good taste for what I could expect of the rock, which was solid and grippy. I topped out easily in front of a small crowd of unsuspecting tourists who eyed my shoes questioningly. I slipped by them with a short smile, heading down to the edge of the ocean for another ascent.
Confidence built, I fit in three or four more problems, ranging from ledgy routes to wider cracks. And then I saw it: A beautiful finger crack split a tall section of the cliff band. It beckoned to me from its sunny corner. The steady cleft curved lightly before ending at the top out, giving me the rare opportunity to attempt the long ascent with both feet and hands entirely in the crack — at least rare for a boulder in this area.
I jumped on, this time with a spotter as well as an onlooker from South Africa who deemed me, openly, as "crazy" but said he'd watch anyway. My first jam felt secure; a slight twist to the fingers locking me in. But as I committed, I felt the crack grow shallower with only first-knuckle-deep holds. I crimped hard, joints scraping painfully against the rough granite which was so different from the smoothness of my almost-native Salt Lake City granite. I winced and bore down.
Jamming the toe of my shoes in, I prayed I would hold as I twisted them slightly for more locking power. Below, my spotter and the South African joked about the weather or some benign thing as I trembled quietly above, completely unsure of my position and feeling at any minute I would come pummeling down, cheese grater style. Why did I think this was a good idea? As I considered just living mid-way up the rock in that particular hold, I remembered my climbing partner back home telling me he knew I could do it even when I didn't have belief in myself. Every time he said I could, I did.
So I conjured up the exact tone and phrasing he would use and said it to myself in his place. Slowly, I moved up, jamming, crimping and shivering in the Atlantic winter winds as I left the protection of the cove.
The final moves threw me off-balance as I attempted the curve at the top. Because of the curve, the necessary placements were stacked like hinges and as I committed, I swung like an open door. I felt my left side slam into the rock. My cheese grating moment had surely come.
But then it didn't. I stared at the route, surprised that my feet and toes were completely secure in their tiny holds and had survived the crash. I pushed past the awkward last move, topping out with a sigh of relief and a tiny thrill that I was standing on top of a narrow finger-crack problem that I completed on my first attempt. I had never done that before with a problem of that caliber.
I wish I had photos of that particular problem, but my photographer was also my spotter and I'm glad he was watching me rather than snapping photos. The entire route is crisp in my mind; perhaps more than any other I've done. I felt progress and a love for climbing that I haven't felt since I was out on the road pursuing it every day. And like my climbing partner said, I felt I could do it. Because I just had.
Point is, there's more to you than your own mind allows. If you gotta conjure up a mentor, even if imaginary, to believe in yourself, do it. Do it until you have enough confidence on your own to know you can finish that problem, ski that line or rise to the top of whatever it is you love. Push yourself and progress.