10 Aug Psicobloc!
For the past few summers, along with 50,000 other livestream viewers, I’ve watched enthralled as a group of professional climbers competed head to head on a 55 foot overhanging wall with no ropes and nothing to catch their falls…nothing besides a massive pool of water that’s not nearly as forgiving as one might hope.
Psicobloc has been a favorite competition of mine to watch for years now, and for several of those years, there’s been a little voice in the back of my mind saying, “I wonder…” It’s a little voice I’ve always shaken off though. With a qualifying route said to go at 5.12+ for females, I was certain I wasn’t skilled enough for such a competition. I would probably embarrass myself in qualifiers, let alone have a prayer of making finals. And either way, there’s that fall…
This past year though, as part of a mental training program with the Rock Warrior’s Way, I’ve begun making it a new habit to cast away my fears and do all those things that might be scary or potentially embarrassing. And so, one random Thursday afternoon over the summer, I decided to check the dates for Psicobloc. It was 4:00pm. I remember the time distinctly because of just how terrible my timing actually was. As it turned out, qualifiers were, in fact, the very next morning. It would be impossible to make it from Los Angeles, California to Park City, Utah by then! For a few minutes I stared sadly at my computer screen, almost resigning myself to the fact that I would have to wait another year.
But then, I decided to text Jake and Vanessa. Have you ever met anyone who you just knew would be super important, who would change your life for the better? Well for me, two of those people are Jake and Vanessa. Though we had only just met a few months prior, already the three of us were a crew. Climbing partners, fast friends, nearly inseparable since the day we met.
“I’m so sad. I wanted to compete at Psicobloc this year, but it’s tomorrow…in Utah.” I group texted them.
Well it turns out nothing is impossible when you have friends on your side! Over the next few frantic hours, work schedules were rearranged, bags were packed, last minute accommodations were made, my registration form was sent in, and at 9:00pm, Jake, Vanessa, and I were speeding away from downtown Los Angeles and on the road to Utah!
We had exactly 12 hours before qualifiers, 12 hours to make the 11+ hour drive. We took turns driving through the night, speeding a little too much and sleeping far too little, arriving exhausted at the Olympic Park in Park City at 9:30am. A large group of climbers was already gathered on bleachers by the pool and I was so happy to see a few familiar faces in the crowd, women I had climbed with at the US National Cup in Austin the year before. It was so great to see them again, and definitely helped to ease my nerves, which were quickly escalating as we sat poolside, staring down one of the most intimidating walls I’d ever seen. In a way, it was nice though. The wall was so forthcoming in my mind, that it diminished any nerves about actually competing. I quickly realized that for me, this was not about beating anyone else. It was simply me against that wall…me, against all my fears.
It begins easily enough. Nearly vertical on positive holds. After a few slopers and a heel hook or two, the wall begins to steepen aggressively. Your heart thumps a bit now, as you can’t help but get a glimpse of water in your peripheral. You try not to think about it as you reach the steepest section, your back nearly horizontal to the water, the holds feeling suddenly smaller, slopier, and slipperier as your arms quiver and your palms sweat and the nerves take over. Though you try to breathe through it, try to ignore the fact that you’re about to free fall, it becomes difficult to climb at your best. Your technique gets a little shaky, you start to lose it…
There are a few amazingly strong girls who push through the overhang and make it to the top! For the rest of us though, it’s somewhere at this crux that we finally either let go, or slip and fall, our arms windmilling, trying desperately to get our bodies vertical again before crashing hard into the water.
I fall at the same place on both of my qualifying runs, and though I’m slightly disappointed that I didn’t make it to the top, I’m super excited to have faced down a big fear and put myself out there for this competition. Considering so many girls fell at nearly the same spot, I don’t expect anything more. Jake, Nessa, and I sit on the sidelines and begin making plans to boulder at Joe’s Valley the rest of the weekend.
But then…they call my name…
Somehow, my time was fastest to the point where several girls fell, putting me in finals. When they call my name, I sit on the ground in disbelief. If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that in the back of my mind I had been counting on NOT making finals. THIS wasn’t supposed to happen. I wasn’t supposed to stand on stage beside pro climbers with 50,000 people watching me! I didn’t belong up there! It was overwhelming and I had to take a few moments to sit there and cry before finally running into Jake and Nessa’s arms to celebrate!
Though the idea of embarrassing myself on live video stream is certainly spinning about my mind, it doesn’t take long before I realize what a crazy opportunity I have just been given! Not many people will ever get a chance to climb beside their idols or take on such a unique challenge. I promise myself that tomorrow, no matter the outcome, I will appreciate every moment of the experience.
After an actual night of sleep, I’m feeling much less tired the next morning at the seeding round. Though I don’t make the top on either of my runs, I feel as if I climb well and I’m happy to get familiar with the finals route. In the end, I’m paired with a girl named Sami, who is extremely strong and was able to top out during seeding. I know that barring something crazy happening, I’ll lose my round in finals, but somehow that’s okay. Sami is a fantastic climber, who stands a great chance at winning, and all I can think about is how honored I am to climb beside her! I know that I’ll give it my best shot, but I’m also going to be cheering her on all the while!
After the seeding round, the day passes in a blur that I don’t fully remember. We eat food somewhere, take naps in the grass, and then we’re back poolside, where chaos reigns. Everywhere, athletes are milling about, warming up, doing each other’s hair, giving interviews, taking hundreds of photos, and giving nervous hugs and enthusiastic good lucks. Similar to the day before, there is little sense of competition, but rather, an overwhelming feeling of camaraderie. We all chat excitedly about the beta on the finals routes and of course, already feeling a bit battered and bruised, how nervous we are to take yet more falls into the water. It’s comforting to know that others, much stronger and more experienced than myself, are suffering the same nerves. But there is little time to dwell on our fears, because soon enough we’re lined up and marched out in front of an excited crowd. I almost have to pinch myself then! Even when they announce my name, it’s still so hard to believe I’m standing up there with so many amazing athletes!
Sami and I are slated to go fourth, which comes as something of a relief. I’m so nervous now that I’m sure I’m going to fall off at the first hold. It feels preferable to be buried somewhere in the middle of the lineup so that with any luck, people forget all about my dismal run! Haha. Sami and I watch the first few girls take their runs, some topping out, some falling at the overhang, but all of them making it far past the first hold! I know for certain that I’m going to be the worst…
But then I can’t dwell on it anymore, because we’re up! Luckily, I do make it past the first hold, but it’s not without some effort. As I move up the climb, I find myself struggling with beta I thought I had dialed in during the seeding round, doing odd matches and switches with my feet, fumbling all the holds in my hands. Beside me, Sami matches pace, climbing smoothly, but sticking at my side in support. It helps to know she’s there and after a few more moves I begin to relax, remembering the climb and forgetting about the crowd behind me. I relax and get into the flow just as we move into the overhang, the area where I had fallen, or rather let go, during seeding, unwilling to make a tenuous, off balance move to the next hold. But earlier, I had promised myself that I wouldn’t give up during finals. I would give my all to make that move, even if it might send me flailing into the water.
I set up with an insecure toe hook, make a highstep, and go for it…
My hand grazes the hold, though not quite well enough to latch on, and suddenly I’m falling through the air, arms spinning wildly as I tip backwards. I hit the water hard on my tailbone, an impact that will leave me in pain for the next two months. But at the moment, I hardly feel it. Despite a less than stellar performance, I’m ecstatic! I did it. I’m done. I competed at Psicobloc. I COMPETED AT PSICOBLOC! It’s as if hitting the water this last time awakens me from a dream, and suddenly I can feel the full reality of the situation. I had done something that terrified me on many levels, and I had made it through.
As a very subdued person, it’s rare for me to feel a sense of excitement or pride. But as I clamber out of the water, my heart swells and for a few moments it feels like I’m still floating. I pause and take it all in – the crowd, the lights, the music, and the hum of energy all around – and I feel extraordinarily proud.