As a climber, I create goals–some attainable, some maybe not. The attainable ones are fun, because we get to experience the heightened emotion of success. But then the “lofty goals”, well…that level of unknown can often break us down to our absolute.

“…and involved every emotion I can think of: awe, excitement, love, admiration, longing, apathy, fear, frustration, anger, resignation, acceptance….” –Ethan Pringle, upon sending “Jumbo Love”, his gratest accomplishement to date.

Setting our eyes on the unattainable; we often shy away. Our protective selves more often than not steer our self worth towards the “low hanging fruit”. It’s much easier to stay within our comfort zone vs stepping into the ring with Mike Tyson-a guy who couldn’t be beaten…until Buster Douglas shocked the world and defeated the proverbial “unattainable”. (If you don’t understand the reference, google it…as it was history making in the boxing world.)

When we get an idea in our head, it’s hard to shake it…rather, change such an idea that contradicts your original train of thought. The world built up Mike Tyson, one of the greatest boxers to ever live. There was so much hype over him, that he couldn’t be stopped, it was crazy…until he was stopped. And then crazy became relevant. No one believed in the unthinkable until the unthinkable was shattered by a man who thought otherwise.

My focus is mainly on winter climbing. So much energy gets put towards that season. Throughout the spring and summer months, I rock climb with ease, trying to enjoy myself with as little stress as possible. You could call it my “off season”. That’s not to say that I don’t try hard with rock climbing, because I do…for sure, but I guess I just don’t experience the same depth of drive that I do with winter climbing–most of the time. But sometimes, just sometimes…my motivation flips the switch and suddenly I find myself staring at a line, a rock route that has fully enveloped my every climbing thought.

For years I’ve climbed at my local crag: Lakit Lake (located near Cranbrook, BC). It has an array of routes ranging through a wide spread of grades. And for years, slowly but surely, I’ve picked my way through just about every one. When you have a local crag such as this, 20 minutes from home, you have the convenience to spend the time, to redpoint, to celebrate, and to move on to the “next” at will. Some routes have taken longer than others, but that’s the beauty of convenience…it’s “right there” when you want it to be.

Falling from the undercling, I celebrated with a victorious scream. No, I didn’t send…but what happened is that for the first time, on the fly, I reached a high point that I had doubted for many attempts. So many times I had fallen just shy of this move on the route, leaving me with an emotional state of failure. All the time climbers fail. It’s part of the sport. I’ve heard climbers quote the ratio of failure to success rate. It’s not good. In fact, some would question the worth of effort with so much failure. But what I experienced was a “successful failure”. Yes, I fell, but I fell higher than I have before. And that wasn’t even the coolest part of this experience. The biggest shock was that this attempt was my first time on the route this season. I went into it expecting nothing as I had just put down my ice axes for the winter season. This time of year I’m never my strongest for rock climbing, as I haven’t trained for rock in over 6 months. But there I was, for a few seconds, holding the undercling on my “highest” point ever.

The moment I grabbed this hold on the route, on the fly, something in my mind had changed. Before, yes, I had a sense of belief that I was capable, but there still laid some doubt. However now, my mindset and emotional state went from, “yeah, I’m pretty sure I can get this route”, to “this thing is going down…and soon”. For over two years I would come back to this route time and time again, trying, falling, trying, falling. Clearly I wasn’t strong enough for the route, but for some reason, I just kept coming back to it.

For the next month I attacked this route with everything in me. I’d train like crazy at home (in the backyard), rest, and then go after the redpoint. A few times it got really close. Again, grabbing that undercling, just shy of the chains, but again slipping off and falling into that state of “failure” again. At first, my motivation wasn’t shaken by the “near miss” of the redpoint…but then things started to take a step backwards. Suddenly I was falling lower down, mistakes were being made. What the heck was going on? From being so close to struggling through the crux (which is below my highpoint)…I didn’t get it.

At the base of the route, I started talking (with my friend Noah) about the depletion of confidence, the mental struggles of capability. I was questioning my actual ability and the route itself. Was it too hard for me? Yes, I was close…but really…close can sometimes still be a mile away. It’s fascinating how our self worth becomes topical when doubt controls our thoughts. When constant failure on a route gets into your head, that’s when we break down, when we are at our weakest. What’s the point right?

Getting through the crux, I felt good. Things were going really well. Staring at the highpoint, the undercling, I attacked the move with every ounce of effort I had in me. I hit it perfectly. Screaming with force, I continued to move up. My belayer yelling with encouragement. I had passed the highpoint…and was still going. Carefully moving my body through the last sequence I grabbed the last hold, yelling louder than ever before. Pulling rope up I clipped the chains with a level of energy I had only experienced once or twice before. I had done it, redpointing my hardest route-to-date.

10 minutes before I was questioning whether or not to walk away from the route, and now, now I was at the top of the route, having an absolute fit from success. A defining moment of, “well dude, just give’r one more go” that lead to triumph. What a feeling.  After years of falling on this route, never being strong enough, finally, this year, stronger than ever, I sent a route that challenged me through and through.

No matter the grade, location, style, when we experience success–it takes us right to the core. The efforts that get put forth, the time spent, commitment, etc., it all gets bundled up into a feeling that can only be defined when you’re up there, clipping the anchor. It’s a personal result that gives you reason to keep failing, to keep falling, to keep trying…because you just never know when everything will come together in that moment of perfection.

The thing with climbing is that it’s never ending. There’s no, “ok, I’ve done it all…now what?” There’s always another climb, another anchor to clip, another route to bolt. And that’s the beauty of it, is that it’s continual. And that’s why I love it so much.

Now that I’ve done pretty much every route at Lakit, it’s time to seek out new projects. Yes, there’s millions of other routes to be climbed, some even close by…but I have my eyes set on something already…in a cave, that’s huge, and has room for a ton of routes. Just when you think it’s “over”, unto the next.

Try. Fail. Believe. And as Nike would say (with their new slogan) “there’s always better”.