I press myself so close to the rock that my tears stream down it instead of my cheeks. Already 400 feet up on this granite wall, I still have another 400 feet to climb. With no trees or rock formations to shield me, I’m completely exposed.
The wind stings my skin and shakes the rope and my climbing gear as it rips through from all directions. Even if I shout up to my climbing partner, who is 70 feet above me, the unforgiving wind sweeps my words away before they can reach him. Beyond the next move up I can clearly see in front of my face, I’m not sure what waits between my climbing partner and me. I’m seized with fear from this uncertainty and the wind reminds me that it’s in control, not I.
I try to calm myself from the fear that shocks my body with each gust of wind. I remind myself that this wind is no different than what blows by regularly as I rock climb only 20 feet off the ground. Or, even better, that this wind is no different than the ones on a blustery day in the park.
Except neither of those examples help. Climbing this high and this exposed is new and therefore terrifying. Dangling on a slab of rock with nothing but this wind below me for 400 feet is no different than other moments in life where I was afraid to move forward. When I left Cincinnati and moved to Boston for school, and then to San Diego after I graduated; when I quit dancing to row and then quit rowing to rock climb and hike; when I wore makeup to school for the first time and when I didn’t wear makeup to school anymore; when I had my first crush and when I moved in with my boyfriend: in each of these moments I had to decide to move forward or stay where I was. Each time I could feel the wind swirling at my feet as if I was hanging on the rock, afraid to make the next move, uncertain of what I was heading into.
But I never questioned the fear. I thought fear was an innate function of everyday life, especially when it came to the unknown. Whether it came off as anger or with closed off walls, fear dictated how to react to every new situation. I was taught that it was more comfortable, and thus better, to shrink away in fear rather than to forge headfirst into a windstorm that was trying to blow me off my feet.
The wind won’t die down on the rock. I don’t know if I am shaking from the chills it shoots down my spine or from the terror of its power. Looking up, I don’t know if the wind will intensify or if the climb will get harder or both. I don’t know if I can make it up. But my climbing partner is above me so there is no way for me to retreat downwards. I have no choice but to move forward into whatever is to come.
I move my hand. Then my foot. My other one follows. Every foot I stop to press against the wall, trying to hide from the wind. But with every foot I get closer to the top.
I scrape up the rock until I make it to my climbing partner who is leaning back happily in a small divot on a ledge that protrudes from the rock. Out of breath and almost out of tears, I look up at the 330 feet still left to climb. Another 330 feet of uncertainty.
Still cold from being encompassed by the wind, I notice my climbing partner has taken off his jacket. I look at him like he is a madman until I realize why he is so hot: the ledge we are on is blocking the wind. I almost start crying again from joy as my body relaxes in the warmth and I forget my previous fear.
Even after the respite on the ledge, my instinctual fear doesn’t completely vanish, and the wind doesn’t disappear either as I climb on. But I move with more confidence knowing that the wind and my fear are both temporary. I know I can push through both again like I have just done.
If I stay still, hoping the wind stops, I remain stagnant in the wind and fear. Even if the wind does stop, I am still in the same position I was before with the unknown looming overhead. Nothing would have changed. Instead, if I move forward into the wind and up the rock, I am in control of my situation and will eventually climb out of the wind and out of my fear. I will emerge at the top a more confident climber having pushed through the unknown, daunting situation.
Like fear, wind can last for just a second, like a gust blowing through the park, or for hours like it did while climbing. And like wind, fear will always pass. But it’s not about waiting for it to pass. Instead, it’s about moving forward even in the wind, with the fear, to become more confident and capable, ready to take on the next windstorm whenever it comes.
Grace Olscamp is an adventure and mental health author based out of Salt Lake City, Utah. Between consulting for public relations and writing, she can be found petting every dog she sees on the trail or at the crag, meditating, using her turn signal, or baking bread. You can find her work here or follow her adventures here.