Attention Deficit

The photo Carlos took of me here two years ago. It’s still one of my favorites. 📸: Carlos Romania Flores (


I always forget how much I love the desert until I’m in it. We’re back in Southern Utah to climb in the Hurricave, specifically on Killer Bees (13d/8b). Two years of working on this route, more than 30 days on it, and in an instant I realize that I’ve been trying the crux backwards. Totally effing backwards…right hand where the left goes, left hand where the right should be, feet downhill when they should be up. My beta looked really cool and worked off the dog (as many things do), but only once on the go and that was last year. Coming from sport climbing in Logan, this year’s body is different than the one that came here after bouldering in Moe’s in the past. I’m more fit overall, but less powerful move for move.

As is the case with every crag and every project, I learned a lesson in Logan. The route I was trying was another one I had left behind at the end of a season. It’s a classic route that, to the best of our knowledge, hadn’t yet seen a female ascent. It’s one of those that impatient climbers tend to try once and, if they don’t onsight it, never get on again because it’s not particularly straightforward. I found a tricky knee scum to help get me through the reachy opening boulder, and I knew all I had to do was put the time in and I could climb the route. When I finally one-hung it twice in one day I was psyched, however, everything went downhill from there. I wanted the send too badly. I climbed on the route too much. I assigned the rock climb too much importance. We went to dinner at Jim and Marcie’s and I ate too much, drank too much, and stayed up way too late. I was ignoring what I know, and my climbing body and mind were suffering for it. Progress gave way to regress, and I couldn’t turn off the mean little voice in my head. You fell here last time, you’ll fall here again. Fall, fall, fall.

It was also during that time in Logan when our friend Carlos, who was there to document Charlie’s quest for 5.14, kept asking us when we would be on redpoint. “Next week?” “In the next two weeks?” It’s the kind of question that doesn’t have an answer. I didn’t really know how to explain this to him. We’ll send when we’re ready. The more the question is asked, the more pressure we feel to perform, the longer it will take. If it sounds like I’m picking on Carlos, I don’t mean to. He’s not alone. Everyone’s in a hurry. Everyone wants everything right now. It’s what we’re all used to these days. The thing is, “now” is more than a mere moment, and if you’re really, truly paying attention, now and eternity are one and the same. I resolved to pay attention, to trust the process and to let go of the outcome…the things I know, but sometimes allow impatience to overshadow when I get excited.

I returned my focus to the process, rested more, and stopped pulling on for one last go of the day when I knew I was too powered down to have any measure of success. I visualized success and made my breath louder than any voice in my head could be, and it worked. The night before I redpointed I knew it was going to happen. If only Carlos had asked his question then!

Charlie setting it up. 📸: Heidi Baxter

Back in the desert, Charlie unlocked it. He decided to join me on my project this time, which is special because we rarely work the same hard project at the same time. He did the crux with a long move left hand to a horrendous sloper (that I was going to with my right), then using a right drop-knee to power his right hand up into a slopey jug (that I was getting left). Shortly after working out the details, Charlie linked the moves and high-pointed at the entry to the second crux. His beta looked really good, but we were climbing the entire route so differently from one another that I wrote it off after trying it only once and concluding that I couldn’t find footholds that would make it work for my size. Besides, I had high-pointed past that section with my beta once, and honestly, I think I was kind of proud that I figured out the tricky foot cams and tenuous bicycle I was trying to use. Only after days of dead-ending with my right hand sliding off of the greasy sloper did I shake off my pride and decided to try Charlie’s way again. Hanging at the draw before the crux, I mentally erased everything I had conditioned. I opened up to possibility as though it was my first time there, and what do you know…possibility opened itself up to me. A foot that I had refused to allow to work previously was suddenly the logical option. Other foot placements I hadn’t even noticed before seemed natural and allowed all but one hard move to flow. Beta intact, I’m ready for the next phase of the work.

So I make my list: physical, mental, emotional. What do I know? Am I missing or rushing part of the process? Where does my attention need to be? Focus on what you want, forget about what you don’t. Be willing to recognize the difference between ego, expectation, and confidence. Experience is the most wise of teachers. I never want to stop learning.


All photos below courtesy of Heidi Baxter (ig: @evidence_of_adventure)

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