The infamous Indian Creek, where climbers from all over the world have traveled to in order to test their tenacity on some of the most grueling crack climbs. Everything in the Creek is splitter, from the cracks to the weather (as I’d once overheard sitting in Eddie McStiff’s in Moab: “Bruh, the weather is so splitter today!”) and the desert is a favorite for both new and old climbers.
The Creek held so many great memories for me in the past several years, and while I was excited to get back to the desert, I was also feeling slightly underwhelmed. Truthfully, I was feeling a little burnt out on the Creek a few seasons ago but was hoping that with this coming season, that would change.
People associate burnout with the stress of a full-time job, but really, too much of anything can manifest it. In general, it’s a combination of too much emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. I think that I was putting too much internal pressure on myself again. Every time I go back to the Creek, I get my ass handed to me. Remembering some all-time ass whoopings of mine was killing my motivation.
You don’t have to think about route-finding or technical climbing. You just move straight up a fucking crack for a hundred or more feet. And that was one part of the problem. The thought of a hundred feet of .5 was disheartening. Where I didn’t want to climb a hundred feet of 1s and 2s (which are good hands and cups for me), I also didn’t feel like having my ass brutally kicked on anything else.
And then there is the climbing angst.
Luke Mehall, dirtbag author, and I went climbing in Clear Creek about a month or so back. He was in the Front Range for a wedding but had an afternoon off, so we met for coffee (tea for him) and then headed over to Golden to work on a route he’d tried the other day. Later that evening, he said: “Thanks for getting out with me—it really helped my climbing angst.” (He was going to be tied up in wedding functions and dinners over the next few days.)
I’ve been thinking a lot about his climbing angst. I get that too; I think most climbers do. But where Luke’s angst showed up if he didn’t get a few pitches in, maybe mine made an appearance when I was climbing too much. My angst-driven mood seemed to surface the most when I was neglecting the non-climbing related parts of my life.
When I lived on the east coast, I used to feel guilty about taking time off to tend to non-climbing related things. Even something as simple as a city day (a trip to the museum or a day spent curled up in the park with a good book) felt foreign but was ultimately a necessary little break. Now, living in Colorado, I try not to feel so guilty with so much so close.
Burnout happens when your efforts fail to produce the results that you expected. And, like I mentioned, I was expecting too much of myself. It was starting to feel like everybody here was a 5.12 climber. I thought that was the norm, and I didn’t quite add up to the standard Colorado climber status quo. Was I responsible for creating my own climbing angst? Probably. But I was also responsible for overcoming it. Burnout isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s a natural progression, like anything else, so it would naturally take some time to overcome. The good news is that you can beat the burnout.
One following weekend after the Creek, I said “no” to two separate invitations to go climbing and it felt…well, amazing. I deliberated long and hard because a part of me really did want to go back and work on those .5s. But I also knew that a weekend of self-care wasn’t going to kill me. The desert will be there all November.
Taking a few self-care days let me focus on reinforcing the effort and not the outcome. If I’m constantly running on fumes, I’m just going to keep spinning my wheels and never get anywhere at all. Getting back to the things that matter the most to me needs to be on my own terms. Getting back to climbing has to be on my own terms.
The last thing I want to do is to take a step backward, but sometimes it’s the best way to move forward.