Letting go of our expectations isn’t always easy, but the best way to try is to live in the present and stop thinking ten moves ahead. It’s a motto that I have recently adopted to try and teach myself to be less attached to the outcome. Will I fall or will I send? Sending a route is an amazing feeling, but when that expectation isn’t met, there is an outpour of negative feelings.

We’ve all experienced this, in both life and climbing. Expecting more of ourselves and our efforts is such a natural human desire. The problem is, expectations come with the fear of not achieving more and in turn, not being more.

Heading up to the Way Rambo cliff in late November, I had no expectations other than to share a good day and some snacks with my companions. We weren’t the first ones at the crag, but the ever-popular route, “Way Rambo”, had nobody on it. Devin Horgan excitedly racked up for it and I readied my harness and ATC to give him a catch.

Onsight attempt of “Way Rambo” (5.12-). Photograph by Alma Baste

It’s rated 5.12- but perhaps considered a soft 12 for those with smaller hands. The difficulty of a typical Indian Creek route is often dependent on size. Devin didn’t bring enough red camalots with him on his first attempt, and having smaller mitts myself, I used one or two less. Feeling comfortable on my onsight attempt, I moved quickly through the crack after the pod, generously spacing out my gear placements.

Near the top, I slotted a .75 in and thought about moving left. There I was, mentally a few moves ahead of myself while my hands were still in the offset crack. It felt desperate. Hoping that the second traverse on this striking line would be as straightforward as the first one, I realized immediately that I was wrong. I spent much too long thinking about the move and anticipating a fall, and barely hanging onto the thin rail, I called out: “I don’t want to fall here!” A pause. “I’m going to fall here!”

One time, at the Cliffs of LIC, I jokingly said to Cleavon Cox: “Always take the whip!” This time, I did. Photograph by Alma Baste

Devin threw me extra slack and I took a big ride.

I’m not much of a red pointer these days. I don’t project things repeatedly. Most of the time, I’m pretty happy to make it to the top of a route, no matter how many takes or falls are involved. I like the climbing and outdoor lifestyle more than I care about keeping a scorecard for myself.

Climbers are an awesome breed of people to spend my free time with. And then there’s the whole nature thing—the great outdoors has a certain magic to it, and even if you aren’t climbing mountains, you can’t deny the attraction. I like the general strength and endurance necessary to rock climb, but I’m a thousand times more in love with the view at the end of the day and the people I get to share it with.

Jason Hendershott taught us how to double kick start with a beer in each hand. Sending. Photograph by Alma Baste

And that’s generally my attitude, but that day, my companions encouraged me to try one more time. I literally didn’t do anything differently—other than not let go of the rail. I knew what the mentality of “should” from our superego does, and I stayed with myself. I started slowly and moved slowly. I didn’t try and jump ten moves ahead, to the chains or to the thin hand I’d whipped off of earlier. I took it one move at a time.

When you skip the expectations, there is less of a rush towards the outcome—less of a race to the finish line. I don’t red point climbs, but this trip to the Creek, I went back to three other routes that I fell on last season and sent them. Maybe I felt less internal pressure, maybe I was better rested, but ultimately, I let go of the fear that expectations can create. Wanting more for yourself is a great motivator and will get you to the top of your climb, for sure. However, the real win comes when you stop keeping score and do what brings you joy for joy’s sake. We win when we ditch the expectations and become less afraid of losing.

20 thoughts

  1. Great post! I feel like it has taken me this whole year to really learn that lesson, that letting go of expectations not only makes it easier to succeed, but it makes things more fun even if you don’t “get the send”. Keep crushing!

  2. I spent all of October in the creek, marking my first journey there, as well as a first time climbing cracks in general. Those expectations, man. turn your back on them for just a few minutes and they’re out of control, adding thirty pounds to your body as you’re trying to defy gravity. Your post sums up the thoughts and emotions I had on the wall there quite nicely.

  3. I love the photos… I never climbed outside of a gym wall, but it certainly seems like a fun group of people to be around!

  4. Wonderful post. It’s not the destination that matters it’s the journey towards the destination. People have that motivational “drive” that makes them so focused on goal that they forget to enjoy little things along the way. Keep climbing and keep up with good posts!

  5. A great read. Thank you for the post. If you like young adult novels, please read The Art of Hanging On and Letting Go by Kirsten Bartley Lenz. Kirsten is a climber (not sure how active she is now) and the protagonist is a competitive rock climber who must navigate some major set backs and loss in her life.

  6. A great read and thank you for sharing. I agree that letting go of expectations, regardless of the context, is one of the healthiest and most productive things you can do. I’ve been doing the same with a lot of my exercise and fitness goals. I have no expectations. I just do.

  7. I really enjoyed your post. Managing expectations is so important, and it is something I have to constantly work towards. I also addressed this topic in my most recent post! Check it out!

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