I recently went with alpine guide Patrick
Delaney to complete an iceclimb I attempted in 1984 and did not finish. Borgeau
Left is an ultra-classic Rockies waterfall with a long history of turning even
the best climbers back. Patrick had not for some reason attempted it before.
I thought the route was just at the edge of my capability and had serious doubts when Patrick suggested that we go climb it, but he seemed to have a lot of conviction so I didn't put a lot of energy into arguing with him.
We arrived at the parking lot of Sunshine Village to perfect weather, stable avalanche hazard and a solid looking stretch of ice. These were rare conditions where everything lined up.
As I was following Patrick up the horrible wind crust on the approach slope, I was conscious of how tired I felt and I began convincing myself that it was all right not to finish the route. I finally made it to the base of the first pitch and it was fat and plastic, instead of thin, hollow and scrappy. I was spanked.
I watched Patrick climb the first pitch and grew more weary with every move he made. When it was my turn to climb, I looked at the ice looming over my head and had a minor epiphany: "I'm stronger and more capable than I believe I am."
With that thought, I carefully made my way up the first steep 40 metres of the climb, paying exquisite attention to my climbing technique, using my legs well and staying in balance so that I did not overburden my arms, lose my grip strength and then fall off. In my own mind I was alternating between justifications for quitting at the top of the pitch and reminding myself that I was stronger that I thought. I got to the top of pitch 1 somewhat surprised. So we did pitch 2 and I played the same game in my head: "getting to the top of the second pitch is still a respectable accomplishment."
I arrived at the cave at the base of the final tier and said to Patrick: "man, I'm spanked, I don't know if I'm fighting something, but I don't know if I have the gas to finish the route." Patrick looked at me, said nothing and started up the third pitch.
By now, I was starting to really grasp how much energy I had in reserve, how valuable 27 years of climbing experience is and what a mind game this really was. So I just climbed the third pitch with no outer or inner complaint, enjoying every move for what it was, feeling the sun on my back and relishing the freedom of the moment.
I got to the ledge beneath the final crux pitch and asked Patrick when he decided that we were going to finish the route, regardless of my whining. He said: "some time ago." All righty then. "Besides", he added, "the last pitch is short, fat and plastic: it'll be a fun romp." Having found the resources inside to deal with the climb thus far, there was no reason any more to argue.
So he set off up the last dead vertical column of ice, saying nothing until about halfway up: "fuck this is steep!". Deep breath from me. When the rope went tight, I decided to "just climb, don't think, you're stronger than you think".
The last pitch was as steep as Patrick said, but again I just kept telling myself, "you're stronger than you think, you're stronger than you think. focus on your footwork, rest your arms, see where you're going to swing your axe before you swing it and swing it well."
I got to the top and simply said to Patrick: "I guess I'm stronger than I think I am". That thought is now reinforced by a very visceral experience. The next time I think I can't do something, my body remembers otherwise.