I have a good friend who says “Sometimes it’s good to be the worst”. As far as ability is concerned this friend and I are on very different levels, shes a much stronger climber than me, but I like to think we’re on the same page with our attitude toward climbing. In my opinion, she has really nailed the balance between pushing herself hard and improving but still finding fun in pure climbing whatever the grade. This approach makes her a great partner and great buddy to have on the end of your rope, you know she’ll get the job done and is totally with you on belay, yet there is no pressure as she’s very understanding of the principle that climbing challenges are personal, she’s pleased for you if you do well by your own standards, not hers and she always gives the right amount of encouragement. Even if I’m not always on the same page as her attitude wise, I’d like to think I am, I admire her approach and aspire to be the same kind of climber. So when she says “sometimes it’s good to be the worst”, I know what she’s saying – whatever level you are at, there will always be people who are better and if you go out to the crag with people who are much better than you, with the right attitude, it can inspire you to try hard and help you to improve. Everyone has someone that is better than them that encourages them and inspires them to be better. I agree, sometimes it’s good to be the worst.
But I’ve been pondering this a lot lately as I guess I’ve been lucky enough to meet more and more talented climbers to climb with, there is a plethora of them in Squamish and I’m definitely the worst on many occasions.
I’ve also recently started doing more bouldering, something I’ve always claimed I did a bit of, but I’ve never really dedicated much time to it. Squamish’s boulders require a really unique style in my opinion, a style that you are very unlikely to propagate climbing routes. I’ve done more sport climbing in previous years and have been bouldering indoors for a long time as my training sessions, so I know I’m not without some of the prerequisite strength for bouldering, but the nuances of really cranking on heel hooks and timing the sideways throws just right to slap slopers are not something I’ve ever given myself much chance to practice. Even at the easiest grades many Squamish boulders require these techniques and since the people I’ve been spending time in the boulders with have been doing them for years, I’ve been spending a lot of time being the worst by far.
That’s OK with me because I know it can be a good thing. I’ve been trying something very new to me and it’s a good challenge to do something that seems impossibly hard at times and to be able to manage my frustration and take the positives in my small improvements.
Recently I’ve been projecting this super famous V4 test peice in the grand wall boulders called Easy in an Easy Chair (or easy chair for short). Most of my bouldering friends warm up on it, most of them just campus it. Its a low traverse with big moves, slopey holds and lots of heel hooks (all the things I’m no good at!) For the longest time I couldn’t even stick the first move. When I warmed up for this project I would do a much easier problem of the same style, even though it was a V0/V1 it still needed you to be able to heel hook efficiently and grope some pretty flat slopers. I could always do the problem, but it always felt grunty and ugly, like I had no idea what I was really doing on those kinds of moves, like I was moving incredibly inefficiently but would somehow just about make it through.
After working on Easy chair I was making some progress, learning some small nuances of how to move and place my heel and maybe even gaining a bit of core strength to be able to move my feet around more accurately. One day I was warming up and getting ready for a session on Easy chair and I went over to the V0 boulder. A group of women were trying it repeatedly, not getting very far but making some progress, I asked them if they minded if I jumped in and had a go whilst their pads were down, they happily obliged. This problem had become much easier to me now since trying Easy chair a bunch and I was confidently bashing out all the moves making it feel like how a warm up should. As I pulled around the lip after executing each heel hook and slap perfectly, to my surprise the ladies clapped and congratulated me. I had just warmed up on their project.
It made me think, in that very instance, with that group of people, on that specific climb, I was the best. It felt good. Not because I have a big ego and want to be the best all the time, but because it felt good to be able to recognise that the hard work hard got me somewhere, I had improved and other people, probably starting out on a similar journey, recognised that with me. Putting the time in being the worst all the time had finally paid off. I’m fully aware how trivial it sounds to feel like the best because I managed to send a V0 but that’s why I think it illustrates my point brilliantly. At every level there will be people who are better than you, people who warm up on your projects and people who make you the worst. As long as you can keep your ego in check and see it as inspiration it can be very helpful to be the worst. But for me, it can be slightly demoralizing to always be the worst, to always have your achievements pail in comparison to those around, it’s often good to be the worst, but it’s all about balance for me and remembering the hard work you’ve put into your journey. Sometimes it’s good to warm up on other people’s projects.