A year and a half ago, I wrote the article “How I Went from 5.10b to My First 5.12 in Seven Months.” It got a lot of attention with a click-baity title and an improbable grade improvement in a short amount of time. So many people reached out to me via email to ask for more details: You say you lifted—what were your specific workouts? How long did you rest between bouldering sets? What’s the hangboard protocol you used?
Unknowingly, I put in my airpods to hear podcast host Kris Hampton talk about my article during his Power Company Podcast episode entitled “Don’t Believe the Hype.” In his conversation, he points out that I neglected to mention perhaps the crucial factor that led to my success: Lander, Wyoming. I can climb here a couple of times per week, year-round. I have more than a dozen people to call when I need a partner. I can improve quickly when I can get to practice so often. Great point, Kris. (And confirmation that I live in the greatest town on the planet.)
[Read Kathryn Perkinson’s How I went from 5.10b to My First 5.12 in Seven Months]
Today, I could author the totally unsexy “How I Went from 5.12a to 5.12b in Two Years.” I doubt that would garner nearly as much attention or get talked about on a climbing podcast. I still felt proud and worked hard. Over the course of two years, I tried to broaden my base by climbing a bunch of routes that aren’t my style (read: big roofs). I felt nervous to start working on a 5.12b, a grade I’d only ever top-roped. But it went down quicker than I would have guessed, and I enjoyed the process.
Recently, I emailed the owner of Climbstrong, Steve Bechtel, to dream about a new goal. I work so much harder when I have a plan and objective in mind. And I feel committed after I’ve shared my idea with someone I respect a ton who knows way more than I do. Could we make a plan to get me to climb a 12c? I entered the conversation with hesitation. I climbed my first 12b only two months ago, so I wanted to be realistic about how long this could take. I told him that I’d like to do the route six months or a year from now. I lined up a bunch of hard (for me) 5.11s and low 5.12s that aren’t my style to help get me there.
We made a plan and I got to work, maintaining a realistic view of how long this would take. But one day when I was working out, Steve pulled me aside mid kettlebell snatch: “You sent your hardest redpoints quickly. You’re likely not climbing at your limit if they happened so fast. Let yourself believe that you could do the next one soon! Believe that 5.13 could be in the not too distant future.”
What the?! I could climb 5.13? Ever? To me that sounds as improbable as “You wrote an article for your local tourism council. The New York Times called, and they want you to head up their travel section.” Climbing 5.13 for me was a lifetime goal—something I’d thought about for a decade or two decades from now. Not something that I ever believed possible in the next few years.
[Also Read Speak Your Truth: On Giving Feedback At The Crag]
Therein lies the problem. To me, climbing 5.13 is this otherworldly accomplishment, reserved for the “elite” or “real climbers.” It seems like a level of climbing that requires significantly more energy, years of practice, and “talent.” I say “talent” because I know that talent isn’t some innate quality. Sure, there are genetic factors and body types and personalities that inherently perform better. But like Talent Code author Daniel Coyle writes, “Although talent feels and looks predestined, in fact we have a good deal of control over what skills we develop, and we have more potential than we might ever presume to guess.” I love that. “Talented” folks just work their asses off (smartly and effectively, not just hard work for the sake of hard work).
I have no idea how long this particular route will take, nor do I care. For me, that was a moment of effective coaching and a realization: can I learn to believe in myself? Not see certain accomplishments as “other” and “impossible”? Can I let go of the self-limiting belief that some people are “good” and I’m not one of them? It seems like the important shift for me is mental not physical. And I think it will translate to every aspect of my life. If I see my climbing path as one without bounds, how could I start to look at my writing, my relationship, my kindness? If I take the climbers (writers/philanthropists/thinkers) I look up to off of their imaginary pedestals, maybe I can see a group of people who work really hard and put a lot of energy into their crafts. And maybe I can see a group of people who believe in themselves. And maybe, just maybe, I can become someone who fully believes in myself too.
Author’s note: I have no affiliation or sponsorship from anything mentioned in this article.