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Melissa Arnot Takes Falls to Make Strides in El Potrero Chico, Mexico
Posted on February 27, 2011

By Melissa Arnot

One hundred feet off the ground, my hands are sore, and my arms so fatigued I can hardly hold onto the steep wall. I know that I have only two options: stay where I am and get so tired I fall, or reach for the next series of strenuous moves. I think for a second and reach up, trying to remember to breathe.

My fingers touch the chalk-covered edge. I can reach it, but I cannot hold on. Before I realize what is happening I am falling through the air. It is amazing how many thoughts you can have over the course of three seconds. It is in moments like these that I don’t believe that all time is equal: Some seconds really are longer than others. I see my last point of protection as I fly past it, then I see the one below it, and right as my rope is about to catch my fall a little noise comes out of my mouth. I think it was a scream. I don’t really ever scream when I am scared, and that was a new sound for me, so I am not sure how to describe it.

As I hung there on the wall, safely caught by my belayer and the amazing science of dynamic ropes, I laugh. “I really didn’t know I was going to fall.” Those are the best falls, not the ones where you just let go, but the ones that sneak up on you. It is a strange psychology to try to be okay with falling. Most of the climbing I do, a fall is not an acceptable consequence for trying something. That is part of what is fun about sport climbing—those limits are more flexible. My systems are safe; my partners are attentive. A fall is unlikely to result in injury. I can test my strength to the limit.

There are not very many things in life that we pursue to the point of failure. For me, sport climbing is a good way to exercise that: Knowing that falling doesn’t mean that I won’t be able to complete the series of moves next time; knowing that the trust I have in my safety systems isn’t theoretical, it is real. It is these moments of challenge that give me the energy to complete bigger goals, harder tasks.

Someone recently told me that they felt the most rewarded the days that they didn’t want to do their job, but did it anyway; then they felt like they were earning their keep. That is true out here, too. It is the last reach for that hold. It is the fall. It is getting back up there and finally completing the climb (then down climbing so Dave can get it on film). Those are the things that reward me most and keep me excited to get back out there, even when I am tired or would be more comfortable taking a nap in the sun. That might be the secret to this—finding comfort in the uncomfortable.

Author: - Sunday, February 27th, 2011
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