You’ve worked hard for months leading up to that moment and it was everything you thought it would be; the triumph, the enjoyment, the excitement, and even the fear. But, as quickly as they came together they are gone again. A massive void opens up and you feel unsettled, alone, and lost. Welcome to the comedown after a big climb.
The blues after a achieving something at your limit and unwinding after events is difficult and something that I have struggled with on a number of occasions. Even when I know it is going to happen, I can’t avoid that crash and feeling of being adrift.
The build up to the big day
I have experienced this sensation after exams, big client projects, and, of course, my wedding but today I want to write about the comedowns after climbing. I have an ever growing tick list for my summer. A list so long there is no chance I’ll finish it off by September when the autumn arrives, and I am very happy about that – I want to be here for years and still be inspired by the climbing and terrain, not just the summer and be done with it.
There is a huge variety of objectives on my hit list; some are easy alpine classics; others might be steeper, harder rock climbs. There are also a list of Grands Courses, as the French call them, the big routes. These are routes that really take it up a step, the level of commitment may mean that, once you start on the climb, the easiest way out is to finish it, or that the climbing is long and very sustained at high altitude. They are my dream routes, the ones that I hope I one day am good enough to hold my own on.
On the way to these Grands Courses, I have built up a list of my own smaller ones. Routes that for me are big, committing steps up but that, to the local uber-climbers are normal routes. I’m happy with this as I know I am on a path of learning and these routes are stepping stones to greater competency and skill levels. They are, nonetheless, big routes for me.
We are very much in the hands of the weather gods here and so route choice is often quite last minute and cancelling plans happens on a daily basis. This allows some routes to build up more than others, to take on a big personality than maybe they merit as the constant cancelling becomes a sign of warning as I recently experienced with the Chèré Couloir. Other times, routes come together quickly and just knock you socks off like the Eugster Diagonal, from last year.
Wherever these routes come from, they have one thing in common. They take a huge amount of mental strength and concentration and, after the event has passed, I have crashed enormously. The Eugster Diagonal left me with 2 days of panic attacks; should I have been on a route that big? Should we have been soloing? And more questions. The Chèré left me ecstatic but exhausted for the following weekend; all the unnecessary worry left me feeling foolish, the sense of accomplishment made me proud, and the casual assessment from my peers left me a little underwhelmed.
This is the comedown after a big climb. I know I am going to experience this more often so how can I manage it better?
Preparing for the fall
Every time I step onto one of my big routes, I know the crash is going to come and, every time, it takes me by surprise. I’m starting to realise that you can’t prevent the crash but maybe you can prepare for it and also soften its blow a little. A few of my recent tactics have been:
1) I tell myself It’s going to be ok
The first few times I felt so lost I didn’t know what was going on. I tell myself that it is ok, it is natural, and it will pass once my mind has assimilated what I’ve been through.
2) Giving myself space
It’s going to happen so I try not to arrange anything for the day or two after. I don’t know how I’m going to be feeling, am I going to want to talk to people or hide in bed so I don’t make plans post route.
3) I eat. A lot.
If you listen to your cravings, your body will tell you what it wants. I generally eat quite clean and simple food and this is what I crave on a comedown but nothing beats a giant bar of dark chocolate when you’re feeling a little fragile.
4) Make plans
A large part of the comedown is the vacuum created by not having that event to focus on. My first step to recovery is planning my next climb – by taking what I have learned from the last one i then find which route is next on my hit list and what I need to do to get on it.
5) Get out and climb
Nothing moves you forward faster than getting back on the horse. Once you’re feeling up to it, just get outside and get back on the rock. You’ll feel all your passion and enthusiasm come rushing back in and all the negativity flush out.
What are you techniques for dealing with unwinding from major events?