Courage - An Essay by Crystal Wright
Two years ago I was scrambling unroped up an easy 4th class pitch in the Tetons. I was just starting to look for a belay spot when a large boulder ripped out while I was surmounting it and sent me cartwheeling backwards over rock very fast. I was tumbling off the mountain, gaining speed into the fall line.
It would have been over if not for my climbing partner Brian. He tackled me and we slid together for another 10 feet stopping just before a 60 foot cliff.
It happened so fast. I was just lucky to be alive with just a few scrapes and bruises.
It was very hard for me to get back into the mountains to climb again afterward. Over the last couple years I have gained back the courage by confronting my fears about falling and have found the more time I spend in the mountains and on rock , my confidence has slowly come back to me.
I am still very nervous climbing but found the more time I spend in the vertical rock realm, the more my fear subsides.
Competing in Big Mountain Ski events also takes physical courage for me. I'm scared of getting hurt. The competition makes me push limits harder than when I am just out skiing with my friends. This involves bigger cliff drops, skiing above exposure, and skiing with nervous energy, which a lot of times restricts oxygen to my muscles, making it very difficult to ski relaxed and confident.
But competition brings other stressors too.
I am being judged on my ability as a skier and I am always fearful of not impressing the judges.
When skiing with my friends I can decide not to take a certain line, but in competition, this freedom is restricted. The conditions are out of my control. Mother nature decides the type of snow conditions that she wants and we all have to ski them.
Finally the fear of failure and defeat is always present.
This has been a tough year. I competed in my first ever Freeride World Tour competition, which involves visual inspection only and untouched venues with good or bad snow conditions. Chamonix was my first competition on the tour and my first big mountain competition out of North America. I was very excited, but also very nervous.
I had a few days to scope the venue with binoculars. I found a few lines that looked like a ton of fun! The only problem was that the venue was south facing and it was a little uncertain to what the snow would feel like. I found a very aesthetic line that was strait fall line.
The day of the competition came and all my reasons for being nervous about competition arose. As I watched the first couple of guys ski, I watched the entire face that I wanted to ski slide down to the hard ice layer. I also watched some of the best guy skiers crashing on the air that I wanted to do.
Did I have the courage to ski my line? Was I good enough to ski that line? I knew I had to ski something and that was what I was so passionate about, so I stuck to my line. Nervously standing in the start gate looking down at the 50 degree slope with huge cliffs and the mountains of Chamonix in the distance I could feel the oxygen leave my muscles.
I fell back to self-talk, "I can do this!," I repeated to myself. "I can ski!"
Adrenalin took over once I left the starting gate. I felt focused.
I came onto the steep face and felt the hard pack ice layer underneath me. My second turn down the face a large piece of slab broke and almost knocked me down the entire face. I was able to hold on and entered into my first air, I found my takeoff and went for it. I landed with a thud as I hit the avy debri that had set up in the sun, I accelerated and then hit the soft snow and somersaulted over and then was back up skiing toward my bottom feature.
Once again above my next feature the snow sluffed and knocked me off my feet on my landing. As I skied into the finish I was disappointed with my run. Being the rookie on the tour I really wanted to prove myself.
My disappointment has subsided with time. I feel proud that I stuck to my original line despite my misgivings. It wasn't pretty, but I skied the line.
I call on courage everyday in the mountains as a skier, climber, rafter, mountain biker. Climbing and skiing are the two sports that I feel challenge my abilities the most and also frighten me the most.