Went rock climbing with my bro Jeremy on Saturday (heading out again here in a few moments too)...
we visited a crag we have both visited many times past. We know the routes, no guide book necessary.
Upon arrival we dump out the contents of our packs and begin the "Sort of Kings."
"Dude, you mind if I lead this one?" I asked Jeremy. His face quickly relaxed upon hearing my question and he nodded.
"Yes man, go ahead, and I'll lead the next one."
A common enough exchange, yes? So like, I led the route, yo? Felt pretty solid too, climb climb climb, clip, climb climb climb, clip, etc. Got to the top and lowered off.
Jeremy roped up and followed. He looked solid.
When he got back to the ground he said it felt shaky. Said HE felt shaky.
"You looked FINE!" I asserted, knowing these shaky thoughts were the opening gambit in the 'I changed my mind, I'm not going to lead that next one after all' Grand Back Slide.
And this too is as common as the ropes we climbers use. We talked about it. And its something my mind has to remind my body of, most climbing days.
Many times, all other things being equal, its better to lead your first pitch of the day, then it is to follow it. Leading somehow alters perspective in fundamental ways. It sorta puts a constraint on the whole endeavor, a restraint described mathematically as thirty two feet per second per second. So the leader climbs with a certain style, and more importantly, with a tightly controlled focus. The leader is typically considering the route in small steps, small goals (if I can just make it to that stance...)
Where as the follower, not so constrained by Potential Gravity Stops (hitting the ground) are not so typically focused. The follower's mind is free to wallow in fear and in "I can'ts." The 2nd may climb in a loose style that he might never use otherwise, certainly wouldn't lead that way (lunging, sloppy footed, etc).
We each took another lap on the route, before moving on. I noted it too, following the same route I'd led some 20 minutes earlier, I was struck by it. I climbed it differently, loose, sloppy even. I mixed up my hands on a crux sequence and rather then stepping down and fixing it (the leader's way) I simply powered and lunged through it, latching on to some little ripple of rock and then hauling on it, all off balance. No WAY I would have done that on lead.
After we pulled the rope I could see my companion didn't want to do the next lead. He sat in the shade and wouldn't look at the route. That is strong sign there.
I could have led it and was eyeing the holds and the crux opening sequence to gain the first bolt... I was visualizing, yes? I looked over at Jeremy and decided to see if I could 'positive project' him onto the route.
"Its a straight forward route Jeremy. Not really any harder then the one you just floated."
Like that? I kept on... I piled up all the draws on the boulder next to his perch, one at a time. I said,
"You need about 10 draws for this one buddy." and
"When you lead this thing, you'll see what I mean about leading vs following. Sometimes its easier. You just gotta clip that first bolt, then it will all just flow."
And I could see the age old drama play out across his features, as I watched. His body didn't want to lead the route, his stomach was recalling the feeling of following that first route of the day. It wanted no more part of all THAT.
But his head wanted to lead it. His mind told him he was capable. I merely reminded him so, at a few crucial junctures. I didn't order him onto the route, I just spoke as if it were all a forgone conclusion.
So he led the route, floated it actually, as I knew he would. He lowered off and I thrutched my way up in his wake, my belly churning appropriately. Because its sometimes easier to lead a route, then to follow it... all other things being equal.
Later, Jeremy and I talked about that little Climber's Truth... about how it can be way better to just jump on that first lead of the day. Sorta sets up the mindset for the rest of the venture... a go get em attitude.
Rather than quaking in boots, timidly following a couple of leads, thinking the whole time 'No WAY I could have led this thing! NO WAY!!!"
YES WAY! If you can follow it without falling you can lead it without falling too, only your mind prevents it.
Its all in your head. That first lead of the day.