Learning Like a Kid: Climbing again after injury

[I've since written a series on ACL reconstruction surgery prep, recovery, training, and back-to-sport protocol. See here for the full series.]

I'm learning to climb again. I'm learning to have no expectations, no fear, and to process everything with curiosity. I've made peace with not having a hard sending trip, no waking up super early with projects to conquer that day so I don't need to visit that crag again.

I fully underestimated getting back into climbing. To be honest, I don't know what's real and what's an excuse: I've touched real rock only a couple times in the last 15 months before this trip, I've severely injured myself twice, I've climbed on top rope a handful of times ever, I haven't fallen in over a year, I've lowered my own expectations so I don't feel as bad, roped climbing exposes all my climbing weaknesses. The last one is probably the most factual--I can power through almost anything bouldering since, hey, I alway have a great spotter and jump right back on. Reading routes, foot placement, and endurance are at the bottom of my list.

So, those days of having a checklist of problems to send and the psyche to pull hard have been replaced by mental challenges. My motto these days is:

Try hard. Scare yourself. Learn. Have fun.

And when I get sad that I can't mentally pull through people's recommendations for those 5.12+ routes, I play that in my head. I spent a day TR'ing 5.10s. Then I led my first 5.10b, literally crying half way up, but I pulled through. One day I spent learning how to clean anchors, no actual climbing, but a lot of learning. One day I spent scared shitless at Midnight Surf wall, severely overhung rock, on a 5.12a, crying and shaking in fear at the bottom, for the only purpose of climbing above a bolt and jumping off. Then I onsighted a 5.10d, hung draws, AND cleaned without freaking out. Then proceeded the same on an 11a, where my leg brace got clipped into the last draw and I had to struggle almost at the anchor to dislodge it before I pumped off and dislocated my hip. Yesterday I took my first unintentional fall on lead, then second go pulled through one of those cruxes where you stare at your hand willing it not to open or bomb off the hold. These days I'm way more mentally exhausted than physically.

It's such an experience to pull back to learn again and have fun in the process. Really, how often do we get to do that anymore? It's incredibly hard to let go of expectation and ego, but that's how we learn as kids. In baby steps, as long as I'm trying hard, scaring myself, and learning, it's a good day.