Summer Milestones

Tinh Le
4 min readJul 11, 2023

Friendship and frustration

Photo by NEOM on Unsplash

It was a warm summer evening at Pacific Pipe, one of those days that I could comfortably climb in a t-shirt. Summer was taking its time in the Bay Area this year, but the heat was finally picking up and I was glad for it. Climbing on warm plastic is more challenging, but I liked feeling warm.

I did a private lesson with Burak first and we projected a yellow V5 near the final exam wall. It had been a couple of months since we started working together and our sessions eventually became more casual. They were now akin to hangouts between two friends getting to know each other. We would catch each other up on the latest happenings in our lives in between coaching moments. Burak was also making good progress and I enjoyed seeing him get stronger and hit new milestones in his climbing.

I recently learned he was moving to Austin at the end of the month so our lessons with probably slow down. He said he had an extra bedroom in his house in Austin though, and that I should visit him. I was sad to see him leave — I liked working with him a lot.

After the lesson, I started warming up for my own climbing session with Sam. When Sam came, he said work tired him out and he wasn’t feeling his best. I told him we didn’t need to go hard or anything (I was still planning to). We started our warm-up routes on the wall and I climbed an 11a to start, then an 11b. I was feeling good after that and wanted to project the crimpy 12a that I started working on with Arez the other week.

I wasn’t sure how the climb would go, especially given my finger strain, but I was feeling warmed up and well-rested from the weekend. My first attempt was messy and I forgot some of the micro beta in the beginning. I also fumbled the sequence with the double underclings in the middle and couldn’t figure out how to rest on them until it was too late. I fought my way toward the top and whipped after the third to last clip.

Sam attempted the climb after me and fell around the same spot as me. He brushed some of the holds on the way down and I got ready for my second attempt. I was feeling good on this go and thought I would send it this time. The beginning went smoothly and I was feeling good going into the crux sequence near the top. I ran out of energy though and fell on the last move. I remember yelling fuck as I fell — heartbreaking. On the way down, I brushed all the crimpy holds again. It was satisfying to see the powdery white chalk float away as I scrubbed them.

Andrew and Claire finished their foam rolling class and met up with us as I was getting ready for my last attempt. I wasn’t feeling particularly good or bad about this attempt, but figured I would try it one last time that night. The holds were brushed and I had the beta down.

I thought the extra eyes watching added some pressure, which helped me climb better. My breathing was fluid and I moved quickly through the first half into the double undercling rest. I shook out my left hand once and my right hand once and went into the crux sequence. The handholds and footholds became thinner here and I had to rely a lot on core tension. As I clipped the third to last hold, I felt good and thought this might be it. There was only one move left now and I felt like I had it. I boxed up for the final clip and then clipped the anchor.

It felt good to finally send a 12a. I knew I had it in me to climb a 12 but it was one of those things you just had to set your mind to and do. I was always more of a fan of onsight climbing but it was fun to project a climb and then send it. I wish Arez had been there — she was the one that had gotten me psyched on that climb in the first place. It had been a while since I met a climbing partner that inspired me to push myself.

Working the 12a initially with Arez was the first time I felt frustrated at not sending a route. I think her frustration at not sending the route rubbed off on me. After that day I felt a new motivation to commit to a route and work on it until I could climb it clean. Before, I would brush off routes I couldn’t climb before and tell myself I can get it another time and I would never come back to them. I wouldn’t project routes to avoid frustration and failure, but this ultimately prevented me from progressing and achieving new milestones.

At the end of that night though, I allowed myself to feel frustrated and angry at not being able to climb something and used it as motivation instead. It was ok to feel frustrated when I couldn’t do something — those feelings are a product of my passion for the sport and I should embrace them to keep pushing myself.

Climbing a 12a was a milestone, and I was happy about it, but the joy is fleeting, and I’m already thinking about the next thing. It’s also not like I’ve changed significantly as a climber. I had climbed a new grade and that was special, but I felt what was more special was gaining a better appreciation for the challenges of the sport and being able to make space for my emotions along the way.