Power Failure: Confessions of a String Bean

For my whole life I’ve been characterized as a string bean.  I grew up ballet dancing and having my child weight of eighty pounds getting thrown off of one thousand pound horses.  I am long and twiggy, have little muscles, and challenged when I actually have to bend my arms on a climb. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Just bend your arms!”  
Powerful is the last word anyone would ever describe regarding my physique.  Deep down I will always feel like that skinny little girl who can’t open the spaghetti jar.  
Bouldering is all about power.  I think part of the reason I have learned to embrace it is because it is so against my natural state- it is a challenge.  Up until a few days ago, I have probably had the biggest gap in grades between bouldering and sport climbing.  When I first climbed 5.13d I had only bouldered V6.  

The cool thing about climbing is there are so many factors that determine how much or how little one will succeed.  Height, weight, mental commitment, learning to rest, and when to really punch it.  Sport climbing is much more equalizing than bouldering.  A 5.14 sport climb may have very hard moves, but over the entire route the grade is more balanced.  It is unlike bouldering where, say, there is a V7 problem with three moves.  Pretty much, if I can’t do those three moves I can’t do the problem.  On a hard sport route, there are usually more factors.  There are many more moves, and it comes down to: can I rest on bad holds, mentally commit, figure out a more efficient sequence for the “boulder problem?”  

Bouldering is so funny, but I’ve learned to love it.  It is akin to the new generation, the attention deficit society that we’ve developed into.  You can see it in today’s youth.  Instead of playing with shampoo and conditioner bottles for hours pretending they are princes and princesses, these kids have ipods, iphones, and i-whatever for days.  They love the instant gratification of Facebook instead of socializing with friends at a coffee shop.  They click a movie on youtube instead of going to the theatre.  Instead of committing to a full, exhausting day of climbing on a rope, with so many more factors to play, they choose the easy, noncommittal, and often instant gratification that bouldering has to offer.  Just power through a few moves and you send- success!    

I see the appeal.  It is so much easier and convenient this way. And most of all, it is so much more fun. 

I love the social aspect.  I can’t tell you how many times I’d be in the middle of nowhere with my partner, and if another party showed up we’d be ecstatic.  Just to be able to share the day – and the misery – with another party was uplifting.  Misery loves company, right?  But sometimes, it takes a little bit of suffering to develop your character and build memories of a lifetime.  How much pain are you willing to expend to potentially achieve your lofty goals?       

Bouldering usually requires an attention span of about two minutes. Tops.  If you fail, it’s ok.  You hang with your friends, you touch and brush the holds, you eat some food – it’s comfortable.  
Climbing on a rope requires so much more preparation in so many ways.  The approach, the weight of your pack, the memorization of so many moves, the time on the rock, learning to rest when you can.  It is so much more mentally taxing it is ridiculous.  It’s like comparing alpine climbing to sport climbing.  The preparation is so much more.  The approach is complicated, it’s cold and uncomfortable, the selection of gear is meticulous, and the climbing scary. It’s not always more about difficult moves. It’s the mental aspect.  
Compared to sport climbing, bouldering is physically much harder. However, sending an equivalent route grade requires WAY more commitment.  I just climbed my first V10, for example.  I was ecstatic, but redpointing my first 5.14 was far more satisfying.  The funny thing is, I still feel there are many V6 problems that I may never send.  We have to be able to let go of grades and just try hard, no matter what.     
When you work much harder for something, the satisfaction is much higher.  Don’t get me wrong- I love bouldering. But ultimately, I view it as preparation for route climbing.  Maybe I am a bit masochistic, but I love the feeling of immense sacrifice that sport climbing gives me.  
This to me is true success- achieving what you once thought was never possible.  And for now, this string bean is ecstatic, because for many years V10- the once seemingly unattainable goal- is now accomplished.         


  1. This is such a thoughtful post. And it came to me through such an unexpected channel. I want to post it on a wall so that I can remember the messages it holds. I was watching something the other day where they kept saying to slow down and master your “craft.” I think the payoff is in the unexpected and less obvious things like what you discover about yourself from the things you commit your entire being to.

  2. Fred- thank you for reading this and for your kind words. Yes, in our successes and failures we will discover a lot about ourselves but we must not ever let those events define us as a person. All the best to you!

  3. Im so happy that you've put into words what's been lurking in the back of my brain for a few years now… Thanks goodness I feel that I dont have to feel compelled to love bouldering or that I have to be ashamed of not wanting to go to Font because I'd much prefer to get on routes. Great blog, thank you so much!

  4. Thank you Viki for reading and relating:). Keep climbing and having fun! Best-h

  5. Congrats! I agree entirely with your sentiments. Great post. I'm gonna start following as a fellow String Bean ; )

  6. Yay! Thank you- let all string beans unite!

  7. Hi Heather, I am 22 and I just started climbing in September 2014, and have stuck to mostly sport climbing and have been decently satisfied with my progression thus far. Recently, I went on a bouldering trip with some friends and it definitely messed with my climbing confidence. I too have a “lean” build and bouldering is extremely tough for me, especially being new to climbing. Reading this made me feel a lot better about my struggles with bouldering, because if some one as awesome as yourself has gone through struggles with bouldering then it seems only natural that I would struggle. I have been working on my bouldering, but sending a route in my opinion is much more satisfying 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for reading and hope to see you out climbing one day. I am with you- route climbing is so much more rewarding! Keep with it and all the best to you!

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