We abseil down to a tiny ledge metres above the sea level, and it takes a whole lot of ingenuity to pull the rope and only get the last eight metres wet. Thank God it’s waterproof. The sea heaves and swells. My mother is already stressed out. I cannot stop grinning. At least the first pitch has been left in its original state. I start up the way we came down and rattle on about the bombproof rock. After six metres it turns to wafers. I find no solid spot to put anything in and top out onto a ledge with two pitons completely corroded from the salty air. I used up my one little blue X4, so it’s my first belay with just nuts. I’m thrilled. My mother comes up swearing about “the goddamn traverses.”

Climbing up away from the belay proves to be hard. That’s the thing with all classic 6a’s. I wonder how my mother is ever going to get up this bit, but say nothing. No point worrying her now. I pass the new belay with its shiny bolts and mourn the lost original character of the route. The bolts lead me astray, they don’t fit the route description. I get to a harder bit with an irretraceable move. There’s another bolt right in front of me. It confuses me. If it weren’t there, I would just do the move and get on with it. But now there’s this bolt. It must be harder than it looks.
Can’t fit anything in anywhere.

Should I clip that bolt?

Surely my mother can see I’m struggling. She’ll be worried. And what if I did fall? I would probably end up next to her, fifteen metres down. Why is there a bolt?
I adjust the green cam and finally do the move. But the ledge is not as good as I thought, and I’m pumped from all the deliberating. I sense a trace of panic and clip the bolt after all. I find the belay and am flooded by the feeling that my whole ascent has just been disallowed.

People used to call me the “Ethics Committee”.

As a rule, I only clip hanging draws when I can reach the bolt itself. I don’t care if I have to leave the good ledge to do it. I don’t clip bolts that are not part of the route. When I decide to “greenpoint” a route, I don’t clip the bolts even if the placements are semi-great. It drives my climbing partners nuts. My mother hates it. She climbs, too, but only low grades, which means I always choose “easy” but badly protected routes for us, so “we both have fun”. Those routes often turn out to be ancient, chossy lines which haven’t been repeated since their first ascent. I suspect that it’s more fun for me than it is for her, and she not-so-secretely wishes I would for once just choose a nice plaisir style four-pitches-5b-slab. I never do. Temptation is just too great when I get to choose without anyone’s veto.

I am not crazy, or careless, or nourishing a death-wish. I’m extremely picky with my belayers. I’ve never taken a real whipper unexpectedly and I rank safety as a prerequisite for everything else in climbing.

But there’s just something about chossy rock

that somehow makes topping the route more satisfying: as if you fought well, and the rock allows you to pass unharmed as a reward.
Same with trad climbing. It gives me a feeling of satisfaction so much deeper than a sport climb ever could. It will sound esoteric, but when I place my own gear, I feel more connected to the rock; as if I understand it better, as if I’m showing it more respect. I experience a different level of concentration, which often leads to some sort of flow moment.

Even with bolted routes that I choose to protect with my own gear (because there’s a perfect crack, because it used to be a classic, because the route is too easy otherwise, because I need a challenge… I always find a reason) – I start climbing and become so focused on the climb, on the movements and on the rock features that soon, I don’t even see the bolts anymore. They just blend in with the wall. I stop climbing from bolt to bolt as I often do in sport climbing, whether I want to or not, and instead I climb with this heightened sense which lets me focus solely on the rock beneath my hands. I connect with the route on another level and everything else disappears.

I expect a lot of myself, and I often have a hard time understanding how people, especially other women, can not push themselves and not have the will to redpoint a route, or even to lead. I think the only time I toproped in the last six years was the first four weeks after I tore a ligament in my foot when bouldering and could only use one foot. It drove me nuts to feel so impaired and useless, but in the end it made me stronger because I trained twice as hard as a result.

A friend once said that I had “the biggest balls of them all”.

But it is not that I’m never afraid.

It’s been such a long way to where I am now. I used to pee my pants if I was half a metre above the bolt. The day that I decided to overcome my fear of falling I cried for two hours straight while trembling with my knot just barely above the bolt, taking ten minutes to let go. It’s not that I didn’t fight for it; it’s not that I’m never scared.
Even now, sometimes I feel fear coming and have to work hard so it doesn’t turn into panic, and I grip the rock much harder than I’d have to when I get in this place where you think that everything you touch is brittle, the cam is surely not sitting well, and it is almost certain the whole pillar is going to collapse…
But still, I find it hard to understand if others don’t push themselves, and even harder to accept that it is okay if not everyone shares my moral standards.
On the other hand, often I am grateful if my partner clips the bolts I left out, or the additional cams I left in, because it is that much harder to watch someone else do this than to do it myself.

– I know, Mum!

Maybe I’m “half a guy” inside because I grew up with my dad, maybe looking towards him as an example rather than to my mother made me perceive myself differently than other girls, maybe it freed me from the “I’m a girl, I’m not as strong” stereotype that many of my female friends are struggling with. A friend once told me she couldn’t wear pink because paired with her blond hair, it affected the way people perceived her. I love wearing pink.

I know I’m probably putting a lot of stress on my mother making her watch her only daughter ignore the shiny bolts, which for her embody safety, only to climb run-out sections and then sweat and swear metres above the last placement fumbling nuts into cracks because she already used up both purple cams at the belay.

But it all wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if I always clipped the bolts or only climbed on solid rock. I would be missing out on something.

It is in these moments that I experience life deepest.

I suppose it is true that walking hand in hand with death is when we are able to value life most. I do not put my life in unnecessary danger and I never do it for the stories; but I do draw the greatest satisfaction from living through these situations: conquering fear, handling dangers, and overcoming my own mental bounds. From fully dedicating myself to surviving the artificial hardships I impose on myself.