The Five Stages of “I’m Not Sending This Year, Am I?”

This article originally appeared on Climbing

Yesterday was the last day for the foreseeable future with a predicted high in the 70s in Boulder, Colorado. The morning dawned foggy, mist blurring the brilliant-yellow leaves on the honey locust tree behind our house, and smudging a deeper brown into the faded leaves of the cottonwoods lining the irrigation ditches beyond. I woke up, took in this perfect autumnal idyll, and felt my stomach drop. What in the fucking-fuck?!

Looking out the bedroom window, my eyes sandy with sleep, I began to fret: Would the fog burn off? Or would the weather torpedo my plans that day, to return to a project I'd been falling off in the same spot all week? And if it did, would there be another warm-enough day to get up in the Flatirons and give a final burn before the snow started flying?

You know the feeling: You're close on a route, so close, like next-try close, and the weather is suddenly poised for a big change. It's either going to get way too hot for months, or way too cold. And so, now, in a situation in which there has been little or no time pressure, there is only time pressure. I don't do well with deadlines, except perhaps in my work life. When recreating--whether it's climbing or playing video games--I hate countdowns. The last Xbox game I played with a timer was Dead Space, and as soon I as learned I only had 60 seconds to refill Isaac Clarke's oxygen tanks before he suffocated while battling some Cthulic intergalactic colossus, I almost said, "Screw it," and just set my controller down to let him drift into the cosmos.

Fortunately, in Boulder--and not outer space--the fog ended up being only in town, an inversion layer of clouds. Up in the Flatirons it was sunny and bright, a blanket of billowing white unfolding beneath my friend Ted's and my feet as we hiked up the steep ramparts of Skunk Canyon. En route to our destination crag we passed the cliff of Hillbilly Rock, where we ran into six friends who, on a Wednesday just like us, had completely bailed on work, parenting, and life responsibilities to climb before the weather changed.

Clearly, everyone had the same idea. Or perhaps, the same existential panic. A cold front set to bring five inches of snow was headed our way, and nobody was going to waste this opportunity.


We lucked out with that final day of perfect weather, but it doesn't always happen that way. Sometimes you get shut down, and rapidly, and there's nothing to be done except wait until the season comes around again. To help you in that eventuality, I've repurposed the "Five Stages of Grief," proposed by the Swiss psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, author of On Death and Dying.

Denial: In this first phase, you may find yourself checking and rechecking the forecast, because surely this can't be happening. A single source won't do--you need to find the very best one, with optimal temps and no precipitation. Do this by obsessively refreshing every last outlet--your smartphone weather app,, Weather Underground, Accuweather--until you find the forecast that meets your needs. If you're still striking out, text your climbing partner and have them do the same. We all have our secret weather apps, the ones with the "magical" forecasts.

Anger: You probably have only yourself--for being so damned weak you haven't yet sent--to blame. But don't let that stop you from pointing fingers at everyone in your orbit. How dare dear old Gram-Gram have had her 98th birthday party two weekends ago, during the best condies of the year? Send that narcissistic old bag a nastygram--well, you'll probably have to call her, since boomers don't text. And how dare your climbing partner have spent five extra minutes in the parking lot swapping out his "driving shoes" for his "approach shoes," then another five minutes at the crag swapping into his "crag flip-flops," burning up precious shade and reducing your number of potential burns? Start a Mountain Project thread about "The World's Most Selfish Belayer"--and name names. And how dare that key crimp crumble off right at the crux? Curse its very existence, and then pick up a random rock off the ground and glue to the wall. Let these fuckers know how badly they've wronged you--and that you mean business.

Bargaining: Let me tell you a fable. Once upon a time there was a climber named Matt. Matt really, really wanted to do a route he was trying during a two-week trip to the Red River Gorge, but it was hot and humid, and the rock would get beaded in aggro-sheen--condensation. Every time Matt got up to a kneescum rest, his shirt would be soaked in sweat and his hands would slide off. And so he'd fall and say dirty words, including "I'd sell my goddamned soul for better conditions." One day the devil heard his laments and came up from hell. "I shall give you epic condies on the last day of your trip," the devil said. "But if you fall again, I shall claim your soul." Matt barely had a soul anyway, and so he took the devil's deal. As promised, that next day it was a high of 60, not 80, with low humidity. Matt laced his kneepad even tighter and chalked up. Moral of the story? If reaching out to the devil--or any sort of amoral bargaining--is what it takes to get you up that climb, then reach out to the devil. He may just hear your entreaties.

Depression: As the reality of your situation sets in, you may find yourself in a very dark, low place. Combat this depression by setting up burner accounts on Instagram and trolling climbers you don't like, especially ones who've traveled to exotic locales with perfect conditions and look like they're having way too much fun. A few helpful phrases: "I hear that route is soft 8a." "That's a great effort--for you." "Isn't that the one that 10-year-old onsighted?" And, of course, "Hey, your house burned down while you were away, along with all your stuff in it."

Acceptance: Finally, we come to acceptance. I have no real advice here, other than head to the rock gym until the season rolls around again. I'll see you there--I'll be the guy in the corner on my phone, checking the weather, sending nastygrams, summoning the devil, and trolling my enemies. We'll see you in hell!

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