Listening to her speak while reclined in bed, locked into a stabilizing back brace after a trad fall that saw her fracture two vertebrae, I couldn’t help but think, Molly Mitchell makes sound and brave decisions. Weird, huh?
While making a name for herself after crushing 5.14 sport and authoring bold and dangerous traditional first ascents, Molly kicked down the door when she became the 7th woman to climb 5.14 trad with her ascent of China Doll in Upper Dream Canyon, Boulder, CO. From the outside, you felt like you were watching the next crusher waltzing onto the scene, prepped and psyched to make mincemeat of trad standards across the globe.
Behind the scenes, however, Molly wages another battle, where clipping the ephemeral chains demands much more than weighted hangs and native talent. Diagnosed in her early 20s, Molly recently shared her struggles with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Trichotillomania in Climbing Magazine (Winter 2020 issue). In an extraordinary essay, Molly ushers us through a restless landscape of doubt, anxiety, and a struggle for self-worth, a Virgil to our Dante in a year where disquiet and dread define the zeitgeist of a nation in turmoil. She’s a worthy and careful guide.
Now, back to that back brace and those decisions. After tackling China Doll and taming her screaming doubts, Molly launched herself into her next objective: a trad ascent of Boulder Canyon’s notoriously flared and slippery Crank It (5.13c/d). After sussing the line on bolts (good decision) and diluting each gear placement down to the millimeter (good decision), Molly launched up the route on lead. About 10 feet above where Brad Gobright spit off the same line in the film Safety Third, breaking his back and ankle, Molly caught air, ripping four pieces of gear out of their shallow placements and decking from 30 feet, right onto her keister. Two spinal compression fractures later, Molly found herself braced up and forced away from the rock and suddenly intimate with a mind she has worked so hard to make an ally.
Molly Mitchell is exactly the person we need in 2020’s apocalyptic landscape of trauma and anxiety, an extraordinary athlete whose accomplishments on the rock are only superseded by her advocacy for mental health in a sometimes toxic public forum. Her bravery in the act of disclosure and candor without apology is a reminder to all of us, that behind the curtain of our achievements each of us must wrestle with the coiling serpents of our own burdens. It’s a call to empathy in a time of isolation and we couldn’t hope for a more humane messenger.
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Thanks as always to Ryne Doughty for the svelte musical stylings.
Take care of each other, gang, and travel responsibly over the holiday season!