Dedication and determination. For Mayan Smith-Gobat, these two attributes have been the driving force behind her becoming one of the most respected people in climbing.
But Mayan’s career hasn’t been a simple rise to the top, it has been shaped by setbacks as well as successes. Injuries, bad weather, and mental blocks have all hindered her progress in the past, but Mayan doesn’t believe in quitting.
"My climbing career has been over 90% failure for the few moments of success," she admits. "Definitely the most difficult points in my career have been injuries - and I’ve had my fair share of them, but the more time I spend trying and failing on something the better success feels in the end."
Mayan’s current challenge is Riders of the Storm - a 1300m wall situated within the Torres del Paine range of Patagonian Chile. Her first attempt was in 2016 and was the culmination of months of rehab and recovery following shoulder surgery.
Alongside Ines Papert, she set out to free climb the entire route - something which had never been done before. Having found a five-pitch variation to get around a pendulum pitch halfway up the face, the pair then succeeded in freeing two notorious iced-up cracks near the top of the route to reach the summit. They made significant progress towards their goal, but bad weather stopped them free-climbing the final two pitches.
Mayan later required another round of surgery which resulted in an extended period of rehab until she approached peak form. To recover properly, she had to draw on all the mental resilience she’s accumulated from over a decade at the top of the sport.
"Determination is an inherent part of me. If I get something in my head, I don't give up on it until I succeed. From early on, I learned that these setbacks simply feed my drive and desire. Giving up is not an option, you just keep going."
Just keep going is exactly what she did. The second trip to Riders was within her sights but again, adverse weather conditions stopped Mayan from achieving her dream.
"It took a month to climb the first 600m which should have taken two days at the end of the trip we only really had two days to try those hard pitches. We had one attempt each and we made really good progress.”
"You could say that trip was an entire failure but we came back safe and made good progress and by the end of the trip we were both motivated to go back and finish it. It was a very tough trip mentally but we’re both motivated to return."
Mayan’s ability to overcome adversity has been a major thread in her career. But it’s also her ability to learn from her mistakes that have characterized her ascent to the top of the sport.
"What was pretty major for me, was learning to let go of my overpowering desire to succeed and let my body simply flow. To access the feeling you get when your brain is totally present but not active."
"When I was younger, one of my biggest mistakes was putting too much pressure on myself. Wanting it so badly I was actually standing in my own way. I’ve learned just to have fun climbing and enjoy the process, not just the result."
Looking to the future, Mayan is more determined than ever to finish what she’s started on Riders. It’s been a project which has made her draw on all her climbing experience. And brought out everything she’s become through the sport.
"Climbing has formed me as a person. I used to be quite a shy girl back in school. It was when I discovered climbing that I really discovered my inner strength."
"It taught me to trust myself and believe in myself, and I guess that’s a lot of trying and failing, and then going back and trying again."
This resilience has defined Mayan over the last decade and shows no signs of wavering as she enters the next chapter of her career.
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