Progress is a funny thing. It can seem so transparent, so clear and abundant and comfortable. But when you feel this way it’s actually not progress that you’re feeling, it’s the outcomes of progress. Actual progress is embodies in those times when you’re emotionally overwhelmed, frustrated, confused, depressed, or even angry. Progress presents itself when you least expect it, and most of the time when you don’t really want it. Progress is monotonous and unrelenting; it’s constantly poking at you, prodding you to do one more rep, or shaming you into not eating that last slice of wedding cake. Progress is the determination to hold on even though your fingers are unfurling before your eyes; progress is the feeling that you should have done one more burn as you’re packing up your rope. The outcomes of progress on the other hand, well, they can be seeped in anxiety and self-doubt. They can be fidgety and unsure. They can also be weightless, carefree, exhilarating, joyous.
I’ve just returned back to work from a beautiful and inspiring weekend of sport climbing. The weather was flip flopped (Saturday high of 81 and clear as a bell, Sunday high of 64 and cloudy) so I conjured up a plan that would cater to both weather patterns. Saturday Ruth and I headed up to Bob’s Area, a small cluster of crags found near the top of Mt. Washington at Exit 38. I have a slightly involved past with this crag and you can read about it in this post here crawling. Roughly 6/7 years ago I fell in love with a route (or rather the idea of climbing a route) that had the magical grade of 5.13a. At the time I had never climbed a route graded 5.13a and it seemed like a big deal to me as well as my peers. It represented strength and skill and some magnitude of ability that I whole heartedly believed would lead me to gain the respect of said peers and procure for me…what exactly I’m not sure. All I can say is I wanted climb 5.13a so I could impress other people. It was as clear as that. And maybe that’s exactly why I got smacked down so hard by this route so long ago; when you climb for the wrong reasons it’s easy to find yourself face to face with an oncoming wall of failure.
Returning to this sub-alpine sport climbing mini-paradise was pretty damn awesome. It was such a nice break from the well-traveled trail to World Wall and it also has some nice views (although marred by clear cut scars and an unaesthetically pleasing quarry) if you can look past all of that and take in the rise and fall of the wandering ridgelines of neighboring mountains, breathe in the refreshing taste of clean air, and just enjoy standing on the precipice of a rocky outcropping as you gaze over the I-90 corridor, you’re in good shape.
My intentions were pretty transparent, I wanted to get back on Crawling from the Wreckage with my newly acquired skill and strength and see if the tables had turned. For Ruth, I just wanted to get her on some new rock, new routes, and test her onsight ability. Bob’s area is really perfect for this because the routes are somewhat cryptic and technical, and there is hardly a trace of chalk on any of the holds. For the 5.10+ to 5.11b/c climber, Bob’s is a perfect testing ground of this skill. Not to mention, for a sport crag, the setting is remote and it can really allow you to feel engaged with the climbing in an somewhat adventurous way. There are a variety of small crags scattered about this small area and the main wall we climbed at see’s shade all day and I knew it was going to be a perfect get away on a hot day.
As we approached the wall and I got a glimpse of Crawling I got really excited and then really nervous at the same time (progress!). Staring up at the route I could remember the moves but the holds from the ground looked all wrong and I couldn’t really make out my old sequence anymore. We warmed up which involved some scary slab climbing at the top of a 5.10c covered in moss, and I actually had to take on a 5.11b because I could absolutely not find any holds (they were there, they just blended into the rock so effortlessly I had to pretend I was looking at a magic eye poster in order for the holds to reveal themselves). I rapped down Crawling to hang draws and re-acquaint myself with the old girl and got even more excited as I felt the holds. I laced up my boots and gave it a day-flash go. Fuck, I was so nervous; I wanted to do it instantly and on my first try to prove (what? I’m not sure) that I was above this little 50foot run up. I actually stuck the first crux and it felt kind of hard, but I pulled through the next few lock-offs and made it to a small rest, then launched into the next crux sequence and linked to the exact hold that I kept falling off of so many years ago. “I’ve got this” I said to myself, but wait, is my hand slipping? Shit! I grabbed the draw. Oh no! I’m right back where I was. The shame, the self-doubt, the feelings of inadequacy all came rushing back in as if someone had just opened the floodgates on the dam housing my insecurities. I took some time to really figure out what was going on and it all came down to body positioning. My feet were too high (historically and just now) and once I dropped them and centered my weight under my right arm (which was latched onto a sloping shelf) the clipping stance felt easy. The top crux is pretty sweet, two small crimps and some very interesting pinches with a stand up finish to one of the most bizarre and interesting sloping jug huecos. I re-hashed the beta, brushed some holds, and then it was time to rest and get psyched.
We hiked up to the upper crags so I could show Ruth some of the classics of the area like the stemming corner ‘Green Buddha’, the perfect slab climb ‘Stemming Out Beyond the Grey’, and the powerful and unique face and arête climb ‘Aperture Ecstasy in a Nocturne Divine’. All 5.11a/b and all worth the hike and the time, most developed and bolted by Leland Windham back in the late 90’s. All these routes are all so good and pay homage to the dedication and love the climbers of that generation had for Washington climbing, good rock, and their sense of adventure. We stared out over the Snoqualmie valley, the sun igniting the low lying clouds on the horizon into a wispy tangerine of ethereal cotton candy. The haze from the city added to its presence, Mt. Si lorded over the smaller Little si and it was funny to me how small World Wall looked from where we stood. A breeze whipped around us and the bizarre sub alpine furs stood still amidst the abundant salal and fat black ants that busied themselves amongst the dry dead wood scattered everywhere.
It’s hard to know when you are ready to send. For me, I squeeze my forearms and if they are squishy and relaxed, I’m ready. I also get anxious and want to just get it over with, the unsettling anticipation in my stomach goads me to take action and I can no longer wait for full recovery but want to embrace and harness that nervous energy and use it to crimp my way to the top. This next go I drew upon all of the previous times in the last two years I had been faced with a situation like this one. A route I wanted to climb, the doubt that maybe I wouldn’t finish it, the desire to have it under my belt, the fear of failing. I’ve been here before, I thought. Just climb and breathe and relax. I fired the first crux (about V.4) nearly missing the slanted crimp crux hold, but regaining my composure. I locked off on the next few holds (all good incuts) and made it to an incut crimp and a chunky side pull, I traded hands shaking each one out and thinking about the next sequence. “Just get on with it!” I kept saying to myself, “You’ve done harder routes!”. The thought of this made me hesitate, and shoo out one last time. I was ready. I cruised through the next sequence involving to slopey pinches and dead pointing to a slopey shelf. I kept feet low, I felt secure and strong. I made the clip and without hesitation cruised through the last bit of hard climbing with one last grunt to grab the weird hueco jug. It was done. I’ve sent harder and much more involved routes, but this was somehow much more meaningful. This had been an absolute battle for me years and years ago; a battle I initially lost. But now, to be back on it, to be back in this area, on a perfect Pacific Northwest day, clipping the chains on a rather beautiful piece of rock with some great movement; I really couldn’t be happier. Redemption, learning, and overall progress. Not only was I able to put it down quickly, but I was also able to enjoy the route more. I really love it when things come full circle like they did on this day.
Sunday was a perfect day for rock climbing. The clouds moved in, the temps dropped, and the rock at World Wall was dry and cold. Ruth and I had just come from an incredible breakfast in Seattle and even after the drive out and the hike up I felt kind of heavy. She gave me the first lead so I went up my usual warm up, Softliner. The rock was so sticky, everything felt effortless. I got to the usual lowering place just beneath the start of the crux on Flatliner but instead of saying take I felt so good at this point that I thought why not just climb into Flatliner and fall at the crux? So I shouted down to Ruth that I was probably going to fall soon and to keep an eye out. I climbed up to the crimp pinch and felt even more solid, reached out to the gaston, rolled into it, grabbed the credit card with relative ease, and to my absolute surprise stuck the small three finger undercling, reached out to the pinch and then bumped to the juggy undercling. Soon I was at the chains and lowering down from the hardest warm up of my life! I was in shock, definitely confused, but overall excited and filled with confidence. All of a sudden I felt like maybe this was going to be the day that Pornstar was going to fall! (Turns out it wasn’t, but it was still a very good day) The story turns to Ruth now who has been leading outside for a month. Her hardest lead had been a 10c a week ago, and today she had 11b in her sights. After a rough start on a cryptic slabby 10d and a bit of a break down and then breakthrough, she was ready. A quick re-visit of the route, a rest, and then she made her way up to the crux. A false start going to the crimp had her coming back down and then launching through her sequence and nailing it. She got to the last crux and with zero hesitation snagged the last ledge beneath the chains and pulled up to the victory jug. It was not an easy road to get here (progress), but she pushed through and enjoyed her hardest lead to date, Psychowussy (5.11b). Amazing! So proud of her and really excited to see her get on some of the other fabulous 5.11’s at World Wall. I think I will point her in the direction of the Bad Guy next, a great crimpy face climb, get psyched Ruth!
The day spread on and out. Drew Ruana (maybe in the top ten of American sport climbers??) showed up with visions of crushing the ever-loving piss out of hundreds of small crimps up a 125 foot tall piece of rock. And he did not disappoint. After a quick warm up he got on the Boy Meet’s World project. We all watched with suspense as he approached ultimate (but not the only) crux of the route, the exiting sequence of the new whore of Babylon boulder. A wild pogo that he figured out last weekend propelled him through this crux and all of a sudden things were looking good. He crimped, flagged, locked off, grunted, lunged, stuck to tiny holds with some kind of demonic fervor, and soon he had done about 75% of the route (which he reported being 9a on its own!). He got to the ‘red point crux’ an absolutely heinous drive by snatch to what can only be considered a ‘razor blade’. Now, it’s one thing to see your friends or your buddies trying hard on a climb that you are projecting as well. You get their try hard and you understand why it’s necessary. But when you see a climber of Drew’s caliber trying really fucking hard it’s not just awe inspiring and motivating it’s almost unfathomable to understand exactly how hard he is trying in order to stay on because he is literally doing something that you cannot conceive of doing, the impossible if you will. I got to witness this as Drew loaded up and stuck this incredibly hard drive by cross over on razor blades. His foot swung out wildly, his body barn doored and he let out a guttural yell from the depths of everything that propels us forward; desire, intensity, passion, anger, joy……LIFE! To our as well as his amazement he stayed on, clinging to holds I have been on before and know are bad. His task: daunting to say the least. Just a mere 14 moves of V.10 to do before a 5.13 exit. No big deal. He tried to get into the last bit of climbing which starts on the flatliner cux but at this point, 90 feet of 5.14+ under his belt, it just wasn’t the right time. He slumped out of the gaston and fell. It was a proud link, we were all amazed and highly impressed.
He wrapped up his day by making a very nice link and a wonderful contribution to the now 4 or 5 14a’s at the crag by making the FA of Chixalub which starts on Psychosomatic and then cuts just slightly right into the new bit of climbing on the Mega Proj and ends on Pornstar. He said it felt to be 5.14a. The first half is quite easy and the second half is sustained crimping in an overhang ending with the Pornstar crux and little rests. It’s quite a nice line and a perfect route, well done Drew.