As soon as I relinquish my unyielding grip on outcome and success I end up getting what I want. Certainly not an intuitive practice. Climbing is not just a physical game, we all know this. Yet, we spend so much time in the gym beating our heads against the wall and torturing ourselves over hangboards, campusboards, circuitboards, and every other kind of board you can think of (until you’re actually bored) in the hopes of becoming stronger than our projects. As if all it takes to get to the next level is strong fingers?! What an insult to this beautiful game we play. Climbing, in fact, is the king of games. It combines danger, finesse, raw power, cunning, logistics, intelligence, foresight, a high pain tolerance, obsession, masochism, and a balance between peak mental readiness and ultimate physical performance. To play this game well you have to let it pervade your life, your diet, your social choices, your time commitments, your geographic location, and your ability to sacrifice money/time/relationships/and ego. Climbing is all encompassing and defining, when you embrace it and make it a passion you can truly understand something deeper about yourself and ultimately the world in a purely holistic sense. I know how easy it is to dispense euphoric hyperboles post triumph but I would still feel the same way even if I hadn’t sent this season’s project (Porn Star at Little si) just a day ago on August 9th, 2016.
Riddled with guilt for calling in sick (when I clearly wasn’t) I lay in bed counting the minutes until it was time to go. I followed all of my usual ‘get ready to climb’ rituals, ate the same breakfast burrito from PCC market, drank the same Synergy Kombucha, and ate the same pint of blue berry’s. I already felt this divine sense of failure growing in me. I stood in my boxers staring out the skylight in my room, watching the low lying clouds cluster around some unknown peak to the east and gave up all expectation. I didn’t feel any stronger than the day before, I didn’t come to some eye-opening life-changing realization the night before, and now I was regretting missing work to give myself over to the process of this project. I started to develop some weird feeling of animosity towards the route and the decisions it had made me make. It was too late anyway, so I exhaled a deep sigh and with it my expectation of sending.
I climbed into my car and felt pain in my shoulder, a soreness that hadn’t been there the day before when I was resting and getting ready for another round. Meh, just another reason why today isn’t the day. I drove lethargically east heading to the crag, not really feeling the playlist I had selected, not really thinking about...anything. I felt kind of tired honestly, and when I did make it to the trail head I felt hungry and ready for a nap. I hiked up without music, not really paying attention to any one detail of the trail, a trail I have hiked too many times, and will continue to hike too many times into the unforeseeable future.
I arrived pouring sweat and again thought ‘it’s manky and humid, not the day for sending’ and let my back pack slump off my sore shoulder.
While I climbed I went from feeling defeated and tired to feeling energized and alive. I crouched onto one foot mid crux and casually reached up to the credit card crimp on my warm up of Flatliner. I fumbled the next move sticking a shallow undercling with two fingers and tried to readjust. I fell. But I felt amazing. I lowered to the ground and was buzzing, I felt the warmth of some kind of strange energy encompassing and saturating my entire body. I no longer felt tired or disengaged.
My first go of the day was high energy and a bit jittery. It’s as if the rock itself was giving off some kind of life sustaining energy that magically propelled me upwards. I greased right off the two slopey opposing sidepulls that define the crux of Porn Star feeling strong but nervous as well. I’m used to it, this isn’t going to happen today. I slumped in my harness for a quick minute and then sailed the last boulder problem to the top, a dance (or ritual) I had grown far too accustomed to engaging in. Nothing is going to change, I’ll just have to wait for those crispy/sticky Fall sending temps. I had given up, or I had given myself permission to give up, which was okay because it was a ‘lose a battle to win a war’ type of give up.
It was a cloudy Tuesday afternoon in August. Most of the climbers at the crag that day were donning puffy jackets or pull overs, while the actual climbing demanded shorts and no shirts the waiting room required slightly more insulation. The rock was cold, there was no breeze, and it was busy. Much busier than I had thought it would be on a weekday. I liked it this way. I began climbing and it didn’t feel like anyone cared. I was able to fall into my own rhythm. I felt pumped at the top of Aborigine (sheesh), and then even more pumped after the short little sequence of Techno just before branching left into the start of Porn Star. I did the initial boulder problem and got to the enormous jug rest. I looked up at the sea of draws hanging listlessly. My inner dialogue went something like this: “You have no chance. This is just another one hang, just do me a favor? When you get to the crux just try hard this time okay? You don’t have to send but at least try hard! Just try to get a little farther than your last couple of burns. It’s okay if you don’t send, you won’t send anyways, you’re too pumped, you’ve felt so much better than this on other burns and you didn’t send, this is definitely not the send burn.”
Not exactly motivational, but it’s really what was going through my head. I launched into the meat of the climb. I was a little more pumped than usual but I was also a little more relaxed. I reached the apex of the climb, a small rest before one last boulder problem. I grabbed a brick shaped slpoper and instead of over-gripping I just let my hand relax as it stuck to the hold without budging. I grabbed an incut crimp and shook my other hand out. I swapped a couple of times and then said “fuck it” and executed my sequence. Instead of feeling like everything had to be perfect, instead of giving up because I stuck the first hold wrong or I didn’t like how my foot felt on this tiny sloping jib of a foot hold, I just climbed and continued to climb. I perched on the slopey brick shaped hold from the rest and flagged perfectly, reaching up effortlessly for a small crimp, I felt so good I shook out my right hand before switching it to an undercling. I wasn’t over-gripping myself off the climb! I made an across the body move with my left hand and rolled casually into the pocket just beneath the jug. I grabbed a good right hand crimp, adjusted to a better grip in the pocket, jacked my foot up on a slim foot hold and reached out to the finish jug, finally breaking my casual defeatist attitude with a yell that no doubt grabbed everyone’s attention.
What happened next is hard to write about. I kind of monkey chugged up the easy 15ft to the anchors and had a somewhat out of body experience when I actually clipped the rope through the anchors.
I began working this route back in October of 2015. I spent a couple weekends on it figuring out the moves and making some links. I came back to it at the end of April in 2016 and worked on it pretty heavily until Memorial day weekend where I came very close before wet holds prevented any more progress. I came back for the 4th of July weekend and made even more progress falling at the pocket below the jug. I tried so hard that weekend for four days in a row but couldn’t get it done. The pressure was unbearable. I took a month off, I doubted myself, I day dreamed, and I finally just got back to training and tried to not give a fuck anymore. August 9th, 2016 I finally made what had previously been an almost daily day dream and visualization a reality. All the screaming and yelling that ensued as I was lowered was just a release. Like steam gradually building up behind a release valve the process this route had taken me through had built and built, sending was the final piece before triggering that emotional valve to open. All of the time spent thinking about my sequence, training for the route, wondering if I was light enough, strong enough, or just plain ready for the climb came pouring out of me in whoops and yells. I wanted to take my shoes off and fling them into the forest, I wanted to strip down naked and run to the top of Little si, I wanted to chug every beer I had brought and collapse in a heaving pile of relief, I wanted to grab everyone on the ledge and bear hug them at the same time. I felt empowered, overjoyed, and relived all at once. It was almost too much to handle. I had to calm down quickly though. What set me off the most was just how unexpected it all was. There had been several times before this where I had felt stronger, the conditions had maybe been a little better, I had executed sequences more efficiently; but in the end none of that mattered. I had spent so much time trying to convince myself that I needed to be perfect for this to happen, that I needed that ‘black swan’ moment in order to make it to this level. But it was all just a fallacy. What I had really needed was to give up my stranglehold on not allowing myself to make mistakes.
I hope everyone reading this is in good health, good spirits, and are surrounded by people who they love and who motivate them to be completely imperfectly perfect human beings.