Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Reaching Past the Last Hold

Me on Fight Club, coming oh so close to the send.  This was the burn that unlocked the ending for me and would initially seal the victory.  I would send just five days later.  Photo by the ubiquitous Tex Richman.
I started breathing, loudly.  Suddenly everything melted away, success, failure, ego, and I was left with just focusing on my breathing.  The movements came easily, each muscle contraction was met with reward, latching a sharp crimp here, locking off, stepping up, falling into a jagged side pull, leaning heavily into a gaston rail, pulling the rope up, and relaxing.  But always breathing.  All of the other tries had not felt like this.  I was filled with a sense of calm and confidence, a feeling I had not had any other time on the route.  The myriad of weekends spent driving, hiking, falling, commiserating failure, re-tooling my approach, my training, taking time away, trying to let go, only to come back and want it so much more, these memories were distilled immediately through each solitary breath.  And then I just knew.  It hit me right in the brain - the realization that THIS was the go, I was going to send and there was nothing that could stop me.  It filled me with a sense of giddy-like joy, almost as if I was toying with the route before I finally put it out of its misery.  I shook out at the last rest with a smile on my face and then proceeded to execute the last boulder feeling as if I had just pulled on from a hang.  Everything went perfectly, just like I had rehearsed dozens of times before.  Instead of feeling weaker after each crux move I felt stronger, like I was channeling the very life force of the rock itself.  I slam dunked the last flat jug and had to stifle a shout of joy.  I knew it was done but didn’t want to celebrate before I had clipped the chains which came shortly after as well as a very stout victory scream.
This woman never ceases to AMAZE!  Here she is just one burn before sending her hardest route to date and first 5.12b Kobra Kai.  So proud of her and will never stop being proud of her.  Ruth is not only my partner in life but also one of the best climbing partners I could ask for giving me countless belays, talking me off mental cliff edges, supporting me and motivating me to try harder and enjoy the process.  So happy she is in my life and I am thrilled that we get to spend the rest of the season exploring new crags and knocking out more projects together. Photo by the ever intuitive queen of ISO Billis McGee.
Lowering back down to earth after the close of any long chapter in project climbing is surreal to say the least.  Time and time again you program your brain to deal with failure, to fall at the same place, to obsess over grabbing a hold wrong or not feeling comfortable trusting a foot hold, and then for one small flutter of a butterflies wings you snatch victory from the jaws of the dragon and plunge your chalky fist through its rocky armor claiming its golden still-beating heart as your own.  Relief washed over me as if I had just sat down in an oncoming tidal wave.  For the next ten minutes or so I felt invincible, humbled, brave, confident, euphoric.  You almost feel as if maybe something went wrong, like this wasn’t supposed to happen, was never supposed to happen.  You keep waiting for everyone to say “Nice job but you stepped on that bolt.” 
Speckled light on a vacant 4th of July afternoon.  Mike gleaning some beta on Kobra Kai.  I've grown so fond of making the trek out to Equinox almost every weekend.  While I'm relieved to send my project I'm also kind of sad to step out of the routine and miss out on the seemingly always perfect conditions at this crag, the chill vibes in the shade, perfect sequences up shattered rock, the deep blue skies above, the frisky dive-bombing humming birds, the judgmental frogs on the log, and the overall comfort of this unique small crag.

This feels like it was the most mentally challenging battle I have ever had with a route, maybe ever?  But in reality, I’ve been through this multiple times, whether breaking into a new grade, struggling to complete a low percentage move, or just trying to convince myself that it could be done. 

A rift in the time space continuum showing us Morgan Heater transcends all laws of biophysics and exists on  a perfect plain of interdimesionality. 

The key ingredient was letting go, telling myself that I would give it a long break.  With that thought securely embedded in my mind the pressure to succeed dried up and a new well of intent was dug.  I always like to start the season with a good send and each year I feel like I have climbed harder and harder and hopefully learned something from my progress.  Going in to this season and starting the process of completing this route I fully believed each session that it would be now, I would send soon, it wasn’t that far away, and at the end of each session my motivation dwindled and dwindled and the pressure to succeed now grew out of control until I was left with nothing to admit except defeat.  The mistake I made was one of hubris, and I’ve said it time and time again that if you don’t respect the climb you can expect to learn a lesson in humility at no cost to the rock. 

This is what you get when you send Fight Club.  Kind of bummed, I was hoping it was gong to be a Nike contract :(


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Someone is Watching

Nick on Cannon Fire (5.13a) at Equinox.

Through the tree, Nick working Cannon Fire.

Ruth bathing in the sun (while wearing her down parka) and Luke getting psyched for Fight Club (5.13c)

Luke climbing through Fight Club.

Luke taking the whip at the very top of Fight Club (he would send just days later)

A pretty little white butterfly but actually a scourge to the gardening community.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Power Windows

It has been a diverse last three weekends.  My partner and I have switched our focus (laser at it may seem) from sport climbing to bouldering, mostly due to a very wet local crag/s.  The winter season here in the PAC NW has bled into spring and the reprieve from the rain is on delay.  We have had to either drive south or east to escape its watery clutches and after a good stint of Smith Rock climbing we decided to try our hand at seeing how weak we truly are.  Enter: Leavenworth bouldering. 

My arm injury is now almost a thing of the past and with that in mind I have tried (somewhat hesitantly) to start training power, although it’s pretty daunting when I’m reluctant to add weight to any of the exercises I do.  I’ve been mostly relying on getting stronger during our climbing trips.  It seems as though the gym is a sorry excuse for the dynamic compression lines of the Bavarian themed east. 

Our first trip to Leavenworth was just a day trip and it was just as well because the finger tips were shredded in a matter of warm ups.  My main goal was to start projecting The Practitioner (or Prac to the super hip bouldering locals).  I thought that maybe it would be a somewhat obtainable goal given the amount of time we would be spending here (three weekends in a row) but I learned the hard way that stepping out of a sport climbing routine and into a hard bouldering routine is majorly difficult (for me anyway).  I watched as several people flaunted their power in front of my week little eyes and climber after climber stuck moves I could only dream of sticking.  In short The Practitioner shut me down cold.  I was able to do all of the moves with the exception of one and to this day have still not done it (crux move to a wide pinch).  Ruth on the other hand has been dominating everything she sets her mind to.  Before this trip she had done a V.4.  Now she has done several V.4’s, flashed her first V.5 and sent her first V.6!!  My eyes are popping out of my head as I write this.  She never ceases to amaze me with her constant progression. 

I ended our first trip with a big fat zero on the scoreboard, but had tried a lot of new things which is always fun (Bedroom Bully, Practitioner, Trickle of Silence, Monarch, Prism). 

The second trip we had Ruth’s son Cameron along for the ride, a sturdy and rather cute little three year old who relished rolling in the dirt, taking big slams while walking, and collecting (and through no fault of his own torturing) bugs.  I had the pleasure of repeating a few boulders I had done long ago and all in all we both climbed a bunch and still got to incorporate some good family time into the mix.

Now, coming off of our last and final trip to Leavenworth I am finally fully intrigued and invested in some amazing projects out there.  It took a few weeks but I feel in the groove now (and sadly too late).  I still have not sent anything noteworthy but the projects just keep coming.  I pawed at the first move of Abstraction, still could not stick the crux move of Prac, nearly grabbed the sloper crux dyno move on a randm little turd called Musk, had an AMAZING first session on Turbulence just falling short of gathering the commitment I needed to send, and fell off the last hard moves on Sorrow Bird.  Good god, how much more defeat and failure can I withstand?  Well, I guess I won’t be hanging around long enough to find out.  But even in failure some valid victories have been tasted.  All of this sampling of hard problems has really inspired and motivated me to spend some more time in Leavenworth, which is a meager 2hr 15min drive from my house!  I’m already altering some plans for October to cater to a demand for more bouldering.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that some early season sends on the rope will expedite this growing intrigue.  I certainly want to achieve some very high goals on the rope this season but now I am also thinking the same could be done on the boulders.  One of my biggest weaknesses is succeeding at both disciplines so the next challenge becomes finding a way to excel at both.    


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Good Fight

Coming back…stronger.

Never have I been so involved in, in love with, and obsessed about an activity that can be so rewarding and at the same time so immensely disappointing.  The sand castle analogy is a perfect one for climbing in the fact that you can spend hours on end perfecting your skill, increasing your strength, and developing your mental acuity; essentially building something that is not only tedious and boring at times but also extremely taxing and delicate only to have all of that work destroyed by one mistake, one extra move, one last warm down burn, or simply by jumping down from the top of the bouldering wall.  What it really boils down to is learning how to rest and when.  I feel as if I am surrounded, literally, by stories of injury.  It may just be a symptom of the severe winter we have all struggled through; the long hours spent in the gym culminating in frantic attempts to ride the storm out have instead manifested themselves in sore pulleys, sore wrists, or strained knees.  My own struggles with a recent biceps muscle strain/partial tear have been well documented in this blog but have started to fade away with each week that goes by.  I was granted some reprieve from my torturous injured mind state when I visited a PT for the first time ever.  She calmed my nerves surrounding my injury by asking several questions about the injury, performing various strength tests, and ultimately coming to the conclusion that it was just a minor tear that had already begun to heal itself and was on the mend (thanks to constant thera banding and a 8 week break from climbing).  She showed me some more exercises that would be helpful to integrate into my thera band routine and after a rigorous spot massage I was off and feeling better about my future climbing plans than I had in almost 6 months. 

The next day I left for a brief 5 day Smith trip and came away with some amazing lessons about climbing and a new high point in my Smith portfolio.  Things had already been shaping up well for me at this notoriously difficult crag when I had finally sent Churning in the Wake (a nemesis project from years past that I managed to do in 4 tries this year) and now with my confidence high I had a couple routes in mind that I wanted to see if I could put down.  I started with Kings of Rap sending it on the first day on my second try.  After a near send a couple weeks prior I knew it was just a matter of executing the moves but after pumping out at the very top I started to wonder if all the bouldering I had done the last two weeks had stymied my endurance.  I shook that feeling off and instead channeled everything I had into releasing my grip on the outcome and instead focused on just crushing the piss out of the climb, which I did (haha). Kings of Rap will stay with me for a while, the grade is superfluous and I can get over the obviously drilled holds on the headwall, it is rare to come across such a beautiful climb that literally has everything in it.

It always feels good to start the trip off with a send of such an iconic route but I felt the drive for something harder.  The next day after a rough start and a hang dog repeat ascent of Dreamin’ I decided to try a route called Aggro Monkey.  I surprised myself by climbing to the slopey hueco just above the roof(which really isn’t that proud but it was to me) and then proceeded to go bolt to bolt and ended up at the chains!  I was pretty psyched.  I didn’t rehearse any of the moves on the lower but knew I would be back and also knew it was possible now, but it certainly didn’t feel as if it was going to be a quick tick.  We passed a rest day by sleeping in the grass and soaking in some mineral pools in Bend.  Saturday was came and I was off to the races.  I felt strong after the rest day and thought if I could just make some good links in the morning on AM (aggro monkey) than it might come together on Sunday.  My plan was to try it a couple of times after warming up and then take a nice long break and re-visit it in the evening. My first go was a 5 hang attempt, still trying to work out the beta and the foot sequences.  The next go just felt bad (slightly greasy) so I hung prematurely but still managed to make some good links, in the end I had only decreased my hangs by one coming out with a 4 hang attempt.  I rehearsed the top section 4 times starting lower each time and finally linked it from the midway point.  It still felt so far away but I wasn’t really discouraged, just intrigued and really excited to have something new at Smith that was providing me with a solid challenge.  Aggro Monkey is unique to Smith in that it boasts some of the biggest holds I’ve climbed on at Smith with some of the most ferocious lock off’s I’ve had to do in quite some time.  It’s also just a stellar fucking route and a good introduction to the harder routes on the wall (right?).  Again, I wasn’t expecting to send the next go, or even the next go after that, I just wanted to make some good links.

I took a 3 hour break and the weather only got better.  Clouds came in and blocked out the sun, the air temps dropped, and all of a sudden I was on the route again.  We were the only ones in the gulley besides a group of spring breakers who had decided to set up a picnic style pow wow on a slabby rock that overlooked the wall perfectly.  I felt their eyes on me as I trudged up the slab and made the first clip.  Slivers of soft spoken banter started to slip through the tough exterior of my focus but I closed them out and began to climb.  The slippery feet on the slab didn’t feel any less slippery but I grunted through the roof and was all of a sudden face to face with the first crux.  My normal foot had disappeared so I improvised and just compressed harder.  I stuck the move I hadn’t stuck on link yet and bore down.  Crossing my foot through I slowly reached up to the perfectly drilled two finger pocket and eventually a huge jug rest.  My feet kept popping off of these little pebbles in the wall, I felt very pumped. 
Oh well, I thought to myself, I can at least push through and make a good highpoint.  I kept climbing through to the next rest, a painful jagged incut jug rail.  I didn’t rest long at this one because of the jagged nature of the jug, it kept cutting into my left hand.  Armed with new beta from a solid local I crushed the next sequence (a difficult lock off on a ring lock) and came to a good stance holding a sandwiched pinch slot.  The next move was HUGE!  I got psyched and tried really hard, my hand actually dry fired right off the good sloper I was going off of but it didn’t matter because I had stuck the next high pocket with my right hand, unfortunately I powered down immediately.  All of a sudden I was a rat on a sinking ship.  ‘Oh no!  Shit!’ I thought. I frantically brought my left hand in and grabbed literally nothing just to try and create some momentum upwards.  The next hold was a huge blocky jug, I crouched low and flung myself left and upwards.  SNAG!  I was on it, I reeled my flailing feet in immediately and got a good perch on the sloper I had just used and brought my left foot down to rest in a good pocket.  I was red lining hard.  I needed to calm my breathing and my mind.  There were two cruxes left and I had to consolidate what was left of my try hard in order to put them together.  I rested here for what seemed like an eternity.  The gulley had gone quiet.  The group behind me was still and silent.  I could only hear my breathing and the faint rushing of the river far below.  The next move had given me the most trouble out of all of them, I had to grab a perfectly flat three finger crimp which was good, however, it was also frustratingly awkward, I couldn’t quite crimp on it, I pretty much had to open hand lock off on this thing and make a drive by move to a good crimp above standing up hard on a singular left foot hold.  I got into a good back and forth with shaking out and I finally got the nerve to make a move.  I shuffled my feet about and got psyched.  Stabbing up to the good crimp with my left hand I yelled at the top of my lungs to make it stay.  My hand wouldn’t close so I resigned to open handing it while I brought my feet up to perch on the blocky jug I had just rested on.  I made the last clip and traversed right grabbing a flat crimp rail and an ‘L’ shaped notch crimp.  One more try hard move, one more massive lock off and I would be there.  No time to rest, no place to rest, I got my feet where I had rehearsed and stabbed upwards with an animalistic growl.  I crimped hard, I got my feet up on two tiny rubber drenched spikes protruding from the wall.  I wanted to close my eyes and let the movie play out the way someone else had written it.  I crossed my left hand underneath to another crimp, my chest bowed out from the wall, my arms chicken winged.  This is the exact moment when you can decide to give up or fight.  I had come this far, had made this extraordinary link, I decided to fight.  I growled harder, I growled so hard I didn’t have any breath left in my collapsing lungs.  I reeled in the crimp slowly and finally stabbed rightwards to the victory jug.  Thank god!  I latched it and got my feet up high on good rails.  I looked up at the chains; they stared back at me, forlornly, shiny and inanimate, taunting me.  Two more moves to go, it was over, but I could also make a mistake here.  It was a reachy last move to a good incut sidepull but it required some core tension and some smearing to make the last foot movements and get into a good clipping stance.  I rested and rested more.  Finally I made the last two moves, I dropped my left hip and laid back on the side pull pulling the rope up and clipped the chains.  The small group who had watched this monstrous display gave out a cheer and started to applaud.  I had to smile out of embarrassment; I had completely forgotten they were there.  I couldn’t really believe it.  My girlfriend lowered me to the ground and I gave her a bewildered hug.  I felt stunned.  I felt as if I had just been in a fight.  I felt as if it hadn’t really happened, which would have been fitting seeing as how it was April fool’s day and I have always believed that if Smith Rock were a person it would definitely have a cruel sense of humor.  I sat on the ground and was speechless.  In the grand scheme of things this was by no means a big deal.  But it was certainly a big deal to me. 

Now that I’m back at work, typing this at my desk, trying desperately to relive the experience through this essay, I also keep finding ways to down play it.  I look on 8a.nu and mountain project to see what others have said about the route in an attempt to undercut my achievement.  Is it soft?  Is it reachy?  Is it my style?  In the end I shew all of these gnawing mental gnats away and remind myself to enjoy this fleeting achievement.  It’s not about the grade, it’s not about comparing, it’s not about any of the bravado or ego-based boasting that goes hand in hand with social media.  What this was about was pushing through doubt, learning how to fight, and having patience.  I’ll remember this send forever, that’s for sure, because it’s the first time in a long time where I had to fight tooth and nail to make a fleeting goal a reality. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What's in a name?

James is so good because he can conjure a third arm!
Oh man, I crushed the piss out of churning.  The ass whooping it gave me two years ago was re-visited on it 10 fold this past Saturday and holy shit did it feel good.
Look it’s not the hardest route, it’s not even the hardest 13a, all of that stuff doesn’t really matter when it comes to this route and the redemptive properties sending it had for me.  Sometimes grades just really don’t matter.  I’ve seen everyone from small children to old crusty local cragsters to pseudo camp 4 hipsters so drunk and high they thought they were on 5 gallon buckets warming up on this rig so I’m not trying to brag here.  It was simply a matter of redemption.  When you have a history of failure on a route regardless of its grade you always feel like it’s a challenge that stands out above any other.  A benchmark if you will that applies only to you.  Crushing this route was like validating my progress as a climber, it was an obvious marker of how far I’ve come since the first time I tried it.  Besides all of the cathartic diarrhea I experienced after clipping the chains this past weekend had nothing but great surprises in store for both me and Ruth who has been working on Heinous Cling.  Not only did she try it on lead for the first time but she also got it clean on top rope!  Holy jesus the send is going to be nail biting and heroic all at the same time, I can’t wait to go back next week and watch her climb this epic route. 
James on Latest Rage (7b) looking cool, calm, and calculated.
I was able to clean up Latest Rage which was literally an end-of-the-day hail-mary attempt.  I got on with beta being sprayed from all angles falling just shy of a good pocket up high, lowered, waited 10 minutes for my friend James to climb it and then said ‘fuck it’ and cruised to victory utilizing a perch in the middle to shake out and a somewhat off kilter lunge to the jug rail at the top.  Nice to have a double send day for once with clouds swirling around the horizon and a hot pizza waiting for me at Wild Ride.  I’m not putting up Nina Caprez numbers or anything but it is so freeing to feel comfortable in a place like this after so many trips where I have left feeling uncomfortable, unaccomplished, and weak. 

Last call for shots on the arête.
The next day was brilliant as well, not only because we got a good dose of sunshine, something that is sorely lacking in our dark corner of the country, but also because there was progress, shirtless climbing, friends, and near sends!  I had wanted to do Kings of Rap since the first time I laid eye son it and today was no different.  After flailing on it to retrieve beta I came down feeling like I had one more good attempt in me before we had to jump in the car and drive 5 hours home.  The sun was at a decent angle, although most of the route was still being bathed in light, so I sacked up and with the pressure of time weighing down on me launched into my half-baked sequence.  Friends had just arrived at the base of the climb and added to the psych!  I cruised the sketchy start and hung from a nice flat jug rail.  I tried to gather my breathing before launching into the first crux.  I wanted this one!  A couple of grunts and some holding of the breath and I was in the stemming corner trying to shake off the incredible pump I had garnered while over-gripping below.  The feet were small and sketchy but I trusted them nonetheless.  I pulled out of the roof, tried to regain some composure at a long rest off a deep jug and then decided to meet fate head on in the last hard pumpy sequence.  I nailed it, sort of.  I was clipping off two good crimps with my feet in an awkward stance pulling up rope when suddenly a foot pop sent me plummeting rope still in hand.  It was a nice soft fall and I was glad to be free of danger but after the adrenaline wore off I was a little disappointed.  Coming so close to ending the trip with another classic was far beyond my expectation but it was also invigorating. 
Silliness below Kings of Rap.
We are now waiting comfortably, rehearsing beta maniacally, and keeping a stinky eye on the weather for our return trip next week.  This time we will be there for five whole days which is both comforting and overwhelming.  I’ve never been this psyched and confident on Smith before so I’m trying to keep my expectations grounded in reality while at the same time looking for a good challenge.