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. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Pull

My bladder was bursting.  We flung open the car doors to my gun powder grey Forester and made a beeline to the bivouac camp ground bathrooms.  I was immediately hit with a sensory overload.  The overwhelming scent of juniper invaded me with some kind of dry nostalgia and I was immediately sane again.  All of the memories of this place came flooding back instantly yet slowly, dripping through the cavernous chambers of my mind.  Throughout the course of the day the all too familiar yellowish/tan/red/orange/brown streaked walls of tuff were like constant reminders of the past.  Friends were literally around every corner.  We couldn’t walk more than ten yards without seeing a friendly wave or hearing an excited greeting from a belayer we knew.  Not to mention the sun.  The glorious life giving sun!  (The irony is that as I write this I am staring out the window at a thick cottony grey sky that threatens to burst forth at any minute.)  Oh the sun, sometimes I feel as if I can go forever without it and other times I would do anything to feels its warm lips on the back of my neck and shoulders. 

The day unfolded as I thought it would.  Being in this place is like being trapped on a beautiful rollercoaster.  I still for some reason get so nervous when I start a climb, no matter the grade.  Smith can draw out your mental imperfections like a thirsty syringe can draw blood from a plump giving arm.  But that’s the magic of this place.  I’m not sure its effects are felt by the hardened locals; people who are as gnarled as the twisted desert inhabitants of the plains that surround the park and as proficient at reading its secrets as the rats who dance and defecate all over it nocturnally.  But as for myself and my beautiful partner our virgin skin and coddled mind states are simply no match for the towering piles of sculpted pockets and dime sized edges with routes that test the fragility of your psyche and impose the harshest of penalties for those who foolishly do and sometimes wisely do not commit. 

I never could quite believe how it worked when I shoved my two fat fingers in that little pocket, jacked my foot up into a blackened dimple and yarded up to yet another smallish two finger pocket and still kept my weightless gravity on the wall. I spent some time perfecting my footwork on various random classics around the park before really entering my groove.  Slowly growing cold, feeling the split desire to all at once take a nap and expend more energy engaged in battle with this route.  Whether drenched in anticipation fueled by hop water and friendly inspiration, or racing against the fading light and increasingly perfect conditions I set off upwards to meet fate. 

Now back at work, the dust and sunlight are all I can think about.  I keep running through beta and torturing myself about results concerning foot placements and keeping my arm straight at a particular rest.  More than anything I just feel extremely psyched.  I want more of that feeling that you can only get while climbing at Smith.  The terrifyingly terrific drop in your stomach that you get when you first pull on or realize that your last draw was some 15 moves ago.  I want to bathe in the dry heat of the morning glory wall, draped on the slouching fence surrounded by like-minded climbers, friends, companions. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Isolated Motivation

It’s about time I sat down and wrote something on my neglected little blog.  The plush times have certainly come and gone and if the last post’s tone is any indicator as to my state of mind then we should all be worried. 

In lieu of that dreadful Red Rocks trip write up I must issue an apology to any and all who read it including myself, which negating the fact that it sorely needed a grammatical edit the content was also drastically maligned in its attempt to convey the actual reality of the trip-which was a positive one I must assure you.  I wear my failures on my sleeve and my gripes and insecurities are fair game when it comes to exposing them on social media.  SO, in hindsight, my hindsight needs Lasik surgery.  In short, and as an addendum to the tone of my last post, I just want to say that Red Rocks is an amazing sport climbing and bouldering destination (duh, tell us something we don’t know) and if you haven’t been there yet then you should go.  But prepare yourselves for a never ending city, a labyrinth of concrete, an entanglement of obnoxious and unnecessary signage, a bi-polar environment, fragile rock, and sun.  But also be prepared to climb on some of the most fun problems and routes in the country.  I was obviously upset that I didn’t climb better and my performance as compared to others is something I am habitually insecure about, but when I think about the logistics of the trip, who I got to spend it with and the things we got to experience together I can’t help but smile and want to go back immediately. 

Rehab is a lonely dark room lit only by a small flickering candle of hope.  After my return from Red Rocks my arm was inflamed to epic proportions and I vowed upon my return to Seattle that I would discontinue my normal training routine in favor of rehabbing my arm (whatever that means).  So for the past month that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.  It started slowly and uneventfully and now has blossomed into quite a nice relationship with a thera band, a jump rope, a hang board, and of course a never ending regiment of core exercises.  Why does no one write about their rehab process I always wondered?  Well, now I know the painfully contrived and somewhat dedicated answer to that mundane question.  Because rehab is not exciting, unless of course if you are the one engaged in said rehab and you see improvement week to week (and even then it’s pretty fucking uneventful).  I have for almost an entire month now not climbed at all.  I did sneak out to World Wall 1 a week ago to break my no-climbing rule and it was well worth it.  Not only was it worth it, it was actually completely rejuvenating and necessary to boot. 

We had been experiencing some fantastic January clarity as far as the weather goes.  The sky was blue, the sun was out, and the temps were CRISP.  The wall was as dry as I’ve ever seen it and washed free from our little chalky paw prints.  I was a complete wreck mentally and found myself having a back and forth debate WITH myself over whether or not breaking my rest period was going to be a good idea i.e. helpful.  I timidly warmed up on Psychowussy and besides my frozen hands all felt in good order.  Next was Aborigine and still, no pain.  I hesitantly picked my gear up, bundled up my rope and plopped down underneath Chronic.  I let out a deep nervous sigh and began climbing.  I rerouted through Californicator and sent, and I was stoked.  Still, no familiar twinge in my arm during a lock off, no sharp pain on retraction.  It was as if I hadn’t been injured at all.  I was just shy of beaming with psych.  I was so stoked I decided to keep it going and ran a lap on Softliner even continuing into Flatliner and falling midcrux.  It didn’t matter, I was so happy to be climbing again and pain free no less.  The last burn of the day was on Technorigine and it went historically well.  I paused at a jug high up on the route.  I looked through the loop my arm made between my chest and my bent elbow out at the valley that snaked its way below, my view terminating at a distant snow covered mountainside.  The sun was left to bake the opposing valley wall and the brilliant blue above beckoned me to keep levitating upwards.  I wanted to oblige but I had to call it a day.  We were the last ones at the wall.  Shutting her down.  My lovely partner had sent a new project, I had gained some illuminating perspective on taking time off, and we both enjoyed the feeling of getting away with murder a.k.a knowing what it feels like to climb on a perfect day in late January in the Pacific Northwest on DRY rock. 

Besides the unexpected treat of getting outside and climbing at my favorite wall it’s been all routine.  Consistent, boring, predictable routine.  And a small amount of bouldering in tennis shoes, heehee.  My arm has gone from feeling like it’s never been hurt at all, to agonizing pain in some positions, to a mild pain upon flexion.  It’s baffling and frustrating and in the end I want to just rewind about 5 months and start all over.  The signs were not really there, but in some cases they were.  I’ve touched upon this already so no need to go down that path of self-shame and longing to change the past (like I said earlier, my hindsight could still use some hindsight).  The longing to climb, to train hard, to prepare for the ‘dry’ times and the encroaching start of yet another seemingly nebulous season is so intense at times it puts me into a mild malaise when I think about how weak I will be when it finally does start to dry out.  Or I start to wonder if my arm will ever feel strong again, all of these thoughts are counterproductive of course and do nothing to address the problem/s I have in real time so I keep trying to fill my head with positive affirmations that focus on the concepts of healing and repair. 

Accepting that you have an injury and that you need to rest is not easy; and in fact as climbers I feel like we have some built in neurosis surrounding the acceptance of such facts.  Admit it, when you’re on a good training cycle, you’re feeling strong, and maybe you’ve ticked a few projects its damn near impossible to pay attention to that small twinge in your shoulder, or that soreness in your pulley.  We are like toddlers that are fighting against the dreaded yet inevitable ‘nap time’ syndrome.  I went through a terrible slump the first two weeks of my rehab where I basically just sat around and ate a bunch of pizza and drank a bunch of beer as if these were the two prescriptions I needed most to heal my arm (they weren’t).  But I needed some time to mourn the loss of my routine, and then some more time to develop a new one. 

After sluggishly pulling myself out of this post-trip and post-freedom haze I began down a (hopefully) irreversible path to regain my old fitness level and maybe obtain a new level (?).  I decided that if I wasn’t going to be in the gym for three hours working on power endurance, ticking off laps on the circuit board, running circles on my 4x4, or recruiting new fibers on the campus board then I would need to shift gears and fill that three hours with other activities that would ultimately help me re-enter the world of climbing.  I also needed to devise a strategy to shed that pizza/beer weight without having to log countless miles running in the dampening madness that is the dreary PAC NW winter season.  Unfortunately part of that plan included having to break up with my favorite twins IPA and Ridge Pizza and start eating smaller and smaller meals (nutrition being just one of the things that fluctuates sporadically in my life).  I also made new friends with a jump rope and a timer.  I changed the way I approached these work outs by believing that what I could accomplish was going to benefit me in other ways (hopefully 5.14 ways). 

Now when I show up to the gym I spend almost all of my time in the back weight room doing a lot of core (600+ abdominal contractions) planks, corners, ab roller etc.  I blend this with a healthy dose of weights (mostly curls and military press) and ring work outs (inverted rows, fly-aways, archery pushups) and to get that heart rate up and burn calories I jump rope for 2 minute blocks and usually end up doing 8 minutes’ worth of jump roping (which I know doesn’t sound like a lot).  I also do shoulder and elbow strengthening exercises with the Thera band and medicine ball which I’ve grown quite fond of.  Literally the number one fear I had going into this rest/rehab period was losing all of my finger strength.  So in order to quell those fears somewhat I decided to start a hang board routine to supplement the fact that I can’t really climb.  My injury is such that I’m able to do repeaters and dead hangs without causing any further damage to my arm so I’m jumping back into that pool again by getting pumped stupid by doing 7/3 repeaters and by doing 30 second dead hangs (no added weight – yet). 

And while all of this sounds good, and it is (for now), I still have the maddening desire to climb.  Our trip out to World Wall after a mere 3 weeks off was nothing short of bliss, a small taste of what I want every day of my life to be like (as unreasonable as that is).  I’m trying to harness this isolated motivation and wield it in order to generate a new momentum towards healing my arm and at the same time making myself stronger and more resilient to future injuries.  The ultimate goal is to come back healthy AND stronger.  It’s not difficult to follow a rehab plan and it’s not difficult to grasp the desire to want to heal my arm in order to perform well in the future, what’s difficult is changing the mind state I’ve had for so long about my preparation for climbing. 





Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Loss of Purpose

We drove across the frozen plains of Oregon.  I had been anticipating this trip for months.  I spent a lot of my free time pouring over the guidebook and researching areas on mountain project.  I was pretty excited to try put my onsight hat back on and go for volume on this trip but another part of me was also agonizing over the fact that I had still been climbing with an injured forearm/bicep for the last two months.  My time spent in the gym leading up to this trip was productive but every day after my training I felt that all too familiar ache and pain in the area of my right arm where my biceps meets my forearm.  Still, I thought I could climb well enough to meet some pre-trip goals I had set for myself and in the end I was also just psyched to climb on sand stone and soak up some sun and most important of all spend two weeks away from my less-than-inspiring job.

Not exactly how you want to be greeted on your first day driving out of the park at Red Rock Canyon.  Probably the most jarring thing I have seen in a while and I'm still kind of amazed I took a photo.  This is a picture of a dying burro.  While leaving the park on Blue Diamond we ran into a slow down and wondered what was going on, I had assumed it was some idiot driver.  My assumption turned out to be horrifyingly correct.  On the shoulder going the opposite direction was a black mustang with smoke pouring out of its mangled grill.  And laying forlornly in the middle of the road was this poor animal struggling to breath, a solitary trickle of dark red blood stained its nose.  I rolled my window down in shock and snapped a photo of it, one eye staring directly at me while its life slowly, painfully left its body.  I was haunted not only by the way the animal was able to look at me and but by the rise and fall of its rib cage, the sadness that encompassed the scene was overwhelming.  I immediately felt disgusted by my actions.  I wanted to throw my phone out of the car window.  This collision of the flashing trashy lights and shiny high speed vehicles of the human world violently tearing a small hole into the wild world of this solemn desert night air.  Slow the fuck down assholes.

Our first day we ran around the second pullout area wondering where the hell we should start our epic trip.  I was less than impressed with an area that seemingly held a vast variety of cool sounding climbs called the Black Corridor.  We spent little time there before ending the day at the Sweet Pain wall which was like an outdoor gym with a multitude of very nice 5.11's.  Or at least they seemed nice from the ground, it was hard to tell (or enjoy them much) while climbing them because of absolutely frozen fingers. 
Our second day we decided to give up the quest of staying off the well traveled paths and ended up at the Gallery, probably the most well known sport crag in all of Red Rocks.  It did not disappoint, much.  While it was an absolute shit show, flailing gumbies, gear and back packs strewn about everywhere, and the occasional dogs, unsafe behavior abounded, but we kept our heads low and worked through some of the classics.  I finally stepped up and onsighted a 5.12a called Fear and Loathing which I thought fun but underwhelming for the quality I had expected from this crag.  I was in full on punt mode for the rest of the day punting on the very top of an onsight of Promises in the Dark (7b) and The Glitch (7b+).

Our third and fourth days were much like the second, punting, classic 5.11's and sunshine everywhere.  I was feeling weak and timid when it came to trying hard and thus it set the tone for the rest of the trip.  Unfortunately. 

The Gallery (a.k.a The Shit Show wall) was definitely one of the best walls we climbed at.  My only regret was not actually climbing a lot of the better/harder lines there.  Pictured above is my short-term crag friend Ice taking a fall off a very good flash attempt on Where the Down Boys Go (7c).  A spectacular route with some reachy moves but awesome holds.  This would be our last day at the Gallery until the very end of the trip.

I think we had a 'sort of' rest day somewhere in there and then we decided to go to the Sunny and Steep crag pictured above.  It wasn't so sunny, which actually turned out to be a good thing.  This crag was FUN.  Full of nice overhanging lines that are short and juggy.  Which translates into = easy to onsight.  But even with most of the beta being served on a platter to me from the ground I decided to punt again off the very top of Tour De Pump.  I just couldn't get my shit together. 

Pictured above a climber on Gimme Back My Bullets (7a+), a super fun route and pretty much exactly the same as its neighbor Steep Thrills.  They both start out on huge juggy pulls into a very awesome bulging headwall on incut crimps and jugs.  Wish there were like 10 more of these at this crag. 

And, well, yes.  There was beer drinking whilst climbing.  A habit I thought I had broken until this trip.  Oh well.

Red Rocks might be the trashiest place I've been too.  There were multitudes of all kinds of garbage all over the place at each and every crag we visited.  This one seemed nice though. 

The rain moved in on us and with a high propensity for rules we tried not to climb.  Until we saw this crag getting gang banged like the last cheap prostitute before the apocalypse.  Cannibal crag is a sweet striped formation sitting atop a small hill.  It had some very nice routes and again I punted on a 7b+ and didn't even try the most popular route at the crag New Wave Hookers.  What the hell is wrong with me?

Ending the day after avoiding a wind storm at the Front Corridor crag.  No I didn't try Monster Skank either.  I did however send a very nice and crimpy technical master piece born from the choss called Megatonic.  A beautiful line but not nearly as cool looking as Sunsplash or Monster Skank.  Both of these routes would be the coolest looking lines I saw all trip, but I still didn't try them.  I have no idea why.  When your on such a long trip (two weeks, maybe not so long) and your at a new crag there is a schism that takes place inside of you as a climber.  One part pulls you in the direction of projecting the coolest lines at the crag (if you are a strong and confident climber); the other part pulls you in the direction of wanting to sample everything, whether its at your level or 8 grades below it.  The siren song of new routes and possible onsights can sometimes be too powerful. 


And then we went bouldering.

I wanted to rest.  I needed to rest.  And I walked out there with full intention of resting.  But...

It is so damn hard to rest when you're surrounded by that youthful, energetic, and most of all 'cool' energy of the boulders/boulderers.  I couldn't help myself.  When you see 10 different people trying a problem there is something inside of you that screams "I want in on that action!" and regardless of how sore your arms are, or how little skin you have, or how desperately you need to rest in order to actually climb well the rest of your trip, you just have to give into that voice and try a little bit.

So in the end I drank a beer and then strolled around the corner to this beauty of a boulder problem and ended up flashing it with no warm up.  Ha!

We also ran into some Seattle friends Will and Hannah who were crushing.  Will is pictured here working Progressive Guy (7c+) which he later sent with ease.

Ruth getting agonizingly close to sending the Pearl (6C).  After making some amazing adjustments to her beta she started tagging the crux crimp rail over and over again.  I was psyched for her and wanted this just as much as she did.  BUT sometimes even if you are physically strong enough to send a route or a boulder it can be even harder to convince yourself that you are mentally strong enough.  She made a very valiant effort but in the end she had to walk away.

Following our little bouldering adventure we decided to go to a crag we had checked out during our ambiguous 'is it too wet to climb?' quandary.  The Trophy area.  So glad I was feeling terrible the day we visited this awesome crag.  I punted on everything, climbed horribly, but still had a relatively good time.  The wind was howling all day and it literally blew the psyche out of me, as well as Ruth who spent most of the day huddled over in her parka. 

Visiting climber and Canadian Eli Dusenbury getting oh so close to the OS of Keep Your POwder Dry (7a+).

A beautiful yet holdless piece of sandstone.

Eli going all superman on the crux.

Our last week in Red Rocks was somewhat of a weird scramble.  The forecast kept changing on us, goading us along and kept us from taking rest days.  One day it would say rain, the next everything was all cleared up.  Then there was two days of absolutely unrelenting and hellish wind. 
On top of that I was getting increasingly frustrated with my arm and my performance.  In my head pre-trip I had built this trip up to be a veritable sending extravaganza but it just wasn't working out that way.  Each day I felt more and more tired and frustrated and it was really sad because, as Ruth pointed out, 'If you keep depending on the next send or onsight in order to have a good time you'll always be angry and frustrated and you'll never be able to enjoy this moment and this beautiful place we are in.'

And she was right.

Our time trickled away.  We moved into a new air B&B and suddenly what had started as an epic amount of time to tackle any challenge dwindled down to our last day.  We drove to the park one last time and decided to spend the last few hours we had of our vacation at the Gallery.  We hadn't been back in almost 10 days but damn am I glad we came back.  The weather was literally perfect.  Cold but warm in the sun, no wind, and a fantastic blue sky embraced us all day.  And we also each sent our short term projects.  The last time we were at the wall Ruth tried A Day In the Life and I tried The Gift.  Upon our return we each dusted off our first burn beta's and then fired them.  A perfect way to end the trip and yet also a somewhat cruel way to end it.  The psyche was high and we were ready to get back home but also ready to spend another two weeks here. 

Simon on The Gift after hi second go send of Where the Down Boys Go.

The sun went from one side of the canyon to the other and soon it disappeared over the shoulders of the distant red/tan/white mountains.  We stared at each other in bewilderment, not sure we were ready to accept that the end had finally come.  Regrets bubbled over and then were dismissed.  We reveled in our late trip sends, drank one last crag beer and hiked out of the wash.  The moon hung high and proud and as the rock glowed the redness of it all sunk in.