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.