This Must Be The Place

When I started climbing, I was told that bouldering will make you STRONG.  I really didn’t understand how or why, but eventually, I found myself in a secluded barn in the dead of winter, climbing on an exceptional home-wall surrounded by the burliest boulderers in Northeast Ohio.  During my first barn session, I struggled to complete the two easiest problems.  I was the worst one there and sore for days.  Though I was quite intimidated and could barely climb the steep angles with small polished foot jibs, I was determined to get strong.  I loved every one of these sessions, and I always jump on the opportunity to climb there.  The training facilities are great, and the community could not be more supportive.  Even more memorable and significant to me are the stories that were told.  Like children’s bedtime stories about dragons, magic, castles, witches, beanstalks, bears, cookies, or wolves, my imagination for rock climbing was fueled by stories about surreal places like Bishop, California.

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About a week ago, I got to experience what it was like to climb and live in Bishop.  It was the fulfillment of everything that I had dreamed about on the days spent back East either stuck inside during a depressing winter storm or raining sweat on my belayer while flailing on Red River Gorge pumpfests and hanging in the hot, humid air that plagues the area most of the year. These winter days in Bishop were warm enough to soak up the sunlight that I am so deprived of and cool enough to send projects in the shade. How could you beat being surrounded by the Sierra Nevadas in the middle of an endless desert of perfect boulders?

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Sunset at the Pit campground.

I have come to realize that spending one week in a world-class climbing destination is an annoying. It can give you the impression that you have a decent amount of time to complete projects and enjoy a plethora of classics, but especially on a bouldering trip, rest days are a necessary evil if you plan to even get close to climbing at your limit. The first couple days of my week were spent re-adjusting to climbing on “granite” and whining about my destroyed skin. The climbing style of the Happy Boulders was somewhat familiar to me, but the Buttermilks were humbling and exposed my weaknesses. On my first day, I arrived at the Birthday boulder, and my feet skated all over my warm-ups, which also felt quite hard for the grade. The polished crystals were quite foreign to me, yet I began to correctly apply force and trust my feet. Surprisingly, I was able use some horrible foot holds to work out the bottom sequence of Stained Glass V10 that day, but my fingers were another story. My skin was soft and losing the battle against the most abrasive rock that I have touched in my life. After many failed attempts on Stained Glass V10, Soul Slinger V9, and Soul Slinger Right V8, my skin was done.  Blood seeped from holes poked in my fingertips like the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Birthday Direct V3.  Perfect introduction to Buttermilk country.  Photo by Charlie Marks.

I then proceeded to reopen my wounds halfway through the next climbing day at the Happies. I was quite frustrated, yet I maintained a positive attitude because I could not imagine a better place to be with such great friends. I bit the bullet and took two rest days during which I reorganized my camp at the Pit, worked on my sun tan, and religiously applied my homemade version of Climb On! to my fingers.

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Soul Slinger Right V8. Piercing my skin into the next sloper ended my day real quick. Photo by Charlie Marks.

The first half of my week was gone. I hadn’t really sent any goal problems, and I had rested a lot. Despite this, I was still very excited to be in Bishop, and the next day back, I got to climb with my good friend Josh who is also originally from Northeast Ohio but has been living on the East Side of the Sierras for a few years. Both of us had a great day of bouldering at the Buttermilks, and my skin seemed to have adjusted to area quite well.  I could feel that this day of climbing was the turning point of my trip.

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Working the moves of Toxic Avenger V9.  Photo by Charlie Marks.

The last couple of climbing days during my Bishop trip were great. I managed to send a handful of classic problems in the Happies, and I loved learning the intricacies of climbing on quartz monozite at the Buttermilks. Even though I was thoroughly tired and sore from the previous three days of bouldering, I decided to spend my last morning climbing at the Buttermilks before driving back to the Bay. The sun was shining, and I felt like I had a grin on my face the whole day. As I started up my warm-up on Sunshine Slab, I nearly jumped off the wall when a small lizard ran past my hand, and I was half-expecting it to suddenly reappear while I topped out the tall face. Thankfully, I did not break my legs falling off this highball.  I could feel that my body needed to rest, but I wanted to savor the last day. I had no expectations of sending especially after I failed to climb the V6 in the middle of Green Wall. In the last hour, I wanted to see if I could figure out the individual moves of Cocktail Sauce, which I had been struggling on a few days ago with Josh. The guidebook describes Cocktail Sauce as a low quality V10 problem involving the use of a shallow pocket. To me, it is a two-move wonder. It begins with a sit-start on a huge jug then a left hand throw to a gritty half-pad pocket. This move requires some accuracy, and I was barely able to squeeze three of my relatively small fingers onto the sharp edge. From here, I figured out some subtle yet simple foot beta that allowed me to throw out right to a solid crimp. After sticking the good right hand crimp, the problem is basically over, and just involves a bump to a left hand crimp then jugs to the top.   I drilled each move of the crux until it finally clicked, and when I stuck the first jug that started the topout from the sit, I immediately felt a rush of euphoria. I felt strong enough to rip the jugs right off the boulder as I traversed to the top.  I was so excited to end my first trip to Bishop with a great send, and sitting on top of the boulder that morning couldn’t have been more satisfying.

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Sticking the crux pocket of Cocktail Sauce “V10”. Photo by Carly Broderick.

Cocktail Sauce is definitely not a V10 boulder problem. At most, it is V9, and if you are a few inches taller than me, it is definitely easier to do the crux moves. I like to think of it as a typo in the guidebook. Regardless of the grade, I loved the problem, and it suited me quite well.   I felt a little (very slightly…a miniscule amount…barely?…) better about leaving perfect temps, sunshine, cheap camping, perfect boulders, beautiful mountains, and amazing climbing partners to head back to the Bay and eventually back to the dreaded winter that is haunting Northeast Ohio. From what I have experienced in my life so far, wintertime in Bishop is bouldering heaven.

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