Category Archives: Climbing

Ending the Boltless Year (Part 2)

Living in a cloud isn’t ideal for rock climbing.  Though once the rain stopped and the overwhelming grayness left our life, Ten Sleep Canyon morphed back into its magical summer state of cool, dry conditions.  There was a little over a week left in the trip, and all I had managed to do was punt off the top slab of Esplanada 5.12d in a sleep-deprived mania.  Taking this short trip to Ten Sleep was partly to observe an emerging personal tradition of making an annual pilgrimage to the glorious carbonate cliffs of Wyoming and partly to see how/if I had grown as a climber.  I decided a good evaluation for this would be to attempt to send Sky Pilot 5.13d.  Sky Pilot is one of the most sought-after lines in Ten Sleep.  It ascends a narrow golden streak located in the middle of Sector D’or et Bleu, the highest quality blue-streaked wall of the canyon.  Consensus seems like it is solid for the grade, and in an area where route “enchancement” is sometimes acceptable, Sky Pilot is completely natural.  The route is engaging: two stacked cruxes on amazing pockets, a decent but not quite relaxing rest in the middle, some consistent face climbing to reach another okay rest below the anchor, and an exciting (heartbreaking) finish move to an epic jug lost in a sea of tiny pockets and crimps.

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Enjoying the opening boulder problem in the blue rock of Sky Pilot.  Photo by Charles Marks.

The first day on Sky Pilot solidified my confidence.  I managed to do all the moves, and in typical boulderer fashion, half of them were twice as hard as they needed to be.  Unfortunately, I wish I had known earlier that these sequences were too hard for me to execute together.  I turned the opening V6/7 crux which uses mono pockets as intermediates into a solid V8 in which I locked off a sharp one pad mono pocket, and quite late in the game (the last day of the trip), I figured out that I didn’t have to dyno to the finish jug, which I had tried and missed four times from the ground.  Fortunately, I eventually realized easier ways before the trip was over, and I was reminded of an important lesson:  always find the most efficient and consistent way to climb.

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This is how you can make the finish sequence harder than it should be especially when you lack endurance.  Photo by Charles Marks.

I knew I could send Sky Pilot during this trip, and I was quite patient in the whole process.  Even after a random rest day involving some freak stomach flu in which I couldn’t move for about 12 hours without vomiting, I remained positive, chugged some ginger kombucha, and was more than psyched to climb a route that I had always walked past with dreams of sinking my chalky digits into its snug pockets.  On the last day of the trip, with a looming 16 hour drive back to the fiery inferno of the Eastern Sierra, coming off of the previous climbing day having fallen with my fingers tickling the finish jug three times, I knew I had to focus or be prepared to deal with excessive self-shaming and a validation of how much I suck.  While not a healthy behavior that I sometimes engage in, I have accepted my negative reinforcement as inevitable when I fail in something that I care about.  Simultaneously, I have learned that it is best to make it as brief as possible and to avoid bringing the amazing people around me into my temporary self-destruction.

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Such a juicy mono pocket in the opening boulder problem.  Ohhh but pockets are tweaky, I don’t like them, why don’t you set some more running jump start sideways dyno to sloper-volume problems, they flow better… Photo by Charles Marks.

First attempt of the day:  fall on last move on a perfect burn…dynoing there is stupid…you are can figure out something better…yes, you can lock off a sinker two finger to statically reach the finish jug.  Then, it starts to thunder, and my mind starts to race.  I felt like the worst friend for being distracted, quiet, and completely worried about whether or not I would be able to give my project another attempt with the possibility of rain when I should have reciprocated the supportiveness of my best friends as they enjoyed their last hard-fought efforts.  It doesn’t rain, and I proceed to give Sky Pilot the most anxious and sloppy attempts ever.  Yeah, chill out for a while, eat some chocolate, drink some water, give it one last try, and APPRECIATE being with two of your best friends in one of the most awesome places in the world.

I had completed my only goal of the trip…in the final hour…on my last try (its always on the last try?).  I felt bad in some ways that Charlie and Aaron had supported my efforts, and it might have to do with spending so much time bouldering by myself in the last year knowing that my projects were always a completely selfish endeavor.  Or it might have been the self-imposed separation from the people around me?  Or it might have been the feeling that someone I loved left my life?  They shouldn’t have wasted their time on me.  Is this what too much time by yourself does?  You end up wanting to be around people, yet when you are with your friends, your inconsiderate habits emerge unintentionally after the tendencies have been repetitively reinforced?  Some people have told me that I should use my time alone to better understand myself…I have dealt with too much of this time while my brain has started to melt in this high desert void.  I want to be better at balancing my thoughts and avoiding the worried distractions of the ego.  I want to consistently be a supportive partner who sincerely wants others to succeed.  I don’t think I am a terrible person for dealing with egotistical thoughts, but I feel like I have recently become more aware of how I interact with my community.  Let me practice something that I think I am starting to grasp.  Navigating this newly realized individuality and loneliness of my life is a project that won’t ever be sent.  One can only hope for some good days when you link a bunch of moves.

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Ending the Boltless Year (Part 1)

Since the first day that I tied into some jug-filled toprope at Kendall Cliffs after a draining high school track practice, I became deeply and constantly curious about how other people got “stronger” and what I could learn to benefit myself.  By “stronger” I mean “better at climbing”, and this is a somewhat normal phenomenon in an activity in which an individual’s mental, technical, and physical abilities are tested on common ground with other participants.  Most of my climbing life has revolved around progressing on single-pitch routes.  For five years, I had great access and supportive partners to explore the endless cragging of the Red and New River Gorge.  But, I learned quickly that there were more efficient ways to get better at climbing than simply climbing all the time.

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Peace Frog 5.12d at the Sanctuary.  An interesting double heel-toe cam move out the roof at the start leads to a characteristic overhang of iron oxide jug slots at the Red River Gorge.  Photo by Paris Achenbach.

As was my tradition of spending the week-long, mid-semester breaks in college at a climbing destination, I clearly remember the last week of March 2012 at the Red.  The weather was surprisingly good, and though I had ventured down to Miguel’s by myself, I had quickly found great friends and reliable climbing partners.  Besides having a good time climbing and experiencing some personal best performances, I also remember a specific day at the Undertow Wall.

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My friend Andrew cruising up the Bob Marley crag classic, Dogleg 5.12a

As I lay on a comfy slab of Corbin sandstone waiting for another burn on the Kentucky classic, Ale-8-One 5.12b, and weighing the benefits of certain rests between sections of the route, another climber rolled up to the Undertow Wall and asked if he could take a lap up the route on my draws.  It wasn’t a problem at all as I was still pumped from getting spit off 2/3 of the way up the route on my previous attempt, and I gladly shared the route.  As he started to tie in, I recognized that he was Brad Weaver and was one of the elite climbers in the Southeast.  I began to analyze everything a little more carefully and started to remember reading about him taking years completely off of sport climbing to…boulder.  Sport climbing at the Red is about endurance; why would anyone do that? I was still pumped in that moment; how could someone think that it would be a good idea to avoid endurance training to progress at an area known for its unrelenting style.  Five minutes passed as I watched Brad Weaver warm up on my project without bulging a forearm vein.  At the end of my spring break, I did manage to redpoint Ale-8-One, my first 5.12b, and it felt hard as I could barely clip the chains.  More importantly, I began to realize that there might be something to be gained from investing some time strictly devoted to bouldering.

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I miss my mohawk and rest days at the Wild Turkey Distillery.  Photo by Andrew Freeman

Last summer, I had one of the best times of my life which was filled with exclusively sport climbing from finishing a good spring season at the Red, followed by the continuous and beautiful beat-down of Ceuse, and ending with the American glory of Ten Sleep.  I have always been attracted to more sectional or bouldery routes, and I had decided that I would move to Bishop and immerse myself in its bouldering mecca greatness.  My initial plan was to spend fall through winter bouldering while figuring out some organized training plan that would cater to the progress I wanted and what I could tolerate mentally.  Often, the balance of training and the daily fun (stress relief from life) is something that is overlooked when you first are really psyched making your plan.  During my first months, I learned that I needed to be doing more actual climbing, and that the typical linear training plan that was easy and effective for sport climbing in an area with very specific climbing seasons was not as effective for bouldering in which a high level of technical skills, POWER, and weird (often hard to train in an exercise)  body strengths are necessary all the time.  Winter slowly melted in spring, and I had become so clearly identifying as a boulderer that I didn’t feel like dealing with the logistics of cragging or big days out climbing in the mountains.  Bouldering is so freaking simple, very high quality, and easily accessible in the Eastern Sierra, and I saw no reason nor had any motivation to do anything else.  My plan of bouldering through winter turned into a year hiatus from clipping bolts.  Many of my new friends didn’t believe that I had ever climbed on a rope in my life.  I only used a rope to climb two times in the last year, and they were both 5.7 traditional climbs in Tuolumne Meadows involving a significant amount of simul-climbing:  Matthes Crest and Euphoria on Pennyroyal Arches.

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Some of the best bouldering on the Eastside.  Mantling out the slopey topout of Soul Severity V6 at the Smolko Boulder under the Wheeler Crest.  It felt amazing to climb these beautiful lines put up years ago by fellow Ohioan and motivating climbing partner Damon Smolko.  Photo by Kyle Queener.

Currently, I am sitting in the typical climber Internet spot/shelter from the elements:  the Ten Sleep Public Library.  When my best friend Charlie suggested at the beginning of summer that we take a trip back to Ten Sleep, it seemed so natural and like a great way to see how I have changed in the past year.  Ten Sleep has become this consistent feature of my life, and it feels so good to be here.  Though, getting here was borderline painful.  After Charlie made espresso drinks all afternoon and I grinded through another 9 hour shift at the Gear Exchange, we quickly loaded up his van and drove 16 hours through the night.  Stopping only to switch drivers and get some tasty coffee and pastries at Lander Bake Shop, the psyche-fueled drive left us drained.  Yet, nothing could stop us, and we drove straight to the French Cattle Ranch parking lot and loaded up our packs for an evening of sport climbing.  I felt vey confused while I placed my rope and shiny new sport draws in my pack; it seemed like I was forgetting some integral piece of climbing equipment.  Regardless, we crushed the approach up to the Grasshopper Wall.  We both decided that it was quite fitting and somewhat comical that we climb the short, three bolts in length, and four-move crux right off the ground “route”, Lil’ Smokie 5.11.  (Volcanic Tableland V2) I love this mini-route, and I find the other Lil’ Smokie routes a worthwhile and quirky experience of the climbing in Ten Sleep.  After I ran several laps on the classic Lil’ Smokie, I was so psyched to be sport climbing again, though with only maybe 2 hours of sleep while getting tossed around in the back of the speeding van, I was falling asleep sitting on the nicely arranged rocks at the base of the cliff.  Esplanada 5.12d, a hard for the grade and continuous face climb, seemed like a good idea?  I had never sent the route before; I had always overlooked this area classic in favor of harder routes.  I didn’t remember the route having any hard moves, and I proceeded to hang the draws.  As expected, the moves felt too easy.  I usually warmup on problems with moves that are significantly harder, and the footholds on the route felt huge.  Despite this impression of the route, I managed to punt off the upper slab crux twice.  Still about to fall asleep between my pathetic burns on Esplanada, I gave up for the day in favor of eating and sleeping.

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This route has been on my mind for a year, and I cannot wait to see how it feels.

Waiting out the heavy rainstorms seems quite foreign after having lived in the Eastern Sierra for a year, but I remind myself that the beautiful blue streaks of Bighorn dolomite will be prime in cooler conditions tomorrow.  My body will also probably be better suited for physical activity too.  I know I am stronger in many ways, but in order to realize this improvement, I need to refresh those rusty route climbing skills and more importantly, enjoy being back in one of my favorite places in the world.

See the Send

Despite a slight delay with getting this posted, I had a great time bouldering this past fall in Bishop and was excited to share some things I learned about visualization during the process.  I was also quite happy to have this post featured on Mike and Mark Anderson’s website.  They have been quite influential in my climbing, and their thoughts on training are indispensable to anyone looking to improve.

Over the past six months, I have been obsessively working my projects to death in the least physically demanding way. On rest days, while lounging around in the sun or on nights before a hard redpoint while curled up in my sleeping bag with homemade skin salve slathered all over my hands, I meticulously visualize climbing my goal route.  From the point in which I take one final glance at my knot and give my shoes a quick wipe against my pant leg to when I am relaxing into my final clipping stance and dropping my rope smoothly through the quickdraws at the anchor, I use my mind to live and practice everything I need to perform during the send go.

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Looking down the Eastside of the Sierra Nevadas after a tiring day at the Happy Boulders. Photo by Philip Lutz

I don’t know exactly what motivated me to start rehearsing my intended climbing performances over and over in my head. It could be that I spent the last five years of my life preparing for classical guitar performances.  The associated habitual practicing and eventual performance is similar to climbing in that you must memorize a ton of information, execute all the cruxes correctly and consistently, and then bring a whole performance to life at a particular moment in time.  While I could practice guitar at any hour of the day or night in a prominent music conservatory where you are expected and encouraged to practice at least five hours every day of your life, I could not endlessly rehearse the moves of my climbing projects which were six hours away in Kentucky.

Besides the physical distance and limited time that I had in my life, it also wasn’t an efficient use of skin and physical energy to “remember” and reacquaint myself with a project when I only had a day or two to send.  I realized the more information I could keep fresh in my mind while I was away from the project, the easier it would be to recall those moves and then bring that experience into reality.

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Overlooking Bishop from the Druid Stones. The views and bouldering at the Druids are definitely worth the uphill trudge (if you ever get sick of simply jumping out of your car at the Buttermilks and instantly being at amazing boulderfields). Photo by Philip Lutz

Regularly running through the correct beta through visualization is not only a great way to make sure that you won’t forget a key foothold mid-crux after paddling past 20 meters of power-sapping pockets; it also builds mental confidence. While many people are putting in the hours “working out” and possibly training (if they have the discipline, patience, and organization) in order to build their physical ability, many are not performing a critical step; putting in the work needed to believe the goal is possible.  In my mind, the easy part of getting better at climbing random pieces of rock that were never intended for people to be on is the physical training.

THE Training Manual clearly and specifically describes all the exercises that you need to do to prepare your body to climb the routes of your dreams.  If you get organized, do the exercises (while trying as hard as you can), rest even harder, and repeat following the structured training plan, then you WILL be physically stronger.  This is one of the most valuable features of the RCTM and was what lured me into the program in the first place. However, the real treasure of the RCTM is the full suite of tools presented that work together to assemble the ultimate climbing machine.  Climbing performance is highly dependent on one’s mental ability, and the mental preparation discussed in the RCTM is a great way to navigate the abstract adventure through your own mind.  The confidence built through mental training like visualization, or positive self-talk, is what I seek to gain during my performance phase and is what I need to send.

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A technical training goal of mine is to use heel-hooks more effectively. I have always avoided them when I could and I never felt totally comfortable on them. A large part of this is mental, and physically feeling the positions and movements are a way for me to overcome the lack of confidence. I think I made some progress this season, but there is still a ton of room to improve. In this photo, I’m about to pull the lip crux on the characteristically crimpy Milk the Milks, V6. Photo by Charlie Marks.

After weeks spent hanging off a plastic edge and hopping between wooden rungs, visualization is a common homework assignment that gets me ready for the final exam. When I visualize a route, I sit down, close my eyes, and actively climb the route in my mind.  I do not imagine watching myself climb; I go through each move exactly how I perceive it in reality.  Stick the right hand edge, readjust it to a crimp, look down at that ticked pocket to my left, highstep my foot…  Just like repeating a difficult section while learning a route, repeating moves in your mind will make you “stronger” and allow you to do them more consistently.

This is where my approach differs slightly from what is presented in the RCTM. In the RCTM, the Andersons suggest that some may benefit from taking a third-person view during visualization (imagining you are a spectator, watching yourself climb the route), yet I have avoided this as I think it would create a meta-distraction in my climbing performance.  My climbing is purely between me and the rock.  I feel the best when I am completely self-motivated.  If I created a third-person presence that would expect me to send the route, I would simply be annoyed and probably become detached from the present during the performance. On the other hand, you might perform better with an external presence created from visualizing in the third person view, and this is dependent on each climber’s unique personality.  It is important to spend time learning about yourself in order to figure out what will improve your mental game.

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Upon arrival in Bishop and during my hangboarding phase, I managed to do some easy outdoor mileage and enjoyed classics like the Buttermilk Stem, V1. Outdoor mileage specific to your goals is a great opportunity to improve your mental abilities for later in your training cycle. Photo by Charlie Marks.

A little over three months ago, I moved to Bishop, California to gain access to world-class climbing, beautiful weather, and a relatively low cost of living while working a simple job and figuring out what I want to do with the rest of my life. Because I want to greatly improve my power while I am somewhat young and because I have an abundance of quality bouldering within 30min of driving, it seemed like an obvious choice to devote at least a few months (maybe seasons) away from ropes and bolts.

Due to the high arousal level needed to complete powerful moves at your limit and a limited amount of quality attempts on seriously abrasive rock, visualization is an incredibly useful tool for bouldering around Bishop.  In between redpoint attempts, I can build my mental confidence while ensuring that I take a moment to slow down and adequately rest.  For example, if you don’t trust that you can prevent your feet cutting as you hit that sharp two finger pocket, what is the point of getting all “agro” and grunting your way up a route? You’ll probably just end up with a bad flapper and wasted time spent training.  A fear of success, or rather an inability to believe that a goal is attainable, can be just as crippling as a fear of climbing above the bolt or fear that your spotters won’t protect you.

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Soul Slinger Right, V8. The problem that ended my bouldering season. I missed the pads and sprained my ankle, but before swelling set in, I gave it another burn and sent. I failed on this problem in January when I first visited Bishop, and this send was more satisfying than my Thanksgiving turkey. Photo by Charlie Marks.

I recently finished my first bouldering-focused training cycle, and I was very impressed with my resulting performance. Due to a variety of factors, my main projects were in the Volcanic Tableland.  I managed to send my first two V10s, and visualization played an important role in the redpoint process of each problem.

The first one I sent was Acid Wash, which begins with a crunchy, tweaky, and powerful drop knee move to a huge slot jug.  Consensus seems to be that, from the jug, the climbing is around V7. From my initial impression of the problem, I knew I could send it.  The first move was very inconsistent, and I only stuck it 10% of the time.  Visualizing the whole problem calmed my nerves and eliminated all the thoughts that separated me from the present moment when I would stick the opening move.  There were three attempts when I stuck the first move and my mind would begin to race as I continued to climb.  Those attempts ended up with me being very distracted and eventually I would fall off at the reachy bump move to a crimp jug.  Moments before my send go, I had one of these attempts, and after a nice yell (letting the whole canyon know my frustration), I stepped away from the tiny cave to relax and collect my thoughts.  On the send, thanks to my visualization routine, I didn’t have any doubts, and the moment I hit the initial jug, I kept climbing, feeling calm and focused.

The uncut send video of Acid Wash V10:

Deep inside a more secluded section of the Tableland, I found myself getting cozy on cold, windy evenings after work in the Ice Caves. Despite the constricted corridors and an exceptionally high risk of dabbing at any moment, the Ice Caves have many steep and difficult lines including Beefcake, V10, a power-endurance roof problem.  Figuring out and internalizing the sustained 8 hand-move (and at least twice as many foot and hip moves) sequence was steady and physically draining work.

On one really good evening, despite getting shut down in the Buttermilks earlier that same day, all of the pieces of the problem began to come together as I flowed to the last hard move of the problem, a large cross-over move to a jug pocket.  I fell on the final move from the start three times in a row, and despite the immense progress, I could not have been more pissed off.

Over the course of two rest days (yes, you can be in Bishop and take rest days), I climbed the problem countless times in my mind.  I had it wired, and I was just waiting for the moment when my body was ready to fight again.  On the next evening out at the Ice Caves, I went through my usual warm-up circuit and then very briefly warmed up the moves of Beefcake.  With all the holds brushed and ticked appropriately, I sat at the start and laid down on the crashpads to mentally climb the problem one more time.  I topped it out, opened my eyes, and then pulled up into the sloping undercling.  Sending Beefcake felt like V3, and it was one of those rare moments when climbing was perfect and effortless.

I really connected with how the climber felt about the last hard move in this video:

Visualization is a very important exercise for my climbing performance. It allows me to keep a large amount of information fresh in my mind; builds confidence in my ability to complete moves and achieve goals; and eliminates doubts and distracting thoughts that cloud my brain while climbing.  When climbing routes, I find it most convenient to visualize on rest days and right before going to sleep on nights before a performance day ( I don’t think my climbing partners would appreciate me as a completely spaced out belayer). When bouldering, I find it helpful to visualize between attempts in addition to my nightly mental rituals.  There seems to be much more inactive time while bouldering, and often, it is beneficial to take a little more rest than you think you need.  Visualization can be a good use of this time, and it will hopefully prevent you from hastily returning to your project.  The “smarter, not harder” mantra/theme throughout the RCTM has become an integral part of my personal improvement, and visualization is one of many ways discussed in the book to train the mind, and thus, train smarter.  Like any training program, attention to detail and commitment to quality are essential to visualization, and the results can be extremely satisfying.

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Beefy night sessions in the Ice Caves were a staple for me.  Quickly and correctly setting all the heel and toe hooks was necessary for me to send Beefcake V10. Knowing my beta well and internalizing it through visualization helped me accomplish this.  Photo by Charlie Marks.

Return to the Buttery Sickness

For the past three summers, I have raced out west to Ten Sleep, Wyoming to savor the most “American” sport routes located in the magnificent and isolated canyon with its endless vertical walls of pocketed and chert-infested Bighorn dolomite.  During my first trip out West in which I had originally planned to go to Rifle, my friend, Lena, convinced me that I should stop by Ten Sleep.  I was a little skeptical since I had never heard of the place before, but after my first day climbing at French Cattle Ranch, I was completely psyched.  There was a slow start to each summer day as we waited for the shade and crisp air.  The routine was just like Ceuse except mornings were usually spent hanging out in town at a cafe or the amazing Ten Sleep Public Library.  Once everyone had finished their Internet binge, we returned to the canyon (where there is no distracting Internet or cell phone service) to grab our climbing packs, endure the hot hike to the cliff, and experience the “real dope Shinto”.

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Welcome to Ten Sleep Canyon via U.S. Route 16 Cloud Peak Skyway Scenic Byway.

Though, this trip was a little different than what I had experienced the previous years.  Instead of driving with my girlfriend across the desolate wasteland of GMO corn that is the central United States, I was by myself and going to meet one of my best friends from college who had just started climbing.  On top of that, I was not returning back East after Ten Sleep; I was moving to Bishop, California.  My Honda Civic was packed to the brim, and my life felt different in so many subtle ways.  I had just graduated college, and I did not know what to do with my new freedom/responsibilities just like my first days of college.  I had just returned from an amazing European climbing trip, and I felt fired up to get back to a familiar and sentimental place.  Over the past year, I implemented a new approach to my personal training, and this was the perfect time to measure my improvement over the past year on routes that I struggled with before.

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A picturesque Wyoming summer sky.

First on my agenda for my two week trip was to redpoint 5.13c (8a+).  I was still slightly bitter about leaving Ceuse, but now it was time to go all in on Hellion 5.13c.  The route is absolutely awesome and has so many things about climbing that I love: slightly overhanging terrain, a great mono pocket crux, pumpy pocket pulling, and some victory climbing thrown in on your way to the top of the Supererratic Pillar.  (Note: I saw some people climbing all the way on to Great White Behemoth in the opening sequence of Hellion so they could take a much better rest before the crux.  This is significantly easier…)  During my first day, I managed to do the crux sequence twice and figure out the rest of the route.  I felt confident though I was a little surprised that the meat of the route was quite sustained.  Regardless, if Sasha could send this route, so could I…right?

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My new friend, Sam, onsighting the Shinto wall classic Wyoming Flower Child 5.11d. Right after this ascent with barely any rest, Sam went over to the left side of the wall for some more magical Ten Sleep Shinto sickness to onsight her first 5.12a, Dope Shinto.

I had been making consistent progress on Hellion over a few days, but I was repeatedly falling on the last move of the sustained two finger pocket sequence.  A double rest day was in demand, and they involved belaying my friend, Charlie, and going to the crag as the designated photographer.  With fresh skin, rejuvenated muscles, and overwhelming psyche, Charlie and I once again returned to the Superratic Pillar.  I warmed up and felt great.  On my first burn, I fell AGAIN at the same spot; though this time, I realized my own stupidity with this accuracy move to a sinker two finger pocket.  I quickly re-worked my beta, and a simple drop-knee made the move much more consistent.  I lowered down and rested.  As I rested, the winds started to pick up and the sky turned gray.  Initially, I was excited for the cooler than usual conditions, but then, a thunderstorm began roaring through the canyon and droplets of friction-death fell out of the sky like bombs sent to destroy my possibilities of sending.  I knew most of Hellion would initially stay dry, so I quickly tied back in and fully committed to each move.  I cruised through the mono crux which ended up feeling like V2 and rapidly pulled through the following pockets to reach the dreaded pocket stab.  I stuck that damn right hand MR pocket jug, and I was going to the top.   I stopped at the huge double jug rest (all I could think about was the guidebook photo of the mythical Dave Hume staring down this amazing position), and despite my heavy breathing, I didn’t feel pumped.  I relaxed and gave myself time to calm my nerves as I only had one more tricky 5.11 move to do in a sea of jugs.  Then, I felt it.  The rain had reached me, and I started to get wet.  The whole time I was on the route, bolts of lightening were shooting across the dark sky, but I did not feel threatened until the moisture started to coat my skin and drops splashed into my eyes.  Sometimes, people talk about having a hard time determining how long to rest at a certain point on routes.  I wondered about this often on other rests, but clearly, right now was the time to go.  I climbed as quickly as I could and shouldered out the last relatively hard gaston move.  Finally, I was at the top of Hellion getting rained on in a thunderstorm and smiling as I clipped the chains.

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Post-send joy.  Photo by Charlie Marks.

I felt so relieved and amazed that I was able to send Hellion, and like most climbers, my mind started to race about what to climb next.  Two beautiful gold streaks clouded my thoughts as I enjoyed some celebration chocolate in the pouring rain: Sky Pilot 5.13d, one of the king lines of the canyon, and Super Mama 5.13b, an old nemesis from the previous summer.  I had just completed my “big hairy goal” for the summer, and I made the more prudent decision to clean up some routes in my final week.  So after a solid rest day, it was back to Super Mama, and I remembered the beta like it was yesterday as I easily went from bolt to bolt.  I struggled to link key parts of the route the first day, though I got a little closer on the second day.  But, my skin was trashed; Super Mama’s pleasantly abrasive crimps and pockets ate away at me as I flailed.  The smooth and somewhat glassy white face of Hellion was pretty nice because it barely wore away my skin.  Knowing the Super Mama was quite attainable, I once again took the double rest day, and the results were amazing.

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One of my favorite parts of Super Mama: THE “Peanut” hold. This crux involves a left hand bump to a split two finger pocket. I found it easiest to hit it IM, and then twist it to a mono as I gaston to grab a right two finger crimp. Photo by Alan Moles.

I ran up my favorite Lil’ Smokie 5.11 a few times as a nice warm up, and I then took a nice little hike into the woods further down the cliff.  I returned after a few minutes and as I approached Super Mama, I smiled and could not have felt more relaxed as I tied in.  I embraced the starting jug, and my body easily and automatically flowed up the route like an extension of my tranquil hike.  I had no thoughts and each move was perfect.  I felt like I was watching a video of myself climbing until I reached the rest ledge under the final crux when my conscience mind returned to the experience.  After some positive self-talk and an excessive amount of shaking out, auto-pilot was off, and I purposefully grabbed each hold as I set up for the blind deadpoint.  I dug into the razor edges and sprung to stick the jug.

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Carefully balancing myself on a crimp undercling in the final crux. Photo by Alan Moles.

I hopped through some final easy slab moves and let out a euphoric scream while dropping my rope into the open hook and clipping the fixed biner.  After so much thrashing on Super Mama during the previous summer and some bad attempts in the previous days, I was so happy to experienced one of those rare moments where you effortlessly redpoint a route on your first go of the day.  With so much sunlight left in the day, it would be a waste to leave the crag when the conditions were so good.  I tried Pussytoes 5.12d a little and only managed to loose some skin.  Because the next day was my last day climbing in the canyon, I made another prudent choice and pulled off a quick ascent of Kielbasa 5.12c, which was a fun route but not nearly as high quality as Super Mama or Hellion.  Leaving the crag that day was a little sad because I realized I wouldn’t return to French Cattle Ranch until maybe next summer, but overall, I could not have felt better hiking back to camp as I watched the smoky sky glow in the sunset.

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Sticking the final deadpoint on Super Mama 5.13b. Photo by Alan Moles.

On our final day, Charlie and I cooked in the sun while hiking up to the iconic Cigar.  Once again, I had my sights set on two routes that had given me some trouble the previous summer:  Sleep Reaction 5.13a, a roped boulder problem, and The Name of the Game 5.13a, consistent pumpy pocket climbing.  These routes are complete opposites, and last summer while working the routes with my friend, Dan, I couldn’t even do all the moves of Sleep Reaction.  After another great lil’ smokie warmup, I quickly started figuring out the beta, and I became so frustrated until Charlie surprisingly pointed out a possible glassy foot smear near the arête.  It worked perfectly, and I lowered quickly to hastily shake out and re-chalk my hands.  I pulled on and crushed it;  it felt like a V7? boulder problem to 5.9 vert climbing.  I was not done, and I began to feel somewhat cocky.  Like most climbing trips in my experience, you leave with a feeling of incompleteness, and this trip was no different.  I was racing against the approaching darkness to send The Name of the Game on the inside of the Cigar, but I just didn’t have it in me.  I was tired, and I wasn’t climbing as efficiently as I needed to send the route.  Recently, I have developed a preference for bouldery or more sectional routes, yet this sustained face undoubtedly exposed my weakness.  Three desperate efforts filled with aggression did not work, and I accepted defeat.

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Charlie onsighting the classic and over-bolted Euro-trash Girl 5.10b.

Being able to return to Ten Sleep each summer has been so much fun and a great way to measure my improvement in climbing.  Though for many climbers, it seems crazy and/or too difficult to accurately see if they are improving for a few different reasons.  Either they are constantly trying to climb routes that are new to them or their testpiece problems in the gym get stripped every few weeks.  Also, sending a harder grade doesn’t necessarily mean one is improving, and more often, it just means a certain route better suited their strengths.  Following an actual training plan in which I meticulously record what I am doing makes it easy for me to see if I am improving in my day to day workouts.  I am not saying that all climbers should do these things if they want to improve, but doing these things makes the answer to the question “Am I getting better?” painfully clear.  I have derived much satisfaction from addressing my weaknesses through training and then revisiting rock climbs that were difficult for me.  I already know that Sky Pilot is next on my list when I return to Ten Sleep, but for now, I will be spending a lot of time here in Bishop, bouldering mecca.

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The Anti-Victory

Since I started rock climbing five years ago, I have learned an immeasurable amount of truths about life. I am not saying that I am some enlightened soul that discovered the meaning of life by staring at sun-sparkling quartz crystals with chalky fingers. Though through all my experiences, I have been given obvious opportunities to analyze and understand myself while observing how other people deal with similar situations. Over this past July in Ceuse, rock climbing was a mental war for many of us who consistently trudged up to the blue-streaked battlefield, and consequently, dealing with failure became a focus of my attention.

Just another evening looking out at Petite Ceuse from Demi Lune.

Just another evening looking out at Petite Ceuse from Demi Lune.

Even though I sound somewhat over-dramatic about going to climb some cliff in southern France, rock climbing at Ceuse was one of the most mentally taxing and rewarding experiences that I have ever had.  I loved every second of it, and most would agree that it is one of best places in the world to rock climb.  Yet surprisingly, some people could not take it and became so disgusted with climbing for many reasons.

“Gypsy Camp” My home for most of the month. This was a lonely moment when many of the other “gypsies” had left and hitch-hiked to other places in Europe.

Simply getting to the cliff was a struggle.  On the first day while carrying all my climbing gear and stopping too many times due to the heat and not being acclimated to the slight altitude, what is supposed to be a one-hour slog consistently uphill with a net elevation change of around 500m took almost two hours.  Reaching the oasis of shade beneath Sector Biographie each afternoon was a euphoric experience.  One moment you are dripping sweat, breathing heavily, being cooked by the summer sun, and pushing through the steep home-stretch; then you are laying on a comfortable boulder, freezing from the strong wind turning your disgustingly wet body to a chilled salty desert, and watching a handful of people easily warmup onsight 5.13s.

Sector Biographie. Halfway into the approach a storm seemed like it was rolling through and I rushed to the cliff in hope of reaching some sort of shelter. Thankfully, the storm never really hit the cliff that day, but it was quite humid.

Sector Biographie. Halfway into the approach a storm seemed like it was rolling through and I rushed to the cliff in hope of reaching some sort of shelter. Thankfully, the storm never really hit the cliff that day, but it was quite humid.

After taking a short nap, nourishing your body in preparation of further abuse, and realizing that you aren’t a “strong” climber, you are ready to grope, dance, and flail up the unbelievably high-quality carbonate cliff.  I was surprised that there was such variety in climbing styles, and that literally every route was fun and would have an “American flag” at a place like Ten Sleep.  Also, the notorious bolt spacing that many describe as run-out  really allowed me to appreciate the amazing movement.  Though this might be my inner-boulderer showing, I hate it when clipping interferes with the flow of climbing routes.  There was a perfect balance between safety from hitting the ground and being able to fall almost the whole length of the route if you blew the final moves to the anchor.  The reason people sport climb is that they want to safely climb many moves up a cliff, and I find it is so annoying when a large percentage of those moves are related to clipping.

Beautiful Ammonite fossil at Sector Biographie.

Beautiful Ammonite fossil at Sector Biographie.

Like many other climbers who enjoy difficult routes and have the desire to improve their skills, I wanted to find a beautiful route that was hard for me to send.  (Whenever someone mentions projecting, there is always some grumpy climber who starts shaming them for “grade-chasing”.  YEAH, it is “grade-chasing”, but belittling the process of self-improvement in a pointless activity for the purpose of having fun in a weird way is just mean and immature.  Everyone should be free to enjoy climbing in their own way.  If you are one of those people who doesn’t want to improve, that’s fine with me, and you definitely won’t see me publicly embarrassing you.  From what I have seen in my life so far, the best looking routes with the coolest moves are usually harder than 5.11, and if I am spending my time climbing, I might as well climb quality routes.  For those who simply just want to spray about the grade that they say they climb, their sends are probably as soft as stinky French brie.) Finding a good project is not always the easiest thing to do, but within my first week at the cliff, I knew exactly what route I wanted to invest my time, energy, and skin.

IMG_1421L’ami Caouette 8a+ is a blueish gray streak of pockets, crimps, and sloping hueco rests up the left side of Sector Demi Lune.  After sending a few 8a routes earlier this year, I wanted to seriously work an 8a+, and this one suited me well.  The route begins with a V6/7? height and finger-size dependent boulder problem.  There are three contrasting ways to attack this start : “Tiny Girl” beta involved being able lock-off a “mono” pocket with two fingers, “Lanky Dude” beta involved accurate compression moves between sloping sidepulls and crimpy underclings, and my personal favorite “Just Crimp Harder” beta was straight down pullin’ on crimps and one mono (or in my case a funky index/middle tip jam stack). After getting through the first two bolts, it felt like a sustained 5.12+ route that wasn’t over until you clipped the chains.

How can you be frustrated while projecting when you stare out into this all day?

How can you be frustrated while projecting when you stare out into this all day?

After the first day on L’ami Caouette, I knew that it was a achievable goal.  During the second day with good conditions, I had sent the opening boulder problem.  Shortly after, I “low-pointed” the route from the second bolt.  Then…conditions sucked.  Not only were the temps soaring, but the pleasant and greatly appreciated evening breeze was nonexistent.  Torrential rainstorms blew through the area towards the end of the month and swept climbers away from the cliff like wicked evil-doers in the watery hell of Noah’s Flood.  While trying to be tough, I learned that I was only able to do the boulder problem if the conditions were somewhat good, otherwise I would just shred all the skin off my tips.  This frustrated me, but I was on a month-long trip in Ceuse and was going to make the most of it.  Since conditions didn’t seem make a difference on steep juggy routes, I switched gears, which was fun but in the end not a great tactical decision.  During my last week when good conditions were back, I had lost so much power, and crimping on vertical terrain felt desperate.  Though surprisingly after one humbling session on the opening crux, I was back and ready to send before having to fly back to the USA.

I can still hear the goats' bells jingling.

I can still hear the goats’ bells jingling.

Despite my best efforts over my last few days in Ceuse, I failed to send the route.  I was powering through the boulder problem and falling successively higher up on the rest of the route.  One evening in perfect conditions, I fell because I missed key feet in the fading light (darkness with a headlamp), and on the last day in quite humid conditions in which each rest was a toothpasty mess, I fell basically climbing 5.10 slab about 3 meters under the anchor.  It didn’t happen, and I accepted defeat.

Constructively dealing with failure is one of the most important parts of improving one’s climbing ability.  I enjoy putting myself in a situation where I know I will experience failure.  To push through our obstacles, it is necessary to learn why we are failing and then diligently work hard to improve.  I believe that having a healthy amount of emotional investment in a project is great, but at the time, it is easy to become so psychotic that you cannot relax or clear your mind enough to be able to climb.  Another common tendency when climbing at your limit or on a project is not caring at all.  This is often manifested in countless excuses that allow the climber to write off the problem or route as something that is easy or that they pretty much sent while their ego walks away unscathed.  “It’s just really pumpy”, “The conditions suck today”, “It’s not my style”, “I am too hungover”…If you are making these comments and still care enough to want to send the project, just try to discover the hidden truths and actively embrace the possible ways to improve.  If it is pumpy, you probably need to climb faster, find a better rest, rest in less places, train the specific endurance you need for the route, or God forbid accept that you will be tired/pumped going into that section which means you will have to try HARD.  I feel like 75% of the time that I have spent climbing has been in far from ideal conditions.  I still complain about conditions and do everything in my power to hit the crag when I can maximize my performance and minimize skin damage.  I also understand that someone like Adam Ondra could onsight any route or problem that I am complaining about when it is actively raining or covered in birthday-party pizza grease.  If it’s not your style, learn that style.  It will probably benefit you.  But maybe I am wrong, and you only want to be able to do what you are good at.  Being hungover is the worst excuse…you have complete control over this; figure out your priorities.

So many flights... thanks TSA for poorly repacking my Thermarest and breaking it.  Also, thanks French airport security for confiscating my sardines and not giving me a chance to rapidly consume them.  I love airports.

So many flights… thanks TSA for poorly repacking my Thermarest and breaking it. Also, thanks French airport security for confiscating my sardines and not giving me a chance to rapidly consume them. I love airports.

It was therapeutic for me to have a ton of time traveling by myself on my way back to Ohio to analyze and brood over my failure.  I remembered how myself and others had negatively reacted to instances like this, but this time, I realized that I had worked hard and had taken a risk.  Some people avoid big projects because they fear that they “won’t have anything to show” for the time they invested if they don’t send.  I learned that I was capable of climbing an 8a+, and coincidentally, I probably made some physical gains.  In the process of projecting L’ami Caouette, I also knew that I was going to be climbing in Ten Sleep, Wyoming at the end of August, so putting some time in on tweaky pockets and sharp crimps on vertical/barely overhanging/”RRG slab” terrain would feel familiar and be beneficial “training”.  This unfinished business is just another reason for me to become a better climber and return to one of the most amazing places in the world.

An Interpretation

One of my favorite things about rock climbing is that it gives people an opportunity to creatively interact with the soul of the Earth.  The Earth is a massive rock flying through space around a ball of lethal and life-giving fire.  This rock has a pleasantly crunchy shell, gooey inner bits, and a hazelnut surprise of solid iron.  Earth is the rock we share and need.  Over billions of years and in many dramatically different ways, Earth recycles and creates new forms of all its tiny pieces.  Rock layers are preserved right under our feet, and in some lucky locations, we can see the past.  These outcrops are the place of worship for rock climbers.  We appreciate and savor the steep cliffs with just enough imperfections that only allow our bodies to climb it perfectly.  We embrace and carefully caress with boar’s hair brushes chunky boulders that have been broken and separated from their stratigraphic family.  Climbing outside and directly connecting with the Earth is amazing, and the artistic process of finding, cleaning, and interpreting rocks while preserving the environment for future generations to love is a journey that I will enjoy for the rest of my life.

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This set of boulders in Elyria, Ohio has captured my imagination.  The left boulder in the foreground is a nice warmup that has most likely been done before and probably around V3/4.  The “king line” in the center is unbelievable, and I foresee a Vdouble-digit straight up the arête and a V5/6 compression problem just right of the arête.  Both would topout at around 25ft.  The knobby wall on the right is dead-vertical and has some of the most unique sandstone holds I have ever seen, and it is another Vdouble-digit project.

In the midst of finishing my undergraduate education at Oberlin, training in preparation for my carbonate-crammed summer, and attempting to make plans for my immediate future, I manically rushed around Northeast Ohio trying to find new potential projects and revisiting an area testpiece. Despite having a limited amount of quality rock and annoying yet justly flouted access issues, many climbers in the region go crazy about finding first ascents, and sometimes, community members act in excessively secretive ways and/or lie about random rocks they found/climbed in the woods. There aren’t many people in the climbing community here that would go outside to boulder, and I truly think that almost every climbing area in the region could benefit from a stronger climbing presence, even the places where the park systems criminalize climbers. Trying to work with the parks is hopeless. While some climbers are abstaining from enjoying the natural wonders (that we are already paying for with our taxes) in order to establish a better relationship with a bureaucratic entity that probably won’t change their uninformed and idiotic opinions, there are amazing artists ruining our rock with spray paint. These wonderful people should definitely be rewarded for their thoughtful contributions.

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The Pharaoh V4 is one of the best boulders at Bedford Reservation. Found and sent by Tony Accuardi…ruined by SAMO. Photos by Tony Accuardi.

Isn’t it great how this beautiful sandstone block now looks like any dumpster in East Cleveland? I know the Cleveland Metroparks are upset about this…wait no they just want to penalize and prevent climbers from having some fun on the rocks. They do a much better job with that. Seriously, if climbers were allowed to be an active presence in the parks, there would be fewer dumbasses trashing our dearly valued geological gifts. This destruction is what makes me more mad than the silly regulations regarding climbing access. After finding this “new rock” in Elyria, it would deeply hurt me to see it get tagged because it completely changes the rock texture and annihilates the natural aesthetic. I am not naïve, and I understand that thinking you are the first to find some climbable boulder in Northeast Ohio is usually ridiculous. Though depending on the difficulty, a new interpretation is always possible.

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Another shot of THE Arête.

Another shot of THE Arête.

I am completely mesmerized by this boulder and would hate for it to see the same fate as The Pharaoh.  The rock quality is amazing, and there are opportunities for hard, highball bouldering.  There are some logistical problems at the moment because there are no trees or places for natural protection on top of the boulder to build an anchor for cleaning and working the lines.  Though with some work, this will be one of the best boulders in all of Ohio.

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Looking up at the sculpted knobs of the project next to the massive arête in Elyria.

Most climbing areas have routes or problems that are legendary.  They are rarely repeated, difficult, and often the most aesthetic.  For Chippewa Creek in Brecksville, it is the Gem.  From what I have heard, it has been climbed by two people and goes around V11 (there is a right variation that is around V6, and despite what some people think, they have not climbed the true line that traverses left and tops out straight up on the faint arête).  It is located in the river, and the landing occasionally gets washed away during flooding.  After some caveman-style construction this spring, the landing is solid, and you can throw some pads down without having them float away.  Despite my best efforts, I could not find a good way to get up the arête.  Maybe I will be back with stronger fingers, smarter tactics, and more suitable conditions in the late fall or winter?

Dave Schultz cranking out the opening moves of the Gem.

Dave Schultz crimping out the opening moves of the Gem.

Over the course of three days down in Ohio’s Amish Country, I had so much fun visiting a secluded area, repeating some quality boulder problems, scrubbing new lines, trying existing projects, and eventually getting the first ascent of a (sick, rad, gnarly, intense, aesthetic, unbelievable, beautiful, perfect, classic) line.  As it was my first time in this amazing area, my friend Damon, who was one of the first developers, was a great guide and provided immense support while we explored the densely forested and mosquito infested hills and valleys of Holmes County in search of quality boulders.

Smooth cross sequence on 80 Proof V7/8 going out Scotch Roof.  This was the second ascent, and the finish over the lip was quite PEATY after not being cleaned for several years.

Smooth cross sequence on 80 Proof V7/8 going out Scotch Roof. This was the second ascent, and the finish over the lip was quite PEATY after not being cleaned for several years.  Photos by Damon Smolko.

I had seen pictures of a very clean 45 degree wall in the Amish Country area years before I had been there.  Damon said that it was about V8, and I had always been extremely excited to climb it.  It was the only and best problem in my mind even before I had seen it in the flesh and lost flesh on its abrasive crimps.  During my first day out, I got a sampling of all the different problems in the mostly unconcentrated area.  I had finished my last hangboard workout the day before, and even climbing easy problems felt hard. So, it was a good opportunity to remove cobwebs, brush holds, and scrape moss.  A few days later, we went out again and I managed to figure out all the moves of the 45 wall project.  I couldn’t contain my nervous excitement, and on the send-go after pulling the crux, I stupidly forgot I could match my right hand to a good hold to setup for the topout sequence.  I got anxious and threw half-heartedly to a hold that looked like a jug and fell.  It was such a stupid mistake, but I was sure I had it on the next go.  I rested and relaxed.  On my next attempt, I felt perfect, and while pulling through the middle section, I ripped an important incut crimp right off the boulder.  It was devastating, but I was still psyched and immediately tried to figure out another sequence.  Nothing really worked as I was getting more tired, and I also broke off another small hold.  I eventually lost motivation, but I did finish the day with a quick send of 80 Proof V7/8 over at Scotch Roof.

After finishing the last final exams of my undergraduate education, I drove down to Amish Country with a great of sense of relief and freedom.  Damon couldn’t come with me, but I was determined to send the 45 wall problem and knew I would be okay without a spotter.  After warming up, I started trying to figure a new sequence for the middle section of the project.  A long deadpoint from high feet to an incut crimp worked well, but I needed to rehearse it efficiently because skin was a precious commodity on the fresh sandstone.  I made some attempts, but I wasn’t sticking the move from the start and even started regressing on the opening moves.  I finally decided that I might as well yell to grip the hold rather than from experiencing more pain while falling off the move, and it worked perfectly.  I couldn’t believe what I had done, and I was filled with happiness as I kissed the maple tree on top of the boulder.  I frantically texted Damon that I had sent it, and he had already thought of a perfect name for the problem, Rumspringa.

It felt great to get the first ascent of a boulder problem in my home state, and I still can’t believe that this beautiful sandstone block exists in Ohio.  I have never seen another boulder like it in the whole state.  Crimps on steep terrain is one of my favorite climbing styles, and this problem fit me well.  The grade seems around V9, and a lower start on the right side that would link into Rumspringa still needs to be done.  I am so thankful that I could participate in route development in Ohio and that I have great friends who share my excitement for climbing.  This on top of graduating double-degree from Oberlin and having a loving and supportive family has made my spring beyond awesome.  I am currently hanging out at the Camping Zoo in Arco, Italy and trying to find partners to go sport climbing.  Though I will be traveling most of the summer, I will always miss Northeast Ohio.

Sticking the crux of Rumspringa V9.

Sticking the crux of Rumspringa V9.

Spring Springing Springly

The pains of winter have been expelled from us for we have arrived in Purgatory.

The pains of winter have been expelled from us;  we have arrived in Purgatory.

It is beautiful to see the hours of challenging, punishing, and boring training manifest itself in the accomplishment of clearly defined goals.  Last fall, I spent my final climbing day struggling to stick the crux move of the direct start to Table of Colors.  I had sent the original line a few weeks before, and I had done all the moves of the harder start.  Yet, I couldn’t control the sharp hematite crimp with my left hand in order to stab out right to an oddly-shaped crimp divot when I started from the ground.  I wasn’t pumped approaching it, yet I also couldn’t consistently do the move even after hanging on the bolt.  I was pissed, but it was exactly what I needed.  Left Flank is one of my favorite crags in the world, and the beauty and quality of routes there have always motivated me to improve.  Thanks to Mark and Mike Anderson, I knew what I had to do and how to do it.

Cruising through the opening moves of Table of Colors Direct 5.13b. Photo by Melanie Xu.

Cruising through the opening moves of Table of Colors Direct 5.13b.
Photo by Melanie Xu.

I was lacking power, and I generally needed to be stronger on crimps and pockets if I was going to send Table Direct in the spring.  So, training began in December with a month of hangboarding, and it was quite convenient that the hematite crimp, which was giving me so much trouble, very closely resembles the smallest flat crimp on the Trango hangboard.  January involved a bouldering trip to Bishop, an area characterized by powerful climbing on crimps, and by February, I was back at it fighting freezing conditions in Eastern Kentucky.  I could feel that I was stronger and more than physically capable of climbing the route, but I needed to figure out the proper way to apply the new level of power.  I had one good session on the route in February, but early in March, there was heavy rain that brought send-crippling condensation.  I wasn’t surprised; the Red River Gorge is basically a rainforest.

Resting right before the crux, which links back into the original line.  Photo by Melanie Xu.

Resting right before the crux, which links back into the original line. Photo by Melanie Xu.

During the last week of March, I had a week-long spring break, and the weather looked promising.  After visiting a good friend in Lexington and horribly playing darts for too long at a college bar the night before, I was rolling down Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway blaring the Offspring all the way to Left Flank.  I was so psyched, and more importantly, Waffle House seemed to be sitting well.  On my first attempt on Table Direct, I still felt a little weak and not properly warmed up after walking up Aquaduct Pocket.  On my second attempt, I completed the bottom and stupidly missed the “bass mouth” in the middle crux.  I knew I only had one more good effort for the day, and as the sun was setting, I tied in for one last try.  I cruised through the bottom section more easily than I had ever before, yet pulling each successive move after that seemed increasingly difficult.  In the middle crux, I felt like I was falling off the holds while somehow moving up and stabbing my digits in the correct place.  I was amazed that I was still on the wall and sitting in a comfortable rest position.  My mind raced, and I rested for an eternity.  After finally calming myself down, I mentally ran the final sequence over and over.  Once I came to the realization that I need to leave this rest, I chalked up my already obsessively chalked finger tips and executed the final section with ease.

Clipping after finishing the direct start.  Photo by Melanie Xu.

Clipping after finishing the direct start. Photo by Melanie Xu.

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Beginning the most desperate yet successful battle with the “bass mouth” crux. Photo by Melanie Xu.

Spring break started off extremely well, and after a solid rest day, I was ready for more.  Recently, I have been somewhat annoyed when climbing at Muir Valley because I hate hiking out, there aren’t many routes that I want to do, there is an overwhelming amount of people, and I HATE HIKING OUT.  I mean I love the climbing there and could not be more thankful for this area, but personally, I would rather go somewhere else given the plethora of world-class crags within minutes of driving.  Despite all of this, I went with my friends to Muir for the day and proceeded to almost whip off a disgusting and freezing cold 5.10 warmup.  Not the most ideal start to the day, but I was excited to try a route that had spit me off too many times.  As usual, Solarium was packed, but no one was on Bundle of Joy.  I quickly hung draws and found myself staring down the final crux at the top of the cliff.  I tried the dyno beta, but failed.  I tried it a few more times and failed even though I had done that beta before.  I wanted something more consistent and remembered some of my friends talking about using tiny (heinous) holds to statically pull the top.  I found exactly what they were talking about, and it involved a small and sharp left hand crimp, which allows you to rock over your right heel to reach the ledge.  I rehearsed it until I completed the crux sequence three times in a row and made sure the holds were clean before lowering to rest.

Starting up Bundle of Joy 5.13a.  Photo by Melanie Xu.

Starting up Bundle of Joy 5.13a. Photo by Melanie Xu.

While relaxing on a comfy rock and eating a banana, I realized for the first time how cool Solarium really is.  It is a consistently overhanging and beautifully streaked wall littered with good holds.  It is hard sometimes to see the beauty when there is a mob of people waiting in line for a route with some dude flailing his way up and saying, “None of the moves are that hard; linking it is really pumpy etc. (DUH that’s what most of the climbing is like)”.  After this contemplative moment, I tied in and quickly made my way to the giant hueco rest below the crux.  I love these massive holes in the wall where you can hang out.  I usually like to try to find the resonate frequency of the hole by humming, listen to my heart beating, clean my shoes, look for any crag literature, make chalk drawings, imagine I am being birthed from the cliff, peek my head out to watch other climbers, and/or optimally adjust my clothing situation.

Chilling in restful hueco.  Photo by Melanie Xu.

Chilling in restful hueco. Photo by Melanie Xu.

After much procrastination, I yelled to my belayer that I was still alive and wanted to make sure she was still belaying me as I worked my way out of the hole.  I climbed as fast as I could to the last clip, which felt more desperate than I had hoped.  I precisely executed my sequence to set up for the final move to the top, and all I could think was “I am going to pull as hard as I possibly can, so I don’t have to do this again”.  It worked, and I excitedly grabbed the sloping ledge and shook out quickly before the final mantle to the chains.

Chalking up the left hand finger tips to ensure perfect contact with the sharp crimp.  Photo by Melanie Xu.

Chalking up the left hand finger tips to ensure perfect contact with the sharp crimp. Photo by Melanie Xu.

The second half of my break involved a struggle to find partners for a few days and a weird negative feedback loop in my mind that developed from not being successful on routes that I thought were in the bag.  Everything worked out, and I even headed back to Ohio with smile despite being not sending and having to do homework.  I have realized that on a very superficial level I am concerned with the concrete results of my performance (sends), but what I care about more when it comes to pushing the difficulty of my rock climbing is consistent execution of things within my ability.  I derive great satisfaction when I do something well, and I am very annoyed when I screw up something that I know I can do.  I wouldn’t call myself a control freak, but I savor complete power of my domain.

I harnessed the power to balance more chess pieces than my engineer friend.  Definitely a fun way to kill time in Miguel's basement when you are sick of playing real chess.

I harnessed the power to balance more chess pieces than my engineer friend. Definitely a fun way to kill time in Miguel’s basement when you are sick of playing real chess.

Welcome to food that you don't have to cook, warmth, and a line for a better toilet.

Welcome to food that you don’t have to cook, warmth, and a line for a better toilet.

Welcome to the party, smelly people, and sometimes dogs pooping on the floor.

Welcome to the party, smelly people, and sometimes dogs pooping on the floor.

Spring break was great, but I didn’t have many good opportunities for climbing after that.  The next weekend was a reenactment of Noah’s Flood; even if you were fortunate not to have your car drown in the lower parking lot, you couldn’t get anywhere because roads all around Slade had rivers running through them.  The following weekend was my last chance to sport climb before taking some time off to focus on music and begin a training cycle for the summer.  I spent both days at Summersville Lake throwing myself at the Pod 5.13b, but I left (once again) empty handed.  It still amazes me that on my second attempt ever on the route I climbed cleanly to the anchors, and struggled to clip for eons before falling.  That weekend on the best attempts, I would climb from the bottom and fall in the middle crux, but I could from a hang:  do the crux, climb to the top, AND CLIP.  I have started training again, and now I have some fresh mental images to remind me to get aggro.

Spring has been a bundle of joy.

Spring has been a Bundle of Joy.