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Category Archives: 5.13

Sending Spree: Drew Ruana takes on The New

 

Wow. I can truly say that the New River Gorge was one of the most beautiful areas I’ve ever been to. I feel so blessed to have opportunities to visit special places like these. My dad had learned to climb at the New; he had always talked about it to me, telling me I needed to go there sometime with him. Until I actually went, it was hard to visualize just how stunning the area is- not just the climbing. The wildlife, the scenery, everything about this area is just beautiful. Day one back home, and I already can’t wait to go back.

 

Before I got here, I didn’t really have specific goals. I wanted to play around on some hard stuff, but when I got off the plane on the first day and got to the wall, all I wanted to do was climb. Climb climb climb. I decided that I would have a much more rewarding and fulfilling trip if I did more mileage- so I did that. I think I averaged around 9 pitches a day? Something like that. Most of them new routes, and in new areas. I managed to send 20 new 5.13 routes, and 4 5.14s in my 6 days of climbing there.

A couple of the routes I tried stood out to me. I know I’ll remember them for the rest of my life. One of them was Puppy Chow, 5.12c- I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun climbing on a route as I did on that. If you’re in the area, get on the route. I don’t care how hard you do or don’t climb- it is 100,000,000% recommended. Also in that area is Mango Tango. This route is the most strikingly beautiful arete I’ve ever seen. It looks and climbs like pure artwork. Although a bit cryptic, figuring out the beta and sending was one of the most memorable climbs of my life.

The thing is that trips like these aren’t just about the climbing. They are made great by the people you’re with. Piper, Miriam, Quinn, and Laura were one of the best crews I’ve ever climbed with.

I met a bunch of my dad’s old climbing buddies, which was cool to see who he grew up with. The local vibes there are awesome – shoutout to pies and pints, the pizza and atmosphere is rad there.

Special thanks to Michael Williams for being the sickest guide/guru around. Can’t wait for another trip like this!

Here’s my ticklist for this trip:
5.14b
Still Life 2nd go
Journeyman 3rd go

5.14a
Mango Tango 2nd go
Sword of Damocles 4th go

5.13d
Natural Progression 2nd go

5.13c
The Project OS
In the Flat Field 2nd go
Satanic Verses 2nd go

5.13b/c
B.C. 2nd go

5.13b
The Racist 2nd go
The Pod FL
Crossing the Line OS
SR-71 OS
Against the Grain OS
White Lighting OS
Fuel Injector OS

5.13a
Quinsana plus FL
Apollo Reed OS
El Chapo FL
B-52 OS
Massacre OS
Skull Fuck Direct Finish OS
Mighty Dog FL
Next Time OS

Photos by Trevor Blanning

Alex Johnson on Projecting, Sending, and Lessons Learned

So much of climbing, especially projecting, is puzzle piecing. It isn’t whether or not you’re strong enough to do the climb, or do each individual move on the climb, but figuring out how to do each move, and configuring the most efficient way to combine multiple moves in a row while expending the least amount of energy. I think “projecting” is “perfecting.” Working something so much you get it so dialed that it almost produces imminent, consistent success.

Alex Johnson Red Rock

Alex Johnson Sending Monster Skank. Photo: Ray Davalos

That’s how it was for me working Wet Dream Right (V11/8A Red Rock, NV). When I first started trying, I could do a couple moves, but some were so inconsistent, I couldn’t link sections of the boulder in a row. By the time I wrapped it up, I had perfected the climb’s movements. I was able to do every move on its own 100% of the time, and so efficiently, that I even when I linked them, I expended very little energy by the time I got to the final hard move.

Sometimes after I send things, I feel weird. Like I don’t know why they take so long to finish… During the process, you forget where you started. By the time you send something you’ve been working for a long period of time, it’s hard to recall how difficult the climb in its entirety felt at the beginning. This is how I felt about Monster Skank.

Alex Johnson Projecting

Alex on Day 1 of the Monster Skank Project. Photo: Kati Hetrick

You spend a few days, weeks, months on something, and then when you finally do it, you could feel so inexpressibly victorious you almost cry… or you might feel unsatisfied. Like, “Hm. I wasn’t fighting tooth and nail for every move of this climb. Maybe it really isn’t that hard. Why couldn’t I just do this last season?” When in fact, it could be that you’ve so perfected each sequence, that when you eventually finish the climb, all you really had to do was execute, in exactly the way you know how—because you’ve been doing the same moves for months.

There’s also the typical cliched opinion that the more time you spend on something, the sweeter it feels to finish, and of course that’s true. But often for me, it’s the opposite, the previously stated lack of satisfaction, almost disappointment in myself for not completing the climb faster, sooner.

Alex Johnson Day 1 Monster Skank

Day 1 Try-Hard Face

And then all these other questions race through your mind (or mine, at least) like, are the temps better today? Am I stronger? Fitter? Climbing better? Is my breathing more controlled? Am I less afraid of falling?

What was it? What was the determining factor in today’s success, versus all the other days of failure?

I heard on a (non-climbing related) podcast recently, that there’s no such thing as a failed relationship, no matter the result, how shitty it may have been, or how epic it seemed in the end. The entire time you were in that relationship you were learning; about yourself, about how you deal with conflict, emotions, etc. You were growing.

I think I want to start applying that to working projects more. I mean, I know every time I try something I learn something new, even if I don’t send it… But I get pretty in my head about things sometimes, especially when I “can’t” do something. I hate not being able to do something. It’s probably the most frustrating personal issue in my climbing life; being shut down. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

Alex Johnson Monster Skank send

Controlled Movement on the Send. Photo: Ray Davalos

And I’m not saying that by needing to project something I’m “being shut down” on it. I’m just saying that sometimes I lose track of the amazing process in my race to success with myself. Being able to climb awesome things is a gift, and if they’re difficult they require more time and commitment. Sometimes I need a little reminder that the process can be just as fun and exciting, if not more, as the end result.

The Corrections

So it’s springtime in Colorado, and the weather has been more inconsistent than an adolescent romance (I’m an educator, so the analogy is apropos). In between the storms and heat waves (a reference to the weather, not adolescent romance), we’ve managed to get out and climb some fun stuff around Durango. I always love this time of year as the days get longer, the weather warmer, and the rock dry enough to climb. I kind of feel like a bear coming out of a long winter of hibernation in a dusty climbing gym and finally getting to stretch out the rope in the great outdoors.

On the midway sloper rail of The Corrections.

This spring has been particularly satisfying as I have finally gotten some lingering finger injuries to a manageable level. Since last August I’ve had three separate finger injuries. While none of them have been the full finger blow out (a technical medical diagnosis), they’ve all seriously limited my climbing. I’ve learned enough about injuries that they take a long time to heal, even if they feel strong, and so I’m still taking a lot of preventative measures. That said, in the last few weeks I’ve been able to really start trying hard again, which just feels so darn good.

All of my recent enthusiasm has been directed at a specific new line here in Durango. The line is obvious, one that I noticed on my very first visit to East Animas nearly two years ago. It begins up the classic Punta Magna then cuts right across a magnificent steep, streaked wall. Someone aided it many years ago leaving a fixed bashie and some old studs along the right trending rail. About a month ago, my friend Marcus Garcia went up the line on aid to investigate the free climbing possibilities. I joined him on the second day to finish cleaning and bolting the line, and then we started working out the moves. We both immediately became obsessed. The climbing was clean and aesthetic, and we quickly realized that this route could possibly be a new level of difficulty in the area.

The Corrections

On the last moves of the crux.

After several more days and attempts, I managed to stick the precise yet dynamic crux on sidepulls and crimpers to redpoint the route, a deeply satisfying accomplishment for me after a long winter and battle with injury. I’ve tentatively named the route “The Corrections,” which just so happens to be the book I’m reading right now. I like the name for several reasons. First, the route is something of a “correction,” taking an obscure aid line and bringing it to high quality free climb status. Second, I love the book, which is reason enough. I think there’s a further connection between the themes of the book and the route, or at least my experience with it. The book traces the paths of five members of an average American family through the boredom, longing, disappointment, desperation, and rare moments of satisfaction that each person’s seemingly normal yet extraordinary and often messed up life presents. The word “corrections” comes up frequently in the book in reference to how each person subtly refines their life in some way, sometimes in reference to taking drugs and others simply in terms of seeking satisfaction where they can. In a similar way, climbing has felt like a lot of work and tedium recently: lots of rehab, patience, training, and climbing with much restraint in between the even greater struggle of balancing that with other life responsibilities. In my case, the “correction” was finding an inspiring line to try hard on. This is something I’ve slowly come to learn about climbing: The exhilaration of success tends to come in short bursts connected through the process and the pursuit of goals. Ultimately, satisfaction comes from appreciating what we can get out of both of these.

Here’s a short video I put together of Marcus and I working the route. Andrea Sokolowski shot the footage, and I really appreciate her help. The disclaimer for this video is that it was our first time out shooting video, and this is my first attempt at real video editing, so it is admittedly rough. Still, the aesthetic qualities (or lack there of) aside, I think it captures the story of the first ascent of “The Corrections” pretty well.

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