Though my spring climbing season got off to a slow-ish start, these last few weeks have been unseasonably cool, and have allowed me to string together some hard (for me!) sends. Since the CragDaddy had spent most of the previous week in NY on business, our family opted for the day trip this past weekend. After accumulating some sending momentum at the Red the week before,I was psyched and ready to try hard on my project at Hawksbill Mountain.
Eyeing down the mail slot to clip the next bolt from. Photo: Joe Virtanen
I wrote about Tips Ahoy 12d a couple of weeks ago , when I hopped on it while a friend of mine was working it. I’d given it 3 burns, and was pleasantly surprised at how doable it seemed. It plays to my strengths (technical climbing on tiny holds), without featuring any of my glaring weaknesses (of which there are many, but the usual culprits involve slopers and big moves on steep rock!) Anyway, going in I was cautiously optimistic about my chances. In contrast to the 100 foot monsters I’d been battling at the Red, this line was only about 60 feet tall, which (hopefully) would mean that endurance wouldn’t be a problem. Additionally, the weather could not have been any more perfect – temps were in the upper 40’s/low 50’s most of the day (yes 40’s at the end of May!), and the wall wouldn’t even see the sun until some time after lunch.
Crimping hard on one of the few holds big enough to match on the entire route.
For me, the crux boils down to two moves – a precision stab to a pointy crimp off of two tiny razor blades, then a foot shuffle and long lock off to another pointy crimp. There’s also a clip that needs to happen at some point from either one of the pointy crimps. In isolation, the first move is substantially harder than the second move. But for whatever reason, going into the second move directly after completing the first move feels darn near impossible. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever successfully made both moves without falling between. Such. A. Long. Lockoff. Control is the key here, as moving dynamically to either hold will result in shredded fingertips pretty quickly…but practicing the moves over and over and over and over again to gain the muscle memory is a gamble with the skin as well.
After a quick warm-up a little further down the wall, I took a lap to get the draws hung on Tips Ahoy. When I touched the two razor blades, I knew it was going to be a good day. Not only did the holds feel crisp, but my fingers felt a lot stronger! (thanks, 4×4’s!) My confidence grew, and I finished the route bolt-to-bolt without much issue.
Funny how the whole wall looks completely devoid of holds…but theyre there! They arent big, but theyre there!
My next go was a send that happened so fast it was almost a blur! The first few bolts went off without a hitch. I made the first move of the crux, shuffled my feet around, and made the next move for the first time ever in succession. I almost punted off initiating the traverse, but managed to stay on, then almost biffed AGAIN a few moves later, but once again, still on. At this point my fingers were so cold that they were completely numb, but there are exactly zero holds big enough for anything to stop and shake out on, so all I could do was keep climbing, and trust my muscle memory on the last 5.11 crimp ladder. Before I knew it I had clipped the chains and was back on the ground. Tips Ahoy = DONE! Woo-hoo!!!
And with that, it looks like spring climbing season has drawn to a close. This weekend’s forecast is definitely of the summer variety, which means a lot more sweat and a lot less sending! (But hopefully just as much fun!)
“Some weekends everything falls together and you send. Other times you work your ass off and walk away empty-handed. But those “work” weekends are what make the “sending” weekends so magical.”
Those were my words exactly one month ago, after a hard-fought battle with Jesus and Tequila 12b, one of my (many) unsent projects from the New River Gorge last fall. The “moral” of that post was that investing hard work into a project will EVENTUALLY reap successful dividends, even if you currently have nothing “on paper” to show for it. That particular weekend was a “work” weekend. So was the next one, this time on a new project at Hawksbill Mountain. Both trips sparked a flurry of training in the gym – 4X4’s, roped intervals, core workouts, etc. All in preparation for one of those “sending” weekends at some point down the road…
Creeping out of the hueco on Mirage 12c
…which apparently was this past weekend at the Red! I’m not sure whether it was the training, the SPECTACULAR spring weather conditions, or just a little bit of luck falling in my favor (probably a combination of the 3), but I just enjoyed what was probably one of my strongest climbing weekends ever…and days later I’m still finding my lips poised in a perma-grin.
70 feet down, 30 to go! Trying to deflate my forearms in the upper hueco on Mirage.
I drove up to Kentucky with one goal in mind: Galunlati 12b, a route I’d gotten on at the very end of our trip there this past April. I drove home on Sunday with THREE 5.12 ticks, one of which very well might be the hardest route I’ve ever sent. Here’s how it all went down:
It’s red eft season in the Southeast!
Galunlati 12b: 95 feet of awesomeness. Tricky, technical crux down low, with a pumpy traverse on crimps halfway up. No huecos to hop in, but I did find a decent kneebar to rest up before the last 30 feet of 5.10 jugs. To save time, (at a premium with 4 climbers and two kids), I warmed up by going bolt to bolt…and it did NOT go well, probably because I should NOT be warming up on 5.12. But I got the draws in and got to rehearse my beta. Second go the crux felt way easier, but I botched the end of the traverse and fell. I figured out a better sequence, and my third go was the charm (and send.)
Mirage 12c: 95 feet of even more awesomeness. I’d wrapped up Galunlati with enough time to do one more route on Day 1, and my friend Bennett had suggested this one. He’d just sent, and I figured I had nothing to lose since the draws were still up. The climbing turns on at the 2nd bolt while exiting a big hueco, and does not relent until the 5th bolt. The moves out of the hueco are precarious and balancy, and the bolt is a lot lower than you’d like it to be, which makes for an exciting combo rather low to the ground. In fact, my first time up, I actually climbed with the 3rd bolt already clipped so I could work out the moves fear-free. The next moves are equally tenuous, as well as the next clip. The crux comes next, between bolts 4 and 5, a deadpoint move to the first decent-sized hold in about 20 feet. After that, a few more pulls on small, but positive holds leads into a hueco you can lay down in. The climbing post-hueco is a lot easier – probably no harder than 10a/b, but the angle is still pretty darn steep, and the route keeps going for another 30-40 feet or so. I was super stoked to get to the top, and very excited to add this one to my tick list for the fall season.
The CragDaddy getting oh-so-close on Abiyoyo 12b
But as luck would have it, our crew ended up back at the Solarium again on Day 2. Since my “warm up on the project” strategy had been successful the day before, I decided to stick with that. I struggled on the deadpoint move. There are a lot of ways to do it, but each seemed ridiculously hard to do when I was pumped, as I most certainly would be on a redpoint run. I worked the moves for a while until I had to come down out of sheer exhaustion.
A post-dinner hike to the Natural Arch
I wasn’t feeling that optimistic for a send on my 2nd go of the day…I knew I could do the moves, but stringing them all together seemed like an impossible feat. Not to mention that scary clip at bolt 3. But I tried hard, and actually didn’t fall until the deadpoint move. I hung, tweaked the beta, and took it to the top.
I waited a good long time before trying it again, cheering on the CragDaddy as he worked Abiyoyo 12b, and sprayed (solicited) beta at our newfound friends from Colorado as they took their turns on Mirage. When I tied in again, I wasn’t at all confident that I’d even have enough gas to make it to my previous high point. But before I knew it, I was there…and this time I executed my beta correctly and latched the deadpoint! I came really close to punting off in the next section, but somehow managed to slide into the hueco with forearms flaming.
I stayed in the hueco until my neck just couldn’t take it anymore…then I moved up into the kneebar to shake out a little more. The finish was not desperate, but it certainly wasn’t a sure thing. The pump clock was ticking faster and faster but I just kept moving as fast as I could until both chains were clipped. YAY!!!!!!!!!!! An unbelievably amazing (and unexpected!) send for me!
Crossing the creek at Miller Fork.
On our last day, we decided to check out Miller Fork, a new-ish area that has recently come out with a new guidebook. It was fun to try a new place, and the routes we got on were good…but the rock quality seemed inconsistent. The routes we did were all great, but will probably be even better in a few years after more traffic cleans them up a bit.
Weird Science 12a: This vertical climb was perfect for Day 3 – thin boulder problem down low to moderate climbing. Very un-Red like (ie, no guns required, just technique), but the neon orange lichen only visible from the top made it worth the effort.
Witness the Citrus 11c: Also worth mentioning was this monster of a climb. 100+ feet of pure jug haulin’ fun! Definitely 5 stars!
Climbing can be a very fickle sport. I’ve learned that having the physical and mental fitness for a certain route is really only a small piece of the puzzle to success. Sometimes the real crux is having that perfect weather window occur on the days you are actually free to climb, rather than days you are stuck in the office/house/etc. (And finding someone else that wants to climb at the same area you want to climb at!) Fortunately for me, all the stars aligned and everything worked in my favor this time. And with imminent summer heat and humidity on the way, I’m going to savor every minute of this “sending feast” while I still can, knowing the famine is just around the corner! (And, right on cue, the forecast for THIS Saturday looks pretty dismal…)
For our family, the month of May marks perfect sending conditions at one of our favorite crags – Hawksbill Mountain in the Linville Gorge. The sending season here is short – if you come in April your hands will for sure numb out due to a frigid combination of chilly temps, shady rock, and brutal wind gusts. But if you wait much past early June, the humidity makes for pretty manky crux holds, especially by late afternoon once the sun comes around.
Although we can be at the crag parking lot in 2 hours flat, the hike is pretty intense, especially with the kiddos…a relentless uphill slog for 30-40 minutes, followed by a rocky scramble down a rhododendron-laden gully for another 20 minutes or so. Once your down there, the cliff base is rocky, with very few flat areas, which makes chasing after a climbing toddler even more stressful (and tiresome) than usual. All that said, despite the fact that we love the climbing here, we tend to only hit this area a time or two each year.
The New Proj: Tips Ahoy 12d
But after this past weekend’s excursion, I’m hoping that we can start to change that. As opposed to previous years where the approach took over an hour (and about a pound of hiking bears), Big C dominated the hike on Saturday. He even said his favorite part was scrambling up and down the gully. Apparently 6 year old legs ARE stronger and longer than 5 year old ones!
Blooming rhodos made for a beautiful approach!
The great part about Hawksbill is that there are a whole hosts of routes that are in a good project range for the CragDaddy and I. On the 5.12 wall, the only route either of us has sent has been Hard Rock Cafe 12c (and congratulations to the CragDaddy on the send this past weekend!) As for me, I am now completely invested in a new route obsession – Tips Ahoy 12d. Grade-wise it’s a little harder than some of the other lines on the wall, but I’d been told by more than one person that this one would be a good one for me to try. Apparently, it’s more sustained than the other lines, but the moves are not quite as big. Add that to the fact that my friend Drew already had the draws up, and hopping on it was a no-brainer!
My first attempt I opted to toprope it. I’d never led 12d before, and that pre-hung rope was just too tempting to pass up! The initial moves were hard but I actually made it through clean – long NRG-style lock0ffs to small but positive edges. Then came the crux – getting paired up on two tiny razor blades to make a toss to a sharp, pointy crimp, followed by another deep lockoff to another sharp crimp (as the name suggests, this route is not exactly easy on the finger tips.) I flailed around a LOT before finally settling on some beta that worked for me, but i got it figured out eventually. After the crux comes a traverse that is more technical than it is hard, followed by a ladder of crimps that, while significantly easier than the rest of the route, is still way to hard to be considered a “victory lap.”
Next I tackled the route on the sharp end – a big step for me, as I’d never led anything this difficult before. I was surprised at how good I felt. Everything was going great until I reached up to clip the 3rd bolt and realized that no matter how hard I tugged, no more rope was coming. I heard a bunch of commotion below me (which included a few choice words that I generally don’t like my children to hear), and saw my belayer desperately trying to pull my rope out from under a big rock. I managed to hang on long enough for things to get sorted, but sat on the rope immediately after getting the bolt clipped. I would LOVE to say that my first 12d would have gone down 2nd go had it not been for that incident…but I am 99.9% sure that I would have fallen at the crux. Stuff like that happens and is all part of the game – my belayer obviously felt really bad about it and apologized profusely…but if you are local, feel free to give Kurt Fischer hell next time you see him
CragDaddy in sending mode on Hard Rock Cafe 12c
After the hang, I actually shocked myself by making the crux move 1st go, although I immediately rested before the traverse (the fall is clean, but I always have a hard time committing to traverses!) Once I started the traverse, I took it all the way to the top. Despite all the shenanigans I felt awesome about a two-hang, and was confident that while it might not be in the same day, a send was definitely attainable!
More spectacular wildflowers along the approach!
By the time my turn in the rotation came up again, my spirit was willing…but my flesh was obviously weak. I took a rather awkward but safe fall trying to hit the clipping hold for the 2nd bolt. On the crux holds my fingertips felt so raw that I imagined only a microscopically thin layer of skin was keeping them from becoming completely shredded. I limped my way through the crux, linking only a couple of moves at a time, and hobbled my way to the finish, after resting on the rope several more times along the way.
Part of me wishes I would have stopped while I was ahead at attempt #2, because I left the crag feeling more destroyed than confident. But I know the more mileage I get in on it, the better I’ll have it dialed. And I will not be able to send it unless I have the moves COMPLETELY dialed in, since there are pretty much zero rests on the entire route, save a stray shake here and there.
It feels great to be able to focus on something new. I realized I’ve spent most of the spring focused on unfinished business from the year before (ie Jesus and Tequila 12b.) Since I probably won’t be able to touch that one again til the fall, it is really nice to have something else on the horizon that could go soon.
I’m hoping to get another crack at it in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, it’s 4x4s in the gym, followed by a long weekend at the Red. Hopefully the weather will be more spring and less winter this time around!
I’d love to know how many Friday nights our family has spent picnicking at this VA rest area off Hwy 77!
If you follow our family on instagram (@cragmama1), you may have noticed a family photo taken along the Endless Wall Trail on Saturday morning, with a caption entitled -“Today is a day of reckoning out the NRG…let’s do this!” It was my first (and potentially only) chance this spring to send Jesus and Tequila 12b, the mega classic sandbag that I’d came heartbreakingly close to ticking off last November as the fall season closed out. After some annihilating circuit work in the gym, along with recent success at both the New and the Red in recent weeks, I was feeling reasonably strong and my mental game was in a great space. I was ready to tackle this monster again.
The first crux of the weekend was finding willing partners to drag down to Endless Wall with me, with a forecast of 70 and sunny. With no leaves on the trees yet and a wall that bakes in the sun, it was a hard sell. The CragDaddy was more than willing, but unless I wanted to find Baby Zu rafting down the river after looking away for 10 minutes, we needed someone else as well. Fortunately for me though, I have some pretty awesome friends who were willing to suffer in the sun with me. (And actually, they had sunny projects in mind as well, and their alpine start + twilight climbing schedule meshed reasonably well with my midday brawl.)
Trying hard on the J n T crux…
UNfortunately for myself and everyone else, however, no one’s efforts on Saturday resulted in a send. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be…yet. Except for the obvious fact that I didn’t send it, I feel really good about how the day went. I gave it 4 tries – one was a bolt to bolt warm-up to re-familiarize myself with the moves. I was really psyched to figure out a completely different sequence of moves for the upper roof crux…the same move that spit me off last fall on my epic un-send. The new beta is MUCH more secure and higher percentage, and I am certain that when the time comes to do that move on point, I won’t be falling there again.
…aaaand I’m off.
My second go of the day was a one-hang – I fell at the crux after fiddling with my foot placement too much (the rope management is a little weird there.) I pulled right back up and finished the route strong, and felt really good about my next attempt. My third go I made it through the crux! I was pleased at how much I was able to get back at the rest stances, and was thinking it was my time…then I fell at the big deadpoint move. Ugh. That move has always been hard for me, but I had never struggled on it until that day.
Big C’s super cool nature find along the trail.
By this point I was running out of time, but I owed it to myself to give it one more go. The days will only be getting hotter from here on out, so it was probably my last shot before fall. Predictably, however, I was pretty gassed, and fell at the crux, again. Ironically, the deadpoint move felt the most solid as it had all day, and of course, with the new beta, I cruised right through the roof.
I’d be lying if I didn’t feel just a little disappointed, but like my friend Caleb said, “It’s all part of the process.” The real story here is about an amazing piece of rock that so many people have on their bucket list. I would consider myself blessed to be able to experience it even once, let alone have a chance to invest so much of myself in it. This all probably sounds a little silly to a non-climber, but there is a very personal, almost relational, connection, between a climber and a project. Whether the route is personified as a nemesis that you want to exact revenge upon, or an old friend that you keep coming back to for a friendly duel, the emotional investment can be pretty intense. For me, I think finding the right balance is key – training hard for a goal and leaving everything out there on the rock is good, and necessary for the send. But at the end of the day, I hike out with my family with a smile on my face, knowing deep down it’s really just a hunk of rock.
Can you guess which kid is a morning person?!?
Sure I wish I would have sent, but this trip was by far not a waste. The next day I tried hard for a 2nd go send of All the Right Moves 11d, a 100 foot journey with a funky roof crux that had previously seemed really intimidating. I also came super close on Control 12a, and am confident that those power moves will go down fairly easily when I’m fresh. Not to mention the new roof beta I have for Jesus and Tequila.
CragDaddy cruxin’ on Control 12a
Some weekends everything falls together and you send. Other times you work your ass off and walk away empty-handed. But those “work” weekends are what makes the “sending” weekends so magical. I’m not sure when, but one of these days I will pull the crux on Jesus and Tequila and not take the swinging whipper. I’ll stay clean through the dihedral and nail the deadpoint move. I’ll teeter out across the roof and plant my foot exactly where it needs to be, and execute the final sequence. I’ll stand at the top and savor the magnificent view of the river below, feeling that mix of pure exhilaration and exhaustion that I so wish I could bottle up and sell. We’ll go out for dinner and I’ll celebrate with a round of margaritas for anyone that wants to join me. Then I’ll walk the cliff again and wait for inspiration to strike, and the cycle will start all over again. Ah, thank you God for creating rocks to climb on.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
For our family this year, the holidays have involved sharing a little more with each other than we had intended – our winter break started with a stomach virus that violently ransacked it’s way through our entire household in a matter of hours. The next two weeks were a blur of family, friends, and Christmas cookies…LOTS of Christmas cookies. As far as climbing goes, we did manage to squeeze in a few days at the gym here and there, as well as a laidback day outside on the first day of 2016. But overall the ratio of Christmas cookies to climbing ratio was not good…for sending anyway.
But it’s a new year, and with a new year comes new training cycles, and with new training cycles comes new tick lists! So even though I’m still wiping cookie crumbs off my face as I type this, here’s what I’m aiming to accomplish, both as an individual and with my family:
Psyched to see how this feels with the new kneepad the hubby got me for Christmas!
INSPIRATION FROM NEW PROJECTS –
Towards the end of last year I found myself getting a little burnt out on climbing. I had several heart breaking (in a 1st world problem way) almost-sends and came up short a little more than I wanted. Many times the logistics of getting back the whole family (plus an extra patner) back to routes to finish them up often left me feeling more frustrated than psyched. The annual “off season” our family always takes around the holidays was a much needed break. My goal for this year is to focus more on the process than crossing something off the list. This is not to say that I’m not out to send in 2016. But I’m haoping to take a wiser approach when it comes to which routes are worth the efforts (physically, mentally, and logistically) to come back to and project, and which routes are okay to try once and leave undone for now. In other words, my climbing time is at a premium, and I don’t want to waste it on routes that aren’t fun! So the following are routes I have yet to try that I want to experience at least once. If I’m feeling inspired, I’ll try for the send, if not, it’s on to the next!
Orange Juice 12c (Red River Gorge)
Twinkie 12a (Red River Gorge)
Amarillo Sunset 11b (Red River Gorge)
Ro Shampo 12a (Red River Gorge)
Gift of Grace 12b (New River Gorge)
Toxic Hueco 11d (New River Gorge)
Line of Fire 12c (Linville Gorge)
Tips Ahoy 12d (Linville Gorge)
Until next time…Jesus and Tequila 12b.
I’d also be thrilled to send 12c at the New…Techman is the obvious choice, as I’ve gottten fairly close on that one before, but I’m probably more open to choosing something new that fits my style and putting in work.
WRAPPING UP OLD PROJECTS –
While I meant every previous word about savoring the journey of a route, no tick list is complete without a goal to exact revenge on at least some of the ones that got away during the previous year. Jesus and Tequila 12b: If I only send one route on this list, this is the one I want. Ever since our last trip of the fall in 2015 I have been haunted by the one foot slip 10 feet from the chains that kept me from victory on this amazing classic. I’ve obsessed over visualized the beta sequences on just about every neighborhood run since then, rehearsing everything from the opening moves to clipping the chains as my feet pound the pavement (and burn off the aforementioned Christmas cookies.) This WILL GO DOWN in 2016. New World Order 12a: My crux on this route taught me a lot about dynamic movement, and the line as a whole is an exercise in patience and pump management. My best go was a one-hang last November, but I’m hopeful to dispatch it pretty quickly this spring.
While “exacting revenge” might be a little strong for the following routes, I include them down here because I’ve been on them all at least once, and would love another crack. Mercy the Huff 12b (Red River Gorge) Soul Ram 12b: (Red River Gorge) Psychowrangler 12a (New River Gorge) Blackhappy 12b (New River Gorge)
Looking forward to more adventures with this kidcrusher!
FAMILY PROJECTS –
Another exciting goal for the upcoming year involves our aspirations as a climbing family. Big C is starting to take more and more of an interest in the “family business,” so to speak, and this year we’d like to cultivate that interest as best we can. It all depends on him obviously, as we don’t want to push, but potentially we are planning a few outdoor excursions as a team of 3 (Baby Zu can hang at home with the grands!) and possibly on having him join the climbing team at our local gym.
I’m sure these goals and plans will morph some as the year unfolds, but writing things down, whether it be via pen and paper or cyberspace, helps me stay on track. So with that in mind, I’d love to hear from everyone else. What are your goals and aspirations for 2016, both climbing and otherwise, and how do you plan to get there? Don’t be afraid to think big!
For many of us, the end of a year marks a time to reflect on the goals we had for the previous year, as well as make new ones for the next year. With regards to climbing, I’d left my goals for 2015 fairly open-ended, so as not to get bogged down with all the crazy logistics that go hand in hand with family craggin’. I basically had 3 items on my list – take a “big” family climbing trip, find some 12c/d routes that played well to my strengths, and send some 12a/b’s that forced me to work on my weaknesses. Overall I’d say I did fairly well, and learned a lot in the process.
Last climb of my Ten Sleep Birthday Challenge – 35th lifetime 5.12 on my 35th bday!
The first goal was the highest priority of the three, and because of that, received most of my attention. Back in August we spent almost 2 weeks climbing out West – Wild Iris, Ten Sleep Canyon, and Logan Canyon, to be exact. I trained hard for it, and crushed all my expectations. I walked away with hard sends in the double digits, several of which matched my previous hardest onsight to date, and one of which pushed my hardest onsight up by a letter grade.
I made some solid progress on Goal #2, though if I’m being perfectly honest, not as much as I personally would have liked. Part of the problem was that my goal to send hard 12 was hindered a little by my first goal – I knew my emphasis in Wyoming was going to be onsight climbing, so leading up to the trip I wanted to touch as many new (to me) routes as possible, and not get sucked in to a harder, multi-day project. But there was definitely progress – I sent Center El Shinto 12b/c, as well as Hard Rock Cafe 12c. I also gave several good go’s on Techman 12c, a route that is proving to have a frustratingly low percentage crux move on it for me. The closest I got was a 2-hang, but to be honest, the line is not all that inspiring. I’m not gonna rule it out, but it’s probably not gonna show up on the “must do” list for 2016. I also came as close as you can possibly come to sending Jesus and Tequila – technically only 12b, but everyone treats it like such a sandbag that it seems worth mentioning here.
Shaking out on Center El Shinto 5.12b/c
Goal #3 also got some progress, although again, was somewhat hindered by Goal #1 AND #2. Preparing for the style of technical face climbing we knew we’d encounter on our trip meant logging lots of mileage on terrain that was the exact OPPOSITE of what I needed for Goal #3. As far as steep climbing goes, I didn’t get a lot of practice but did manage some subtle but noteworthy improvement – Check Your Grip 12a at the Red went in 3 attempts, Standard Issue 11c at the Obed went 2nd go, and I got in one beta burn on Psychowrangler 12a.
That being said, Goal #3 wasn’t just about steep climbing, it was about working my weaknesses, which includes A LOT more than overhanging terrain. Sticking to mostly face climbing throughout the year still gave me plenty of chance to work on another issue that consistently shuts me down – the dreaded “big move.” If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, then you are probably aware of how often I find myself able to work through crux moves just fine, only to get stuck in a different spot on the route that ends up being a “non-move” for my (usually taller as well as stronger) climbing partners.
The campus start of Standard Issue 11c
Considering that the New River Gorge is one of the areas I’ve frequented most over the past few years, my lock off strength has slowly and steadily improved as I’ve progressed through the grades. That ability is what’s seen me through on numerous sends this year – MENSA 11d, Modern Primitive 12b, Fine Motor Control 12a. But this year in particular, I’ve been putting in a lot of work into the business of “trying hard.” As in, really getting after it and moving dynamically. While I’ve often found myself working Lost Souls 12a with a bunch of gym rats vying for their first 5.12, I’d never been able to successfully fire all 3 big moves while on point…until this past May, when I sent it on my 4th try of the weekend. And though it may not show up on paper, I learned a LOT about coordination and timing on New World Order 12a. No send (yet), but it will for sure be on the list for the spring.
Letting the feet fly on Lost Souls 12a
Above all however, this has been a great learning year for me. I successfully completed 2 (and a half) training cycles using the Rock Climber’s Training Manual (reviewed here), and that allowed me to really get a feel for how to structure my mid-week training for very specific outdoor goals. And the more I progress, the more I’m realizing that some goals work better together than others. For instance, I probably could have done a lot better on Goals 2 and 3 had I devoted an entire season for each one, as the training for powerful, technical face climbing is completely different than the training required for steep, overhanging enduro routes. That approach would have honed a more specific skill set. On the flip side, however, it could have been more restrictive when it came to finding partners (since we always need an extra person, we often end up simply going where “everyone else” is going, and generally can’t afford to be “picky” about what routes we want to do.) My guess is that, like most things, there’s a balance in there somewhere. One of my goals for 2016 will be to find that sweet spot where training specificity and family craggin’ meet in an efficient and fun-filled way. Look for the tick list next week – and be thinking of your own to share as well!
A lot of people tout that Jesus and Tequila 12b (aka “J ‘n T”) is the best 5.12 in the New River Gorge (and I wouldn’t disagree.) Some people even argue that it’s the best route in the Gorge, period. I’ve even heard more than one person say it is the best route they have EVER touched.
Well, with that introduction, you know it’s not gonna be a gimme for the grade, right? While grades are of course highly subjective, J ‘n T has a pretty solid consensus that 12b is a big fat sandbag (unless you are my one friend that downgrades everything ;)) 12c gets tossed around a lot, and I’ve even heard 12c/d. I can’t really weigh in that much, as I don’t have enough mileage at the 12c level to compare, and honestly I don’t really care. Regardless of grade, it’s exposure, position, rock quality, movement, and overall “badassity” make it a worthy tick for any climber.
And for me personally it feels far more doable than a lot of other 12b’s I’ve tried, but that probably comes down to the style of climbing. There are multiple cruxes, but individually none are insanely hard. It’s the New, so there are of course some long reaches, but they are set up well for shorter climbers (and if anything, the high feet required for some of the moves might actually favor the vertically challenged.)
Although it’s been on my radar ever since I toproped it once a couple of years ago, my recent obsession with J ‘n T actually only began a week and a half ago. After unsuccessfully trying to tick New World Order 12a, I took a few toprope burns on it while my friend was working it. It was pretty intimidating (hence the toprope), but darned if it didn’t feel like it might go…and soon! And with that, what was supposed to be our last NRG trip of the season turned into our second to last, and just 6 days later I found myself standing atop the giant boulder at the base of the route once more.
I warmed up by going bolt to bolt. It did not go well. The rock was really cold, and the opening moves felt really slippery. The crux felt scary, and I had a lot of trouble committing to the move. But eventually I got to the chains. Considering that performance, I didn’t have my hopes set extremely high for my next go – I would have been happy to get a 1 or a 2 hang out of it.
But you guys! (or ya’ll, if you’ll indulge my southern roots.) I almost sent it. I SHOULD have sent it. (And actually, if the original anchors would have still been in place, I WOULD have sent it.) It wasn’t pretty. The first half went well, but i struggled with the heady 5th clip (next time longer draw!), and completely botched my beta for the crux. I still have no idea how I managed to hang on. The very next move almost spit me off as well, and the deadpoint up high was not a sure thing. But miraculously I found myself stemming precariously under the final roof. I took some deep breaths and visualized the final sequence, which involves tiptoe-ing out across a wildly exposed face 80 feet off the deck, grabbing a pair of terrible sloping crimps, and lunging for a pretty good sidepull. I DID IT!
All that was left was for me to get an awkwardly high left foot onto a point and rock up to a standing position, and the send would be mine. Now the problem with that foot is that my body is so extended on those terrible sloping holds that I can only lift my foot so high before my butt is too far away from the wall and I lose purchase with my hands. Going bolt to bolt I’ve always been able to do it, but barely. However, any time I’ve come in even the slightest bit tired, I’ve had to smear my foot on a lower, much worse hold, then slide it over real quick once my momentum starts moving upward. It’s more insecure, but it’s always worked…until this time.
I tried at first to get the left foot in the “right” spot. One, twice, three times. My toes were scuffing just left of where I needed to be, and I was starting to get pumped. I needed to retreat back to the dihedral where I could stem and regroup at a no hands stance, but now that my left hand was up above the roof, I couldn’t reverse the move. The clock was ticking, so I put my foot on the consolation smear and committed my weight to it. And I slipped off. Less than 10 feet away from the anchors, after having done every single hard move but one, I slipped off. I was THERE…and yet I found myself dangling helplessly below the roof, looking up at that blasted foothold that had thwarted my send.
After taking a moment to collect myself, I jugged back up, finishing the route easily in a very awkwardly anti-climactic way.
“That was a great burn, I’m proud of you for going ‘a muerte’” one of my friends said (the same one that downgrades everything.)
At least one of us was psyched about waking up to snow the next morning.
He was right. It WAS a great burn, far better than my expectations. And I WAS proud of myself. And since we still had a few more hours of daylight I was optimistic that I’d be able to get redemption before the day was out, but on my next attempt I fell at the crux…and by the time I got on it a 4th time I was too exhausted to even get to the crux clean. The next day featured sub-freezing temps, gray skies, and even some snow flurries, so after exploring around under the bridge, we called it an early day and headed home.
But hey, at least I’m in good company. The description in the guidebook reads like this: “Getting pummeled on Jesus and Tequila is a rite of passage for every New River climber…the route used to finish at a station under the final roof, but Jonny Woodward moved it to the top, adding one more insecure crux that has foiled many redpoint efforts.”
In a lot of ways, my performance on Jesus and Tequila pretty much sums up my fall climbing season. I came back from Ten Sleep with psych that was out the roof, ready to take my east coast game to the next level. But while I’ve nabbed a few good sends here and there, I feel like I’ve mostly had a lot of almost-sending-but-not-quite-putting-it-all-together moments, which had left me feeling frustrated at climbing, especially at the New. (#firstworldproblems I know, just trying to be authentic here!)
But all that said, my almost-send of Jesus and Tequila has ended my NRG season on an ironically positive note that makes the entire season feel worthwhile. I put in a lot of work on routes that have pushed me out of my comfort zone as well as taught me a lot. Techman, for example, forced me to get creative to maximize my reach, whereas New World Order improved my coordination and agility skills. Jesus and Tequila boosted my confidence and brought back some of the fight and determination to my climbing that I hadn’t even realized was missing. And the most encouraging part? Those routes will still be there 4 months from now, primed and ready to be ticked. It’s gonna be a fun spring! But for now, it’s time to get fat and happy with the fam over the holidays. Happy Turkey Day everyone!
Catchy title, but will probably make for a rather lackluster trip report! Conditions were prime for sending…I guess my only excuse is myself! Fortunately, however, our weekend in West Virginia was still “wild and wonderful.”
CragDaddy tackling Jesus and Tequila 12b…more on that below
Saturday was spent at Snake Buttress. After warming up on Muckraker 11a, I had hoped to tick New World Order 12a, which I had started working on a few weeks ago. To be honest, heading into the weekend I’d been feeling less than confident, and with questionable motivation.
These guys are perpetually psyched…even at 6am on a Saturday morning.
The crux for me on New World Order is a big deadpoint move that requires (for me, anyway) a LOT of precision and coordination. Even executed correctly it’s somewhat of a low percentage move. These types of projects (ie low percentage cruxes) can get frustrating very easily because it’s hard to predict how close you are to sending. When it finally goes, the movement often feels exactly the same as it did every other time you tried…only that particular time you lucked up and didn’t get spit off.
So even though I had the moves worked out pretty well, the odds that all the stars would align when I was on point seemed 50/50 at best. Not to mention I’ve been pretty distracted lately. Baby Zu continues to be a twinkly, charming little toddler by day (or most days, anyway), and a possessed, screaming banshee by night (well, most nights, anyway.) My workouts at the gym have been relatively mediocre, and motivation to try hard has been hit or miss, especially with the holidays (aka our “off season“) approaching in just a couple of weeks. Add to all of that a random redness/irritation in my eye that cropped up the night before we left and ended up getting far worse before getting better, and it would be safe to say that perhaps the force was NOT with me on Saturday. I found myself in a sort of strange and contradictory mental space, where I was more looking forward to the route being checked off than I was about the actual process of putting in time to work the route.
This guy’s highlight of every Endless Wall day…the ladders!
So with all that said, you can imagine that I was thrilled with my first attempt of the day being a fairly quick one-hang. I fell at the predicted spot twice before nailing the jug – the first time coming up too short, and the second time actually over-shooting the hold. I felt that little flutter in my chest that happens in that magical moment when you first realize that a project is within reach.
Big brother isn’t the only one who has fun on the ladders
I felt pretty good about my chances next go. But right off the bat I screwed up the opening bouldering problem. I managed to stay on, but expended a lot of needless energy. I shook out really well, moved up to the next clip, then promptly punted off in a random spot that I’d never had any trouble with before, thanks to a missed foothold. Dangit. I worked through that section and up through the crux (it took me 4 tries this time), and then lowered, since I had the top pretty well dialed.
That’s all right, 3rd times a charm, right? Wrong. My next go it was that d#$% boulder problem right off the ground that was giving me fits. Eventually I figured out some heel hook beta (courtesy of the CragDaddy) that made the move significantly easier…but by then it was too little too late, and I once again punted off before I even made it to my crux. Geez. I wasn’t necessarily expecting to send, but I certainly didn’t expect to regress as the day went on. In hindsight I think the fact that I was climbing in my glasses for the first time ever (thanks to the weird eye thing) may have been playing with my depth perception a bit, considering that I am literally blind without corrective eye wear and therefore have zero peripheral vision with glasses. But that was certainly not the only problem, and at the end of the day there was nothing left to do, except nurse my bruised ego with family and friends over a margarita.
A little Star Wars fun at the crag
Sunday was another gorgeous fall day – after all the rain we’ve had, the sun felt amazing! We were back at Endless, but this time hiked in through the Fern Point side. We warmed up on Euronation 11c before heading over to Jesus and Tequila 12b, which is arguable THE 12b in the Gorge to tick. I’d toproped it once before when a friend of mine was working on it – I don’t remember a ton about it, but I do know the crux took a lot of work, and I was unable to do the final roof move without some belayer assistance.
There are a few pretty heady sections. That, as well as my wishy-washy attitude about trying hard, prompted me to opt for the casual toprope once the rope was hanging. But then I started climbing. THIS ROUTE IS AWESOME! My lazy demeanor was slapped awake and my mind overflowed with adrenalized psych. All of a sudden I found myself more motivated than I’d been in a really long time. The movement is fun and unique, the position is amazing, and most encouraging of all, I did all the moves relatively easily. After only falling once on my 2nd burn (at the crux), I’d love to think that a send will come soon…But I also am aware that this route is notorious for taking forever to send, as the real crux is not the individual moves, but linking all of them together (as well as a really tough clip) on point.
I wasn’t the only one who struggled with motivation at times this weekend…
That being said, I feel close enough to warrant another trip before our NRG season is done til spring. Hopefully it’ll go. But if it doesn’t, it’ll be waiting for me in the spring. (And it’ll be worth the wait.) And as for New World Order? It looks like it’s gonna have to be put on the backburner til spring…it’ll feel good to have at least one route “in the hopper” next March!
After a month of unseasonably wet and humid conditions, we were starting to think fall climbing season would never get here. But this past weekend was about as good as it gets, condition-wise. The air was cold and crisp, but the rock was still warm – one of those magical times where you can climb pretty much wherever you want, without having to chase sun or shade. In other words, any excuses for not sending are your own fault!
Now when it comes to climbing grades at the New River Gorge, there can be some inconsistency, but the general consensus is that routes at Endless Wall are full value. There are very few “gimme’s”, and the technical lines almost always feature a combination of the following: long lock-offs, tiny (and often incredibly high) footholds, heinous crimps, and amazing exposure and position. The sport routes tend to be bolted with a good lead head in mind – you may not have as many as you want, but usually they are right where you need them (however, botching your beta often means a pretty big ride.)
With all that in mind, it’s no wonder that Endless Wall is often referred to as “Sendless Wall.” But I love it (usually), and most of my proudest sends have happened there. So with what was quite possibly the best conditions of the year so far, we headed north to West Virginia on Friday night with an Endless agenda.
Saturday morning was a little chaotic due to Bridge Day shenanigans (when hundreds of adrenaline-junkies hurl themselves off the bridge while thousands of onlookers flock to view the carnage.) We had to drive the “long way” around, which actually only ended up being about 15-20 minutes out of the way – well worth it to be able to enjoy a warm bed on the South side of the bridge.
Big C dominating the Honeymooner Ladders on the way out!
My objective for the first day was Techman 12c. It’s an okay route, but certainly not a classic. To be honest, the crux traverse is hard in a “not fun” way – it’s sharp, abrasive, reachy, and most of the holds are held together with glue. But it shares anchors (and an upper crux) with Freaky Stylee 12a, so I started working on it back when CragDaddy was working on Freaky. Since then I’ve managed a 2-hang, but I was hopeful that Saturday would be the day to piece it all together and nab my first NRG 12c.
I warmed up by pulling through the crux, climbing the more moderate sections of the route, then rehearsing the crux moves on the lower. A couple of the reach moves are a little low percentage for me because I’m so over-extended, but I got them dialed in better than I ever had before. My first redpoint attempt of the day got off to a good start – I made it through the heinous crux traverse, but was unable to latch the deadpoint move that came directly after. The next time it was my turn, however, I botched the crux, again and again, then botched the deadpoint move (again and again.) My skin was feeling pretty raw so I took a nice long break. Unfortunately that didn’t seem to help. I tried two more times and was never able to make it through the traverse without falling.
I was pretty discouraged with the lack of progress…but the icing on the frustration cake was when one by one everyone else sent. CragDaddy even had an epic battle with the route, almost falling off several times but managing to fight through, which earned him his first ever 12c! I of course was proud of him…but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sting just a little.
Crux time on Hellbound for Glory 12a
The next day my confidence (and psych) was pretty low. Although Endless Wall has always been one of my favorite places to climb, I’ve found myself in somewhat of a love/hate relationship with it of late. While it definitely makes me a better climber when I go to other areas, I get really tired of all the reaches. It’s really frustrating to struggle hard on moves that my taller climbing partners easily reach past. I realize that being shorter definitely has its advantages on some routes…but not the ones at Endless Wall (or anywhere at the New, really!)
But enough whining, back to the climbing. Day 2 we found ourselves at Central Endless. I took a lovely lap up Strike a Scowl 10a, which in my opinion offers the best view of the gorge. My friends already had a rope up on Hellbound for Glory 12a…which looked terrifying, so I opted to tackle it next on toprope.
I could have done without the heady, zig-zagging start (traverse 10 feet left, then 10 feet right, step left onto the face, then traverse left 10 feet more.) But once the route kind of “got going” it was great – technical moves that were surprisingly pumpy, but with pretty good rest stances. The upper half was a typical Endless slab, with a stay awake move just before going for the anchors.
My toprope run went surprisingly smoothly. However I wasn’t sure I’d be able to commit to the moves right before the 3rd bolt (a fall there would be a pretty nasty pendulum), so I toproped it again. Turns out I’d somehow missed a gigantic rail that made the moves I was worried about significantly easier. I not only climbed that section clean, but the entire rest of the route, earning me the dreaded “toprope send.” Oops, guess I should’ve led it. Now I had to do the whole zig-zaggy start again (which ironically felt a lot less sketchy on lead.) Third go was a charm, and gave me my 7th Endless Wall 5.12. It wasn’t the tick I’d been planning on walking away with, but a worthy line nonetheless, and I’ll take it for sure.
Despite the emotional ups and downs, there’s no place I’d rather be this time of year than the New River Gorge. Combine family, friends, and epic climbing conditions and it’s hard to go wrong…and I can’t wait to do it again this weekend!
The vision for the Trango athlete team is to find climbers who embody our brand’s values and support them in their climbing endeavors. We focus on the character of the climber, their passion for the sport, and their desire to contribute to the community.