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Breaking the 5.13 Barrier!

Rodent’s Lament 13b (although pic was taken last spring by Nick Hitchcock)

This past weekend I hit a huge personal milestone for me.  Though my climbing journey has more or less featured slow and steady improvement over the last decade (“more” during times of focused training, “less” during times of pregnancy/newborns), it has been FIVE WHOLE YEARS since I have broken into a new number grade.  But that all changed this weekend! 

It actually started this past spring on our kid-free anniversary weekend at Hidden Valley, VA.  We had decided that sans kids was the perfect opportunity to test out the hardman(woman) waters, so we went project shopping.  I was drawn to Rodent’s Lament 13b, a line on the Falcon Wall, home of everything technical and vertical…aka my favorite wall at Hidden Valley.  The crux was pretty short-lived and really boils down to one singularly desperate move  – a long launch to a good slot off a terrible sloper crimp (aka “slimper.”)  I could barely initiate the movement before popping off, and I walked away inspired to include hangboarding in my summer training regimen.  

Hangboard I did, but to be honest, I hadn’t given Rodent’s Lament very much thought again until recently.  Conditions took forever to get good this fall, then when they did, we spent a lot of time at the New.  When we did end up at Hidden Valley we were side tracked by the bounty of other awesome lines that are all a much shorter hike than the Falcon Wall (first world problems, right?!?)  CragDaddy, meanwhile, had slowly but steadily been putting in work on his project out at the Crazy Horse Wall (the 13a slab start of the 5.10 classic Spurs), and he was pushing for us to each have a project day.

Not a bad view from the clifftop!

I was “cautiously cool’ with the idea.  Three weekends ago my psych was out the roof after sending Coneheads 12c…but since then we’d had a gym weekend at home, and then I’d gone on a girl’s weekend that had involved far more eating and drinking than it did exercise.  I had no idea what to expect performance-wise.  But what harm could it do, right?  

If you’ve never tried s’mores with your leftover Halloween candy, you’re missing out!

My first attempt started out great – the initial V4ish crux felt a lot easier than I’d remembered.  But the one (and a half) move wonder crux still felt ridiculously hard.  I probably tried the move 5 different ways 50 different times, but nothing.  Not even really close.  I decided to pull through and take it to the top just to give my fingers a break, then practice some more on the way down.  The upper bit is easier but more sustained, with a long sequence directly after the crux that probably goes around 11d/12a.  That part went really well, so when I lowered back down, I decided to battle with the crux one more time 30 more times before giving up.

This time, however, I actually started making progress, first getting my fingertips even with the slot, then in it just a little, then a little more, until finally, I was able to hang on.  Shocked at this surprising new development, I started trying the sequence from a few moves earlier, coming in from the not-quite-hands-free rest 3 moves before.  It was hard…really hard…but I could do it!  Feeling good about both the start and finish of the climb, I now knew that if I could juuuust make that move once, I’d be able to send!  

All smiles on Pony 5.8

I was ecstatic that my next go was a one hang.  Even more exciting was that when I tied in for a final attempt, conditions were the best we’d seen all day.  No more cold mist, just fading light and dry, crisp air.  And apparently that’s all it took!  The crux felt the smoothest it had felt all day, and despite an adrenaline-induced elvis leg that started kicking in post-crux, I managed to keep my breathing under control and made it to the chains!

An interesting clipping stance…

We celebrated Saturday night with an epic campfire and Halloween candy s’mores, then went out for CragDaddy’s project the next day.  He made decent progress before splitting a hole in his fingertip – while there’s still one move he can’t do down low, he’s now got the upper slab dyno on lock down.  (Ironically I found a great sequence that worked pretty well for me on the lower moves, but I got nothing for the slab dyno…if only I could tag him in and we could go for a team send!!!)  Day 2 was also a great day for Big C – he got in 4 pitches, with 2 of those even being “mock leads.”  (He’s been dying to learn how to lead climb, so we allowed him to tie in to the other side of the rope so he could practice hanging quickdraws and clipping in while still safely attached to a toprope belay.)

I am of course ecstatic to break a new number barrier!  I’m also, if I’m being honest, wondering if the route is a little soft.  In many ways, while none of the individual moves compared to the crux on Rodent’s Lament, something like Coneheads seemed harder to actually link together for a send.  That’s why one-move wonders are so hard to grade, because there’s hardly any “putting it all together” work that needs to be done – basically once you can do the move, you can do the route!  (And this particular move on this particular route suited my skill set and height perfectly)

But soft or not, I’m going to (re)take the advice that an old climbing mentor gave me a long time ago when I was first breaking into 5.12’s and down grading them all simply because “if I could do it, it couldn’t be that hard.”  He gave me some wise words that I’ve since passed his along to many people – “TAKE THE GRADE GIVEN IN THE GUIDEBOOK AND CALL IT DONE!”  His point was that grades are completely subjective, and that one person’s “softie” is another person’s “sandbag”, and that it all evens out in the end anyway.  Don’t downplay a route simply because it potentially plays well to your strengths, and don’t automatically assume a route is underrated just because it feels hard to you.  

So there you have it – a 5.13 for me, and some words of wisdom about not going crazy analyzing grades, all wrapped up into one post.  Because despite how much we all love to debate climbing grades with fellow climbers (don’t act like you don’t!), at the end of the day it’s all just a bunch of arbitrary numbers.  But that said…5.13 is pretty rad! 😉

Related Images:

[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Hidden Valley Sendage

Lately the Southeast has felt more like “June-tober” than “Rock-tober,” much to the chagrin of every climber that I know.  What’s up with this?!?  This is supposed to be our prime time, with conditions cool and crisp…but instead we all feel like gorillas in the mist.  That said, we knew that the elevation at Hidden Valley would make for cool(er) temps than the surrounding areas, and considering we’ve spent the past four weekends at the New, we figured we could use a change of pace.  And it turned out to be awesome!

“I’m off!” Photo: Jaron Moss

Our plan for Day 1 was for CragDaddy to get a little bit of revenge on Blues Brothers 12a, a route that should’ve gone for him back in August, when he got some awesome photos thanks to Bryan Miller at Fixed Line Media, but unfortunately no send.  However, worthy lines are always worth coming back too, so I was happy to oblige CragDaddy, especially since I was interested in a route that shared the same starting crack – Coneheads #2 12c.  I didn’t really expect 12c to go for me in just one day, so when CragDaddy also walked away empty handed after the first day, it was pretty easy for us to talk ourselves into another Round at the Saturday Night Live wall for Day 2.  And guess what – we both sent!  CragDaddy on his very first attempt of the day (even hanging draws!), and me on my 3rd and final attempt of the day.  

Dinner with these three goofballs back at camp.

This send meant a lot more to me than most – while not my first of the grade, it’s been almost a year and a half since I’ve sent 12c.  And as I look back at the (small) handful of 12c ticks to my name, I think this one is on the harder end of that spectrum.  

I was interested in Coneheads for a couple of reasons.  First of all, thanks to Blues Brothers I knew I could do the start.  Secondly, I knew a female friend of mine was working it, and I’m always more inspired to get on stuff other ladies are doing.  Part of it is a girl power comraderie thing.  It’s also encouraging to know that a route goes for someone that doesn’t have a 7 foot wingspan…

Anyway, Coneheads is an awesome line, and it taught me a lot about the process of redpointing.  The line boasts a little bit of everything – a technical crack with a little bit of burl to it, a weird block move, some juggy overhang, some powerful, bouldery overhang, and a loooooong, exciting crux sequence to the chains on some of the funkiest crimp features I’ve ever seen.  Seriously, one of the key holds was a “thumbercling” using a quartz crystal that looked just like a cigarette had been glued to the wall.  

Enjoying the jugs while I can…

After my first burn I felt so trashed (even on toprope!) that I almost took it down.  Thanks to the encouragement of my crew, I pulled the rope and gave it another go, this time on the sharp end.  I have found that many times the most accurate gauge of “how close” you are on a route comes from the second go, as opposed to the first.  On the first burn, advantage always goes to the rock, because the climber is more or less coming in blind.  But on the second attempt, the playing field is a little more level, and you can get a better assessment of how you stack up against the rock now that you know what to expect – what the moves are like, what the falls are like, where the crux is, where the rests are, what the clipping stances are like, etc.  By the end of the day, I was delighted to have this route down to a two-hang, and to be able to link the entire 10 move crux sequence after a hang.  

On every subsequent burn until the send go (so attempts 2-5), I made subtle but significant changes to my beta to make it flow more efficiently.  The final move of the crux became much more doable while carrying a pump with the addition of 2 intermediate holds.  The bouldery, overhanging section just before the crux was made more efficient by using a different hand hold, and refining EXACTLY where my feet needed to be.  I was able to find two “not good, but hopefully good enough” rest stances that allowed me to lower my heart rate a bit and get a brief shake out.  And of course, taking a LOT of big whippers working the runout crux got rid of the fear factor, which allowed me to fully commit without hesitation when the time finally came.  

Same route, different day. CragDaddy on Blues Brothers, fabulous photo by Bryan Miller of Fixed Line Media

And amazingly enough, “that time” came on the last burn of the weekend.  I was feeling tired, but after attempt number 5 was a solid one hang, I knew I owed it to myself to try one more time.  Even though the crux lasts pretty much until you reach the chains, the hardest move for me always seemed to be the second hand move of the sequence, bumping my left hand from a sloping crimp to a shallow, and dismally sharp, quartz rail.  I had a feeling that if I could just stick that move, I’d have a good shot at a send.  

Not a bad view back at camp…

On my sending burn, I focused really hard on resting the correct amount of time (rush, and you don’t get enough back, linger too long, and you start getting pumped again!), and on making my footwork absolutely perfect setting up for the move that kept spitting me off.  I pasted my foot on the wall, hit the sloping crimp, looked down to hop my right foot up an inch higher…and made the bump successfully!  The rest of the sequence I was on auto-pilot and before I knew it, I was clipping chains on what is probably going to end up being the highlight of my fall season!  

I’d love to hear from everyone else – how’s your fall tick list coming?  For those of you in the Southeast, it looks like we might FINALLY be getting the good stuff from the weatherman soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Related Images:

[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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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.

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