If you’ve been following me at all on social media, you’ve probably seen videos of me taking whippers on various parts of this beast of a rock climb at the New River Gorge. While this route has taught me so much about the art of projecting as well as myself as a climber, I was holding off on posting about it until I was for sure done with it for the season. With the arrival of snow across the mountainous areas of the East Cost, fall sport climbing season has officially ended for me. Unfortunately (spoiler alert), it did NOT end in a send for me. However the lessons I’ve learned while working this route fortunately don’t have me walking away completely empty-handed.
Compared to how long professional climbers spend on their projects, the time I’ve invested in Pudd’s this fall is really quite miniscule (ie, Tommy Caldwell spending 7 years on the Dawn Wall!) But for someone like myself who rarely spends more than 8 tries on any one route, 14 tries over the course of 5 days this fall is significant! While the physical progress is what kept me coming back for more on it, it was the mental progress that feels like the most valuable takeaway. Here’s how it all played out…
Day 1. 10/3
Attempts 1-3: Pudd’s Pretty Dress has been on my radar since watching 2 guys on it back in 2007, as I was slowly but surely working my way through the nearby moderate slabs (the same slabs my son has been slowly but surely working his way through this fall!) I remember being amazed at watching them casually taking giant whippers, when I had barely taken any lead falls at all. So despite stick clipping almost every bolt on my first attempt, and top-roping the other 2 attempts that day, I was thrilled to be able to not only get up the route, but actually do all the moves.
Day 2. 10/17
Attempt 4: Still stick-clipping my way through most of the bolts. The sequences are long, and many of the bolts have clipping stances at the knees, which makes the sequences seem even longer.
Attempt 5: Still feeling pretty intimidated, so I opted to toprope…again. It took 5 hangs to get to the top, but the beta for each sequence was starting to flow a little bit better.
Attempt 6: After some encouragement from CragDaddy, I managed to get up the route on lead. It wasn’t pretty. Out of 10 bolts, I only linked the first 4. Bolts 9 and 10 were pretty exciting, featuring a combination of big falls, draw-grabbing, and foot popping with a bunch of rope out, but I eventually got to the top (video footage of shenanigans found here.) I felt especially good about clipping bolts 3 and 7, as both of those sections had been pretty intimidating for me. I left this day feeling proud of my progress, but also feeling a little bit in over my head. I thought it would be best to leave it alone and focus on something easier.
Day 3. 11/1
Attempt 7: Somehow I got talked into trying this again. I went bolt to bolt to get draws in, but only had to stick clip bolts 7, 9, and 10. .
Attempt 8: The mental aspect of this route made it too hard to pass up a free toprope, but at this point I’m starting to feel a little stupid for continuing to resort to toproping this deep into the process. However, I did make the best links yet – a 4 hang, with a link from the ground to just above bolt 6.
Attempt 9: Feeling pretty tired, and frustrated that I only have stamina to get in a couple of good burns in per day. Usually by the time my beta feels this solid, I’m close to sending, but I just can’t get seem to get this pump under control (not to mention I’ve yet to even get up it on lead without some sort of shenanigans!) The gap between where I was currently at, and where I needed to be seemed insurmountable in the remaining time left in the season, and I decided to cut my losses and walk away.
The next week we changed things up and went to the Red, followed by a weekend at the New that did NOT include Pudd’s. It was a refreshing change of pace, and allowed me to capitalize on the fitness I’d been unknowingly gaining from spending so much time on an enduro 12d. Three 12b’s went down, and my confidence soared. As the end of the season approached, I decided I owed it to myself to get on Pudd’s one more time, give it hell, and see where things stood as a milestone looking ahead to 2021.
Day 4. 11/21
Attempt 10: CragDaddy generously volunteered to hang draws for me, so as not to “waste” a burn just getting draws in. And not only did I get to the top on lead without grabbing draws or stick clipping through anything, but I also managed a new high point, AND for the first time did the crux first try! I linked all the way to right below bolt 8, which meant I made it through the heady sequence to bolt 7 from the ground! I had asked CragDaddy to hang a really long draw in addition to the short one, in case I got scared and wanted to clip early. (I did. Then I also clipped the short one when I got to the better stance where I’m clipping at my knees.) I also got some good rest beta sorted – the whole thing felt a lot more doable when I realized I could stay at the undercling/hand jam rest at bolt 5 for 2-3 minutes and get almost everything back.
Attempt 11: Consensus from the crew (CragDaddy, our friend Greg, and myself) was that I shouldn’t be wasting energy by clipping twice at bolt 7. So this time I clipped the “scared” extended draw, but did not stop to clip the short one…I then fell at the exact same spot as on my first go, and in mid-air wished I had chosen the short draw instead I pulled back on, got bolt 8 clipped, then took a long rest before then taking it to the top (so allllllmost a one hang, sans 2 moves or so.) This was shocking to me, as it was the first time I’d ever linked any of the last bolts together.
Attempt 12: This time I sacked up and ignored the super extended draw and clipped the short one. Again, fell at the same spot, but this time I felt my hand catch the hold I was going for juuuust as I was falling away.
This session was the first time I actually felt like this route was something within my ability to send, and I stalked the weather all week to see if I’d get a chance to try again. It’s potentially important to note that this (Thanksgiving) week was spent entirely with family, and featured lots of eating, and no training except for walking and pickle ball Seriously, a LOT of pickle ball. We may or may not have been sore…
Day 5. 11/29
I hiked in thinking today could actually be the day. With rain and snow in the forecast the next week, and Christmas just a few weeks away, I knew this was for sure the last chance. CragDaddy was again gracious enough to hang draws.
Attempt 13: This go felt amazing. I plowed through the high point I’d fallen at 3x the previous week, and despite feeling slightly alarmed at how the “just okay” rest stance felt, was able to at least get enough shakes to slow my breathing down a bit before feeling like I had to move. The holds in the crux felt farther apart than they usually do (my core was obviously getting tired), but I executed the beta I knew worked and made it through to bolt 9. The only thing left was a big deadpoint off an undercling to a sloping knob, followed by a couple more hand moves before reaching the good rest at bolt 10. In previous sessions, the high feet required for this move caused my forearms to melt, and I had tried many, many other options for this section before finally deciding the undercling was in fact “the way.” But this time around, my forearms felt okay! I got the feet set, launched, but hit the knob a little too low. When I tried to regrip, I fell. I pulled right back on and the nerve-wrackingly delicate slab finish went off without a hitch, leaving me with a very solid one hang at the last bolt. I was thrilled!
Attempt 14: Historically, my best go of the day had always been the 2nd one, so I was feeling pretty optimistic about my chances. But apparently it was not to be. Despite resting a good long while before hopping back on, I felt tired the minute I started climbing. Good news is that I still made it through the high point from the previous week. Bad news is the “just okay” rest felt pretty darn bad. I made a valiant attempt at the crux, and almost got out of it before falling going to the clipping hold at bolt 9, 3 moves lower than the previous attempt. I felt exhausted and daylight was getting scarce, so I decided it was best to go ahead and take it down instead of trying a third time that day.
So that was that. Am I disappointed? Yes, a little bit. It always seems like fall season ends so abruptly, and it’s hard ending knowing I could do it if I had JUST ONE MORE DAY!!!! That said, my body needs a break. The past couple of weeks I have struggled with recovery between weekend trips, but I’ve been holding on for this one route. Now that the weather window has closed, it’s a bit of a relief to walk away feeling proud of my efforts. And of course this route will still be there in the spring! Looking back, I’ve noticed that winter training tends to go better when I still have routes left unsent from the fall. It lights a fire under me that is far more motivating than sending “all the things.” But first….bring on all the Christmas movies, cookies, and pie!!!!!!