Classics in Eldorado and a Cruiser Day in Clear Creek
Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of climbing two Eldorado classics, Rewritten and The Bastille crack, in one day. And then we did some more pitches on top of that for 15 total.
The next day was supposed to be chill in Clear Creek. We started later, ended sooner, and still got another 13 pitches.
A New Way to Post with OvrHD
This post is a little different so I’m going to have to explain a bit.
I’m beta testing for the people at OvrHD. It’s this awesome software that allows you to make your picture interactive as you mouse over hotspots.
The way I’ve used it here is incredibly basic and there are a ton more functions and uses I’m still exploring. But the way I’d like you to use it here is start at the top-left, work your way down, and then go over to the hotspots on the right.
If you just hover your mouse over the hotspot you will get a preview image representing the text inside. Once you click the preview picture or click the hotspot, it will take you inside so you can read the text and view additional pictures.
I’d love it if you could try this out and let me know how you like it.
Do you like this style or do you like the traditional posts?
Let me say this before the internet climbing police come with their torches and pitchforks:
This has nothing to do with ignorance of safety.
Using Ignorance to Climb Harder
I can count three times in my illustrious climbing career where being ignorant of my climb has helped me with a huge mental and/or physical block in my climbing.
Ignorance in Red Rocks
The first came when I was a budding 5.8 sport leader 3 years ago. That is, I could fearfully lead a 5.8 outside while I was utterly dominating 5.10’s and 11’s in the gym….on top rope. But nevertheless, I had enough experience clipping bolts, cleaning anchors, and rappeling that I decided to take the cheapest vacation possible to a place that had an extremely high concentration of modern, safely bolted sport routes: Red Rocks Canyon.
The long story is included in that trip report. The short story is that I roped up for what I thought was going to be a 5.8 or 5.7 and only later learned once I got down that it was actually a 5.10. Holy crap! I led a 5.10 outside and had NO idea. I went on to lead the next 3 or 4 or however many 5.10’s there were in that area. I knew I was strong enough at the time to climb 10’s but I most certainly didn’t have the balls. Talk about a breakthrough. Despite having many areas with a lot of 5.8’s to choose from, knowing I could now get on 10’s opened up a lot more options.
Ignorance in Indian Creek
I know more than a couple climbers that get stoked on on-sighting. Personally, I never understood that. I rarely, RARELY ever climb the same area, same crag, or same route more than once. (There are exceptions.) So pretty much everything I lead is on-sight. Well, not everything. I will repeat a sport route on lead, but if the movement doesn’t excite me, I’ll just TR it. I’m not too proud to admit that.
Anyways, on-sighting seems to be somewhat of a skill. A skill I’m halfway decent at when climbing within my grade and not pushing it. And that’s exactly how I did two of my first three lead climbs in Indian Creek.
I was tired of not leading. I was sick of flailing on top rope. I was gently being pushed by my partners to go for it. And my technique was getting much better. Even still, I had no intention of leading. But then I saw a line.
I had no idea what it was. I didn’t look at the guidebook. And I didn’t let anyone climbing with me look at the guidebook. I just saw a nice, hand-sized crack that had some actual crimps on the face if I needed them and low angle foot slabs. That was the first half of the climb. The second half was just a continuation of the beautiful hand-sized splitter crack but only went for about 40 feet.
It was calling me. It was saying that this was as good as any line that I’d find if I ever wanted to lead in the creek. So with absolutely no beta and far too many #1’s and #2’s on my rack, I led up my first climb in the creek without any falls. As it turns out, it was some unnamed 5.10, but the rating didn’t matter. The fact that I sacked up and did it, did.
And the second one went similarly. It was the next day, and I was feeling destroyed from all the climbs the day prior. We went to the Cat Wall and while other people were off looking for specific climbs, there was a line directly in front of me. Staring at me. Calling me. YELLING at me.
Once I racked up, someone started reading the beta from the guidebook. I insisted they shut-up. I didn’t want to know what I was getting myself into. Whether it was a 5.8, 5.10, or 5.12, I didn’t care. The line looked good, I wanted to do it, and worst case scenario, I had volunteers to clean it if I had to bail.
It had a short, thin fingers area at the bottom that took two C3’s before getting up to a huge ledge. From the ledge, you got one Camalot #1 way back in an off-width section that lasted for 15 feet. After that, it was another pristine hand-crack eating perfect 1’s, 2’s, and a .75 or two for 40 feet or so.
Once I got down, I finally looked at the book and it was another unnamed 5.10. But the badge of honor that came with this route is that everyone else that TR’d it exclaimed how it was such a heady lead, and that they wouldn’t have wanted to lead it. The thin fingers were thin. I think it was a 000 and 0 C3. The offwidth section was going to be a runout cheese grater or some broken bones if you fell.
But because I decided to remain ignorant from the start, I didn’t know of any of those dangers. I didn’t psych myself out. My choice once I got started, and especially once I got to that first ledge, was simply to finish the route.
Ignorance After a Break
Immediately after my breakthrough at The Creek, I went home to WI to build my van. I was gone for a month. I didn’t climb for a month.
I met up with a friend at a climbing gym in Minneapolis on the way back. I climbed 5 routes and didn’t flash any of them. I had at least one take, many times multiple takes, just to make it to the top. Not because of fear. Not because of strength. Not because of skill. But because of endurance. It was gone. All gone. When I say 5 routes, I mean the last route I did that night was a 5.8 jug fest, and I still needed a break.
So when I got the bug to go climbing last night, I was still a little hesitant. I knew I was the rope gun. I knew I would be the one leading every pitch. But how the hell was I going to do that when I was so terribly out of shape? That didn’t matter.
I needed to climb.
The plan was an easy 5.7 warm-up route, Mary’s Jugs, and then head over to the 4-pitch 5.10, The Broadmoor, in Big Thompson Canyon. However, after talking to the party just to our left, they mentioned the route immediately right of Mary’s Jugs was a little bit taller and had a few 5.10 moves at the top. I thought, “perfect! It’s another easy warm-up to get my lead-head on and test myself on some 5.10 stuff.”
Once again, I had no idea what that route actually went at or what the name of it was, but I could see up to the anchors and thought, “yup, that’s easy.” And it was, with what I thought were one or two 5.10 moves. As I was anchoring in to set a TR, I yelled down to my belayer that it kept going. She asked, “well, should we do it?” With no knowledge of what was above me, other than what I could see from my stance, I agreed.
What was seen and what was climbed were two entirely different things. It all looked good from the first belay stance, but once I got on route, everything that looked good turned into downward facing slopers and horrendous crystally side-pulls. I took two whippers on the same move and needed a couple more takes after the crux.
Nevertheless, I still made it to the top without “cheating” or aiding. It wasn’t until I got down that I realized I was either on Out of Time or Convolution. Mountain Project doesn’t do a good job of pointing it out in a picture or the route descriptions, but it was definitely one of those two and they both go at 5.11.
Had I known it was going to be a 5.11, I would have never tied in. I would have never tried. Because the highest grade I’ve ever led in my life outside was a 5.11- during one of my peak climbing cycles, much less coming off month long break and added weight from mom’s home cookin’. As they say, ignorance is bliss.
Ignorance in Free-Soloing
First off, I have nothing against free soloing. That’s your choice and your life. I might be sad and devastated and decide to quit climbing if you’re my best friend and kill yourself free soloing, but at least I’m the one that’s still alive.
At this point in my life, I won’t purposely walk up to a climb with the intent of free-soloing.
But sometimes it happens.
When I rope up for a 5.4 or 5.5, I have every intention of placing gear along the way. But sometimes it doesn’t take gear very well. Sometimes looking for a placement takes longer than just going. And I do have the ability to block out fear, to not think, and to just be lasered into my climbing and technique. I’m strong. I’m confident. It’s just one hold after another. And before I know it, I’m at the chains. Or I’ve run out 20′ between pieces. I accidentally free-soloed the first two pitches of Spire 2 of the Cathedral Spires in the Black Hills last summer.
But I never do it intentionally.
It’s a different headspace.
It’s starting a route and knowing you have absolutely no security. No way of getting yourself out of trouble (other than down-climbing, which is 3,904,3w4,034 times worse that up-climbing). You know that from the start, and you know you’re dead (or wished you’d be dead) if you fall after the first 40’ish feet.
When I accidentally free-solo, I at least have a rope. I have gear. I have a belayer. I have a way to rescue myself. It’s true, I may be running something out and then freak out and not have any placements. At that point my fate is the same as someone that purposely free-soloed if I can’t calm down and find my headspace again. But in my experience that hasn’t happened a lot. There is usually a place for gear. Or I’m smart enough to know that I have to place gear. But the main reason I don’t run into that problem is because I only do it when I know for a fact the climb is at least 3-4 grades or more below my level.
So if I do end up free-soloing something, it’s not because I’m ignorant. Nor do I believe a purposely free-soloed climb is ignorant. But as I’m climbing those lesser graded routes, I do choose to remain ignorant on the consequences should I accidentally fall.
Ignorance is NOT in Safety
As you can see, there are many instances in climbing where ignorance is bliss. Whether you’re holding yourself back mentally, or you’re just not willing to try climb a harder route because you don’t think you’re strong enough, not knowing, or remaining ignorant of that route’s grade can push you to the next level. Or give you the confidence you were lacking.
Where ignorance cannot be tolerated is in safety. Not just your safety, but your belayer’s as well.
If you have never climbed outside and just do internet research before setting top-rope anchors, that’s ignorant.
If your true limit is 5.10 and you try to on-sight a 5.10X route, that’s ignorant.
If you top-rope solo or lead solo with never having seen it done or talked to someone about it in great detail after already having a ton of regular experience, that’s ignorant.
Ignorance in these situations can easily get you killed. Or your belayer. And if you kill your belayer because of your ignorance, I guarantee you’d wish you were dead too.
So there is a time and place for ignorance in climbing. It can help you overcome your fears. It can give you the confidence to push through to the next grade. Or it can kill you.
Be safe and use it wisely.
It all started at 1:00am on Friday morning under a cloudless sky and a nearly full moon.
We were pulling into Indian Creek, and Shay wanted to climb an ultra classic route, Generic Crack, in the moonlight by headlamp. Why should I deny anybody else’s joy and life experiences just because I’m a little tired?
I changed my clothes, and we were quickly making our approach to the 120ft. splitter crack.
This is my 4th time at Indian creek. I vowed to never come back here after the first time. I hated it. I couldn’t do any climbs. I flailed on everything (on top rope). My friends made me climb things I knew I’d never complete.
I don’t remember the 2nd time, but it wasn’t anymore enjoyable.
But I didn’t hate it that time.
Mostly because my roommate came with and she’s pretty chill like me. She didn’t put me on anything I didn’t want to do.
It was painful. I still didn’t do any climbs cleanly, but at least I finally found fun in the misery that is Indian creek.
Cleaning Generic Crack after Shay’s successful and clean lead was the fourth time I’ve ventured to The Creek. This time, mostly voluntarily.
It was an amazing experience.
They were brutal.
I hated every minute of them.
Until I got down. And then it was euphoric.
I have 4 gobies on my hands that will now be with me for the rest of my life.
I felt like puking more than once.
The knuckles on my toes and my ankles were bruised and bloodied so bad from repeatedly jamming them in 2″ cracks and torquing them sideways in order to stand up, that it caused me to limp after each day.
It was then that I finally found peace with how miserable this place is to climb.
The Flow of Indian Creek
Everything about it is physically exhausting. It’s muscular. It’s technique. It’s endurance. It’s breathing.
Walking barefoot in the desert, powder-like sand and not caring how dirty my
feet were getting made me feel like a kid again.
Having 5.11+ leaders tell me how proud they were of me, repeatedly, made me feel like I was actually a real climber. Finally.
That pride and exhilaration I felt after each lead I did was incomparable to anything else I’ve climbed. Alpine is still risky and scary, but I do very casual routes. This was something different.
This was a badge of honor.
Because anyone that climbs in The Creek knows exactly what it takes to lead. Anyone that is still flailing on top rope thinks they’ll never be strong enough to lead. But then one day you do.
And all that pain and misery that came before, is completely erased by the peace that comes with jamming your bloody hands into a crack only lit by the moonlight at 2:00 in the morning.
The flow of the line should be smooth. It should be picturesque. It should look like moving art. It should feel like you are water flowing up the side of the rock.
Many times we get caught up in the numbers –
How hard did I climb?
Is a 5.9 worth my time?
I’m going to train until I can on-sight 5.12’s.
“Well, it’s an old school 5.8, so it really counts as a 5.10.”
And others it’s all about the climbing style –
I only climb overhanging jug routes.
You’re not really a gifted climber until you can do technical slab.
I never do sport. Bottom-up trad climbing is the way climbing was meant to be.
But what if you only cared about flow?
Would not every route give you the same satisfaction as increasing your grade?
Would you not finish the day feeling calm and relaxed and accomplished?
I admit, I have not been climbing long, and damn near took an entire 7 months off due to life. But I have found an appreciation for that Zen-like flow. Whether it’s a cruiser 5.8 with gastons and stemming moves or a vertical 5.11 with heel hooks or requiring cutting your feet loose, flow can be found at any grade.
The best days climbing are the days when all the routes seemingly flow. When you’re able to block out the rest of your life, your belayer, your fear, and you are simply climbing. Moving with the rock, in the direction it takes you, and dictating your movements. Like a delicate dance on the side of a wall.
It’s days like this I seek out. Whether it be sport climbing, trad climbing, alpine, or even bouldering, I want that flow. I need it. It is my release from this world. It is where I am free. It is where nothing else matters but completing the climb and coming back to the earth safely.
Without the flow of the line, my head is still elsewhere in the world. It is too scared of falling. It is thinking how awkward the moves are. It may be relating the terrible movement of the route with the struggles of everyday life.
Do I seek to become a stronger climber? Yes. Do I seek routes that push my limits? Yes. But above all else, I seek to forget my world. I seek to be present with the rock. And when I return to the ground, everything else has deeper meaning. The friends I’m climbing with. The belayer that holds my life in their hands. The burrito I’m going to eat later. The beer I’m probably already drinking. Everything is richer. Fuller. And allows everything else to make sense.
And that’s what flow does for me.
It enriches. It fulfills. It clarifies. It cleanses.
Lesbiup front about this post –
I’ve fallen off the adventure/fitness/healthy/active/climbing/hiking/biking everything bandwagon.
You’re no doubt sick of hearing me complain about being gone for 2.5 months for work, but furreal, it’s not an insignificant amount of time. During that time, I worked substantially longer days and for 6 days/week. If I were brainwashed, I certainly could have made myself work out or run or do something while I was away, but I live in the real world and I was tired. I didn’t work out. Call me human.
Once I finally got home, I immediately started working on the van (another topic you might be sick of seeing?) into the late hours of the night. It went like, work til 4pm, come home to change clothes, go work on the van until 9:30-10:30, come back home and go to bed. And if you hadn’t noticed, I’ve picked up the pace on writing more consistently. That takes time and energy too. Again – real world, didn’t feel like forcing workouts.
BUT I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE CUZ I FEEL GROSS AND NOW I’VE FINALLY STOPPED MAKING EXCUSES!
I heard about this program from my roommate that read about it on T-Nation. They called it the PSL program…or something like that. It stands for Push-ups/Squats/Lunges.
The concept is that you do body weight PSLs every single day in conjunction with your normal training routine. If your main training regimen is in the morning, you do PSL in the evening, and vice versa. (I’ll science this up in a bit.) You start Day 1 by establishing a baseline number of reps that you can do in a single set, non-stop, of your weakest movement. Given these 3 movements, it’s likely to be push-ups. Every day thereafter, you add one more rep to each movement. Something like
Day 1: (baseline is 3 reps) 3 push-ups, 3 squats, 3 lunges (per leg)
Day 2: 4 push-ups, 4 squats, 4 lunges
Once you get into the higher rep range and can no longer complete all your reps in a single set, you start splitting things up into multiple sets and done in circuit fashion. That is, if you’re supposed to do 7 reps on a given day, but you can’t do 7 in a row, you would do something like this, all in a row, with no rests in-between:
Day 5: 4 push-ups, 4 squats, 4 lunges, 3 push-ups, 3 squats, 3 lunges
Day 6: 4 push-ups, 4 squats, 4 lunges, 4 push-ups, 4 squats, 4 lunges
Physiologically speaking, most body weight movements are not very invasive. That is, they don’t stress your tissues or nervous system like a weighted bench press, deadlift, or squat until you get into very high reps or very advanced movements. This is perfect for beginners or people that have been on a long break. It re-maps the tissues back into the form required to move your joints through these ranges of motion (you’ve likely been sedentary while not exercising) while not stressing anything so much that you have to take a day off.
For intermediate and advanced people, this is still a great idea for two reasons:
- It’s a form of active mobility, which has actually been shown to speed up recovery time between training sessions (as opposed to static stretching and massage)
- It’s another workout on the day, bringing you closer and closer to your goals, with very little “cost” to your main workout objectives (it shouldn’t negatively affect your main workouts or recovery).
- (BONUS TIP, OK?!?!) It increases your total work capacity over time.
So if this isn’t the workout that’s going to give you the body of a Greek Goddess, what’s the point?
Well, as I said, it’s a component of becoming a Goddess, so there’s that. But there’s also the psychological aspect. The part that we want to hack.
If you’re an intermediate or advanced, this part isn’t for you. You can skip down to the next heading. For everyone else THIS IS WHY YOU SHOULD BE READING THIS POST!!
Starting something with the intent of making it a habit is often the hardest part. You want to read Atlas Shrugged (the longest book I’m aware of)? Start with Page 1 and read every day. You want to run a marathon? Start with a mile. Starting and staying consistent is the hardest part of forming any habit.
By starting slow and starting with consistency, you’re teaching yourself that working out is fun. You’re teaching yourself that working out is easy. You’re teaching yourself, “hey, this ain’t so bad.” Before you know it, it will be a habit, it will be something you look forward to, and being healthy and active will just become your natural lifestyle.
Yes, starting out with 4 push-ups, squats and lunges is potentially embarrassing, but look at the big picture. If you stick with it, look at where you’ll be in a month, two months, three months. Just after the first month, 35 push-ups is a helluva lot more than 4 (and still really not that invasive for most active people).
My Take on a Better Daily Workout
Of course, if I didn’t give you my take on this, I might as well have just thrown a link up to T-nation and let you read that. But I think there’s a better way. One that you might not think of because it’s largely counter to what you read from “top trainers” on the internet.
It starts with Day 1. On Day 1, I do not suggest you go to failure while establishing your baseline. I don’t want you to go to the point where you’re struggling and twisting and contorting and making faces like you’re going to poop in order to finish the rep. I want you stop much sooner than that. In fact, I want you to stop as soon as it feels more difficult than the very first rep. Yup, that’s your baseline.
This goes for once you start splitting your sets into circuits too. Once you get up to 20’some reps, you’ll find all kinds of different ways to split up your sets. And that’s ok. I want you to stop any given set and move on to the next movement as soon as one rep feels more difficult than the first one of that set. Even if that means you do 10 sets of 2 reps, I still want you to adhere to stopping early, making it easy, and finishing the entire thing without a break. Whether you do 1×20, 2×10, 5×4, or 10×2, the total amount of reps and work that you’ve done is the same.
That’s going to allow all those psychological hacks I mentioned to stick with you. People are lazy. I’m lazy. Actually, I’m the laziest. I hate doing stuff that’s hard, and I really enjoy moving when moving is fun and easy. If I already know that the reps at the end of my set(s) are going to be hard, I don’t want to do it. It’s discouraging. So I make sure it’s easy.
Since this is my primary workout for the day while juggling writing, #VanLife, work, life, and freelance, I’ve added more movements than just PSLs. I’m doing pull-ups, air squats, push-ups, lunges, shoulder press with a 16kg kettlebell, ab roll-outs, and hanging knee raises.
My limiting movement is the shoulder press, and I started my baseline with 4. Yup, that’s right. I used to be able to shoulder press my entire body weight overhead, but I can now only press a 16kg kettlebell 4 times. Leave your ego at the door, folks.
I’m at Day 3 and while 6 reps is still pathetic, I’m already feeling better about myself. Not because I’m proud of where I’m at, and absolutely there’s no visible changes yet, but proud that I’m actually moving again, and proud of where I’m going to end up.
Now it’s your turn. I challenge you to pick 3-5 body weight movements, get a baseline, and do this program for as long as you can. Let me know your results, how long you made it, and why you stopped. Ready, GO!
One of my favorite phrases in the world is words mean things. And as such, some words in the climbing and training world are confusing. This was apparent when someone downloaded my climbing e-book and told me they thought they liked what I had to say, but didn’t understand what the heck I was talking about sometimes.
That does not a good read make.
There’s yet another something wrong with climbing terms: most of us don’t know all of them or their meaning. So then we tend to make up our own meanings or mix and match the definitions with the different words. Somebody’s red point is my flash. A pink point could also be a send? I don’t know. There’s so many ‘points’ that I don’t know or care.
So, just so that we’re all on the same page when reading this website or the e-book, we’ll all know what I’m talking about, mkay?
In climbing, when your body position forces your weight shifted all to one side and reaching for your next hold (hand or foot) causes an uncontrollable swing to the opposite side. Basically, you swing open like someone shoving a barn door. (Flagging a hand or foot can sometimes prevent this.)
When someone just starts (or re-starts) a training program, they experience beginner’s gains. This is the rapid progression you see within the first 4 weeks. When going from a completely untrained state to a ‘doing something’ state, your body adapts very quickly. Once the training becomes repetitive and the skills have been mastered, the body becomes very efficient at performing those movements and the measurable gains slow down.
When you know your bodyweight is out of position and reaching for the next hold may cause you to barn door, it is sometimes possible to extend a hand or foot onto the wall in the direction you’re going to swing. This can only be done if the free appendage to that side is non-loading bearing. That is, if you know you’re going to swing to the right as soon as you let go with your right hand, you may stick your right foot out to the right to prevent this. This can only be done if you’re right foot is not essential to staying on the wall (perhaps it’s your only foot on the wall and your left foot is just dangling).
Grades are the scales and systems we use to determine how difficult a climb is.
For rope climbing in America, we follow the Yosemite Decimal System. It starts at 5.0 and currently goes up to 5.15, 5.0 being the easiest and 5.15 being impossible for mortals. From 5.0 to 5.9, routes can be subdivided by difficulty at each number by a + or – sign, 5.9+ is harder than a straight up 5.9. Above that, 5.10-5.15, difficulty is subdivided by attaching a letter (a-d) to the end of it. A 5.10a is easier than a 5.10d. To make things a little more confusing, some people have decided to start dropping the a-d designation and just using + or – all the way up to the 5.11s (from what I’ve seen). Got it? Good. Don’t worry, it takes about a week in a climbing gym to figure this all out. It’s really not that complicated.
For bouldering in America, we primarily use the Hueco Scale. These routes start with the letter V and are followed by a number, V0-V16. Once again, there may be a + or – attached to it, but at least there’s no additional letters.
Line could mean two different things, but the context surrounding its use makes it really easy to differentiate.
Line is sometimes interchanged with rope. Climbing rope/climbing line. Toss the rope/toss the line. Get it?
Line, more frequently, means the route you’re going to climb. The two words are synonymous.
Cracks that are larger than a balled up fist but smaller than a chimney (in which you can fit your whole body into and use your legs and feet to press your back against the opposite wall). It’s also the most brutal type of climbing. I’m not sure it’s actually climbing. It’s more like pushing. Or something.
This is your path up the rock (or mountain). Someone else before you climbed the very face in front of you and determined that’s how to get to the top. You can find route descriptions (so you know where to go and how to protect yourself) in guidebooks and online. (Remember, route and line mean the same thing.)
Long distance between bolts or protection placements. In my world, any distance more than 6ft. between protection is considered run out. Some are scarier than others.
Starting at the bottom of your pitch and climbing all the way to the end of your pitch without a fall or a ‘take’ (rest) from your belayer. You can take a break under your own strength, but you can’t hang on the rope. (This is the David Sandel definition. The term flash may also mean the same thing.)
Plastering your hand or foot (usually a foot) against a flat, smooth, vertical wall and relying on friction to make it stick as you stand up and put weight on it.
Now, that’s a good start, but that’s nowhere near all of the. What other major terms am I forgetting? What’s a climbing term you always hear but you don’t know what it means? Let me know down in the comments or send me an email privately.
I was climbing at a famous off-width crag in Wyoming by the name of Vedauwoo (Ever heard of it? You should, I wrote about climbing in Vedauwoo with Pamela Shanti Pack last year.), and something bizarre happened. I only sent two routes all weekend, and it was arguably some of the most fun I’ve ever had at a crag.
What you need to know about me is that I hate failing on a route (that is, not reaching the top of the climb). I don’t really believe in projecting, and my happiness/amount of fun I have climbing is largely dependent on my ability to send. You may or may not agree with that, but that’s the way it is and I’m ok with it.
Momma’s Got a Sqeeze Box
There were some people warming up on Worm drive, a 5.11 off-width, and Shay decided to put up some 5.9 hand crack. I looked at Derek and said, “welp, I guess we better go set that squeeze chimney.” We had no idea what it went at, but Danny, a fellow Team Evolv climber, said, “oh that one’s fun!” It didn’t look so bad from the ground, and hell, we all know what they say about chimneys, right? You can’t fall out of them. (Once we got back to civilization, I looked up that route. It was Momma’s Got a Sqeeze Box, 5.10a.)
We were both excited and not excited to lead it, but it was bolted and Derek stepped up. He made the first two bolts seem pretty easy as it is a lot wider down at the bottom. It was a little tighter, and not quite as effortless up to the 3rd bolt. Above the 3rd bolt, the squeeze chimney turns into a legit off-width. This was Derek’s first time off-width’ing, and he wasn’t quite ready to step out on lead. Queue me…
I have climbed exactly two (2) more off-widths in my life than Derek. I guess that made me the more experienced one of the two, and I offered to finish the route. What I would soon find out is that the the first two bolts were not easy, even on top rope. The size of the crack between bolts 2 and 3 was perfect for me for a bomber chicken wing. And then I was leading an off-width.
My chicken wing was a little less secure because it kept getting tighter, but still too big for a comfy leg bar or a heel-toe. If it weren’t for the still mostly great chicken wing, the remembrance of the palm down technique, and the hope my Evolv Trax rubber was going to stick, I don’t think I would have made it. Emphasis on trusting my rubber.
Once I got to bolt #4, I found a much needed rest. I hung out a bit, looked up, and noticed it didn’t get any easier. The crack was now too small for a chicken wing, and even though I could get a decent arm bar, there was absolutely nothing else for my left hand or either feet. That was, until…I saw some crimps. Crimps? On the face of an off-width? That felt like razor blades biting into my frozen fingers (it was only about 55 degrees outside)? I tried everything I thought I knew, but a lead fall at this point would be pretty disastrous. You’d end up business side first right into the corner of the crack. Plus, I was so intimate with that crack at this point, I didn’t want to leave. You can’t fall out of a chimney, but you can lead fall off a face climb. My head wasn’t in it, I was pretty physically cashed, and my fingers were much too cold for those razor-edged crimps. FACK!!!!! Queue Shay…
At this point, Shay had already led a route and flailed her way up Worm Drive. But if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s guilting Shay. She deserves it. And that’s all you need to know. Getting back to the story – she also makes her way up to the 4th bolt. Then, with a little hesitation and a lot of nervous breathing, she pulls the crimps, steps out of the crack, and makes it to the anchors. Ugh. Now I have to do it on top rope. Later. After I steal her little creature. (Click for higher res)
5.9 Hand Crack
This climb isn’t on Mountain Project, and Danny said it was a 5.9 so I’m just going with it.
There wasn’t much to say about this climb. Other than the fact it was the most physical 5.9 crack I’ve ever climbed. I had pretty solid hands and fists the entire way up, but where there wasn’t, there was a corresponding lack of foot holds as well. And this crack was on an inside corner so it wasn’t always possible to get both feet in.
I’m not the greatest crack climber out there so I’m sure this didn’t have to be as physical as it was, but for me, it felt like I just went a couple rounds with my teenage nephews (plural). Shay also said it was a brute of a climb and we agreed it’s somewhere in the low 2-star range. That made me feel slightly more justified in my struggle.
Back to Momma’s
I’ll save all the details and just pick up where I left off. Now that I knew the crimps were the key to success, and I didn’t have the fear of a lead fall, I kinda made that crux my b*tch. Don’t worry, the razor crimps still got me, and I immediately hated myself for not finishing the lead.
By this time, the rope was off Worm Drive, and I never had a chance to flail or see if I could get off the ground (the crux of the climb). After my 2.625 climbs for the day, I was absolutely DONE so it didn’t hurt my feelings I didn’t get a chance to climb the hardest route of the day.
Day 2: I’m bouldering?
David’s Climbing Axiom #2: I don’t boulder.
However, just about every single muscle in my body was sore, not to mention the contact bruises that come with inserting yourself into granite cracks. So when Danny invited us to boulder with him, I was at a crossroads. On one hand, I don’t boulder (much less off-width boulder). On the other, flailing and struggling for 100′ is a lot more work than flailing and struggling for 15′. I chose….bouldering. It seemed physically less horrible.
First up was Life Without Parole, a V4 requiring an inversion, which I’ve never done before either. I cannot explain to you the mind-f*ck you go through the first time you trust cammed feet in an off-width crack and cut your hands loose, leaving your head to hit first should your feet fail. Thank goodness we were only 8″ off the ground.
I was just really happy I could invert on my first try. The next couple were spent trying to get my feet deeper and higher into the crack. Then pulling out and switching my right foot to cam the other direction. And the final foot trick once I could switch my right foot, was pulling my left foot out and changing it to a toe-hook at the back of the crack. After all of that (which actually doesn’t take long if you’re good at it), you have to do one MASSIVE sit-up to get a stacked fist near your right foot. I got to this point one times but couldn’t pull the move. It was so much fun though!
After Life Without Parole, we went deeper into The Dungeon for Escape Tunnel, V5. Once again, this climb starts only about 2.5′ off the ground and requires an inversion. I got that the first time again and cleared my head (which is the first mini-crux). And that was as far as I made it on that climb. To be fair, it was starting to get dark and stormy, other people wanted to try, and there was still one more tortuous problem left.
The Warden, V9. Funnest. Climb. Ever!!
It starts with a squeeze chimney that is just the right amount of awkward to make you question how to get off the ground. Once you get up high enough, you hit a solid, vertical chicken wing and then start your inversion. This was very heady as your….head….is about 3′ off the ground and there’s not really any space to tuck and roll should you fall out. There’s not really much space for your spotter(s) to do any good either. (P.S. 3′, head first, feels more like 10′.)
Now, the trick of this part is to do a controlled lower via double-inverted chicken wing and wriggle your way out of the crack (horizontally). I made it this far, but after being upside down for what felt like 5 min., I kinda gave up. I think I could have made it out to the pivot at least, but that seemed like too much effort.
The thing about Off-Widths
So that was that. After The Warden, the skies opened up, lightning was striking, thunder was rolling, and we headed into Laramie for burgers and beers. All in all, I completed 2.625 routes the entire weekend and attempted 6. Here’s the thing about off-widths…
But they suck in a good way.
And no one expects you to be good at them. Ever.
If you flash, red point, pink point, brown point, on-site, (I don’t even know what all of those things mean, I just hear climbers saying them sometimes) or just ‘send’ an off-width, everyone is completely stoked for you. But it doesn’t appear to be the norm.
The norm appears to be more like, “well, shit, I guess I have to go climb this. I want to, but I really don’t, but I guess I will.” Flailing, aiding, top-roping, swearing, insults, and talking sh*t are all encouraged. Laughing at your own pain and suffering (or others’) is what gets you through the climb. No one seems to mind if you can only do 2 or 3 climbs in a day. There seems to be a lot less judgement if you decide you don’t want to climb at all the day after.
The climbs are generally slower which leads to more downtime for you and your belayer to joke around (safety first!). If there’s an audience, there tends to be a little back and forth with some small encouragement mixed in.
Crag beer and crag whiskey are almost required. I think it’s to numb the pain you’re about to put yourself through and/or forget the pain you just felt.
All in all, off-width climbing feels a lot like a bonding over misery. But with the right people, it’s incredibly fun. No expectations. No disappointments. Just a lot of joking around, smiling faces, a little bit of climbing, lots of fear, and whiskey.
For more (and MUCH better) photos, check out Shay’s post from this weekend.