Wednesday, August 31, 2011

First "Project"

Walk right foot up to notch in rail above left foot.  Lean back and high-step to good hold above left hand.   Rock up on left toe and undercling blocky knob...

When you climb a hard route, the crux sequence will often replay in your head for days after the effort. The replays can be so vivid that your limbs flex and tense in tune to the memory.  Quickly get comfortable on bad right undercling and bicycle right foot, left, then right onto the ledge.  It's really bad when you find yourself reaching for an absent chalk bag at your waist.

Since I usually pick routes I have a good chance of climbing "onsight," or first-try, the hard sections are short and manageable relative to my ability.  Drop hips, rock over and sit on right heel, maintain balance with two fingers on the pencil-width crimp to the right.  So the replays that echo in mind are usually short.

But this past weekend at the New River Gorge, Alex and I sought a "project," or a route at the edge of our ability that we'd only be able to complete if we relaxed our usual style constraints.  We would hang on the rope to inspect the route.  Slow the heart rate, clip the rope.  We would brush and clean the holds.  Slow the heart rate, get ready for the crux.  We would experiment with alternate sequences and rehearse every inch.

We chose a four star route called Jesus and Tequila, rated 5.12b, which the guide says requires all of the tricks in the book.  Go, no stopping.  You start by stepping onto the wall from a 10' boulder, then launch into powerful, overhanging moves on an arete, a technical and devious face through the crux, and then some long throws to a final roof crux.  Match left hand to pencil-width crimp, cross left foot over right on ledge.  

We spent hours on Saturday wrestling our way to reach the cruxes of the route.  Lean right and catch gaston with thumb.  Then we spent hours experimenting with different formulas to get through them, finding answers to the last problems just as darkness fell.  Peek down and place pointed right toe on low edge.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ha Long has it been since I've had the wind knocked out of me like that?

The routes we'd done so far had been easy.  And for the moment I was happy with how high I'd coaxed myself to climb and release from the wall.  Next I'd back off on the height a little and try a backflip.  It should be a simple hop, crunch, tap the knees and layout for a graceful entry.

Deep water soloing in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
I surveyed the jungle-topped limestone karsts that enclosed our section of the bay, peered down at the dark green water below and buzzed from the morning's dose of potent Vietnamese coffee.  Before my resolve could shake, I was off.  I hopped, crunched, tapped my knees and arched back into a perfect layout, but where I expected the now familiar plunging sensation there was nothing.  I felt sick to find myself looking at the sky again.  This was going to hurt.

In the darkness under water, my mind raced through what I knew to be the worst cases for deep water solo injuries. Broken back?  Ribs?  Lung collapse?  I need to be able swim or I'm done.  Don't gasp.  Wait.

When my face cleared the salty water I heard an animal's drawn-out bray escape my clenched torso.  Did the trauma knock me into some base survival mode?  Maybe this is the wind knocked out of me like back when I was a kid.  Fitting that I should sound like a jackass.

Amid the stinging numbness from my backside, the nauseating ache from my organs, and the almost-popped feeling from my lungs, I found that I could tread water just fine.  That's a good sign.  Really good.

The sound of my back slapping the water had attracted the attention of our basket boat around the corner.  Do I get them to come fast, do I need to be saved?  Or do I let them come slowly while I regain my dignity?

I tried to look nonchalant and assured myself that I was indeed treading water with no problem.  If I can do the heel hook and mantle to get onto the boat I'm going to be fine.

Toenails stained a lovely orange from my climbing slippers.
I hooked, mantled and rolled onto the deck of our dinghy of a boat.  I faced the driver and guide, who could speak no english.  How do you say, "I was trying to do something cool" in Vietnamese?