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.
Sunday morning we warmed up and went for our first clean, "red-point" attempt. Alex went first, but lost the sequence just before attaining a decent stance before the crux. Suck in belly, deliberately set finger tips on the high sharp edge. He finished his burn after testing a few ideas, then it was my turn.
I arrived at the good stance breathing hard, but in control. After letting my heart slow a few beats, I resumed and was soon at the crux. Pull hard on high edge, push hard with right toe, slowly reach for two finger pocket far to the right. I pulled on a high edge, pushed hard with my toe and tried to slowly reach for a pocket, but I felt my body tension flag so I hurried into a desperate stab. I blew it.
The "beta," or information on how to negotiate the route, played clear in my head, on repeat like a song stuck in my head. With one more solid try we'd have a good chance, but we had both worn through to the last dermis on our finger tips and consumed the dregs of our energy.
Now, back at home, I have an entire route with around 62 nuance-packed moves to dwell upon. Drop left hand to gaston, lower hips and reset right hand deeper into the far right pocket. Sitting in a meeting, I achieve focus in bursts, as needed, and then lapse to the replay, ingraining myriad details from recollection to some deeper level. Lock-off left arm on gaston, match left foot to right on ledge, high-step to the pencil-width crimp, keep core tight. At least that's what I imagine is going on. For as much time as I have lived upon those 80' of rock, I should be able to climb it blindfolded when we return.
Crank on far right pocket, rock up on pencil-width crimp, pull left hand on high edge, rock up higher, keep the core tight, reach beyond the high edge, reach harder, trust that it's good, get it, get the jug...