Friday, September 23, 2011

Alpine Starts and Classic Climbs

...Just not in the same place.

That's the magic of the Front Range. Too much ice on the route? Retreat to Eldo. Heavy rain? Down to Eldo. Numb toes? Eldo. High winds? Eldo. Tired? Eldo.

No wonder there are so many accidents there.

On the menu were Pervertical Santuary (IV 5.11a), Syke's Sickle (III 5.9+), The Barb (III 5.10-), and Directissima (III 5.10b). Pervertical had us excited for its hard climbing and prime setting. Syke's won over our aesthetic sense with its direct line up the center of a gorgeous piece of rock, but it left some technical challenge to be desired. With The Barb next door on the same piece of rock representing a classic 5.10, maybe we could ride perfect weather into a link-up. Directissima would be a shorter day option and offer a foray into wide crack climbing. Thus, objectives were formed.
Micah topping out Yellow Spur on its immaculate knife edge
Weather and success would dictate our selections. For Saturday, with a marginal forecast (30-40% chance of precipitation), we would try the least committing: Syke's with The Barb link-up option if time permitted and weather cleared. We made this decision on Friday after my intro to Eldorado Canyon, first the mega-classic Yellow Spur (5.9 6 pitches) and then a bonus, Calypso/Raggae (5.6/5.8, 2 pitches). I took the 5.10 variations on P1 and P5 on YS (the first one I recommend, second one I don't) and smiled widely with the excellent climbing and abundant stopper placements. In preparation for an early start, we left Eldo by 6pm for RMNP. A few campground shinanigans later we were racked and inflating pads.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

First Send

We were finally there, atop the Winnebago-sized boulder at the base of the route, heads fallen back, walking our eyes through the moves up the orange grey wall, reconciling the untold hours of visualization with reality.

It had been three weeks since our last trip to the New River Gorge in West Virginia.  Three weeks of ruminating on every move on Jesus and Tequila, our First "Project."  Three weeks relishing the prospect of unlocking a new level in our climbing.  Now we were back, with perfect Fall weather.

I gripped the stone and began my warm-up.  The start felt just as I remembered.  Then the crux.  I felt more controlled in the crux than ever and became giddy.  I was certain my hopes were about to come true.

I finished and put Alex on belay.

Alex worked the first part and refined how he'd clip the second draw.  Then he worked the crux.


There was an eerie, "Cheep! Cheep!" that made Alex spring from the good stance and fall onto the rope.

"There's a bat in the slot of the good rest!"

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Jesus, Tequila, and Guilt

A climber falls from the crux on Jesus and
Tequila. Photo from MountainProject.
It’s never spoken of in polite conversation at the crag or the gym, but there isn’t a climber on the planet who hasn’t felt it at least once. It’s a terrible, invidious feeling, and it usually starts on the approach hike, or when your partner is tying in at the base of a route. At first it’s easy to deny it; to convince yourself that you aren’t really feeling it. But then, after your partner makes the opening moves look easy and is breathing calmly at the rest jug below the crux, you can no longer plead ignorance. Your guilt starts to overwhelm you while you await his fall with gleeful anticipation as he strains through the crux sequence. But the fall never comes. Immediately, you start to hate yourself for even letting these thoughts creep in, in the first place. After all, he’s through the crux, the send is now in the bag, and you’ve started the process of acceptance. If it’s really bad, you might even start thinking up some outlandish celebratory gesture -- emitting a high-pitched bellow or maybe even playing air guitar while you lower your victorious partner, using the brake strand as a whammy bar. What better way to assure your partner that you’re psyched for his send than to overcompensate by making a total idiot out of yourself? But then, out of nowhere, you sense hesitation. You look up to see your partner’s legs wobbling as he tries to pull the final moves. Could it be? Is he coming off? You’ve seen him make these last moves a dozen times without incident on prior attempts, but lo, there he is peeling off the rock. Your jaw drops as he sails through the air. “Noooooooo!” The echo of his lament snaps you out of your disbelief as you’re yanked upwards by the rope. Thank god for the GriGri. Not knowing what to feel, you lower your partner off in stunned silence. The look of disappointment in his eyes reminds you that a deep, dark part of you was secretly rooting for this only a few minutes earlier, and you feel the guilt creep in again, stronger than ever. You despise yourself, but at the same time, you’re relieved. The pressure’s off.

Although slightly exaggerated, this is more or less the thought process that went through my mind as Dan tied in for his first redpoint burn on Jesus and Tequila this past Saturday. This route, a “right of passage for New River Gorge climbers,” has been the focus of our thoughts and training for the past month. It was the first real sport-climbing project that either of us has ever had, and we both poured a lot of time and energy into the send. When we arrived at Endless Wall on Saturday morning, we were both feeling some measure of pressure to capitalize on all the hard work and put this route to bed.

Thus, it was under these conditions -- fired in the mutual crucibles of psych, impatience, and pressure -- that my contemptible feelings emerged, loathsome and, yet, somehow essential to the human condition. I’m not proud to admit that I felt somewhat relieved when Dan fell on his first attempt. But there’s no question that, with the pressure off, it helped me perform a little better and possibly made the difference in my own success. If I were a better person, perhaps Dan’s potential success on the route would have motivated me (instead of adding pressure) and maybe even provided the fire under my chalk bag to propel me to the anchors. But I guess that’s my point in writing this. None of us is perfect. I’m sure many climbers have felt this same feeling, and as it is in climbing, so it goes in real life. Why hide it away? Maybe by examining it, something can be learned and we can become better partners and better people. Or, maybe I’ve just made the readers of this blog decide that they’ll never want to climb with me again. Good thing our readership is essentially nil.

So there you are, belaying your partner once again, having sent the route yourself just a few hours earlier. There are no more dark feelings, no more guilt. In fact, it’s the opposite. You can’t call it pure altruism, because after all, you won’t feel right celebrating your own send unless your partner also clips the chains. But nonetheless, you’re rooting intensely for him. You feel yourself straining with his every move. You mouth the beta as you watch him work through the crux. You feel like you’re on the route with him. Your forearms even feel pumped as he grabs the jug after the crux move. So acutely do you want him to succeed that your palms get sweaty and you even start chalking up. You feel an amazing sense of relief as he clips the chains. An adjacent party yells up to your partner in congratulations and the sound fills the gorge, but you only smile as you lower him. You wanted this send … maybe more than you wanted your own.