Back whips and a time out

The 80 year old came out of me this week. Rather the 99 year old. But to be honest, I haven’t met many 99 year olds, so I guess I haven’t really a fair comparison. There is one lady that I remember distinctly though. She was a retired ‘sister’ and lived in a retirement home in Melbourne, Australia where all the other retired sisters and fathers lived of that particular sect. It was the location I chose for a photo essay that I was doing for school. The home was in one of the older buildings in Melbourne making the backdrop quite beautiful and characteristic. The people there were so curious about the black box which I held in my hand and asked why I chose to go there and photograph ‘a bunch of old people’. The answer, reflected in my eyes but not in my voice wanted to express because you’re a beautiful shining piece of gold vibrating with so much wisdom and love…how could I not?’ Although their bodies were slow, their eyes sparkled with life and a sense of peace that spoke of a time long past. They were there and would remain there until they left this planet. I was there just for a couple days trying to capture something that in a sense cannot be captured.

Perhaps that’s a strange story to relate in a climbing blog but we all get old right? At least most of us will. I threw my back out last week, pretty intensely for the first time in my life. Although my mind felt young, my slow moving body felt otherwise. The week brought on slow and painful movements with two days of being unable to really walk. When it started to improve I could walk down the street but the sixty year old would pass me. Obviously climbing was out of the picture as was any sort of physical activity. I felt like a thirty year old in retirement and a new sense of compassion filled my body for those who have to endure chronic pain day in and day out. I just really hoped this wasn’t what it was going to be like for me when my turn came around for the rocking chair.

I do think there is a reason and season for many things. Sometimes shit just happens but this time around, it was my doing. I was overtraining. I am just so god dam psyched how can I not? I simply love climbing. And when it comes to anything related to climbing such as training and throwing my body through the ringer, pushing to exhaustion…this creates so many feelings of aliveness; to have a body and actually use it. I know this isn’t the smartest or most productive way to train. We’re only human and although in our minds we feel we can go on forever, these bodies do not.

And so I was forced to stop. Everything. For the last week I have sat and pondered what climbing meant to me, among other things and at least managed to finish writing my training program. I was a little annoyed that it had all come to an unexpected halt. But the rest was welcome. I was exhausted. My body had also been pinned down by a flu which seems to come hand in hand with overtraining. But I’d be fair to my back; it did give me some warning. When it started hurting I opted for easy climbing over a hard session. The next day was worse so I rested from climbing and opted for a light jog in the between the trees which in itself would heal anything. Wrong. The next day was payback time for ignoring the little voice inside of me which said don’t climb, don’t run, rest, be still… I could barely stand, walk, let alone move.

The only thing I could do is surrender to the wishes of my body. Rest, rest and more rest. I finally saw this as an opportunity to put my feet back on the ground, to start listening again, to hear what my body is saying and wanting. I thought about my tendency to over train and wondered if it’s something that just comes along with certain types of personalities. Phillip Seymour Hoffman died that week from a drug overdose. Drugs are addictive and bad for the body. So is overtraining. It could easily end one’s climbing life. So how does one find balance? To know when it’s too much? Too understand how to get stronger and improve without over doing it. To stop when you know you should even though the climbing and training speak louder, shouting at you how much fun they bring you, making walking away even harder.

Maybe the answer is not so complicated. Could it be that the voice within me that was telling me to slow down, to not climb, to not run, is the answer? The voice within who silently whispers, ok that’s the last set, the last lap, the last try. When ignoring what comes up from the depths of our being; we learn from consequence that this guidance is unfailingly right. Disobeying never seems to really pay off except in lessons and reminders for the next time to heed its wisdom. In retrospect a sigh comes and yes, I was told and yes, I ignored. But like a constant presence at our side, it gives us chance after chance to listen. It’s always showing and guiding us to our highest good and our best interest even if the voice of wants and wills says otherwise. Listening to that which wants us to grow and expand but is wise enough to stay within our physical limits takes some listening, some patience and trust.

My only hope after this latest adventure is not to become more aware of this voice, as its presence is felt quite readily; but to actually listen to its warnings despite my own egoic wishes. The time off has made me realize yet again how important climbing and movement are to my body, my being. Climbing has taught me so much and has been such a source of adventure and fulfillment; I couldn’t imagine life without it. Aging is unstoppable but perhaps with more discipline and awareness, the climbing life can go for what may seem like an eternity like the bleausards in Fontainebleau clearly demonstrate. With an old rag and a door mat as a crash pad, these guys can hike up one’s project, clearly proving that climbing is like good cheese. One only gets better with age. We just have to be wise enough to listen to our body.

Thanks for reading. :)

 

it’s been a while…

It’s been a while since my last post. There’s been waxing and waning between ideas of what to write to the contradicting thoughts and emotions of why bother, wondering what’s the purpose of blogging anyway. Pre-Christmas season was a right off. Energy was low and the old game of tug of war came back. The questioning of if I was standing in the right spot echoed from my insides while ‘stay or go’ became the internal question of the day. To be with family and friends at Christmas pulled at me like they would never release. I thought about the last Christmas; the pre-Gite Arbonne days, being in the van in Font with so much rain beating down. The time leading up to it wasn’t easy and ironically the moment I decided to quit everything, things turned around as if an unanswered pray was heard. This realization brought a sigh of relief like a loud bell, oh yeah, this Christmas thing.
Although without the big pleasant crowd, I had many blessings to count. Walking the city streets of Munich and seeing the begging homeless made me grateful for van life, however cold. The thought of actually packing up and getting on a plane made me slither a little on the insides anyway. Although the idea of long days spent driving under a huge sky between the many bountiful crags pulled at me; staying in Europe was what I wanted, at least for a little longer.

In November and December the roads between Germany and Switzerland were our home. Magic Wood was covered in a pile of stinking snow which apparently would take months to melt. Ticino was ripe with a crisp blue sky. The whole area was virgin to me. I had visited briefly ten years ago but the memories were vague. Upon arriving the view started to look familiar. The winding road, the big church with the Virgin Mary looming steadily above the village, the old rock buildings scattered above which I wondered were livable or not.
Our stays were short; a weekend here, an extended weekend there. Balance was sought between the plastic world and the outside. A local friend Petra showed us a couple areas while the tour continued with Toby the friendly giant who we had met in Magic wood. The area became more familiar as did the smell of billy goat and techniques on how to roast chestnuts. I’d have to say though; Ticino didn’t stir my soul like some places. It never bothered me to leave and yet, it never bothered me to stay. The one exception was when going to meet my old friend Justin Wood from the States. I had just over a week to frolic in the forest with this kindred spirit and I dreamt about all the cool problems we would try and stories we would tell.

On the way there from Munich I decided to drive via Zurich to attend a bouldering comp at the new Momentum Bouldering Gym and to face the realization that I live in a time warp. Having bouldered the day prior, I anticipated the full day of recovery and rest I had ahead of me. After much diddle dawdling, the organizer emailed informing that the comp was actually today and started in 20 minutes. My ass was still 1.5 hours away! Undeterred, we battled the horrendous traffic and confusing streets of Zurich and we showed up 3 hours later. The comp was worth the hassle; the different styled problems and unpainted walls made for a challenge. The gym was not insulated thus allowing me to blow O’s with my mouth proving what some would consider ‘good conditions’. Despite my lack of rest and untimeliness I made it into finals, having the privilege to stand in the same line as the Swiss power house Petra Klinger, who is an inspiration to watch. At the end of the comp I walked away not only psyched but with a gentle reminder to work on my weaknesses; dynos and big moves involving especially shitty feet around incredibly awkward corners.

The following day we headed to Ticino. Unfortunately Cedar caught a stomach critter which lasted a few days and a couple days later it was my turn. As I felt the sense of fainting coming on, I quickly pulled the van over only find myself moments later having rolled back into the road with people honking at me and Cedar shaking me while simultaneously holding a bucket under my mouth. The feelings invoked of helplessness and vulnerability by both of us could be a story unto itself. Needless to say, our ten day visit to Ticino was quickly diminished as we huddled away from climbing and human contact as the sun teased us under the cold conditions.

Our time with Justin amounted to two or three days but it was better than nothing. Catch up time on the latest of my Salt Lake City friends, Hannah, Sunny, Carrie, was brief but enough to make their presence felt closer. In the meantime I got one problem under my belt, a line called ‘teamwork’ which should be renamed ‘dagger holds’. But as I owe the send to the random boys who walked by with perfect timing to spot me sketching on the top, the present name is rather suiting.

The last day consisted of an international posse counting 2 Germans, 2 Canucks, 1 Australian, 1 Spaniard, 2 Bulgarians, and 3 Americans who all headed to area 101. The problems in this zone were big; some beautiful, some not, but all of them were given a fair go. Alex and I played seek and destroy for a new level for us. I was close on the start moves, she looked better on the end. If team ascents were permitted we’d have that but if divided by 2 the answer is not new for either of us so we just continued our punting on the other rock formations on our path. When the sun went down, the headlights came out. When all skin and energy was spent we headed back to Justin’s for what would be the last Justin supper.

And so that happened a while ago… Like last year to be exact. I could blame busyness for my untimely post of these adventures or the absence of a computer that actually worked but if truth be told it was motivation. Sometimes it really seems like there is nothing to say but perhaps the real crux is getting started because it seems now, when the first word is done, there’s no stopping. Thanks for reading. X

 

Ibex Addict

Ibex, UT
Ibex, UT

“In our ever more crowded world, what the pioneers once despised has turned out to be, by virtue of the very fact that it was shunned and therefore lightly settled, our last refuge for quiet and contemplation.  So it is that deserts are refuges not by choice but by default, as if driven out of cathedrals we were forced to hold services on beds of nails.  But on the positive side, what are cathedrals anyway but monuments to the old comfortable cliches, the old, often unworkable ways? If “the Desert is where God is and Man is not,” as Balzac tells us, what better place to find, if not God, then ourselves? And if finding ourselves in scarcity rather than in plenty, what better place to learn to get along with others in a resource-poor but humanly rich world?”  Peter Wild: The New Desert Reader

High on The White Arete
High on The White Arete
GDub on The White Arete
GDub on The White Arete

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the help of Matthew Irving and a really nice camera, we captured some slow motion shenanigans and a wee bit of climbing. How much slow motion, well, some might say my overuse of it in this video is Juvenile. So enjoy a video (all beautiful shots by Matt Irving, all crappy quality-poorly framed shots by this guy) of idiots and stellar lines in Ibex. Climbs include Wing Chun V12, The Bone Collector V11 and Bruce Lee V10.  Shenanigans include tokyo drifting, slingshot-run-n-jump dyno, gap jumping and apple eating.

Both Griffin Whiteside and Joe Meiners were able to nab ascents of Wing Chun as well!  Good work boys.

Disclaimer #1: I blew my back out shooting this video and now sound like I have Tourette’s Syndrome while attempting simple tasks of life, like say, getting out of bed, up out of a chair, off a toilet and sometimes just breathing.  So, go ahead and try this at home kids… live it up you resilient little bastards.  30+ year old males needing to relive their youth and compensate for their underachieving lives, don’t do it… it’s not worth it anymore. Haha, just kidding, it’s always worth it! Now if I could just turn my back to reach over and get some toilet paper off the roll. Yeah, so what if I’m writing this while pooping, I’ve been stuck on this toilet for 2 hours now… figured I’d do something productive. Don’t judge, who are you anyway, Judge Reinhold?

  • Franklin: My name is Judge.

    Franklin on Mock Trial with J. Reinhold
    Franklin on Mock Trial with J. Reinhold
  • Gob: Whose name is Judge?
  • Franklin: My name is.
  • Gob: That’s a silly name.
  • Franklin: Judge, my name.
  • Gob: Yes, I am judging your name. It am silly.
  • Franklin: Is.
  • Gob: Oh, now, you’re correcting my grammar.

Disclaimer #2: This video was edited by me, I don’t possibly want anyone thinking that Matt’s talents were wasted here.

Success=Expectations=Failure

After clipping the chains on a long-term project, you’re flooded with pure joy, contentment and mental freedom. Success in climbing gives climbers incredible feelings; however, successes also show what we are capable of.  Once a climber has climbed a certain grade they should be able to climb other routes of the same grade, right? This is why successes lead to expectations.  From your success, you feel entitled to others. This leads to putting forth less effort and expecting the same result.  Expectations lead to failure.

 

Two months of winter bouldering in Hueco, I was excited for the Dihedral Wall on El Capitan.  I felt strong.  While working the first four pitches, my belayer, James texted with his friend and found out Yosemite National Park closed the area for falcons.  The closure devastated me.  What would I do?  The previous fall, James explored an aid line across the Valley.  Thinking the route would go free and in need of a lift out of my somber state, James and I aided and cleaned the rock on Fifi Buttress.  The granite turned out to be superb with interesting moves.  I dreamed of a first ascent of a difficult free route in Yosemite and the route made it a reality.  I left Yosemite feeling successful after redpointing the Final Frontier.

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Nik Berry on 5.12d corner of Final Frontier

Nursing school started the first week of May. Climbing well with a stable job in my future, I enjoyed my studies.  SLC experienced a sweltering 2013 summer.  Too busy to climb outside, I trained, ran and studied all summer.  A post summer semester trip to Mt Hooker became my light at the end of the tunnel.

 

Dave Allfrey, Mason Earle and I established a new 8 pitch variation at 5.14a.  The alpine rock was incredible.  I achieved another lifetime goal to establish a 5.14 multi-pitch route.  Mt. Hooker was a success.

 

Nik trying not to punt on the 5.14a crux
Nik trying not to punt on the 5.14a crux

Back in school, I returned to my previous schedule of training and studying.  Fall break arrived quickly. I drove six hours west toward Yosemite.

 

“Hi Brad,” I said, answering my climbing partner’s call.

 

“Dude, I just got down from doing The Nose in a day,” Brad said. “The rangers are giving $160 tickets for climbing.”  The government shut down dashed my climbing goals.  I turned towards limestone in Saint George.  I switched dreams from Yosemite to Golden a 5.14b, an amazing limestone sport route.  I felt strong and had been climbing well. Final Frontier and Mt. Hooker made me a better technical rock climber.  Training in the gym made me stronger. As I drove towards Saint George my confidence grew and so did my expectations.

 

Over the next 10 days, I one hung Golden three times.  My spirits were high.  I had time to put into this route and the strength to send.

 

Back home I trained specifically for the route by setting the crux section on a climbing gym wall.  I returned over Thanksgiving but fell repeatedly at sections I had climbed through before.  Progress came slowly.  The last day I one hung Golden twice in a row.  I had to go back to school.  The weather got cold and then snow fell in St George.  Golden was a failure.

 

I yearned for more than climbing hard.  I wanted to return to Yosemite. Zodiac, a steep sunny route on the right side of El Cap, would be a perfect free climb over Christmas break.  I invited Joe Kinder to join me and felt excited to share El Capitan’s beauty with a new big wall climber. After climbing on Golden . I felt strong and had expectations. Since working on a 5.14b, a 5.13d should feel easy.   Joe and I tried the upper 5.13c pitch.  It climbed well and was fair for the grade.  The next days we tried The Nipple 5.13d, the crux pitch in the middle of the wall.  We flailed until we found a sequence through the underclings.  Years of aid climbers hammering iron into the rock carved out pin scars just big enough for our fingertips. We executed all the moves and made progress.  After a rest day, we returned expecting to climb better.  No progress was made and we felt discouraged.  The following days went similarly.  Though we enjoyed hanging out on a portaledge basking in the sun, we hated getting worked on The Nipple pitch day after day.

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Joe one The Nipple pitch 5.13d

 

Over coffee at Degnan’s Deli, we talked about our progress.  We were losing our drive.  The climbing stopped being fun.  We wanted to do other things.  We stripped the route and drove home.  Yosemite was a failure.

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Joe on the 5.13d corner of imaginary holds

Failing on Zodiac and Golden taught me so much about climbing.  When you succeed there is no reason to process what you could have done better since you sent.  My failures forced me to dissect my climbing.  I need to relax on small feet, climb faster, adjust the force of my grip quickly, and increase my bicep strength.  Much of these improvements require more climbing outside.  I used to think strength was the limiting factor for climbing harder.  Now, I know when you want to break through to a new level increasing one aspect of climbing is not enough.  Technique is a large component of rock climbing.  Technique is equally if not more important to improve on than power, even though, it is tedious to work on.

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Some extreme El Capitan rappelling

To some degree, my failures on Golden and The Zodiac have been successes.  They taught me what I need to work on, where I can improve, and lessons I would not have learned if I had sent. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Failures are fingerposts on the way to achievement.”

 

 

 

Sendero Luminoso Partly Free

Lisiniopril reduces hypertension and cardiac workload.  Aluminum Hydroxide neutralizes stomach acid. Salmeterol prevents something.  I stared at 160 drug flash cards for hours.  I kept Nostalgia Coffee Shop in business studying the absurd names for my pharmacology final.

 

Between studying, I dreamed of climbing.  I stared at Instagram pictures of thin alpine cracks.  I remembered an August trip to Mount Hooker four years ago.   Seven inches of snow and frigid temps kept us on the super chossy but sunny Red Light District.  The rock on the right side of Hooker looked amazing but cold.

 

I couldn’t remember what the Salmeterol prevented but I passed the pharmacology class, the hardest class in the hardest semester of nursing school.  I felt liberated.  School would easier from this point on.

 

Instead of dreading the next day of cramming,  I packed two weeks in the Wind River Range, camping at the base of an incredible 2,000 foot wall with my friends Mason Earl and Dave Allfrey   We stocked up at Walmart, Costco, Trader Joes.  We cruised by the Black Diamond headquarters.  We stopped at a Wyoming liquor store for whiskey and scotch.  We prepped for the trip with food, equipment, and our vices.

 

Three horses carried 450 pounds of our supplies through an early August thunder storm to our campsite, 3 passes, 5 meadows, countless lakes, and 20 miles from our car.

 

Mason pumps water out of a pristine river
Mason pumps water out of a pristine river

We dropped our gear.   A slope of talus guarded Hooker.  Below that sat an alpine lake.  On the other side of the lake was more talus and a perfect view of the steep formation.  We brought the binoculars and stared at the wall.  Our goal was to climb the steepest, blankest most beautiful route.  We wanted the king line!

 

King Line!!
King Line!!

 

That’s when we realized we had forgotten to bring a topo.

 

The hiking destroyed our bodies but we woke the next morning psyched.  We hiked to the base of the cliff.  Mason and I stared at the first pitch.  Rotten, loose blocks marked the start.  I lost in a game of rock, paper, scissor.  The hollow rock bonged when I hit it.  I climbed high above a small cam on 5.10 face climbing.  I reached a ledge, scared.  Mason followed and set off on more difficult but better rock above.  Mason placed difficult gear and sent the 5.12 pitch.  It was a commendable lead.

 

Dave giving it his all on a 5.12d pitch
Dave giving it his all on a 5.12d pitch

The sky darkened with ominous clouds as Mason built the anchor.  We retreated  to a cave on the approach trail.  The storm lasted for an hour.  Then the sky cleared and the rock dried.  We convinced Dave he had to lead the next pitch.  He was not psyched to leave the comforts of the cave.  We’d been indulging in the vices.  We jummared to the top of the second pitch.  Dave nailed, hooked, and equalized beaks on the next pitch.  “Watch me, “ he said.  I was happy to be belaying and not leading.  Dave made his way up the pitch.

 

We were satisfied with our progress for the day and headed back to camp.  The second day began with a  slowly thinning corner.  Lichen caked onto the rock.  My feet felt slick.  I tried to trust them.

“It’s probably 5.12,” I said.  Dave followed the pitch easily.

Dave not letting the lichen get the best of him
Dave not letting the lichen get the best of him

“It’s 5.11c.” Dave said.  Dave nailed beaks and placed the occasional cam in the seam of the next pitch.

“This pitch will not go free,” Dave shouted down.  “It’s A3!”

My heart sank.  I believed him.

“I’m going to look,” Mason said.  He jummared the pitch and got very excited.  “It will go but at a high grade.”

The next day, we brought the brush and cleaned the slick lichen from the pitch.  After two days, we had done all of the moves.  Linking the thin laybacking would be a difficult undertaking.

 

Mason explored the pitch.  A powerful crux off the belay lead into sustained 5.12 climbing above.  Mason equalized beaks and climbed into difficult territory with marginal gear. He remained calm and confident.  He deadpointed to a flat ledge high above his protection, sending an incredible 5.13a pitch.   With his beta, I managed to flash the pitch.

Mason lunging for the finishing jug on the 5.13a pitch
Mason lunging for the finishing jug on the 5.13a pitch

Perfect weather allowed us to keep climbing. The weather brought me confidence.  I gave the crux pitch a lead attempt.  I climbed relaxed, fluid, and felt strong.  The crux went by quickly as I focused on each hold.

 

Suddenly my body felt out of control. I was falling.  My foot had slipped.  I dropped my head into my hands. “The route was done,” I said.   “I  did all of the hard climbing on the pitch.”

 

Nik trying not to punt on the 5.14a crux
Nik trying not to punt on the 5.14a crux

I grabbed my warm down jacket after lowering down the pitch. I hoped the goose feathers would restore my motivation and take away the emptiness I felt inside. Mason tried the pitch.  He made impressive links and inspired me. I was back on lead.  Entering the crux, I placed my foot more precisely on the sloping groove. This time my foot stayed. I felt the euphoric. “Whoo HOOO!” I yelled.  The final moves to the anchor felt easy.  I clipped into the belay and slumped onto the rock.  I could relax. Everything looked prettier.  Everything felt better.  It was one of those moments when all of the hard work seemed worth while.  We had team freed the first 7 Pitches of Sendero Luminoso at 5.14a and added one traverse pitch into an existing line.

The Topo completed by Dave
The Topo completed by Dave

Bad weather followed and forced us to rest.  We played games, fished, listened to NPR, and enjoyed our vices.  When the weather cleared, we returned to the wall.  Mason sought the euphoric feeling I had.  He climbed with his typical confidence and calmness.  At the crux, his body came out from the wall and then he  hit the end of the rope.  My head dropped.  His did too. He rested and tried three more times with similar results.  His skin resembled cracked glass.  Blood oozed from his tips. He knew that the odds where stacked against him with his skin being so atrocious.

Mason catching us fish for our fish tacos!
Mason catching us fish for our fish tacos!

“We are coming back next year to complete the whole aid line,” I said.  “That’s what really counts.”

“Yes,” he said. We rappelled and pulled our ropes in the rain.

We woke early the next morning.  It was time to leave.  Dave had school. Mason needed to see his parents.   I had flash cards to study.  We packed over 80 pounds into our bulging haul bags.  The first few miles went by easily.  Our spirits were high from our success.  As the hills came so did the pain in our legs.  Our waist belts dug into our hips.  We burst out in painful cries. The moaning momentarily distracted us from the pain.  After the 20 miles we arrived at our cars.

Mason, Dave and I wheezed.  I suddenly remembered what Salmeterol does.  The drug is a bronodiliator.  It relaxes your airways so you can breath better.   Unfortunately, I forgot the Salmeterol at home.  We headed to the Lander bar instead to wash away the pain.

 

Seek and You Shall Find

The sun beats against the white lacquered walls of the Tuolumne Meadows store as the grease sizzling in the grill filters out the door. A breeze rattles the notes, flyers and pictures tacked to the cork board out front; climber partner wanted, gear for sale, looking for a ride, missing persons – it’s always the same year after year, week after week yet checking the board, scanning the names, looking for some bit of inspiration scribbled on a scrap has become regular habit. A faded and sun-bleached picture of John Bachar soloing adorns the left side of the board, written in marker below it says, “Bachar Lives.”

Tuolumne is riddled with the imprint of Bachar – while he passed on in 2009 much of him still remains and it’s arguable whether or not what’s been left is a positive force (or not.) We all know the story of the ground-up days of bold in the 80′s and early 90′s – where anything from 5.5 to 5.11 could be so run-out that injury and possibly death become factors of the climb. Bachar wasn’t the only one establishing hairball routes but he did have an immense role in the legacy that modern day climbers are left to face.  Some more modern routes still follow this style but what it’s all led to on the whole are mystery routes not oft repeated; routes that hold an allure but scare off those not seeking the questions or the answers of, “What is going on up there?”

This year makes my 8th summer in Tuolumne and through the years I’ve found myself on quite a few precarious smears and stances searching for the next hold, the next bolt, the next gear placement and the passage that will unfold. Originally, I was drawn to Tuolumne by the Masters of Stone videos – Dan Osman not only soloing but dynoing way off the deck on Blue’s Riff; Ron Kauk crimping his way up the pebbled streak of Peace. I heard tales of having to be head strong, sure footed and unwavering in motivation for the domeland of Yosemite.

Since my first summer in Tuolumne I have picked my way through many of the classics and many of the more obscure, making many second ascents, some possible first ascents and learning a lot in the process. In 2009 I partnered up with Lonnie Kauk and together we made the 4th and 5th free ascents of Ron Kauk’s contribution to Medlicott,  Peace. In over a decade this superb piece of rock had only seen less than a dozen ascents. With a successful red-point of this 160 ft knobby crimpfest my ego made me feel special but I wondered why such a beauty had been left alone for so long. This route opened up a new world to me of Tuolumne climbing and in my search of the climbs of lore what I found were mossy holds, old bolts, weird bolts, run outs, technical test pieces and few people who wanted to embark on these journeys.  It was becoming clear to me that these gems of the past were being looked over for safer, easier, more traveled terrain.

Sometime in the 90′s Dave Bengston put up a one-pitch climb on Daff Dome which exits left off the sloping ledge from the 1st pitch of Cooke Book.  His long and lanky figure spanned from distant hold to distant hold and he rated the pitch 5.12c and aptly named the route The Albatross. However, two more potential pitches loomed above and yet it wasn’t until some 8 years later that they were unlocked and red-pointed by Mikey Schafer. Mikey’s smaller stature and technical prowess laid to rest what Bengston’s longer frame couldn’t pull and thus The Rise and Fall of the Albatross was established going at 5.13a/b. Another 6 years went by before another ascent was made of the steep, technical and slightly run-out route when Ben Ditto and I both subsequently red-pointed every pitch summer 2012.

While I was temporarily pleased with our accomplishment I was intrigued by a line that was veering off to the far right from the second pitch belay. I realized that this was the crux pitch of the infamous Bombs Over Tokyo. Rumors and mystery surrounded this climb and the words, “hariball and runout” seemed to drip off the holds. Just after our red-points of Albatross we left Tuolumne for the Cirque of the Unclimbables and then Europe. We wouldn’t be in Tuolumne’s graces for another year, yet my interest was piqued by this mysterious route and I vowed to return later.

In July of this year I went from the ground to search out the mystery of Bachar’sBombs Over Tokyo. After the first and classic 5.10c pitch we encountered the 5.11dR pitch. A Bachar route in all its glory as a fall going to the first and only pin some 20 plus feet up would result in a fall into a ledge and broken ankle. We went around and lowered in. The thin, closed-off seam turned out to be more of a technical crimp fest than a lieback and the possibility of any real solid gear was questionable. According to local hardman Bob Jensen, some friends had tried to pound in another Lost Arrow but couldn’t get it in and they bailed. I was equipped with tiny nuts and managed to get two odd-ball placements of a small brassy and small offset. If they held a fall they would at least keep me off the ledge and even if they pulled they would hopefully slow me down enough to not totally smash my world apart. Hopefully all of my technical training on runout slabs would prove useful on this one.

Then came Pitch 3, the real mystery of the route. Originally the aid line went straight up from the belay and then around an arete into a right angling crack. Bachar’s account is that this is the line he freed; after a few attempts he red-pointed and rated it 5.12c. It looked ok, but what really had my interest was a bolt line going up and then way out right out of sight over a roof. The “hairball traverse,” that maybe hadn’t gone free but had been attempted and was probably in the 5.13 range

I ventured up placing some cams and then moved down to the first bolt and the start of the hand traverse out fairly positive edges and knobs for 20 feet to the next bolt. A fall from this zone would have been terrible and resulted in another ankle breaking possibility. Relieved at having made it to the second bolt I peeked around the corner at what lay ahead and what I saw was both amazing and intimidating. 40 more feet of traversing on thin edges to a down mantel to some hand traversing across a roof to another mantel up to hopefully some holds and then 40 more feet to the anchor. In all of that terrain there were 4 more bolts. They were newer, shiny and egged me onward.

I took some deep breaths and set out around the corner and out of sight of my belayer. Climbing across fairly delicate and pliable holds I had made it to the roof and set about hand traversing out it. The exposure was surreal and it was starting to give me the creeps. I thought to myself that all I had to do was mantle up, make a couple of moves and get to the next bolt.  Except the holds were dirty and covered in lichen and every time I pulled up with a heel hook into the mantle my hands would slip a little and every time I would climb back down and way back left to the last bolt 15 feet behind me. I did this about 5 times, each time looking back at my 9.1 rope draped across sharp knobs, wondering if the sideways fall into the unknown below the roof would cut my rope. Eventually I returned to the belay, leaving behind two lowerout biners and we rapped to the ground. John Bachar Lives played over and over in my head as we walked down the trail and I was more intrigued than ever.

I spent time thinking about the route, asking around about it’s possible ascents and was left with questions. I kept climbing on other lesser known and less-repeated routes. Ben Ditto and I made an ascent of one of Drug Dome’s newer, forgotten classics called Anatolio (5.12+R). A route put up by Chad Shepard in honor of his departed grandfather. While on this route I became intrigued by yet another newer, forgotten classic put up by Sean Leary called Acapulco Gold, going at 5.12cR.  It took me three different trips up the route before I could pull the moves on the wildly steep (by Tuolumne standards) crux pitch. In my attempts to stick the polished and sloping knobs I took a few large wingers out into space as there are no bolts which protect the crux moves making this route stiff and committing, (not to mention the R first and last pitches). It was fun to have such air time in Tuolumne and I relished the moments of flying. Eventually with the belay of good friend Patrick O’Donnell I made possibly the second ascent of this route.

Continuing on with my tour of the harder, technical and less-repeated routes of Yosemite’s high country I set to work on another Ron Kauk contribution to Pywiak Dome called European Vacation (5.13b); A definite technical test piece and one rumored to be too reachy for the shorter folks I was determined to sort out a sequence. In asking Ron about it he could hardly count on two hands the number of known ascents of this route. He did mention that Lynn Hill red-pointed it but as far as other women it was unlikely. My dear friends and fellow petit crushers, Maki Grossnick and Thea Marie and I tried it out one evening. Initially unable to pull the intro moves but managing to crimp and balance and steady our way through the rest of the route I was immediately hooked. Two more sessions in this beautiful spot hidden from the crowds and the noise of the road I managed to figure out the opening sequence and was blessed with another Tuolumne free ascent making possibly the second overall women’s ascent of the route.Continuing on with my tour of the harder, technical and less-repeated routes of Yosemite’s high country I set to work on another Ron Kauk contribution to Pywiak Dome called European Vacation (5.13b); A definite technical test piece and one rumored to be too reachy for the shorter folks I was determined to sort out a sequence. In asking Ron about it he could hardly count on two hands the number of known ascents of this route. He did mention that Lynn Hill red-pointed it but as far as other women it was unlikely. My dear friends and fellow petit crushers, Maki Grossnick and Thea Marie and I tried it out one evening. Initially unable to pull the intro moves but managing to crimp and balance and steady our way through the rest of the route I was immediately hooked. Two more sessions in this beautiful spot hidden from the crowds and the noise of the road I managed to figure out the opening sequence and was blessed with another Tuolumne free ascent making possibly the second female ascent.

On August 10th I once again set out to solve the mystery of Bombs Over Tokyo. Cruising up the most enjoyable 5.10 intro pitch I arrived at the 5.11R. Having placed two small nuts in shallow, precarious placements the thin, technical climbing was now protected with three pieces in it’s entirety. As long as I stayed calm I could keep the balance and precision. I recalled the stories of this pitch with it’s original two fixed pins and how one of them had fallen out. My nuts seemed solid enough and keeping my breathing regular I gently made my way to the anchor, hoping that the next crux pitch would go just as well. I belayed Ben up as he did spectacularly well on the foot chips and centimeter edges of the crack.

So, here I was again on Pitch 3 climbing over and around the arete, crossing my left hand over my right onto half-pad edges and smearing my feet on the steep gold wall. I reached the breakable, incut flake edge and shook out. I had a wicked forearm pump and was starting to consider the terrain ahead. Another cross to a bad, layered crimp and then the down mantle to the roof traverse to the final mantle to the balancy, technical face. Two more bolts stood between me and the anchor.

Before setting off I had told Ben to just have a lot of slack out, as a fall from anywhere out there could result in a crater into the roof. I figured at least with a lot of slack I had the hopes of falling past the roof into space. I wavered between totally calm and confident to scared silly. I yelled back at Ben who was out of sight 60 feet away that I was scared and he replied, “It’s ok, nothing bad can happen.” That was all I needed to hear, a light went off in my mind. I just needed to let myself pull the moves. With some tenacity and assurance I climbed down to the roof, one foot below me, one foot heel hooking and into the sloping knobs and mantled up to edges. Soon enough I was balancing on both legs, pressing up to reach the high half pad crimp to clip the next bolt.  I stood up, exhaled, chalked up and kept moving. I made it to the anchor and let out a “WOOT!”

A party below us was on the 1st pitch of Bombs and the belayer yelled up in excitement. With two more moderate pitches to the summit I had done it, I had made the first free ascent of this route.  All summer I had sought out the questions and pulled through the mysteries.  I had just put myth to rest and what I found to be truth wasn’t so bad after all.

The obsession begins. The final. For reals.

It’s strange to write about a problem that I haven’t yet sent. Perhaps even crazier the number of days spent on it, not only in a row, but thinking and pondering about while the rains fall and dampen its holds. But this story isn’t so much about the problem; it’s about an idea turned obsession. Perhaps a story from which one could draw advice from on how to NOT send ones project.

Upon arriving in magic wood and not knowing the place, I didn’t have a tick list that excited the bejonkins off me so basically it was limited to the one problem I’d seen in a photograph: pura vida. Having been in Magic Woods for close to 4 weeks my energy was spent on everything but that. Tried twice with two different groups of friends, I was unable to do the first move and the end just led me down a path of confusion, so my effort was brief.

After finishing many of the problems that enticed, Pura Vida crossed my mind again. A fellow camper, Axel, had thoughts of it as well, like it had become an alien that slowly invaded people’s minds. With renewed psych off we went. Working backwards this time, the end was surprisingly figured out so I returned to the first move. Every time, I was thrown onto my back into its pit of a landing as my hands refused to grasp the hold in a way that actually held on.

Returning another day with Alex the psyched german, I repeated everything but the obvious. Spit off again and again, different feet and handholds were tried with foolhardiness. With a perplexed face, I watched Alex do the first move with ease. And here comes something that I love about climbing. He pointed to the subtle difference between the position of our starting feet. ” You are starting with your left foot under you and I place mine here.” He pointed to the big rock which ones ass will land on if one doesn’t stick the big move on one summer. I did as he suggested and bang. What had moments before felt impossible was done with ease. I repeated it five more times just to prove it to myself but fell at the next crux, two holds from the finish. The impossible suddenly felt possible. But as fatigue set in, the holds started to feel smaller and greasier. The first move became hard again.

Then the sweet bitter rain came. Like a visitor that constantly dances their fingers on ones kitchen table over a cup of tea. That day the obsessing started. Sitting in the rain was something i had enough of this trip. I thought about leaving. But no, I can’t, I’m so close. It will dry eventually. I will wait. Pondering the moves, I visualized myself doing it over and over again. Putter patter. Left hand there. Drip drop. Right foot there. While people climbed on the Bruno boulder I walked to it like visiting an old friend to see how it was. Condensation was high, sucking water onto even the lower holds which were once lined with the fine colour of white.

The next dry day I realized the unhealthy part of obsessing over a project through five days of rain. Physically I was fine but mentally I was done. I felt burnt out on it not from trying but from the thinking and obsessing about it while listening to the rain drops fall on my van. Thoughts of escaping invaded my mind as was the mistake of waiting for it to dry.
The first day back offered damp holds matching my low psych. Yet falling near the end instilled hope. There was a few more days of sun coming and the optimist in me said it can only get drier. But the next day offered much regression. Everything on it felt hard. Again Alex came to my rescue.  “You try it too many times and too many days in a row. You look tired.” That was a mistake often repeated but coming from someone else’s mouth was like a reinforcer to the truth. With that we left. We tried other problems and the fun returned.

Returning the next day with a fresh head, hope was provided. My first attempt felt strong but still, I fell at the end. After a few repeats of that frustration and fatigue started to take over while my tips screamed bloody murder at me. What are you doing to us they screamed? Every bit of me felt done.

The rain was pending. But this time it fell in light drops which kept most things dry. The condensation wasn’t so high and the friction felt better. On my rest day I thought of things outside of that boulder. But ironically, each climbing day I still returned. I start counting my tries to avoid being there too long. Giving myself 3 tries from sticking the first move and 3 falls of falling on the first move took away one full attempt as if i had stuck it. My spotter thought I was nuts. I thought the breaking point happened days ago.

There was a panic inside of me that told me to go there every day. It could rain tomorrow. People spoke of snow. There wasn’t a voice saying breath, slowdown. If it was dry, I’d go there, until the one day when I didn’t. My last day on it I repeatedly fell off one move from the end, locking my left arm down and hovering my wavering hand within mm’s below that last crux hold.  A small back muscle from doing the long lock off felt strained and screamed silently to me.

The next day I debated returning or breaking my obsession. When asked how long I’d been on it, the response of the last eight climbing days triggered shouts of don’t go; climb with us. Perhaps they were right. Rest from it would be good, mentally and physically. Logic trumped passion. I tried other problems but the sense of unrest remained. I felt like I abandoned my best friend. God dang I thought. Just one more try. Just let me have One. More.Try…

And then it came. The dreaded snow. 40 cm of it. Earlier in the day Petra encouraged me to descend so to avoid getting stuck in the mountains. The optimist in me didn’t believe her. The four of us remaining campers huddled under Knuts van door and agreed it wouldn’t snow. It was too warm. We escaped to town for a couple hours only to return to snow covered roads. My van sat huddled by the guest house. We slept there to avoid the slippery slope to camp. The snow insulated my van and kept out the street lights. The remaining climbers paced the room in unease while others escaped for snowball fights. I kicked myself for not going back. Was this punishment for obsessing and being irrational with my attempts? Only if I made it so. But really, it’s just snow. Besides, the little tweak in my back will thank me.

The next day, over a foot of fresh snow covered our world. The optimist in me delivered images of melting snow. It can’t be over yet. Having already waited through many wet days what’s a couple more? Or a few more. Or another week. Hell, when it dries, maybe I will even go to other problems, find another project. Or maybe I will leave and see another part of the world. But this line is worth the wait.
The problem now holds memories and stories of times past. It offered me something that felt impossible to possible; it gifted upon me patience and impatience; determination and stubbornness; mental battles within myself through various weathers and a taste of obsession and physical fatigue. Currently the snow is melting and my psych remains. Tichino beckons but only until this baby is dry. The forecast looks good and as Arnold says, “I will be back”.

Thanks for reading.
May the force be with you.✌

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Magical Magic. Part two

It must have been the influence of Squamish that built up the endurance in me to stay throughout the rains. The granite was similar, talused, sloping with crimps situated randomly. The dense forest surrounding the boulders was tall, green and hid us from the outside world. Even the water from the old wooden bathtub with a sign above it saying non-potable, tasted just as good as the water springing from any of the fine household faucets in the sea to sky corridor.

And of course the rain. I knew it would stop eventually. It fell upon and touched all of the rocks, drowning the moss so that they held enough water in them to pee out for days. The only difference was the wind which didn’t blow like it did back home. It came and went at its own will. And with the wind came an old friend and a taste of forgiveness for myself and them which I never knew possible. My thoughts imagined it so but another part refused it. Like an old washing machine switching cycles, going back and forth, unable to commit to anything but unrest. But then it came. I never knew it would be so easy. So freeing. I was taught otherwise by example. To hold on until your hands bled. It was like letting go of a long heavy rope that weighed on ones back for the duration of what seemed a lifetime. The lightness and clarity that followed showed me my insanity. Oh how silly. It was my uncle tom who told me i was my own worst enemy. I being too young to understand looked back at him with a face covered in confusion. Always let go of that which drags you down. But it was I who held the rope coiled so tightly around myself and only I who had the power release it.

Between the many mountain showers and the dry blue sky, magic woods became a different place. The campground emptied. The day to day routines remained the same but less climbing and more of a nothingness which filled and quenched the soul. As the rains fell and with our new company it felt more and more like Squamish yet oh so different at the same time. There was a surrounding freshness. As the rain cleared, fresh air blew in giving the rocks air to dry.

The rocks became more and more crisp as the weather improved. It was almost too cold for me, my fingers bending slowly as if frozen. But this passed too bringing in sunshine and perfect conditions. Projects were sent by everyone which was a great relief as we all know nothing last forever, especially the sun. The continuous sun attracted more people. What was once a campground of 5 to 6 people became a place where tents and vans parked so close to each other, bringing a feeling of happy sardines in a can. This closeness felt unusual for me coming from where camp spaces are the usual size of 3-4 large parking spaces but this
was the norm for European style camping.

Our climbing partners and friends for the seemingly endless two weeks of rain and sun departed to continue their lives in other ways. We waved a goodbye to our old friend with the remnants of happy tears in our eyes.

Learning to be more social, or at least adapting to the European style of socializing, new people arrived who quickly became friends. The next few days we basked in the sun and played around on all sorts of boulders. I had already done my main projects for the trip though as we tried more and more, my to do list became longer and longer. All we needed was the pending rain to hold off or at least, time to stay still a bit longer.

But things don’t happen like that. The rain returned but this time people didn’t leave. So neither did I. There’s still some hope it’ll dry. Theres still some hope we’ll get just one more try. On this line, on that line. It’d be nice to try that one i have never seen before and even nicer to finish just that one line where I keep falling at the end. Oh, and that one with the hard first move… So many problems and all so nice… It’s good to be in the magical forest.

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magical magic part one

Wendy welcomed us on our first day of arrival in Magic Woods. We pulled in to find her sitting on her crash pad in all the glory of the sun. Her long hair was tied back in a bun with a pencil keeping it together. She was hard at work in the middle of a dirt parking lot surrounded by tents, live-in vans and gigantic evergreens towering on every side.

My psych was surrounded by new rocks, good friends and blue sky. The surrounding mountains were big, steep and had an unwelcoming feel to them. They said to keep to the grounds, stay low where the boulders are. So of course, we did.

We ate a quick lunch and packed up our gear. Wendy gave us a tour of what she knew and we climbed on what we could. Being somewhat limited with two pads anyone whose been to magic woods knows this is less than ideal. The talus boulders are fallen between jagged rocks on the side of a somewhat steep mountainside. The large boulders are found by following well worn trails on the moss covered ground. Rocks, fallen trees and large holes were obstacles to either avoid or use as way to move further. It reminded me of the north walls in Squamish in many ways except the holes to fall in were bigger, the rocks more featured and there were a lot more premade landings out of fallen logs to keep one from falling into one of the crevasses of death.

The Canadians remnants from the Munich comp were also in magic woods and it turned out everyone in camp that I knew were resting the next day. With some matter of dislike and at the same, acceptance, I took an undeserved rest day so to keep on schedule with everyone, aka the partnering psych and much needed spotters and pads.

There was basically one week left with the Canadians and Wendy so days were maximized climbing two days on and one off. My legs ached with fatigue more than my fingers because of the uphill hiking which i was more then unaccustomed to. Getting used to the sketchy landings took me a few days as did my lungs for the hiking. The many moderates in the area proved a very nice warm up to the area. At that point everything was tried from v0 to v-impossible and all of it was good.

The week passed quickly. Too quickly. It seemed as soon as we got there we were waving good bye to everyone who greeted us: the Brits, the Canucks and unfortunately the sun. I wasn’t sure when it would return but the forecast seemed positive and so we stayed positive and hoped for the best. After everyones departure Magic woods became a different place… And a different story. Until next time…

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Chasing chickens and plastic

By the end of the Scandinavian adventure and Leonard Cohen date there were 4 weeks left to prepare for the Munich boulder World Cup. Four weeks didn’t seem like a whole lot but it felt enough as I used my time efficiently and well with the training know how’s that I learnt after the end of the last comp in Innsbruck.

The first week was unplanned and spent in the hot summer’s heat of Fontainebleau. My friend Laura promised she would train with me if I stayed a week which was quite a promise was coming from someone who has climbed on plastic just twice in her life! Having someone to train with was rather motivating for me as was being in Font so we stayed.

Days were started by running our 20 minutes in the morning shade which by the end turned into the blistering summer’s heat. Upon arriving home the sprinkler immediately went on and everyone was cooled off within minutes. The European siesta became quickly understood as the day just got hotter and hotter. The late evenings were spent climbing between sessions at my old homage of BlocAge and in between the trees of the forest. I always assumed that climbing in Font in the summer would be heinous and undoable yet keeping to the trees kept it relatively cool and the odd breeze was appreciated as a way to revive and refreshen. Some of the days were unbearable but surprisingly more than half were just as good as the spring days of April.

Between chasing the wild chickens of Gite Arbonne, obsessing about ticks and the nightly core workouts with Laura, the time came to leave. I needed to train in a proper gym with the kind of big massive holds found in the comps so we waved our good byes and headed for Munich the city where the comp would take place and home of the amazing gym BoulderWelt.

Boulderwelt satisfied my climbing’s needs and the city of Munich became our entertainment grounds. A month metro pass was purchased and rest days were spent getting on and off it at various places of our hearts desires. The Bavaria city had its perks with homemade ice cream costing just a euro, the city parks which seemed to appear on every corner and the remnants of a hard history that passed not so long ago. The river Isar was within walking distance of our camp where we would spend the hot summer days bathing and cooling off between the hordes of sun bathing naked Germans.

We escaped the city for a week to visit the Frankjura to see friends and add variety in our selection of climbing gyms. I think I have said this before but Germans have a special talent when it comes to making climbing gyms. It was as much fun jumping around on plastic as in the shade of the trees of the Frankjura.

Upon returning to Munich I was rather psyched to re-meet Denise, a small girl with the body of a strong gymnast and long blond hair which she kept back in a ponytail. She became my psyched climbing partner for the next 2 weeks. We are pretty much the same size but she can jump like a bat outta hell. When I thought I couldn’t do a move because it was too big she would do it with ease. She had an ability to watch me flail on a move, tell me exactly what I was doing wrong and would find the solution and encourage me to keep at it until I did it. It was either just a little swing of the hips or turning my body however subtle.

We traveled on the train to visit the new gym E4 where special training camps went on with the Japanese and German teams. We had a mock comp which somewhat helped prepare me mentally for the real thing as my nerves just for that were at an all-time high. There is something about trying and failing in public but trying and failing in front of a small group of incredibly talented individuals who watch your every move is somehow just as intimidating. All the same, we all learnt something from each other so despite the embarrassing efforts, it was a good experience.

When the real comp day arrived I felt strong and ready but mistake after mistakes were made. I read the problems too slowly and didn’t move fast enough. Nerves ended up in my chalk bag setting me on a rampage of tunnel vision and confusion as I could not for the life of me figure out two of the problems which ironically looked most doable despite not figuring out the starts. In the end I was annoyed because in spite of my ranking, I knew I could do better. After watching the replays, I saw many people messed up the beta and so I forgave myself a little. Everyone makes mistakes.

I thought Munich would be my last comp as there was a yearning in me to return to rocks. To be more honest, I wasn’t sure if I could handle the beat down I put on myself after the comps but I wanted to end it on a good note. Yet that didn’t happen. Instead, I found myself re-motivated, wanting revenge. I surprisingly handled the disappointment better than i had in previous comps. Instead of feeling hopeless and that i could never do better, there was a strong feeling in me saying otherwise.

I began to understand a bit more how comps work and how one has to work at them. Having the mental stamina to keep calm, focused, and determined through the hour on the mats is easier said than done. I still needed experience with comps, route reading and moving faster under a stopwatch. I still needed to go easy on myself. There was so much more to learn and i felt the big world of competitions was just revealing itself to me.

By the end of the comp season I had a better grasp on training thanks to a few competitors and I had finally met the people that I wanted to train with who I had wanted to meet at the beginning of the season. Denise, Boudlerwelt and all the goodness surrounded by them motivated me to improve. The learning curve is still long but I am surprised to be psyched to be still standing near the bottom of it. :)

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