The following post is more or less a climbing log I wrote over the last eight days of our trip to Rocklands this summer. Obviously its really long for a blog post, and to be honest I'll be really impressed if anyone reads it all. Its mostly for myself, but I'm posting it because I'm guessing some of you can relate and you may find it interesting. Or maybe you'll think it's dumb and never visit my blog again.
If you find yourself leaning toward the latter category feel free to scroll to the bottom of the page for some accompanying video. No music, no fancy edits, just down and dirty failing.
My trip is winding down and I have just seven days before I leave for home, for my dog, for my friends and family, and hopefully to a job of some sort. Before I leave I have a few projects I’d like to do, but not much time to do them in. Where has the summer...er...winter gone?
After I climbed ‘Yabo Roof’ in Yosemite last Fall I made it my goal to push my bouldering capabilities to the the limit in preparation for my trip here in the Rocklands. My hope was to climb something that challenged me the way ‘Yabo’ did, but with the added challenge of it being on a an unfamiliar rock type and with the pressure of an impending flight home added in for spice. Projecting on a trip is challenging because of the investment in time it takes. Prior to this trip I’d never spent more than a few days on any given project while traveling. With a stay of over two months I knew this would be the trip when I could really throw myself at a project without feeling like I’d missed out on all the rest.
Over the course of our first month here I sampled many great problems, none required more than a visit or two to complete. Of course I tried harder problems as I looked for the perfect project, but I wasn’t “projecting” per se. The problem I was looking for had to be difficult enough to seem possible, but not so difficult as to seem impossible. Fortunately in the Rocklands hard boulder problems are bountiful so there were many candidates to choose from. Some of the early favorites included ‘The Vice’, ‘Quintessential,’ and ‘Nutsa’. In the end however, three different problems rose to the top for three different reasons.
‘Armed Response’ was the first to go on the short list, is the one I most covet, and is also probably the hardest (though at first I didn’t believe so). This problem involves two very powerful hand moves and (for me) five very tenuous foot moves that actually prove to be the crux. The meat of the problem is capped by two more relatively easy hand moves. So far I’ve tried this problem to varying degrees over the course of six separate days. I’ve come very close several times but it still eludes me. One of the nice things about returning to this problem time and time again is the setting. The sunsets at the Fortress sector (where ‘Armed Response’ is) are the best in the Rocklands.
‘Tea Time With Elmarie’ is a test of ones crimping endurance. After nearly flashing an easier variation to this problem, and subsequently doing the finishing moves to this problem in a matter of minutes, I wrongly assumed I could complete the full line rather quickly. After four sessions mostly spent falling on the last move of this problem I’ve once again been humbled by rock climbing. Its okay though, the journey is what makes it all worth while. While I’d be very excited to climb this problem, I’d be lying if I didn’t say the others hold more appeal. If this problem were in the Bay Area it would be a mega classic. Here, amongst so many world class problems ‘Tea Time’ is the consolation prize.
‘Black Shadow’ was the last to come onto the list, though I first tried it nearly two weeks before I saw ‘Tea Time’. My first experience was one of mixed feelings. The climb was definitely very cool, but I was afraid my lack of power endurance and the unexplainable difficulty I was having with the end would prove to be too much to overcome. After a second lackluster attempt at the problem I’d nearly written it off, having had no progress whatsoever on the ending sequence, a series of moves others were have no trouble with. On my third trip to the problem I was escorted out on the enthusiastic shoulders of my good friends and mentors Paul Barraza and Randy Puro. I had a breakthrough and enthusiasm was restored. On my forth and most recent visit both Paul and Randy sent. I came painfully close to being the third but in the midst of my final attempt I injured my ankle in a very peculiar way while heel-toe camming. I remain nervous as to weather my injury will prevent me from getting another chance at this phenomenal problem.
After a full day of rest spent in the lap of luxury at a five star resort, which included a Swedish massage and gourmet meals, I decided to head over to ‘Black Shadow’ today for an evening session. My climbing did not get off to a good start. I felt tentative on the heel-toe cam because I was nervous about my ankle and I was having difficulty again on the ending sequence. I nearly threw in the towel when I started feeling some soreness in my LCL from the same heel-toe move.
Fortunately I discovered a much more straight forward way of doing the move that didn’t put any strain on the ankle or knee. Back in business right? Well, sort of. Turns out that climbing into the new sequence was harder to execute than just pulling off the ground and doing it. At this point I decided I was too tired to do it with darkness quickly falling around us but I was psyched to return after dinner with a few more headlamps for a second go.
After dinner, Becky, Kevin and Randy all joined me for a late night session. When we arrived my spirits were high and the temperatures low. After setting up I quickly set about to climbing into my new sequence. Immediately I realized that the sequence would not work, it was just to difficult to climb into. Again, I nearly resigned myself to failure. This time Randy pulled me out of the doldrums. He suggested a slight amendment to my new sequence, one that traded one large hand move for two smaller ones. In addition the amendment left me on a better hold than the one I was using previously.
Unfortunately, my next two attempts were thwarted by lazy foot placements and a diminishing gas tank. “You have to do this,” Randy says, “It’s too good not to come back.” Come back I will, but probably only once. There’s simply not enough days left for more. I’m still psyched but my optimism is waning.
Today I headed back up to the Fortress to try ‘Armed Response’ for, what was most likely to be, my final attempts. I was not in a hurry to get there. The temperature forecast was not good and since no one else seemed eager to go climb we waited for cooler evening temps.
Cooler conditions did not greet us upon our arrival. It wasn’t scorching hot per-se, but the air was still and the overcast clouds seemed to be trapping in all the moisture. Without even warming up my hands began to sweat. With the conditions as they were I sort of checked out mentally. I climbed a few warm-ups with Randy but I almost didn’t even want to try my project. Finally, after some time had passed, the heat started to lift and, though the air remained still, I decided to have a go.
My first try was very good. I matched my previous high-point by hitting the left hand pinch, but fell as usual when my left foot skittered off. The more I’ve tried this problem the more I’ve come realize that the crux (for me) is a foot move. I have to place my left foot on a very small edge in such a way that it allows me to press into my right shoulder and stand up to the good left hand pinch. Pulling on from the ground, this move is easy. Climbing into the move is another matter altogether.
I tried the problem a few more times with varying results until finally, I stuck the pinch! Of course my foot slipped off a moment later and I was back on the ground. Still, I had made progress and my spirits were lifted.
My attempts continued once again into darkness. I was still fighting moist finger tips so long rests were necessary, but I also knew that the rest of the group’s patience wouldn’t last forever so I couldn’t delay too long. At about this time Randy decided to start giving the problem some attempts. Right away he started making progress on the first move and before long he was sticking the right hand gaston. Watching Randy gave me the psyche I needed for one last good attempt. I sat down, chalked up and pulled on. The three headlamps we had lit the holds well and I snatched up the first hold easily. I made the tenuous 1-2-3 foot sequence and started pushing up for the pinch. I was more secure on my feet than ever before, and as I engaged on the pinch I thought that this could be it. Sure enough I held the pinch, but just as before, my feet gave way and I was off.
Progress on this sort of climb is often measured in inches, sometimes much less. In the past when I’d fall off grabbing the pinch I’d land on my back. On those attempts, so much of my weight was still on my feet that when they blew off I had no chance of staying upright. On this last go my feet hit the ground and I remained vertical. A small victory in the face of defeat. I was done. The others convinced me to try again a few minutes later but my heart wasn’t in it. I was drained physically from my last attempt and I was emotionally spent.
Durring the hike out I was in a trance. I hardly noticed how beautiful the night was. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to try this problem again. Its kind of a sad thought really. At the same time, this was the challenge I came to Africa looking for so I’m really happy that I found it. Three beautiful and difficult moves.
On Sunday I’m going to go back to ‘Black Shadow,’ we leave on Tuesday, and I probably won’t have time to climb on Monday. I guess its time to let go... Harder said then done.
I washed the holds before leaving though, just in case...
I didn’t have the heart to write last night. It was my last chance to do ‘Black Shadow’ and perhaps my last day climbing here in the Rocklands. The day began well enough at the Plateau sector. Becky, Beth, Randy and Kevin were all there and we each did a bunch of nice warm-ups, though the sun could have accomplished the same. Randy climbed a cool dyno called ‘Black Velvet’ on his third attempt, which inspired us all, and Becky worked out all the moves on a great roof problem called ‘Minki’. Before leaving the Plateau Kevin, Randy and I all played on another great dyno called ‘Hole in One,’ which Kevin was able to repeat.
When we left my expectations were low for ‘Black Shadow’. The weather conditions and the condition of my skin left me far from optimistic. When we arrived it only got worse. Not only was I sweating profusely but I was having fits with the last few moves again. I nearly called it quits then and there. Of course, I couldn’t bear to leave that way and everyone seemed content to play games on the iphone for as long as I wanted to try, so we stayed.
I never ended up sending the problem, unfortunately. I fell devastatingly close on multiple occasions, but it wasn’t in the cards. I could come up with plenty of reasons as to why I didn’t succeed, but the bottom line is I did not. I know the problem isn’t going anywhere, and I know that I can always come back, but that misses the point. The challenge I wanted was to do something approaching my limit, but with the pressure of a clock ticking in the background. I didn’t send, but I didn’t back off either. It would have been easy to go and try to tick off a lot of other climbs that were well within my limit, but I chose to stick it out on my projects. Not only that, but I could have spent at least one of my last days climbing on ‘Tea Time with Elmarie,’ which I’m certain I could have done more easily than the other two, but I didn’t. I realized that that would have been a cop-out, and I was no longer interested.
Today was a better day than yesterday. It began with Becky sending her mini project ‘Minki,’ her first of the grade. I say “mini” not to diminish the significance but only to reflect that it took her just two days to climb. The feat is even more impressive when you account for her MCL tear at the beginning of our trip.
After ‘Minki’ we headed into town for some lunch and to take care of some errands. Finally, just before sunset we headed back to the Fortress for one last play on ‘Armed Response’. Everything about this session was an improvement from the last few days of climbing. The temperatures dropped, a cool breeze was blowing, and I felt relaxed for the first time in days. At this point I didn’t really expect to do the problem, but that didn’t bother me so much. My skin was still shit and I was tired from the previous evenings climbing. Still, this is why I came to the Rocklands, to try and climb a problem like this, and on my last day here I couldn’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be.
Perhaps as a result of my improved disposition, I climbed better on the problem than ever before. I managed the pinch move multiple times and I can honestly say that I was just a foot move away from completing the problem on at least two attempts. I won’t say I wasn’t frustrated by how close I came without sending, but I will say that I walked away with my head up this time. I even enjoyed the walk out. The moon was bright enough fore go headlamps, and the breeze felt good on my face.
One impression I'm left with, after re-reading my ramblings and watching the video, is how lucky I am to have supportive friends that are willing to hike to the same boulders over and over again, with nothing but positive attitudes. I hope I can repay the same kindness in the future. Thanks especially to Becky, Beth, Kevin, Lyn, Paul, and Randy for making multiple trips, carrying pads, and shinning headlamps.
I owe Becky an extra special thanks for taking all of the video and for putting up with my project induced mood swings.