Big Gains Come In Small Packages.

While sitting in the gym staring down the orange problem, and examining the love/hate relationship that I share with it, I can't help but notice the frustration bubbling up all around.  I watch several climbers, good climbers, who I consider to have more natural power than I have, quickly giving up on moves they can't yet comprehend.  Rather than learn a new body position or movement, they instantly release a familiar barrage of excuses...

"There needs to be a foot here... the setter got lazy"

"This must have been set by a tall person"

"This must have been set by a short person"

"This just isn't a fun problem"

"blah, blah, blah"

And worst of all...

"I'll never do that, its just not my style."

If you're that person, I have a gift for you.  Hell, even if you aren't, you can share in this little gem. It often comes in a very small package.  We call it success.

Let's take a look at the orange problem.  As it's loosely based on (and much easier than) the Joe's Valley classic problem, "Black Lung", we'll call it "Orange Lung".  As it is essentially 4 moves long, only 15 degrees overhanging, and heinous, I knew it would be the perfect "small hold" winter project for me.  

Day One:

The start is obvious... two less than desirable holds, a slippery backstep with the left foot, and a big move up and left to a hard-to-latch slopey crimp/pinch (crinch).   I eagerly stepped on.  I dejectedly stepped off.  I could barely stand there, how the hell am I supposed to move?  4 or 5 attempts later, and I could touch the nasty little crinch.  (Success!)  5 or 6 attempts after that, and I was actually hitting the hold... SO close to holding it.  Latching it proved elusive.  However, learning to initiate the necessary movement was a big step.

Move 1 of "Black Lung"

Day Two:

After warming up, I was excited to get back on "Orange Lung", and continue with my schooling. To my surprise, 3 or 4 attempts in, I stuck the elusive crinch.  (Success!)  My momentum stopped there, as it became clear that move #2 was decidedly harder than move #1.  Starting with my left hand on the crinch, I'd pull on and try to move my feet into position to "fall" into a similar right hand crinch, just next to my left.  5 tries later I wondered if I was in over my head.  Shutting that thought out, I strapped on my try hard and held the right hand crinch on my next attempt.  (Success!)  

Matching the "crinches" on "Black Lung"

Day Three:

Coming in refreshed has some payoff.  First try, I linked the first two moves.  (Shocking success!)

Move #3.  Hmm.  Starting with the two crinches, all I could do was step back off.  I couldn't begin to pull up and make the BIG reach to the next, good by comparison, edge.  Not at all.  I couldn't get within 2 feet of it.  I must have tried 10 times, and everytime with the same, nonexistent result.

To top it off, I couldn't link the first two moves again.  Big failure?  Maybe, but lets focus on the small success of earlier, shall we?

Day Four:  

Move #3.  Hmmm.   I've made a little progress.  I actually initiated the movement, and got within 6 inches of the hold several times.  One particularly good attempt, and I touched the bottom of the hold, 3 inches from the edge.  (Success!)  I'm still a long way from this move, but inching toward it.

The hard 3rd move on "Black Lung"

Day Five:

I came into the gym with Angie Payne.  After a good warm up, I show her to "Orange Lung".  The first move takes her only 2 or 3 tries, as does every other move.  In 20 minutes, she's handily dispatched it.  As for me, I was able to touch the hold every try.  (Success!)  I could have easily been a baby and abandoned my project after she did it ("It's easier for girls..." or some dumb shit like that).  Instead, I watched like a hawk.  She holds her body tension far better than I do.  FAR better.  She's able to focus on hitting the hold AND keeping her feet on at the same time, even on difficult moves.  I want to get there.

Day Six:

Motivated by watching Angie crush my project, I begin from the start.  I hit the first two moves easily, AND touch the edge.  Whoa.  (Success!)  I stick the first two crinches about 50% of the time now, and I touch the edge every time I try it.  Big progress.

Day Seven:  

Tonight I don't even try the first two moves.  I concentrate on holding the crinches, keeping tension, and hitting the edge.  I hit it every try, and a few times I latch the hold just long enough to change the direction of my body before I pop off.  (Success!)

Day Eight:  

A few attempts in, and it all seems familiar.  Same "near catches".  I slow down the move in my head, and realize that I'm taking my eye off the target as I begin the move.  I've gotten so familiar with not completing the movement, that I'm subconsciously stepping off before I even touch it.  Also, the move feels easier when I let the thumb off the thumb catch as I initiate momentum.  I put a small tick mark on the edge, and watch it for the entire movement.  A few more tries, and I hold it.  Not long enough to move my feet, but it was in my hand for a few seconds.  (Success!)

Day Nine:

10 or so tries in, starting from the crinches, and I hit the hold.  For real.  I'm able to readjust, move my feet, and make the next move.  (Huge Success!)

From the bottom, I'm doing the first two moves 100% of the time, and always hitting the edge.  (Huge Success!)

I still haven't done "Orange Lung".  I might not do it before it comes down.  Regardless, I've made huge strides on this problem.  Every little tidbit of knowledge gathered has been a gift. Watching Angie, I realized that two of my strengths, body tension and footwork, have A LONG way to go. Brilliant!  All these small failures have been a major success.  Looking for, and finding these small successes in your training and climbing can mean the difference between motivation and frustration.  

I'm not learning anything on the send, so if "Orange Lung" does go down, I'll be looking for another gift to fall off of for a few months...


The legendary Ben Moon on the first ascent of Black Lung:


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