Weather was not on my side for my most recent trip to the southern bouldering meccas. Day 1: Tennessee was mostly a wash... with everything covered in snow and ice, and the temps hovering in the lower 30's. Annalissa and I pressed on to Georgia in hopes that Rocktown would offer a few dry boulders. The road to Rocktown, particularly the last 50 feet of steep switchback is notorious for slippery conditions, and on the way up I told Annalissa the story of Ray Ellington and I stuck on the hill, eating Sunchips and drinking beer, sure it was our last meal before one last try at the steep ice. We made it, barely. Annalissa and I didn't fare so well. No sooner had I finished the story that we hit the same spot... with the same ice. My Element (Natalie) couldn't muster enough to quite make the top, and we began sliding backward, completely out of control, in the dark, toward a 50' drop we knew was behind us somewhere. Annalissa opened the door and informed me she was bailing out. Half panicking, I talked her back in, let off all the brakes, cut the wheel just as we touched dry pavement, and managed to spin the Element around. Now facing downhill I turned the wheel away from the drop, into a shallow ditch, and stopped to listen to our hearts pound. Disaster averted.
This guy wasn't so lucky.
Next morning, same conditions. No cars made it up the hill, but several hardcores made the 2.5 mile trek through snow and ice to climb on a few 15 foot tall rocks in the sun. Hiking in, I wasn't sure that the effort would be worth it. We wanted to hike out with daylight... so that left about 3 hours of climbing time, with unknown conditions in the boulderfield.
Entering the climbing area, I was pleasantly suprised to find that the Orb was dry, and already had a crowd of guys throwing themselves at it. While warming up I watched, and wondered how it would feel this time around. I had played on the problem in the past, with no real understanding of how to link it all together. Watching the attempts being made, it didn't appear the problem had gotten any easier.
I nervously joined the group making attempts on perhaps the best known (notoriously sandbagged) V8 that the South has to offer. My first attempt was suprising. Starting at the first hard move, I was able to make a match that had previously eluded me, and set up to make the crux moves to the next sloping slot. Try #2 I started at the match, and finished the problem, my first time linking the final section. 2 or 3 anxious attempts from the start all resulted in near misses and a tiring core. Knowing it to be best, I forced myself to rest while the crowd packed up their pads and headed off into the boulderfield.
30 minutes later I did a few easy problems to re-warm up, then positioned my pads beneath The Orb. A 4 move intro deposits you directly into a series of classic southern slopers and tension intensive moves. A hidden, hard to catch toehook allows the crossed up match, from which you unwind with one bad smear for your right foot, and catch another of the slippery slots. For the first time from the start, I stuck the move. As I setup to make another hard match, it went through my head, "Nope, you're falling." I shook it off, unwilling to let go, and rocked hard onto a high left foot, barely catching the hold. A big move to a good sloper, and only a sloping topout that has spit off many a suitor remained. I heard one word. One of my spotters, Casey, said "Relax". It struck me as odd, as Casey is a shaky strong climber who rarely looks relaxed, and I'm the one with the composure. However, as soon as he said it, I realized that my mind was racing. Slowing down, I executed the moves, and stood on top.
I had expected that The Orb would be one of the hard ones. It's a problem I'd wanted to climb since I first saw it, 12 years ago, long before bouldering interested me. The stories of it's tough reputation hadn't escaped me. In less than an hour, it was done. Maybe my fastest V8 to date, and certainly the hardest. On to the next one.
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