By Nathan Drolet
I originally wrote this for a different blog back in January of 2014 right after the last season that I sport climbed. Since I'm finally starting to rope up again, I felt this would be a nice time share it. Shortly after I wrote this, Greg Kerzhner wrote about failing on Joe Blau, which I feel is well worth a read as well...if you're into reading about people not being good at rock climbing.
It seems like the thing to do right now is to write a blog summarizing 2013, or contribute a story to Evening Send's 'When I Sent' series. Reading through several of these has made me think about my last year and what made it significant to me. Early in the year I took a trip to Hueco Tanks. During that trip, I was able to send nearly as many double-digit boulders in one month as I had in my previous seven years of climbing. I even managed to send Loaded with Power Direct(v11/12) and Power of Silence(v10) in the same day, undoubtedly my best bouldering day to date.
During the summer, I went out to Wild Iris and was able to climb six new 5.13's in a single week. Something I never would have thought possible a few years ago.
In the late fall I was able to climb my long time dream route Transworld Depravity(14a), and a half hour later I fell off of the very top of another route on my lifetime list, Omaha Beach(14a). Within that same week, I went back out and finished off Omaha Beach, making the Fall of 2013 by far my best sport climbing season by numerical standards.
While I had plenty of successful days this last year, the one day that stands out to me as my best was the day I didn't send Omaha Beach.
In the Red River Gorge, Omaha is everyone's favorite route to hate on. Locals love to depict it as a mindless jug-haul with no "hard" moves on it that only receives so much attention because you don't have to be a good rock climber to do it, you just have to be good at not letting go. In 2010, I decided to give this jug haul a go. I hung more times than there are bolts...
Over the next few years I would give it a go here or there to see if it ever felt more doable, and over those years I saw this climb from a lot of different perspectives. I've watched Euros who only brought cigarettes and 2 liter bottles of Diet Coke to the cliff onsight it casually. I've seen children send it in between fits of crying and getting yelled at by their parents. I've belayed many friends as they battled with it, sometimes successfully, and sometimes not. I've enjoyed this route, I've hated it, I've thought it would be easy, I considered it impossible, I was only using it as a trainer for better routes, I didn't even care if I did it, I would have put in every day of a season to do it if that's what it took, I was indifferent, and I was obsessed.
In early spring of 2013 I finally pulled onto Omaha Beach and it felt possible. On my first try of the year, I got a high point and did it in three sections, both very good signs of progress. It was in striking range. I knew that once I got my endurance back and got to know the route better, I could surely do it. I spent my first month back climbing other routes to get my fitness up and to build some momentum. I was obsessed with this route.
Without realizing it, I had only picked routes with crucial right heel hook rests. I was able to complete these other routes, but by the time I made my way to Omaha, I had a sore right hamstring and was having trouble resting much on the steep route. I didn't care, I wanted it done. I had a big summer trip planned and if I could send this before the trip, it would be a huge confidence boost. I was sure I could do it. After falling on the last move on a perfect day, my hamstring started getting worse, and the weather quickly turned against me. I was stubborn though, and tried it until I could barely weight my right leg on steep climbs. My leg got to the point that it would no longer take enough weight for me to stop on the route to rest. I was quickly getting lower and lower on the route with every go. I hated this route.
I decided to walk away from it. My big summer trip was coming up, and I wanted to make sure my leg was better, and that I was in good bouldering shape for the first stop of the trip, Wild Iris.
My last day in the Red before heading west for the summer, I decided I would give Omaha Beach one more effort to see if I could possibly get it done just under the wire. I still hated this route. I just wanted it out of my life. I climbed up to the no-hands rest at the base of the cave, sweating horribly. It had reached the mid 90's in the Red at this point, and climbing was miserable.
I sat in the no-hands feeling dumb for even trying the route. I was still over it and almost considered just taking and lowering so I wouldn't have to climb on it. I forced myself to wait a few minutes to see if I would still feel that way. It was then that I finally realized just where I was. On this ledge you get the perfect view of the entire Motherlode. The ledge sits up above the GMC wall, one of the best walls in the Red. In front of me was the waterfall flowing out from on top of the cave, and above me was the dark silhouette of the route's quickdraws standing against a perfect blue sky. At that moment I realized that this was what I always wanted. The reason I started sport climbing was to climb big beautiful routes, and here I was in the middle of one. I had become so focused on wanting to do this route that I had forgotten why I originally wanted to do it and just how incredible it seemed when I first saw it six years prior. For the first time in my climbing career I was happy with where I was at. I've always been stuck looking ahead at the next great thing, but this was different. I was finally in love with what I was doing right there in that moment.
That's when everything clicked. I left the no-hands already satisfied simply with where I was. Anything that followed would be icing on the cake. I grabbed every hold perfectly and climbed faster and smoother than I can even rehearse in my own head. My right leg was still too hurt to weight heavily, so stopping to rest was out of the question. I didn't care. I was where I wanted to be, feeling the strongest I ever have, nothing could discourage me. When the pump finally set in, I just leaned into it. Normally when I would start to get pumped on this route I would maybe have four or five more moves until I would fall; I went another fifteen without any hesitation or fear of failure. I couldn't fail.
I fell four moves below my high-point. But when I fell, it was because I had been in the moment, climbed flawlessly and gave it everything I had, and that just wasn't good enough. For me, in that moment of my life, that was the perfect effort. I was happier after falling off of Omaha Beach that day than I was when I sent it several months later.
Here's to the new year,