The Obsessive Climbers Guide to Taking A Step Back

Just the other night, in the latest issue of Rock and Ice,  I read a great piece by Whitney Boland titled "Crossroads".  The short story rang familiar, and not just because I'd climbed with Whitney several times recently.  More so because she's writing about the frustrations on a former project of hers, "Swingline" (13d).  "Swingline" happens to be my project as well, and those same frustrations had entered into my psyche.

"Swingline" breaks down as a 13a to a not-so-good rest, followed by a less steep, techy(ish) 12 move v8 boulder problem that culminates in the hardest move, a long reach from a left hand, 2 finger "funnel", to a small 2 finger, 1/2 pad pocket sidepull.  I'd fallen off that move 4 or 5 times on redpoint.  Those falls had all happened in the Red River heat and humidity, and I couldn't wait for better conditions.  They arrived, on my 36th birthday, and I was stoked to get out and send.  Something funny happened thats never happened to me on a route... I regressed.  Never even got to the move.  I never got comfortable on the rest, never got into the zone.  Failure.

Wait... that isn't the whole story.  This wasn't the first time "Swingline" broke my heart.  Allow me to back up a little.  Early in one particularly humid session, while bolt to bolting to warm up, "Swingline" dealt it's first blow.  I loaded a small two finger pocket in the crux and instantly felt searing heat in my forearm, like the tendons had been stretched WAY too far.  No popping, no tearing... but scary nonetheless.  For the next 2 weeks, I couldn't load those two fingers.  Not even on the biggest jugs.  Another week or so of being careful, and the tendons were back to normal, but those lost 3 weeks felt like eternity.

NOW... back to the present.  On my 36th birthday, after regressing when I was so close, I decided to take a break from "Swingline" and return when the temps were back to good.  After blaming everything else (new shoes, improper warm up, anchor fever, got too comfortable, blah blah blah...), I settled into the idea that I wasn't getting comfortable on the holds, and more importantly, the rest, because the pockets were hitting me in the same spot over and over, making the side of my right ring finger thin and tender.  On the last go of that day, I lowered off dejected, with a bloody ring finger.  Happy birthday to me.

As Justin had already crushed his project at the Darkside, "The Return of Darth Moll"(13b), and had moved on to "No Redemption" (13b), the thuggish "Ultraperm" (13d) around the corner seemed to be a good fit.  (Click on the route names for great videos of both routes!)  A quick send on "No Redemption" bolstered my waning psyche, and I began work on the REALLY steep, slopey pocket goodness of "Ultraperm".   On a bolt to bolt foray up the line, I met with success and ultimate failure.  After finally deciding on crux beta (there are 49837973893797 chalked holds in one spot), and pulling through, I committed to the one sharp pocket of the route... really dug my fingers in... made the next move... but left a chunk of my finger behind.  Bloody and beaten.  What a sissy.

Ultimately, its a good thing.  It'll heal up right instead of getting worked every week on the same pockets.  I've got a crimpy 13a to try and onsite around the corner, and a sick, slopey 13d to check out as well.  I'm being forced to take a step back, reevaluate, and keep moving.  A fresh start, so to speak.  I've learned some things about how to better structure my next summer's training to prepare for fall, and I sent an amazing techy 13b I otherwise wouldn't have gotten on.  All that, and frankly, the really good conditions have yet to arrive.  We may only get a month or so of it, but my finger will be healed (its looking pretty good already), as will my psyche.  And if I need, I know I can cry on Whitney's shoulder, because she feels my pain.

You thought I lost.  I know I won. 

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