A Red River Halloween Day 6: Breaking Through

David powering through 59" Drillbitch

59" DrillBitch (5.10a) ★★★★
Bethel (5.10a) ★★★★
Spinner (5.10a) ★★★★
Mancala (5.10b) ★★★
Bathtub Mary (5.11a) ★★★★
Bullfighter (5.12b) 

Somewhere, deep dark down inside us, there's a being that knows everything about us. It knows when your terrified, it knows when happy. It knows what your feeling. It knows what your capable of. It knows what your not capable of. It knows what you've done. It knows your dreams. Or, in my case, it knows that you don't know your dreams. It knows how you acted and it knows how you will act. I think everybody has this being--it's everybody's inner reflection of them self, its what you think you are. But it's also the truth: it's what you are and it's what you think has happened and will happen. It's the truth as in it's sort of the baseline where everything you do comes from.

I think my inner being is very different than my outer being. I don't know if that's true for everybody; for 99% of the people I've ever known, I think I've only met their outer being; I think in close
friendships or relationships you meet people's inner beings. There may even be some people whose inner beings are the same as their outer beings: people who literally wear their heart of their sleeve, who understand reality exactly as it is; people who are completely at peace with who they are and at peace with who they want to be.

I'm not one of those people. My inner being is all over the place; it is some attention deficit riddled smorgasborg of the events I choose to remember good and bad--depending on a combination of how I'm feeling and how I want to feel. My outer being (I think) has traits of this scatter-brained unfocusedness, but it only projects and amplifies the good with excitement and experience.

Which brings me to the current (grade) highlight of my career. But let's rewind back to the beginning of our day first...

I awoke stoked. The sun was out. I felt great. Today was going to be great.

Zach and Dave-O made pancakes, so I made our usual PB&J sandwich lunch. Jon, Jen and Rus joined us mid-breakfast preparation. We were chomping at the bit, eager to get out; they just wanted morning coffee. The drive to the Red is rough.

Dave-O matching the fall colors on Bethel
We split up. We went to Johnny's Wall, a wall of four star 5.10s strongly recommended by Dave-O. The plan was to later meet at the Arsenal, were Dave-O and Jon would lay siege to their long-standing project, Bathtub Mary.

Johnny's Wall was awesome. Perfect warmups. Well, almost perfect--the first five feet were coated in a thin layer of wet moss. Which may have spit me off. Didn't matter though--these climbs were a great way to start the day. Once you were off the ground: impeccable 5.10 glory climbing greeted you. Big flake sidepulls. Hidden underclings. Resting jugs. So. Much. Fun.

A Red Eft (also known as an Eastern Red Newt)
When we finished the four classics, we walked over to the Arsenal, home to Bathtub Mary, Dave-O's nemesis. For ten two years, he had dreamed of planned to send this line. Health and bad luck had so far gotten the better of him. But today was his day. Revenge and glory would be his. He would float through the opening slab with the finesse of a dancer, rest in the pocket like a hibernating bear, and power through the finishing overhang like a supercharged mustang.

Except for his back. Unfortunately, he still had not fully recovered from a semi-major back injury, and wasn't ready to lead the route. So... top rope-ing it was.

I hung the draws, battling a surprise crux and golden ladybugs to the chains. Or were they Japanese Beetles? And did they sting? We never figured out the answers to any of these questions. Thankfully, we didn't get stung either.

Regardless, I was psyched. The climb deserved its five star reputation: it had variety, a beautiful setting, and great midway hueco rest.

Zach cleanly sending Bathtub Mary
Zach fired it next. He sent and overflowed with stoke on the way down. This was his first clean 5.11 lead.

David tied in and crushed. This was his first 11a flash. The send train was gaining steam.

Giving us a grim look of determination that could only foreshadow the ensuing battle, Dave-O tied in. He quickly dispatched the first section, looking strong and calculated. He continued up, botched a sequence, and froze--squeezing the color out of the rock. He was stuck on bad crimps, unable to move up or or down. A few very long seconds later, the battle was over, and he peeled off. We were crestfallen for him--this had been one of his goal routes, and we had sincerely believed our stoke could power him through his back injury and the crux. Thankfully (and perhaps even more impressively), he wasn't as disappointed as we were. In fact, he didn't even seem to mind: he simply shrugged it off, started looking for some better feet, adjusted his body position, and went back to work. When he came back to the ground, excited about relearning the nuances of the climb--and really, just being on it again--we felt the psyche return.

David missing his rubber ducky on Bathtub Mary

His next go wouldn't be today though. He was slightly spent, and even though they were buzzing with energy, Zach and David were satiated. Apparently, I wasn't and didn't have a choice: everybody thought I should hop on something else.

There was a 5.10d to the left of Bathtub Mary that didn't look that interesting and five star 12b to the right that did. The guidebook description was quite epic (something about entering the ring, a big jump, dancing with and angry steer, and holding on), so I stopped thinking and tied in.

I stepped onto the cheater blocks, pulled on the razor thin crimps, and went.

I'm off the ground. Not on heinous crimps anymore! At a rest. Sweet. It's five feet of the ground. Not sweet. The next move is huge. Also, not sweet. Less thinking, more climbing. The next move is huge. I can't jump that far. But I also can't keep hanging out here forev--What?! I stuck it. Breathe. I guess I am tall. Clip. That was the crux, right? Find good feet. Find the next tic. Adjust the feet. Move. Breathe. Next tic. Adjust Feet. Move. Breathe. Tic. Clip....

... Crawl into the heuco. Somehow, I've made it to the heuco rest. I'm halfway. I'm not overly pumped, and I haven't really had the chance to feel afraid yet. I've clipped the bolt to the looker's right of the hueco--if I fall from inside the hueco, it'll be awkward, but not big. But as I look down at the crew, 30' below me--my heart rate sky rockets. Heights. They get you every time. I stop looking down. Golden (stinging?) ladybugs surround me. I try to breathe. And stop looking down. I really don't want to look at the ground--every time I do, I swear I'm ten feet higher.

Your OK. You're at a rest. 30 feet off the ground!?! You are literally sitting in this hole in the wall. Relax. You won't go anywhere. But so much can go wrong. What if the rope cuts? Are my knots tied right? Is my belayer even paying attention? Of course he is. Zach is a solid belayer. I trust him. But you're above your last bolt. It's going to be a bad fall. Breathe. Fine. I'll go for the next clip.

I awkwardly climb out of the heuco... but something doesn't feel right, I panic and climb back in. Botching the next clip could result in a semi-serious fall. At least the Mountain Project comments seem to think so. I climb back out, hang the draw, (breathe!) clip it, and frantically climb back into the heuco. That wasn't that bad, right? (It was).  

I'm resting in the heuco again. I look down. The ground feels sixty feet away and getting further. Breathe, try reign your fear back. Breathe--

"You want some fruit snacks?"

And so, the shenanigans commenced. Dave-O starts firing fruit snacks up at me--but it's not close. I can't snag them--lunging at these tantalizingly close projectiles will easily spit me out of the sloping heuco. He gets a little closer... but I start thinking the fruit snack packets are going to pop from the impacts before they get to me. Zach (still my belayer) also tries, but only peppers the wall.

David steps up to the plate. His grenade launcher of an arm rockets a packet up, and it smashes into the wall below me. Our last great hope, also a failure.

But he reloads and relaunches. Bulls-eye. Laughing, I enjoy the best fruit snacks I've ever had. Time to go for it.

Exiting the hueco is still awkward, but I move past it.

Breathe. You've got this. One more bolt... and I think there's a jug next to it. Breathe. Move. Hang the draw. Clip the draw. No! Not from the crimps! Find a better hold. Breathe. Hey, brain--I know this is a great rest, but you're 8 feet above your last bolt, YOU SHOULD CLIP!

I move to the left a little, back-flag like my life depends on it and clip. My heart rate is exploding. I'm just trying to keep it together.

Breathe. This is easy. Follow the tics. Place your feet. Move like you've done this before. What--this tic sucks?! No--I'm not using it. Come on--it doesn't matter what hold you use. Adjust. Move. Breathe. Move. Go! 

Somehow, I clip the chains. I remember a few parts of the climb: the tic marks, the ok jug rest, back flagging harder than I've ever have, calmly pausing to clip in spite of everything shaking, following the tic marks out of sequence, panicking, then realizing that I'm a few feet from the top, going for it, and then barely keeping it together while clipping the chains.

Just like that my first 5.12b. An onsight (!?!), hanging the draws. Boom. Had my summer training paid off? Had I just gotten lucky and found the softest 5.12b at the Red? Or was this a hard climb that aligned perfectly with my strengths?

It turns out that the past two years of training on and off worked. This climb was my style: short difficult boulder problems separated by a great rest. And thankfully, this isn't the easiest 5.12b at the Red (at least the internet doesn't seem to think so).

But when I looked back on this climb, I realized that all I wanted to do was thank the crew I climbed with. This was the best crew I've climbed with. Thanks to them--I was in the perfect headspace for this climb. There was zero pressure. Everyone was stoked. We got lucky in a lot of ways: we picked the perfect rest day, we got great weather the next day, and we picked perfect warm-ups. The little things made a difference too: I remember working on my form during our five star warmups. Dave-O's battle with Bathtub Mary reminded me to focus on the details. David's rocket of an arm got me laughing mid climb. And Zach's stoke and belief convinced me to try. It's rare that all these factors come together at the perfect time and place (and looking back--it's even rarer when you get a week of it). So, thanks guys!

Unfortunately for the rest of the crew, I had to share the passion (someone did have to clean the draws, and I really didn't think I could re-climb it). With equal amounts of encouragement, we threw Zach on it. A few tries later, he fired the crimpy section down low, and then quickly stuck the dyno on his first go. But he then claimed his fingers were fried and lowered. To this day, I remain convinced he could have finished the climb off. I think he was afraid of seeing how strong he actually was.

Badias went next. He's a little shorter (but much, much more muscular) than Zach and I, and on this climb it cost him: neither the reachy initial crimps, nor the tall man dyno are short person friendly. He fought his way up though (we didn't give him much a choice). After quite the battle, he made it to the chains. He lowered, we cracked open celebratory beers, and headed back.

We grilled that night. David took the lead, claiming grilling was the only way he knew how to cook. It was delicious. When the rest of the crew arrived back from Miguel's, we played Bang! until we could no longer, and went to bed.

I initially wanted this post to be about faking it until you make it. When I started writing this (probably over six months ago now), I vividly remembered both how close to the edge I felt and how nobody else on our crew saw it (or maybe they did and just lied to me). But I've watched myself climb it a few times, and even though there are a few shaky moments--I'm starting to see what they see.

Ultimately, I decided that it didn't matter. I just want to remember this day. A great day. With great friends. In the middle of Kentucky.


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