December 1, 2015 0

the ups and downs of sending a new grade – my first 5.14

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the new river wall in clear creek canyon, just outside of golden, colorado, has some of the best steep and hard lines in the front range, including the rite of passage that is ‘sonic youth’ (5.13a). thanks to the maniacal bolting efforts of brian kimball, this wall has received many more bolts and a lot more routes and options to keep almost anyone busy. it’s an outdoor gym with a lot of possibilities. it’s easy to get sucked into the crag. i was no exception, and by the time i started trying ‘kinky reggae’ (5.14a), i had done several of the harder (for me) climbs: ‘sweet inspirations’ (5.13c), ‘public enemy’ (5.13c), ‘enjoy your youth’ (5.13c) and ‘public inclinations’ (5.13d). in my head, i figured that i could start projecting something a little bit harder, really invest my time and really be pushed to my maximum effort. that was 3 seasons ago.


the first time i tried the route was in the late spring/early summer of 2013. i hung on every bolt leading up to the crux. the moves were difficult, very powerful and somewhat stretched out. this section clocks in at a 5.12+/13- by itself. then you get to a giant jug, which would be amazing if you had good feet to use. unfortunately, you’re smearing on small nubbins on a 40-degree overhanging wall, making this “rest” somewhat strenuous and physically taxing. and now on to the crux…


the opening 5.12+/13- section

to say that i got my ass handed to me the first time on the route is a severe understatement. i couldn’t touch a single move in the crux. i literally could not do one move. now a smarter or wiser man/woman would have walked away and found another climb that better suited him/her. if that were the case, you wouldn’t be reading this right now. instead, i was stubbornly determined to do this route. i had delusionally convinced myself that i could do this route. i lowered off the route having failed miserably, yet more psyched than ever to get stronger and try hard.


with a devotion i didn’t know i had in me, i continued to go down to the new river wall to hop on ‘kinky reggae’. slowly but surely, i started to link the opening sections, eventually all the way to the pre-crux jug. but by the time i got there, i was too pumped; i always had to take and rest. after resting i would throw myself at the crux. eventually i started to make moves. from the jug, you cross your left hand up and right to a 3-finger ¾-pad sidepull pocket. you then build your feet up really high and do a heinously large rose move to a 2 ½-finger ½-pad sloping pocket. you uncork from this position and reach high to a ½-pad sidepull crimp, pause to build your feet up, then deadpoint to a good full pad flat edge. the feet have to move up again, and you cross right hand to a 2-finger jug pocket then make a big move to some sloping slots, thus exiting the crux. you traverse a little bit and finish with the final boulder problem crux of ‘sonic youth’, which to me feels like a v6/v7 endeavor in it’s own right.



the “rose move” in the crux of ‘kinky reggae’


by the time the fall of 2013 rolled around, i was regularly linking to the crux. i could do the first few moves of the crux, but still hadn’t linked the entire crux section. it warrants stating again, that i should have walked away from the climb. it also warrants stating again that i am incredibly stubborn. one random day, trying the route, i miraculously linked through the crux. i couldn’t believe it. moves that felt impossible to me finally went! this gave me a huge confidence boost and i started on the redpoint attempts.

with each attempt, i was making upward progress. i was getting high point after high point. on my best attempt, i got to the last move of the true crux, pulled as hard as i could, bobbled the next hold, then fell. as i swung in the air above the creek, i dropped a lot of f-bombs. i don’t know if it was a true wobbler, but if it wasn’t, it was pretty damn close.

i continued to try the route, but never got back to that high point. soon after, it felt like i was merely rehearsing moves. i wasn’t really climbing, but just going through robotic motions. because of this, my overall climbing really suffered. it felt like i had lost my ability to figure out moves on new climbs i tried. i was only good at the moves on one climb, and that was it. i was falling on climbs that were at least a full number grade easier, and this started the downward spiral. a complete lack of success on any climbs at a grade you believe you should have success on becomes intensely frustrating. it made me dislike climbing, and the inevitable, impending failures.





so, i just sort of stopped climbing outside. it always seemed like too much work. one of the hardest parts was the fact i still had to set routes at the gym. when you’re not psyched on climbing, hauling up and down a rope or running up and down a ladder to put up climbs for other people doesn’t help your mindset. this lasted a good 6 or 7 months.


in the spring of 2014, i was finally talked into climbing outside by my friends keith and dan. i was definitely reluctant, but agreed to get out. they took me to a new climb in clear creek put up by our other friend kevin. i was told it was my style, that it suited me. fine. i’ll try it out. turns out, they weren’t lying, it perfectly fit my style of climbing. i was able to send it rather quickly, and the excitement started building. after that, i went back to a climb that i had tried the previous year, while in the midst of my climbing ‘funk’. there were moves on this particular climb that i could not figure out. it had me stumped and frustrated. at the time, i blamed it on my height. this time around, though, after a few tries, i figured out the moves. i was stoked! the mojo was building! soon after this breakthrough, i sent a route i had tried a few times over the last few years. this got me thinking, ‘maybe i could go back to the old project, see if enough time has passed’. turns out enough time had passed, and i was once again making some moves on ‘kinky reggae’. i had figured out, though, that the pockets were only usable in cool, non-humid conditions. if it was too hot or humid (or both), i couldn’t even pull on them. i had to wait for the right conditions.


flash forward to fall of 2014. it was time to start giving it hell…I had to re-learn how to efficiently link sections. I had to figure out the best warm-up routine. I had to learn how to build and ride my momentum by finding progress in the smallest gains and minute insignificant details. But it was working and soon I was back to my previous high point. right before the cold conditions blew in for the season, and shut down the climbing at this wall, i went back armed with confidence and maybe just a little bit of swagger…i felt good. On to my first burn…I linked through to the jug just before the crux. I did my best to turn off my mind and just focus on the moves. Off I went, executing. Left hand into sidepull pocket. Feet up and full extension rose move to the really shitty right hand pocket. Zero out on the right hand, feet up, and move left hand to the little sidepull crimp. Feet up again and pull with all you have to bump left hand higher to the good crimp. HOLY SHIT I STUCK IT!!!!! Right foot into the first pocket, dropknee, cross right hand into good pocket, and exit the crux. Before I knew it I was stemmed out in the dihedral rest staring at the final boulder problem. I had done ‘sonic youth’ so many times that I somehow turned it into a warm-up. I have the route dialed. The final boulder problem isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but I KNEW the moves. Once I had rested enough, I launched into it. Gaston crimp, thin pinch, bump to good pinch…bobble, readjust, fall. FUCK!!!!! I had it. I had it! It was good though, helluva new high point! I had actually linked through the true crux! This thing was in my sights.


after resting for a good long while, it was time for my 2nd burn. With more effort, I thankfully fired the crux again and found myself at the final rest. I pulled as hard as I could, fighting with all I had. I hit the good pinch and stuck it this time, got the dropknee and the gaston pocket, moved my left foot up, and went for the bump to the first left hand sidepull. I hit it, tried to close on it but was too pumped. I couldn’t hang on and took the whip.

I didn’t throw a wobbler, I wasn’t mad, wasn’t angry. I was just bummed, borderline sad. I just hung there, swinging back and forth completely defeated. I lowered off and just sat there with my thoughts.


I missed sending my first 14a by 3 moves. 3 moves! I gave it all I had and came up just a little short. There was just nothing left in the tank. I was too tired to try it again. The new river wall season was potentially over. The sun never gets down there and it stays frozen until the spring. sure enough, the meteorologists were actually right this time and the arctic temps and some snow moved in the very next day. i would have to wait another season.


it’s now 2015. knowing that i couldn’t get on ‘kinky reggae’ until the fall, i spent most of the summer simply hanging out with friends, drinking beer and not climbing. i justified it with the “it’s too hot outside anyway” excuse. by late summer, i decided i needed to start training. my good friend matt lloyd had just opened up Mountain Strong Denver, a gym for this very purpose. for 2 months i busted my ass at his gym with crippling amounts of core work, finger strengthening and overall fitness. these workouts hurt so much, it had been about 18 years since i got this close to throwing up while exercising. but i was adhering to the old saying “cry in the dojo, laugh on the battlefield” and knew i needed to stick with it.


day 2 on the project this fall, i happened to link through to the final boulder problem. i wasn’t expecting it this early on, and could not relax in the final rest. i couldn’t catch my breath or get the crazy pump out of my forearms. i tried anyway, and fell a few moves into the last crux. perhaps there is something to this training thing.


day 4 on the project proved to be a very low gravity day. on my 3rd burn of the day, i found myself at my previous high point. i focused and pulled harder than i think i ever have, and ended up at the anchor and clipped the chains. after a lot of yelling and screaming, i lowered down, threw my shoes on dry ground and dipped straight down into clear creek. i couldn’t believe that i actually sent. i went to battle with a route that was well beyond my abilities and somehow came out victorious. it took 3 fall seasons, but it was done! and i learned that apparently perseverance and dedicated training can see you through the improbable…who knew.

i win!!!!!

i win!!!!!

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