Craze and Calm

I have been feeling a bit crazed lately. After a summer of sending  fun lines and developing many more, it was clear that I was climbing stronger and better than ever before, but I felt I had little to show for it. The projects of yesteryear remained projects. Projects from this year piled up and were swept into the recesses of my mind like dust bunnies, unnoticed, yet ever-present. So a month ago I shifted my focus from developing new areas to sending old projects. But the weather also shifted and for two and a half weeks I half-heartedly listened to the forecasts, knowing that there would be no break in the rain. I watched the mountain tops with anxiety, preferring the thought of brimstone and fire to the snow line that was creeping down. Periodically the weather cleared at Hatchers and Ptarmigan so I spent a few frantic hours at each crag trying a few things, but where I really wanted to go was Byron. The webcam had showed rain for the last 4 weeks (minus one day), which was a problem. Having spent more time there than anywhere else, the valley held the majority of my projects from the past two years. It was the object of my obsession; the source of my dreams and nightmares.

It snowed in the city on Friday night, but by noon on Saturday the foreign sight of blue skies and sunshine prevailed. Outside of town the snow line was 1000 feet higher and I hoped for a full day of climbing at Byron. Without a spotter there were very few projects left for me try so I allowed myself to be foolish. Along with my full pad set up, I carried a 40lb steel pry bar and began the process of moving large stones to fix landings. The first rock I moved was as large as a small couch; the second, a water-cooler sized knife blade. I tweaked the boulders for hours and eventually opened up two short, decent problems. I sent both and was ready to explore more when a brief, icy rain washed over me. I felt as if I had wasted the day on these two stupid climbs, but I held onto hopes that the next day would be better.

Sunday morning, I was up early and I was amped. The forecast predicted a 36 hour weather window with a zero percent chance of rain in the Byron area. I could not believe it. I Invited my friends Julia and Nate, convincing them that we needed to go early to maximize the day.  We pulled into the valley and saw the tail-end of the storm hanging above in thin wisps.  I knew that it would blow over to reveal the azure skies that were following. Nate and I warmed up on two small mantle problems that I had done last year, adding a low V5 start to one of them. Then, an unthinkable and blatantly predictable  thing happened. The wisps materialized into a dark haze and released a steady drizzle. I should have seen it coming, but I was blinded by manic optimism. We huddled beneath the Arkenstone and one of my projects, The Unseen Stalker, for shelter. I felt mocked as if the fates had been dangling donuts from a string and I, Homer Simpson, had blundered into the trap again. (Doh!) I apologized to my friends for promising sunshine and climbing, but found no words to console myself as I led an inward wrestling match with my sanity.

 

Unseen Stalker trending to the right from the plated quartz

Unseen Stalker trending to the right from the plated quartz

Julia suggested that we at least go for a hike. It wasn’t until we were half way up a dangerously loose scree slope that my mood changed. Nate stood holding a boulder on the edge of the cliff like Rafiki presenting Simba to the kingdom. The image lasted for a split second until he sent the lion king chundering down the hill and I stifled my laughter. And so for hours we climbed the hill and trundled boulders, and explored a waterfall and trundled some more, and then hiked back down, trundling the whole way. We made up games and goals. We did team trundles. It was awesome and slightly terrifying. There is a thrilling sense of power that comes from sending a hunk rock bouncing down a hill and with it came an undeserved feeling of accomplishment.

We returned to our packs beneath the Arkenstone, where we sat in a brief, pale sunlight. Wait… wh..what? . It had not rained for two hours and the rock was dry, a fact that had been ignoring, convinced that any hint of optimism would summon another doom cloud. I was ready to climb. We shared a few cups of tea and then shared the pads between our respective projects. The moves on the Unseen Stalker felt really good, but I was having trouble reaching the last hold. Finally, it felt solid when I hit the invisible crimp and I was able to change the heel hook to a toe on a higher rail. The subtle shift allowed me to extend to the next hold and I before I knew it I was doing an endzone dance on top of the boulder, confusing hikers down below. The day was seized. We drove back to town and shared some beers, Nate and I making plans to return the next day.

 

Nate standing in front of Predator V7. Behind him is Dark of the Moon V9

Nate standing in front of Predator V7. Behind him is Dark of the Moon V9

On Monday, I left work at noon, the blue sky beckoning. Nate was ready at his house and soon we were discussing mermaids and belugas as we drove down the Turnagain arm. We headed to the Allspark and Bearclaw boulders where Nate and I both had projects. Nate worked on Predator V7, a problem that I had established earlier this summer that is both crunched up and extended, subtle and powerful. I played around, taking pictures and  having a few goes while he worked it, finally conceding that it would have to wait. Then it was my turn. We shifted the pads so that I could try Dark of the Moon V9, a problem that Todd had established this summer, but one that I had dreamed about all winter.

Nate on The Bearclaw

Nate on The Bearclaw

I sussed out the beta again and then made a few attempts, noting that one of the crucial underclings was damp. I struck a lighter, let the chalk bake into the rock, and the rechalked the hold; it was business time. From the start I was so focused on each movement that I hardly remember linking them together. Nate later said that I was moving fast, but I could not recall the speed, only the flow. When my right hand stuck dyno to the lip, I had a minor freak out, but reeled it back. When my left hand made contact, I shuddered and gasped for air. When I at last flopped my thigh over the lip, the celebration was sudden and uncontrollable. Gesticulations were flung. Expletives were released in nonsensical fashion. I had not expected this reaction. Only then did I realize how much emotion I had been holding back and how much of a burden I had been carrying for this one problem. Now it was gone.

The Fin V4

The Fin V4

It would have been a great day if it had ended then, but we weren’t done. Soon after, Nate made the second ascent of the Bearclaw V7 and we were both flying high. Then we both got shut down on Chris Vu’s problem, North Sloper V5, which was humbling to say the least. To keep the good vibes going we shared a beer and repeated another classic in the area, The Fin V4. I told Nate that there was one more problem that I wanted to try. “Nate, while I have you here…”

There was a line that I had worked  by myself this summer before concluding that the top of the problem could be done with “scary, mellow dyno.” We hiked to the Lorax Boulder, which looked as if it had recently been the site of a small waterfall. I chimneyed up into the undercling feature, a bizarre tooth at the back of the shallow dihedral. With my legs stemming widely at the top of the dihedral, I maxed out my extension along the 35 degree overhang and tried to reach the bucket lip, but came up 4-5 inches short. I decided to commit. Nate was ready to throw me back onto the pads if I missed, but it never came to that. I hit the lip so easily that there was time to adjust my hands before swinging back in to the wall. Then the simple traverse was made difficult by my hammering in my chest. I topped out and freaked out again, thrilled about the FA of, The Once-ler.

The Once-ler

The Once-ler ending on the roof beneath the bush

When I finally settled down, it was a deeper, more peaceful calm than I had felt in the past month. The muddled feelings of angst and frustration were gone. I had tried to convince myself that it was just climbing, that they were just rocks, and sending was a trivial facet in the grand scheme my life: all of which are completely true and completely bullshit. You might need to be a real climber to understand that statement. We are all seeking to derive some sort of meaning from the activities we devote ourselves to. Without it there would be no point in trying at all. After failing on these projects all summer, I needed validation that my efforts would be rewarded with a few hard, beautiful sends and now I have some vindication. I’m ready for winter. But if it will wait a few more weeks, I would appreciate that too.

Thanks especially to Julia and Nate for making the last two days possible. Rockstars!