First Ascent 2014

Before the climbing, a series of afters…

After the Tyrolean traverse I almost couldn’t pull off and the neverending uphill hike out to the crag, after feeling my months of non-climbing catching up with me as my ragged breaths tried desperately to regain control of my racing heart. After flaking out the rope, after roping up, after pulling on climbing shoes stiff with lack of use, feeling the familiar caress of the synthetic upper, the comfortable last. After performing checks and a quick terminology debrief with my partner…with whom I’d never before climbed. After realizing I now had to lead. After all of that.

It wasn’t the prettiest ascent I’d ever done, my send yesterday of Don’t Get Me Started, an easy-peasy 5.6 at Solaris, my favorite little crag in Boulder Canyon. My partner for the day, and hopefully sometime again in the future, was my friend Andrew, a Fort Collins expat who now lives in LA and had flown in for a long weekend mini-vacation. He’d expressed wishes to go rock climbing with me and though I hadn’t climbed since August of last year –and then, badly, with my regular partner JB at Greyrock in Poudre Canyon- I responded enthusiastically. That was a month before his arrival in CO for a very –very- short stay. I spent the interim period trying to make sure I had all of the gear I needed and scraping the mental rust from my climbing brain. And then suddenly, it seemed, we were at the base of the climb, I was on belay, and Andrew was regarding me with some interest as I scouted the route again for the first time in…quite some time.

The first clip was a no-brainer. Climbing past it suddenly paralyzed me, and I immediately refamiliarized myself with Leading Brain. Rock climbing challenges you mentally on so many levels, and while I really wanted to give my friend a well-deserved experience sending this route on TR, that meant I had to lead it first and establish that TR. Leading is considerably scarier than following. There have been times I’ve wanted to classify it as a separate sport altogether. The mental unnerving can happen in the blink of an eye. I know myself and how quickly and easily paralyzed I’ve been in the past, how climbs have shut me down entirely at times and how much I didn’t want that to happen this time out. After a few shaky and scattered breaths I took a deep one and scrambled reluctantly up the chossy surface towards the second bolt. The relief I felt clipping in was…

…surprisingly, nowhere near as great as I thought it would be. Clip bolt, clip in rope, and continue. The moves started coming more fluidly and I started having fun with it. This climb doesn’t really have a crux, more like a series of smaller, more condensed cruxes, as 5.6 climbs often do. Getting to the first one meant scrabbling up a tiny dihedral, manteling over its lip and standing on it to get to the next bolt. It was a little heady and there were a few panting moments. I try to channel JB at those times. I also try to remember I’ve taken my share of lead falls and that none of them have killed me yet, so just chill the eff out, Dondi. And moving on…

I got my chops back much more quickly than I thought and felt considerably better than I believed I would. I sort of French freed at one bolt but not really; I more had the mentality that I could if I needed to. All of the footholds that usually worry me I landed perfectly, and even the couple of times I had a foot pop off were slight errors I could correct quickly. All in all a really nice send for how terrifically out of practice as I was feeling. It all felt very instinctive, like even without having climbed in nearly a year and not at this crag for probably closer to 2 years I still knew what I was supposed to be doing, how my body was supposed to react to everything, how to make small changes to counterbalance more appropriately or reconfigure my weight more comfortably over my feet. The tiny victories that come from successful and comfortable manteling, high-stepping, placement exchanges and really using footwork to do most of the job were all their own rewards. I descended feeling strong and powerful and happy.

Unfortunately I forgot about the massive penduluming at the end of the climb and did the usual swing around into the nearby wall just past the last/first bolt on the climb. JB had a trick for assuring that wouldn’t happen but I always forget about it. Thanks to my forgetting Andrew unfortunately also got to enjoy a pendulum swing when he descended. That felt a bit foolish to me, like I ruined the climb. As one of the most even-keel and generally good-spirited people I know, however, he took it in stride and still seemed to enjoy himself. (I hope so, anyway…)
So, clearly, I need to do this more often.

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I'm a writer living in Northern Colorado. I also help run the front of the house for the Fort Collins Bike Co-op. I have two cool roommates and a snorey cat. I love my life.

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