Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Déjà Vu

Last year, on the very last day of winter break, I sent what I consider to be my hardest climb to date, a V12 located on the desolate upper decks of Prime Climb. I had spent an entire month working out the intricate sequence, managing to link the problem with the exception of the opening move. True to form, it came down to the last attempt of the last day. Even better, all my PC friends happened to be watching (oddly enough, since no one ever goes upstairs) and the camera happened to be rolling. I generally dread people saying that they sent a line “on their last attempt,” because obviously it will be their last attempt unless they plan to run laps on it. However, I explicitly told everyone: “I’m gonna try it one more time. If it goes it goes, if it doesn’t then c’est la vie” (though I might have used a dumbed down form of that particular expression). More importantly, and unlike my dozens of “last attempts” on Pressure Drop, I meant what I said. Break was over, time was up, and I'd given up the idea of ever sending the rig.

I stuck the first move (which I had done before, so no guarantees there). Then the second. Then the crux, a wild helicopter swing off terrible slopey crimps which were obviously intended to be footholds, not handholds on near-horizontal terrain. Then a few more just-to-wear-you-out moves. Then the second crux. Then the finish jug. THE FINISH JUG. And while the climb was graded a measly V11, I decided it must have been a 12, for three reasons: 1) it’s Prime Climb, which equates to less-than-subtle sandbagging; 2) I worked on it consistently for a freakin’ month; Gusher took me two days; 3) no one else had even come close to sending it. So yes, in case you are still wondering, my hardest climb ever was a plastic problem that never even made it on my 8a.

This year the weather had been less than ideal for a good two weeks up until that final week, which somehow spawned two beautiful, sunny days with temperatures reaching the mid-40s. Perfect for a trip to Great Barrington, where, believe it or not, I had not been in over a year. It was strange and beautiful returning to the place that had been the very essence of my teenage outdoor ventures. There were so many memories embedded in those aesthetic gneiss walls: sending and almost sending Filter, almost having to carry Mike home after he almost sent Filter, nasty vanilla energy gels, relentless mosquitoes, French baguettes from the Co-Op, and so much more. As soon as we pulled up on the side of the road, I knew Great Barrington would always remain my favorite.

Filter V9. Summer 2012.

The entire month building up to break I had been ranting to anyone who would listen (and to those who wouldn’t) that I was going to do the V11 sit start to Fotowa, a V9 I’d sent oh so long ago. The funny thing is, I couldn’t even pull on the starting holds two years ago, never mind stick the crux. Now, on January 13, 2014, the holds were jugs, the move no longer stopper. The crux likewise went down in four or five attempts, thanks to a tiny 1/8-pad intermediate crimp. All that was left was to link it. Which I did, up until the very last move to the jug lip. Because the tape on my left index finger slid off because I hesitated and didn’t go for broke. Flashback to Hong Kong Phooey, Dead Rabbit, JIBS, every other climb of my life. Idiot. Especially knowing that this was probably the last warm day before I was off to Colorado. After that, I couldn’t even stick the first move. Maybe I should have taken a rest day after two days of climbing (including an all-day competition and an intense campus-rung workout.)

Fotowa Stand V9. Summer 2012. Featuring Mike's pastiness.

Fotowa SDS V11. January 2014. Featuring fleece-lined leggings and wool socks. Photo: Andrew Avalone
The first thing I did when I came home from Mass was rage Weather.com. Please, just one warm day. That’s all I needed. One more day, one more session, one last ground-up attempt. Rain Tuesday (goddammit), clouds/46° Wednesday, 36° Thursday, 36° Friday. THERE WAS HOPE. I knew then and there, in an ecstasy of desperation, that I would return to Barrington even if that meant sacrificing precious time at Prime Climb and spent with my family. This time I truly was, going for broke.

And so I came back, Friday at 10:07 sharp, with Josh and Andrew. I had sacrificed that morning’s hour of abs to ensure that I was well-rested (as in more sleep, not that abs ever got in the way of climbing) and that we would catch that day’s high temps. I stocked up on hand, toe, and body warmers at a local Shell. I charged the camera battery. I brought the extra camera battery. I made Andrew carry my mondo pad instead of paying for gas. It would happen. I would send. I had to.

When I stepped out of the car, I immediately noticed the difference in temperature from Monday. If Monday had been somewhat manageable, at least for a few hours, this was surely pushing my cold-weather limits. After pulling on the Fotowa stand a few times, I was completely demoralized. The left-hand crimp felt moist, although that didn’t matter much anyways, since my right hand turned numb as soon as it hit the next hold. Useless. Utterly useless.

I decided to take a break by trying out a nearby 10 called Pressure Drop. Being a one-move-wonder (crappy left-hand crimp + quarter-pad undercling pinch + high right foot to a slopey right-hand gaston), Pressure Drop is definitely not the proudest line at Barrington; however, the intricacy of that one move is something I’d never experienced. In order to even come close to sticking it, I had to engage my fingers 100%, which, I realized, is something I don’t typically do. After tearing up two of 10 tips, something magical happened: the sun appeared. And not the flimsy, hesitant winter sun. No, this was the sending sun. Fotowa wasn't going to have her way again. Not this time.

I tried the stand and made it to the lip first go. I tried the sit and fell at the crux (moving to the starting crimp rail of the stand). I ripped off all my tape and tried again. First move, 1/8-pad crimp, starting rail, crack, juggy crimp (crimpy jug?) before top, top, done. DONE. That simple. Although I knew I was more than capable of sending, the frigid morning had drained all hope and grabbing the lip came as a complete surprise. Once again, it had come down to the very last day. With 5 of 10 tips gone and bleeding, I flailed some more on Pressure Drop (by which, of course, I mean “stuck the crux move over 20 times with two fingers and one time with three,” which still is not enough to move through the next move). Even tape was no longer a match for these disfigured tips. I lied down on the black surface of the pad, body warmers and toe warmers in place, and soaked up the dying rays of the sending sun. I was content.

Fotowa Sit V11.

Summer 2012 (Fotowa Stand V9) v. January 2014 (Fotowa SDS V11). I fell going for the lip both times.


  1. First time commentator, long time admirer. As I chuckled reading about your ab time sacrifice for extra sleep, I got to wondering what your current training regime is. It's always extremely impressive. Perhaps a post on what it consists of these days? Thank you very much.

    1. Haha I was actually just thinking of doing a "Day in the Life" video/post