Paige Claassen - To Bolt or Not To Be

Monday, April 15, 2013

To Bolt or Not to Be

By Paige Claassen


Staring up at the blank face, I wondered how I’d ever remember each precise movement. There wasn’t much room for error, and no place to recover if I wasted energy, so I needed to execute each move perfectly. I tried reading the route from the ground, but an endless pathway of tiny chalk marks up a featureless wall left no distinguishing features for reference. I tried video taping other people on the route, but the footage just looked like they weren’t actually grabbing holds.

Over a period of seven days, I worked to memorize the most difficult sequences of To Bolt or Not to Be. The fourth to seventh and ninth to tenth bolts held the “hardest” moves. To me, they all seemed just as hard. In most sections, holds were no bigger than 1/3 pad, but this was fine, finger strength had always been one area in which I excelled. It was the feet that were the problem. Most moves required delicate perches over dime edges, or smears in unbalanced positions. I knew I could fall off any move, and honestly, each move I made felt like I would fall.

So often, I find that if things don’t feel exactly right on a project, we as climbers hang and figure it out until it’s perfect. If anyone approached To Bolt that way, the route would never be climbed. It’s a tricky balance, knowing that there isn’t room for error, yet realizing that each move feels barely there on the go. I would delicately stab to each tiny crimp, allowing my body to only pull an inch away from the wall, and still struggle with all my might to reel back in that inch. Movements were subtle, yet astonishingly powerful. 

Yet beyond all these physical peculiarities lay the true challenge – mental fatigue. Sure, I can pull on some small holds. But could I pull on small holds with only tiny smears for feet and no relief in between the 105 moves? I wasn’t so sure. Not only did I need to stave off the forearm pump, calf pump, toe cramps, and finger pain for the whole route, I needed to keep doubt far from my mind.

When I set my heart on a project, I quickly become emotionally invested. While I never got nervous for competitions, sitting at the bottom of a project outside sends my pulse to the moon. I often feel sick with nerves, and I dread leaving the ground. Yet somehow, this wasn’t the case on To Bolt. I had loved the route since I was a little girl, when it was just a pretty picture on a poster in my room. I loved the movements, the high steps, the pulse in my finger tips where tiny crystals in the rock had left their bite. Each day, I couldn’t wait to climb up the face. With each try, my enthusiasm carried me to a new high point.

Steady breathing was the only way to keep doubt at bay and focus on one move at a time. As per tradition on all routes, I held the starting holds, took one deep breath, said a little prayer, and took off. Long inhale, long exhale. This rhythm could not be interrupted. Move after move I pressed higher and higher. Before I knew it, I found myself at the ninth bolt rest, a ½ pad crimp rail that provides only the briefest relief. I hadn’t made it to this point from the ground before. The true redpoint crux was just after the rest, followed by 40 or 50 more feet of 5.12 crimping. I knew I had a chance. I powered through the crux and made it to a slot at the tenth bolt where I could rest again shortly before beginning the “easy section”. I left the slot fully recovered and confident. That’s when I fell apart.

A double foot cut on a vertical face climb means things aren’t going as planned. I was so nervous after climbing the meat of the route that my beta for the top escaped me and I was left pumped, scared, and shaking. But I was not about to let go. This was the only route I’d known of since I was little. This was the definition of 5.14 for me growing up. This was the route that made Tommy Caldwell spiderman in my childhood mind. I could not let go. I had to become spiderman myself.

So I kept breathing, the only thing I could control. Inhale, Exhale, all the way to the anchors. And a sigh of relief as I clipped the chains.

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