Climbing’s weird huh? It puts things into a great place and also makes us feel horrible. I love that stuff.
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It’s funny how much pressure and importance we put into our climbing. I get so confused about this sort of stuff. When I don’t have a project or something to obsess over I look at it all so differently. But then I find myself with a special route to focus on and my entire livelihood makes sense. Having a hard project to focus on gives me reasons to eat better, be healthier and to strive for something that will make me feel amazing. A process that involves devotion and focus for an intense challenge is where I find myself the happiest.
A friend showed me the cave on a snowy winter day. I was with a group of St. George climbers that were as hungry for new rock as I was. There had been a blizzard and about 2 feet of snow laid on the ground. Come to think of it, it snowed the whole day, but I didn’t care as this was at the height of my bolting frenzy.
We trudged out there for 2.5 hours to arrive at the cave tucked away in those hills in the state of Utah on that obscure hillside. The shape was perfect, there were holds and the rock was yellow and bone-white. We built a fire, dried our socks and chose our lines. My choice was the most improbable pathway out the steepest and longest part of the cave. I got right to work.
Over the last 6 years I’ve revisited this line to try the moves, see if it felt any different and to sample with the possibility of actually climbing it one day. It never made sense to devote to it - it was just too out of my league. The moves were too hard to connect and it made me feel overwhelmed. But this sort of thing was also what kept me coming back. Plus, I bolted it. I made it the reality of a climb and it felt like a responsibility to keep going through this revisiting process. In a way it felt like a distant friend that I would check in on from time to time to see how things were going.
I was never able to link more than 3-4 moves together and I felt insecure about the moves and beta I used. They were all just possibilities at the time. This last spring however, I revisited and had some good sessions. It was another season of 5 days on the line. This spring however (for some reason) lead me to think it was possible. My girlfriend Lindsey suggested I put in real time on it. I liked the idea, but also felt like it could be a waste of our time and wasn’t realistic. I love trying hard rigs, but when you devote it means you believe you can actually climb it. Or maybe not… ?
We made a plan - October would be for a Fynn Cave mission. Back home I trained, dieted, focused, I readied up a confidence route to climb beforehand and set my mind to one goal: Bone Tomahawk.
Over three weeks I went through the process of a hard route with utter devotion and obsession. I felt stronger and lighter than ever and knew there was a possibility in doing this thing. I trained on the route and spent time hanging on the rope analyzing in small sections. I had to learn the micro details of how to make the moves as perfect and efficient as possible. I gained ground fast and started to link bigger and bigger sections. The first boulder problem however was always hard. I would say it’s about V11 and super finicky. I had never been able to link through this section until this year. Each day I would put massive amounts of energy into making gains. Whether it was simply more moves to connect or a sensation of strength and positivity. Forward progression was occurring and that was all I could’ve asked for.
Week 2 was a game changer. I linked through the first boulder problem and fell in the ending zone. I was close. I thought.
For a week and a half I’d rest one day and climb one day. Warm up on the same route and try the same moves on Bone Tomahawk. I’d make each try count and put in the same energy and intention, as it required. The good tries would play out as falling in the start or falling in the end. The end proved to be heinous when I was tired and never felt any easier using the small shakes I found.
The last two holds became hateful. I fell off of them 3 times in one day. I was getting frustrated, but I knew it was only a matter of time. I kept thinking about some people that fall off the same moves on project and never even send! I loathed that thought and only wanted to make this thing happen.
I rested 3 days. I returned after a rainstorm to a humid cave. The wall dried a bit and I warmed up. I felt awful in my emotions. A friend had died and nothing really mattered. I wanted to cry most of the day, but just kept my focus on the route as much as I could. I tried 3 times and fell at the first boulder problem. I threw fits, cursed and screamed. I just wanted to be done with the route at this point and was sick of the whole routine. I was tired of Lindsey having to put up with my obsession and I could tell things were starting to eat away at us.
I pulled my Skwamas on, peeled my shirt off, looked at Lindsey with a “what the hell” shrug and jumped onto the starting holds. I set off through the first boulder problem and executed perfectly. It was ON. I traveled from section to section and felt good. I didn’t care. I was just climbing and doing my thing. I was aware of my breath, my fingernails scratching the back of holds and how my body was positioning every move. I felt great! I got to my last shake and readied up for the sequence I had been falling on. I shook more than normal, roared a bit of energy out of my body and tore through the moves. The sequence felt hideous, barely connecting to the holds, but still doing them. I made it past my highpoint to the jug. I knew I had it. I took care and rested responsibly and completed the final V6 with care. I clipped the anchor and seriously freaked out. I yelled, screamed, hooted. Then I lowered and I cried.
I climbed my project. The hardest climb in my life. It was a pipe-dream and something I never thought I could actually do. And I did it.
Climbing’s weird huh? It puts things into a great place and also makes us feel horrible. All I know is that I love that stuff. The emotion, the baggage, the whole lifestyle it gives me. It’s what makes me who I am and what gives me a reason. My gawd what is wrong with us?
Photos 1 and 3: © Savannah Cummins
Photo 2: © Tristan Greszko
Video: Savannah Cummins and Tristan Greszko. Produced in collaboration with Black Diamond.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joe Kinder is a member of the La Sportiva Climbing Team.
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