It is very difficult to pick a single most memorable route, different routes and experiences come to the forefront with each attempt to select THE MOST MEMORABLE. It seems like I have a different most memorable route each time I blink. There are the memories within our team; climbing sandbag run outs in Tennessee with High-Clip, my first taste of sketchy slabby granite with Casen at Enchanted Rock, and accidentally free-soloing halfway up a wall on a leisurely hike with Gaia.
Then there are the places, the unique experiences, and the people you meet along the way, but there is one route that seems to pop up more than you would expect. It was an indoor route, not incredibly aesthetic, or particularly fun, but it was a challenge. It was an overhanging route that I had been projecting, and I was getting close. I had all the moves down, I just needed to put it together. The route was about to be taken down, and it was at the end of my climbing day (I was gassed), but I decided to give it one last go. The moves all felt very fluid, the technical crux was done, now for pulling a power move out of the roof to a smooth finish. Left foot is dangling into open space, right heel hook engaged on a hold parallel to the crimp rail where my hands are matched and slipping. Now, normally when I’m pulling hard on a move, I’m too focused to hear anything coming up from the ground, but our friend Mead’s voice carried up to me like an angel just before I fell.
It almost sounded like he was right next to me, when he said just one word: Breathe. He simply said breathe. It calmed me, I took a deep breath, cranked off the left hand, threw the right, and stuck the move. The rest of the route was a breeze, and the send was complete. Mead is the greatest person to have around when climbing, he’s so calm, he reads routes perfectly, and has so much climbing experience…His advice to breathe was part of it, but calm delivery was equally important. I felt really happy when I finished that route, and I couldn’t have done it without Mead and his advice. And while I forget to breathe all the time, especially when I’m really struggling, I can still hear Mead reminding me how to approach the crux. It’s an important lesson and reminder beyond just climbing! BREATHE!
I definitely agree with Carrot…it is so hard to pick one route that really sticks out, but I will have to go with this spicy indoor route as well. There was this pink 5.12+ on the front wall of my local gym at the time. It was so precise; every move was pretty much a deadpoint for me (it was set for taller people no doubt). Every foot had to be at the perfect angle and each hand had to be at the exact perfect part of the hold in order for me to make the next move. One lapse in focus and I’d be cheese grating down the wall. I’d been projecting it for weeks, and I had everything below the overhang (which is really just a slightly less than vertical panel, but nonetheless). At the overhang, there was a series of powerful and precise moves where you pinch little pancake screw-on feet on volumes, and to get over the roof you have to trust some poor feet and hit the bubble rail. Of course, it was a far deadpoint for me, so I’d get maybe a pad on the rail and hope I could keep it…which I did probably 50% of the time. After that, it was a few technical moves to sloper rails, a leap to the top of the wall, and then a sweet pull of the rope over anchors.
Since I had been working that route for so long, and I have never sent 12+, I really didn’t think I was going to get it…especially since I was pretty sure the wall was going to get reset soon. Then, one of our friends, Joel, wanted to have a little climbing session. I had been on for a few days at this point, but I figured why not give the pink 12+ a go? So I hopped on, and slowly worked each move. At the roof, I really started to panic (per usual). Joel told me that I was fine and he had me, and I shakily hit the deadpoint to the bubble rail (yay!). At this point I knew I had the send, but I couldn’t keep myself together. I was shaking so hard, and I was getting a little spooked (somehow sketchy feet are more sketchy when you’re pumped?). Joel again gave me words of encouragement, and told me to stop hesitating. I figured, how wrong could Joel be, and so I cranked out the final few moves and got the send. I was beyond ecstatic. For one, I learned it is really never too late for the send. But more importantly, I learned how to be a better belayer. I realized it was more than feeding/taking slack and watching feet. It is about supporting your climber. I’m convinced I would have never sent without Joel belaying me. And so now I keep in constant communication with my climber so that they know that I’m watching them and that I am ready for them to fall at any point. There is great power in merely telling someone that you’re there!
My most memorable climb happened two years ago during our winter trip. I have not climbed that often since then, so it is hard to have a fresh pick and anecdote. I am not the most active climber in the group, which makes me feel a little self-conscious. Therefore, this moment in time helped me to feel like an important member of the crew! During our trip, I became the designated (self-proclaimed) photographer, which meant I had to follow my teammates’ every move. I must say that I took this task seriously, finding myself in uncomfortable positions, bouldering my way up to a “safe enough” spot for me to get closer and dynamic angles. Nobody wants to see butt shots!
On one particular occasion, I climbed so high (without protection) that when the time came, I had to be helped down by the crew, because there was no possible way for me to do it alone. I recall Carrot saying that when he looked to his side, I was at the same height as he was, which completely caught him off guard! My butt was numb and my feet cramping hard! (If that is even possible). The adrenaline was such that I can’t recall the specifics of the lowering, but somehow I made it safe and sound. I would not recommend free soloing only for the sake of taking pictures, especially if you are a rookie. However, I must confess that for a couple of seconds, I finally felt badass enough to call myself part of the crew.
I still remember the first time I ever lead climbed a 5.12a in the gym. Though it was several years ago now, I still vividly remember several key moments about this climb. At the time, lead climbing was still a relatively new experience for me, but I had been motivated and training hard to do increasingly difficult climbs. For this particular route I had worked on it for weeks on top rope in order to mentally prepare myself to send on lead. Now, I tend to get into my own head and overthink things (surprise surprise) and this time was no different. I remember consistently putting off the final lead climb as the weeks went by. Just one more top rope and I’ll be ready… Right? I knew every move, I had even completed it without falling several times, but I just couldn’t drum up enough bravery to finally lead climb the dang thing.
Finally, I had enough. I decided it was time to give it a go, and If I fall, I fall. I remember pretty much everything about the route. It was on the front wall of our gym, facing the doors, and on this particular day the gym was empty except for a few friends. The route was pretty well protected and relatively straight-forward, but it was long, and I knew that clipping in as I climbed would likely stretch my abilities and endurance to the max. However, despite my rapidly increasing list of fears, and along with encouragement from my compatriots, I began my ascent.
Everything was smooth until the top. I dug the tips of my fingers into mold after mold, trying to stay calm and collected. An important part of endurance rock climbing is only holding on as hard as you have to in order to save strength, but I was white knuckling it. As I got closer to the finish, I felt my shoulders get closer to complete exhaustion. It was going to be close. As I looked up at the final set of moves, I could literally feel my legs shake ever so slightly. I knew what I had to do, but I had no ideas as to whether or not I could actually accomplish it. Part of what made this route so memorable for me was my choice in that very moment. I could let the fear of falling overwhelm me, or I could throw everything at these last three moves. Without feeling much of anything, I quickly moved through the final sequences, and desperately launched my right hand to grab the top of the wooden climbing wall, praying that it would stick. I vividly remember fully expecting to fall, but the wood frame caught in between my numb finger pads. I let out an excessively loud “F**K YES!” and looked down to see my climbing partner and several other friends congratulating me, along with several 8-14 year olds whom I had just taught the F word. Whoops. So despite vulgarities, lesson learned. Make the choice to believe in yourself today. If you fall you fall. But you may surprise yourself!
Thanks for reading!