(5-10 min read)
Time passed well beyond what I expected. I’d fought Gutless Wonder (5.14b) for the last two years on and off and lost hope. I’d forgotten how many one falls happened, or even why I dragged my body day after day to the base of the route. High-points were no longer motivating– I was beat. Another failed session loomed before me as I hung my head looking for my shoes. The fault-lines in the rock fragmented and crumbled mirroring how I felt– cracked. Broken. I had one more attempt before I was on a plane to South America– one last shot before I would have to wait another year again.
On the side of a major highway cutting through the Colorado Rockies, sits an obscure and mangled crag. The Puouxs, Glenwood, Colorado. Bombarded by trucker and train noises, pigeon crap, and choss lay a limestone cliff band with a handful of natural and sculpted routes. Conditions varied from freezing cold winds that numbed the body to what felt like a sauna depending on the time of year or if the sun was covered by clouds.
I was lucky because there was someone willing to go brave this area and hike to the top of the hill and let me try my project. I stood at the base of Gutless Wonder. An incredibly steep, natural line that looked blank– except for horizontal breaks that needed dynamic movement to reach the top. It was a fight from day one. I didn’t have the necessary skills to make every move. I didn’t have a clue. So I enlisted my coach Rob Pizem to help me train.
For six months I woke at 4:30 in the morning and drove to the gym. This allowed me to have enough hours in a day to finish my training routine and work within the Grand Junction school system as a substitute teacher. We focused on power-endurance, finger strength, core strength, and muscle coordination. On my weekends I trekked through the snow drifts to test the route and personal fitness.
My progress felt slow, but within 2 months each move was completed and all I needed to do was put the pieces together. I thought I had it in the bag, but forgot that the physical portion was only half the battle– the mental was the main issue.
Spring I was in red point mode and one-falling– seepage of the limestone cracks was making finger locks difficult to stay secured and as the temperature rose, the cliff line baked. I was forced to wait for the next season. This cycle continued for another year. Within a week or two of each cycle I was back into falling once each time I tried. Yet I just didn’t send. I didn’t understand, but always felt that I’d get it, “next try.”
That’s when I found myself with a significant chunk of time standing at the base of the route 2 years after my first attempt. This was it. I had been on this route on and off for the too long and I wanted off this rig.
For ten days I fought terrible conditions. Nature was not being kind to my plan. Key finger-locks were wet, holds had broken, and sequences were marred. The temperature was too hot and forced me into concentrated efforts in the evening but I was still one falling. 6 days into my session a rare-deluge soaked everything. I didn’t really take it well– this was it my last chance. Deep in throws of despair Mayan asked me a simple question.
“Why are you climbing this?” She asked.
“Because I have put so much effort into this and I am so close!” I said.
“Do you even like it?”
… did I even like it? I’d rarely given that thought. I was so enmeshed in a routine that I stopped asking myself that question. I just assumed that I liked it. But to be honest my intentions shifted from enjoying the movement to just wanting to finish it. I shifted from a how do I climb this? perspective to a why can’t I do it? A dangerous psychological place to be.
That last day I sat at the base the route. I didn’t bother with sequences, running beta through my head. I had already engrained the movement into muscle memory. I just enjoyed the breeze as it lulled off the Colorado river and sank into the rock. I knew that I’d poured enough energy into the route– I also knew I had one day left before I sat on a plane. I placed my shoes onto my feet and chalked with concentrated intent… I wanted to just enjoy the movement that had first sparked my excitement and interest in the route.
I still don’t really know what happened during the climb. It was a special feeling that only happens when everything falls into place. There was no adrenaline or pressure. Just perfect movement as each twist and turn evolved into a sequence, the sequence into a section, and the section into the route. I’d sent with very little effort on my first attempt that day before I boarded a plane and lost my chance for the season.
It was just my turn I guess.