“Anyone whose goal is ‘something higher’ must expect someday to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.”
– Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Since my last blog post my venturings have taken me to a few of St. George’s finest crag, a brief stint in Yosemite, and now to Smith Rock- arguably the birthplace of American sport climbing. Everywhere I go, though, I am trying to maintain my motivation to try as hard as I can, whether that means pushing a new grade, a new type of climbing or just breaking out of my comfort zone to meet new people and explore incredible places. (really , though, I just want to be like all of the crushers I’ve met and “whip off the proj.”) While on the pursuit of this goal, I have neglected my blog a wee bit..
Before I spray everyone down with photos and unnecessary climbing information I feel I should include a few life updates for my few friends who actually read this thing ! I have accepted a job in Tuolumne Meadows performing backcountry restoration work over the summer which will run from mid June to the end of September. Additionally, I have officially enrolled as a graduate student at the University of Washington at the School of Environmental Forestry Sciences where I will be pursuing a Master of Science in a botany/restoration ecology focused program. My program does not start until January 2017.. so if anyone is psyched on a climbing trip from Oct-mid Dec, let me know :)! I’m incredibly grateful for all fo these opportunities and extend a thank you to all of the friends and family who supported me as I wrestled with job and graduate school applications.
Now, back to the climbing. After spending some time at the Grail and sending my first 13a, I ventured out to some of the other limestone areas around St. George.
I spent around a week climbing in Cathedral, one of the more popular areas nearby. Cathedral is unique in that it features a very steep cave (that houses quite a few hard lines in the 5.12-5.14 range) where you can show your guns and try some burly lines, right next to an area known as the “wailing wall” which houses mainly technical, vertical routes. Naturally I tended to linger toward the technical routes. I was happy to have redpointed “Bastard Stepchild” (12d) in 3 goes and get my second 12c onsight. I tried “Hobytla” (13a) a few times but was always shut down by the upper crux and never managed to pull it off. I never took any photos at Cathedral for some reason but it tied with the Grail as my favorite place to rock climb in the area.
Cathedarl is a truly north facing crag so when the temperatures dipped and the wind started to howl I ventured out to another area lower in elevation known as “Arrow Canyon.”
While there are a few note worthy crags at Arrow Canyon, the most popular is the Swamp Cave. Among the dozen or so routes here, “Brown Sugar” (12d) is probably one of the most trafficed routes due to its gymnastic climbing and sort of user friendly grade. Normally I would stray away from routes in that grade range that are as steep as Brown Sugar; I tend to climb in the low 12’s when the routes are steep. But, I gave Brown Sugar a go (after of course doing all the vert routes worth doing along the edges of the cave) and- as I expected- had a terrible first go at it. I hesitated a bunch, did not get my feet high enough, and was nervous to make very dynamic, insecure moves- basically the exact opposite way you want to approach a steep climb. After three pretty depressing attempts, I chalked it up (no pun intended) as just too powerful for me.
However, a series of storms passed through the area and pushed me back to Arrow Canyon. It wasn’t quite warm enough to climb at the southern facing wall (the only one of which in the area is “Sun City”) but climbing at the Grail, Cathedral or Sunset Alley was a little bit cruxy because those areas are in the shade all day. I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to climbing with numb- fingers, so my partner and I opted to go back to Arrow.
Yet again, I found myself at the base of Brown Sugar, craning my neck upward to admire the steepness of the route and filling my mind with all kinds of excuses as to why I wouldn’t be able to send. To my surprise, I one-hung it that day. Somehow, all of a sudden, I could do steep moves and not flail around (too often). The route felt within my grasp.
After a rest day I came back and sent Brown Sugar on my first go of the day. Out of all of the routes that I did in the St. George area, only Hoarse Platitudes (my first 13a at the Grail) rivals the level of satisfaction I felt after clipping the anchors of this one. Though while the movement of Hoarse Platitudes was very, very enjoyable- I sought it out because it catered to my style; the route demands finger strength and technique above all. This is my favorite type of climbing, precisely because I feel the most confident on it. Steep routes- especially those that require a decent amount of power endurance, is on the other end of the spectrum- I always feel frustratingly like I am not climbing the route but rather am hauling myself up it- that I am not executing the right beta but rather am using strength to get me as high as I can before inevitably pumping out. Essentially, I never feel like a good climber.
When I finished Brown Sugar, though, I felt like I climbed well. While there was a desperate moment when my feet cut, I executed the beta well and held it together like a confident, experienced rock climber. This was much more challenging for me to accomplish on a steep route like Brown Sugar than on a vertical route like Hoarse Platitudes, which goes to show that grading can be subjective. I sent Hoarse Platitudes (13a) on my 5th overall go and Brown Sugar (12d) on my seventh.
Before leaving Utah, I was able to check out one more crag – the “Diamond”, named so for the diamond like shape the rock makes.
While the Diamond is higher in elevation (around 6000 ft) and is primarily listed as a summer crag in the guidebook, the whole wall gets sun starting at around 2 PM so it is climbable in the off season as well. The mornings here were frigid, though, and we spent some time waiting for the sun to hit the wall.
The routes at the Diamond reminded me a little bit of the Grail with respect to their length and to their technical nature. However, as it is not climbed on as frequently as the Grail, some of the routes were still a bit chossy. On our first day I managed to send “Hope,” an incredible 12d on my second go. Hope gave me very high expectations, though, so my disappointment was pretty high when the next day I got shut down on a 12a that seemed virtually impossible… as did my climbing partners (broken hold? epic sandbag?) Overall, I spent two days climbing at the Diamond and it seemed like a hodgepodge of good climbs mixed with some mediocre climbs. It definitely is worth visiting and I praise Misty Murphy and her husband Bill Ohran who have done most of the developing at this cliff. It certainly is a strikingly beautiful cliff with a high potential for more development.
I generally tried to climb 2 days on, one day off, as I think it is the best climbing schedule that rotates enough time on the rock with enough rest to stay fresh. On my rest days, however, I went out and enjoyed the miles of trail running that is around the St. George area. I feel like I should mention this in case any climber/trail-running enthusiast like myself stumbles upon my blog, as the running opportunities here are quite good. I particularly liked the loops around the Barrel Roll area outside of St. George as well as loops in town, like the Bear Claw Poppy-Zen trail connection. A particularly found memory was when I totally got lost and ended up running cross country in the desert during a light rain storm.
Stay tuned for a few blogs post in about a week’s time about my current adventures in a beautiful, historical place.. and for what I have planned for my final month of traveling!