“In that case, I have one more question for you” a fellow Rifle climber posed to me after I accepted his offer to give me beta for a route. He was lounging comfortably in a lawn chair at the Bauhaus wall on a sultry July afternoon, a spliff in one hand and a laser-pointer in the other.
“Would you like beta given via conversation or via laser?”
The first time I heard about Rifle I was in a bar in Catalunya with a lively group of Spaniards and one other American, Chris Jorde. Somehow, we got on the topic of whether writing beta down is a useful habit. In a drunken and enthusiastic display of wild gesticulations, the Spaniards clearly expressed their opinion that the activity was a waste of time. These crushers were of the type that would show up to the crag during the hottest time of the day, smoke a pack of cigarettes and chug a six pack of beer before a casual waltz on a 5.14 or two. For them, writing beta down probably is a trivial undertaking.
Chris, though, used Rifle as an example of when it is not only helpful but crucial to write down beta, the climbing being so complex and cryptic.
Except, he pronounced it “Reef-lay” since we were speaking in Spanish.
Since then, I have thought of Rifle as being a beta-intensive place to climb. I also have always, at least in my head, called it Reeflay.
When I arrived in Reeflay in mid-June, it was clear who was on board the beta bus and knew how to climb here and who was struggling to keep up. I was, and still am, in the latter group. I struggled hard to on-sight 12b’s or even get them second or third try, which generally is a given outcome for me on a sport route. Even if I don’t on-sight, the second go doesn’t feel like an all-out battle to the death, like it did on “Easy Skankin’ ”, the most classic 12b in the canyon and one that gets a bajillion stars despite the fact that most holds are so polished you can see your reflection in them.
On my first attempt on “Beer Run”, a 5.13a at the Ruckman cave, the top redpoint crux perplexed me and I ended up lowering without having done all the moves, another rare occurrence for that particular grade.
But wait, there’s more. Another regression milestone was reached down canyon. I have never walked away from a route after more than ten attempts, but when I fell, again, at the top crux of Conception, a 5.13a at the Sanctuary, I vowed to not return unless I had beta that made the top feel less like desperate 5.13c. Conception was the first of many routes that were in a comfortable grade-range for me and that I enjoyed, but that I didn’t return to because of beta dejection.
For one ephemeral moment I felt mildly competent when I did “Apocalypse”, 5.13c, quickly. That was until I realized the only reason I did it in a handful of attempts was because a crucial kneebar fits my “exactly average for an American woman” height like a glove, whereas for taller climbers, the crux invariably concludes in a violent shin-smashing event that makes even the most rugged brazen shirt-less Rifle dudes turn away and cringe, their shaved thighs lathered and glistening with Mueller pre-tape spray easily catching the shimmering sunlight off of Rifle creek and strategically directed at the other bro who is queued up for their project, temporarily blinding him and opening up the route. Later, I would learn that many consider Apocalypse to be the softest 5.13c in the canyon.
As I’ve settled into this routine of comfortably sucking, I begrudgingly began to accept that here, beta is king, and I won’t find it by myself because I don’t know how to rock-climb in three dimensions. Really, it’s all in the kneetails.
In fact, I think one of the many software-people or app-people or coding people or whatever they’re called (is that offensive?) I’ve seen roaming the canyon in their 4×4 sprinters should develop a Reeflay insta-beta spray app.
Ideally, the app will query you for important dimensions — height, ape index and shindex, a measure of your shin length for knee-baring. An algorithm would run in the background, overlapping your scores with LIDAR imagery of every route. The end-result would be a list of routes and their corresponding grade (which will change based on body size) as well as the appropriate beta. Swipe right if you accept and you can get a video downloaded to your phone that you can take up the route with you as you dog it.
For now, the most advanced technology we have is the laser, although I have seen more than one person with a phone consulting video footage while on route. Still, the laser seems to be the way, and this is how it works: another climber, generally sitting in a lawn chair since the approaches here range from zero seconds to two minutes, follows you up the wall with a little dot, telling you where to put the four appendages you have dangling from your simian frame — basically, telling you how to climb. Receiving the laser treatment has the potential, if utilized by a capable operator, of cutting the time you spend on a route in half. It is so coveted, I have heard of climbers seeking out beta spray lords, ready to barter their kidney for a couple of minutes of dedicated laser in the crux.
One of my favorite aspects of rock climbing is trying to find my own beta. So, at first, I resisted hunting down a coveted spray lord. I laughed at the laser, the one I see always emitting a fluorescent green light, though was secretly jealous of it. I even resisted using the spray, despite feeling guilty for amassing impressive wads of duct-tape which I tried to recycle into hacky-sacks but tended to just throw away.
But when I fell out of a baggy kneebar on Sometimes Always, a 5.13c for which the crux took me two tries and an hour and a half to figure out, I caved and lathered my thighs in the sweet sticky sauce of Mueller athletic spray to give me that 0.00005% extra edge and that 500% increase in my overall prep time. It is like racking up for trad climbing, getting ready for a route that requires two knee pads is a long, arduous process and you must incorporate that time into your daily scheduling.
Unfortunately, the spray gunk sticks to your thighs like peanut butter in the teeth of an overweight Labrador retriever. Once, I had a small dog (or large adorable bat, I am not sure which) in my lap. When I picked him up, the spray stuck to his hair and I essentially waxed him. A pro tip is to use baby oil to get the gunk off your legs, lest you have a constant reminder in the form of black goop of the other time you did not send anything —the “failure stamp”, I like to call it. Be warned, the City Market in Rifle must sell baby oil and duct tape at rates 700x that of other City Markets around the country, so make sure you come prepared with a stash.
I was beat-up that afternoon in the Bauhaus when I was offered the laser treatment. Hours beforehand I quested up Sometimes Always in what was the sweatiest, bloodiest epic of my sport climbing career.
At the base it was a crispy temperature of 77 degrees. Secretary of Sends Condieleeza Nice, one of many members of the weather cabinent characters we came up with during the afternoon mandatory siesta, did not make it to Colorado that day. My finger was covered in Leukotape and lathered with superglue, because somehow I split my tip in a stem box. I barely eeked out every move on the intro, screaming a little bit too much and attracting the attention of the affable local to my left on Living in Fear, who was very supportive as he shouted “come on , Jasmine!”
When I hit the ninja-foot-dyno (yep) beta crooked, I went with it, power-stemming my way to the break in the roof, where I was told so many times it’s “over,” but where I had punted off a go prior as I bled copiously from my left index finger. As my leg turned numb and I came to terms with the fact that my right calf would never be the same, I realized I was bleeding through the tape and thought I was a goner. The next “easy” move required me to lock off on a sloping crimper with my left hand and move powerfully to a right-hand block.
“I’m going to fall” I audibly said to the peanut gallery of lawn chairs staring up at me, mystified as to why I was making that climb look so hard.
No one was more surprised than I was when I stuck the right hand. In that moment, I recruited every muscle in my body to pull. When I visualized the route from the ground, I had envisioned the top going smoothly, because it damn well should. The final 5.12 headwall is much easier than the bottom and presents an opportunity to have some icing on a victorious send, a few bolts of run-out glory climbing when everyone knows you’ve done it and where you can try to act like a model climbing citizen, humble and unaffected as you clip the chains.
Instead, I parked myself at the “slab” and spent a decade sucking the blood from my tip. A few times, when I was feeling bold, I almost committed to the next move, only to downclimb to the sloping rest. I distracted myself from anxiety-inducing thoughts of punting, again, by fantasizing about the day in which I would install gerbil water feeders on every headwall in Rifle, rich with electrolyte drink, so I could quench my aching thirst while not having to take my sweaty hands off the wall.
The canyon was silent with confusion as to my epic on arguably the easiest moves on the headwall, but eventually I managed to shakily made my way through, logging the most inelegant ascent in Rifle.
So yeah, after that bullshit, I chose the laser, sat back and relaxed as I got served the double helping of beta on a silver (in this case, green) platter. Until the crux, when it turned out the beta that the 5’11”, solid 5.14, male climber used did not apply to little ‘ole me, and I lowered, again, not having done the moves.
Well, I tried. Perhaps I need to take it up a notch and follow the step by step directions of the most successful climbers here.
1.) Beer (8.5 percent walrus hazy ipa tall can, $8.50 + tax at the liquor store next to Domino’s)
2.) Spliff (self-explanatory)
3.) Dip (lay in the creek to cool off your body before tying in)
4.) Rip (send)
By now, it is likely evident that I have formed a special relationship with this place. When I think of Reeflay now, actually having spent time here, I think of a place of contrasts.
The intensity of the feeling of happiness and fun I’ve had while climbing some of these routes — rife with gymnastic and unique movement — is equal in degree though opposite in pleasure with the level of frustration I’ve felt.
When every route you embark on is so involved it feels instantly like a project, no matter how many goes it takes, a mental burnout sparks that can set your head on fire. You begin to have expectations – say, that you won’t get to the chains of anything harder than 12c on your first try and, in the light of the (purely hypothetical, of course) situation of having accomplished your hardest route only 6 weeks ago, you begin to ask yourself some exhausting, overly-dramatic and existential questions about what the hell you are doing with our life. This tends to happen in the middle of the night when you wake up because the spray on your legs is stuck to your sheets.
Random benchmarks you never thought of before begin to take on a new importance and you beat myself up for not having achieved a goal before even having set out to do it. It seems like everyone is a statistician, fixated on numbers. How many days did it take you to do this route? How many tries did it take? Have you created a mixed model to determine which factors are correlated with getting to your highpoint yet?
“Whoa, my mean grade is less than a full number grade below my projecting grade? I better feel like crap about myself!”
It also is a means to an end — if you tell yourself you will not get up the route, trust me, you will not get up the route. Suddenly, your capacity to try hard is cut in half, and though you are the one holding the knife, you are waving it around at everyone and everything else.
These feelings can be either exacerbated or soothed by the scene which, much like the climbing, has been a healthy fun-filled cocktail of joy and discouragement. It was ridiculously crowded my first weekend here, but I saw a lot of people I had not seen in years. I was cut in queues many times. I’ve laughed harder than I have in a long time, felt supported and was genuinely interested in the climbing of others. Many people approached me as I lowered from Sometimes Always, telling me my fight was “impressive” and “badass.” I look forward to seeing particular people at the crag every morning and have made a habit of spending some time across the Project Wall, the creek separating the climbers from the spectators, forming a natural and healthy way for anyone to leave the scene for a moment and just chat.
Then there’s those memories that chip away at the faith I had in the climbing community. Like the time when my best friend came to visit and she parked her car as appropriately as she could, to considerately ensure enough space for others. Still, she returned to an aggressive message written on the back of a Rifle Mtn. Park day-pass in bold sharpie and all caps — “PARK BETTER.” Clearly that person didn’t stop to consider that in his/her (probably his, let’s be honest) kingdom of Rifle where he has declared himself King (and has also evidently suspended all use of logic) sometimes people move their cars, creating awkward spaces that before did not exist.
It also seems that wobbling takes on a new meaning here, viewed less as a temper tantrum and more as an accepted form of expressing one’s emotional connection to the rock. My favorite was a shrill “I AM SO FUCKING PISSED” that could be heard echoing throughout the canyon interspersed between the calls of the warblers and the soothing flow of Rifle creek.
I will admit, I haven’t kept my own feelings of exaggerated frustration to myself. When I finally got to the crux of Sometimes Always from the ground, only to then not be able to do the moves I had rehearsed for hours, I lowered pouting like the tiny wrecking ball of welled up Bosnian fury I was, ready to bash myself into something. I obviously created an immature palpable vibe of negativity which I now regret.
Though, after I was told to “calm down” by someone who was way too tan, I had to ponder if the more frequent temper tantrums of Joe Six Pack or Johnny Bravo were ever interpreted as anything but “passionate” and “strong” whereas I felt I was being viewed as “hysteric” or “dramatic.”
Instead of acting the role as the alpha, i.e. throwing something and then storming away with my posse following me, my gut reaction was to immediately apologize to everyone around me.
I felt like Serena Williams failing to her underdog opponent, and if I had had a tennis racket I would have undoubtedly hit Mr. “calm down” upside the head with it.
But, I digress. Luckily for that guy, and everyone else around, I just went and laid on my bed with the lights off and did some breathing exercises while snuggling with my plush toy cactus.
Then , of course, there has been the contrast of the ever-present and ever-strengthening danger and threat of the coronavirus with the nonchalant attitude of everyone in the canyon, where you would never guess we were in the epicenter of a global pandemic — unless you use the porta-potties and read the little piece of paper taped on the door that tells you to maintain six feet apart as you sit alone in a 2x2x8 plastic room regretting last night’s dinner choice.
I am sure the CDC would not approve of an image I could send them of the Project Wall on Saturday morning. Lest we not forget how white climbing is, particularly in the Western Slope of Colorado. In the context of larger protests over police violence against African Americans, a conversation that has seeped into discussion over renaming routes that have been interpreted as being racist and offensive, we seem to be ignoring the issue because it isn’t in front of us, when, much like the invisible aerosols we are all ejecting every time we emotionally connect with the rock, it is everywhere.
But, in a strange time full of economic, social and public health disasters, laughing and trying hard is, to put it simply, a good temporary remedy. It certainly doesn’t mean we don’t care and it doesn’t mean we won’t give thought and attention to these and other realities. However, I look forward to crossing the threshold of the reservoir after a day in town spent working on my thesis. I feel like I am entering a twilight zone episode where stress confusion and agitation for the big stuff – money, health, society – vanish to get replaced by those problems we know are often trivial – like if I will send on my tenth or my eleventh go. It perhaps isn’t the world’s healthiest antidote, but it’s something, and as I get deeper into the canyon and see familiar faces, my mood improves.
A few weeks into my trip I started to feel a touch more in tune with Reeflay’s ways. I went project shopping and naturally eyed the route “Let it Burn”, which shares the start of Sometimes Always but branches left.
When I tied in to try Let it Burn for the first time, I recognized a climber on a route near me. A week ago, after I lowered from my first long foray up Sometimes Always without having done the crux, he approached me as soon as my climbing shoes made contact with the earth, informing e that this was one of the only routes he hadn’t done on the Project Wall, as if to validate his failure through my own.
“Did you give up on Sometimes Always?” he asked, as if it were the only possible reason I may have moved on from the route to its neighbor.
When I arrived at unfamiliar terrain after the split of Sometimes Always and Let it Burn, I looked down and saw a few camp chairs scattered in the middle of the road, one occupant being someone who had been working Let it Burn. We made eye contact, and the beta flowed out as naturally as the water moves down Rifle creek.
Maybe one day I will ascend the Reeflay ranks and find myself wielding the green laser from across the road at the Project Wall, trying to overpower crying babies , yapping dogs and tricked out mufflers as I describe which particular polished foot hold I used and at what degree I twisted my hip for optimal knee placement. But for now, as the green dot appeared on the wall, I paid attention and rather than feeling frustrated at my own inability to figure it out, I enjoyed the implied community camaraderie that comes with help.
Alas, it turned out that dude was taller (and more importantly, better) too. Damn.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning ——
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Calm down. PARK BETTER.
Get ready, put your pads on.
I’M SO FUCKING PISSED
By: Cindy Temps