Sunday, August 12, 2012

Lessons I learned while falling

I’ll never forget taking a leader fall.  The feeling of the rock slipping from my hand, watching the rope lifelessly coil overtop of itself, and the swelling in my ankle after smacking a ledge.  Even now the memory makes my gut wrench.  But I’m here, I’m ok, and I have some knowledge to drop.

So let me tell you something.  All those inspiring Nike commercials and Hollywood movies that glamorize an athlete who gets hurt and tries to make a comeback…  that’s complete crap.  There is no glory in pain, nothing romantic about it. No one is playing ‘eye of the tiger’ as you hobble 3 blocks on crutches to your friends wedding, arriving suit drenched in sweat, and have to wipe down with paper towels in the bathroom as other guests watch and wonder… “is that guy a hobo”?  There is no pride in receiving a plane ticket with the phrase: “Preboard on the basis of disability” written on it. 
Everyone is a little bit nicer to the man in crutches

Falling sucks.  Hurting yourself sucks even more.  And while I could simply tell you ‘my hand slipped,’ I’ve spent too many sleepless nights, replaying the moment in my head countless times to fool myself.  Here’s what I did wrong, and hopefully you won’t.

When your friends climb hard, and you feel like you have to as well, stop, drop and roll and cool that fire in your ego.  But if you really want to push your grade (which is cool) pick a climb at a crag that protects well and has clean falls.  And if that one is taken, try another.  And if that one is taken also, wait in line.  Don’t push your grade on a lower quality climb just because it’s available.

You will also want to stitch that route up tighter than an Armani suit.  Don’t leave half your rack behind because you want to save weight, or aren’t sure what you’ll need.  If you can’t manage a few extra pounds on a 40m climb, you either need to get in shape, chose an easier route, or stop climbing.  Also, don’t stop climbing.

If you’ve exposed yourself to a ledge fall, are having trouble placing gear, and your arms are getting pumped, don’t yell to your belayer “fuck it, I’m going for it,” and subsequently ‘go for it.’  Instead, and this is important, down climb.  And if you can’t down climb, mentally kick yourself for not placing a piece earlier, and hope there isn’t a sudden stop at the bottom of your fall.

We all make bad decisions.  Mine ended with a 20ft fall and a swollen ankle, and this qualifies me to give you some advice.  The more risk you take, the more extreme the consequences will be (see graph).  Every successive decision needs to be assessed based on the previous decisions.  And that was my biggest mistake.  Any single one of my decisions was not a horrible one, but bad decision after bad decision compounded, and well, now I have a swollen ankle.  

If you didn't pass differential equations, you might not
understand what I'm trying to tell you here

Monday, August 6, 2012

Squamish BC - Trip Report from Diedre, Boomstick Crack, and Sunshine Chimney

Talk to climbers in Squamish and ask them to recommend a fun route; over and over, the response will be the same: “Diedre.”  I had heard about Diedre so much, it was like she was everybody’s favorite prostitute.

“Yeah, Diedre is a good time, but gets really busy with parties.” 
“Diedre is a lot of fun, great for beginners.  You should bring lots of protection for practice.”
"You should totally do Diedre."

OK, so I guess I was going to have a date with Diedre too.

You remember that time when you were picking on your little sister in front of your friends, and then she violently pushed you back?  In your mind you’re thinking, “whoa, where’d that come from?"  And “if she kicks my ass, everyone will laugh at me.”  That’s how I felt climbing the first pitch of Diedre. 

Look closely and you'll see people smeared all over the route
The first pitch was supposed to be an easy 5.7 slab climb, I was supposed to just cruise up and own the pitch.  But after climbing almost 20m without a single opportunity to place gear, I was thinking, 'whoa, this is serious."  It was like… well it was like my little sister pushed me back and was about to kick my ass.  If I fell, it would be painful, and I’m almost certain people would laugh.

After slowly, gingerly making my way a few more feet, I finally slung a tree.  I then looked down and saw 3 guys walk up to the bottom of the pitch, nonchalantly throw on their climbing shoes (without actually tying their laces) and walk halfway up the first pitch before traversing right, out of sight. 

OK, what the hell guys… was that really necessary… just then?

A few meters later and I was at the top of the pitch, sharing bolts with another party. 

2nd pitch of Diedre
Before we had started the climb, getting roped up and slinging gear, a party hiked in behind us.  “Hey, what are you guys doing here” they had asked.
“Same thing you are, Diedre” I responded.
“OK, we’ll get in line” came the curt reply.

It’s a funny thing about climbers.  We love to share knowledge and recommend climbs.  We love to find the classics so we can check them off our list.  But when we arrive at the route, we’re surprised and always slightly offended to find somebody else already there.  Go figure.

The whole rest of the climb was the same story.  Parties were strung out like beads on a string.  It was as if someone announced that Reel Rock Tour would be having a showing at the top of Diedre and everyone wanted to be there first.  The lines of people were longer than a verse by Tupac.  At times I would start a pitch with legs numbed from hanging in the belay so long.

I was so frustrated with the delays I (accidentally) lead the last two pitches as one, subsequently running out of gear the last 20m, freaking myself out at the crux, and forcing Joryce to impromptu simul-climb behind me.  Note to self: don’t do that again.

From the top of Diedre we continued up Boomstick crack, a hallowed diagonally running crack that looks about ready to peel off off and tumble down the mountain at any moment.

Finding still more crowds, we decided to admit defeat and make way to camp.  On the way down, Joryce suggested taking a peak at Campground Wall, a section of short, 1-2 pitch climbs.  There we found Sunshine Chimney. The route followed an off-width, and then literally into the rock and came out the other end.

Joryce lead it, and the whole time he was laughing like a baby playing with a rattle.  “Oh man, this is fun” and “wow, wait till you see this move” he kept repeating over and over again.  His laughter was contagious, and at the belay I couldn’t help but smile.  I soon followed, and understood why he was having such a blast.

Exiting from the bowels of the chimney
It was the kind of fun you have in the summer as a kid, running through the sprinklers in your underwear or catching tadpoles in the creek.  And in the depths of the rock, I felt like a big kid, getting dirty inside Sunshine Chimeny.  Stemming with my body, jamming my arms deep into dark cracks, and spitting out the dust that would inevitably cover me after every move.

At the top of the climb, I slapped Joryce on the back.  “Good call man, I’m glad we did that.”
“Yeah, that was fun!” Came his reply.

While Joryce had a snack, I laid back, hands under my head and looked into the distance.  It was late in the day, and the sky was beginning to take on a blue-orange hue.  The water shimmered lazily and the mountains rolled in the distance. 

The day had started with aspirations of linking several climbs in a big multi-pitch day, but ended climbing at a humble crag; and that’s ok.  I was reminded that, for me, climbing isn’t about simply getting pitches under my belt.  It’s about the relationships I build and the simple joy of rediscovering the 5-year-old kid in me who still loves getting dirty.  The masses had Diedre that day, but Sunshine Chimney was all mine.  

Squamish as seen from Sunshine Chimney