I incorporated a stop in Maryland for an invitational Bouldering comp, the ASCI Showdown, which was awesome because it was all expenses paid for! WOW! What a concept! It was the first comp I have seen of its kind in the states, and I was a little burnt out on comps when I got the invite, but was excited to be a part of this one. The “day” of travel I endured to make it to the comp on time could only be described as epic. I awoke the morning of my flight at 3:30 am and made it to the Oakland airport to find that my first connecting flight was cancelled due to giving the flight crew their required 10 hours of rest from the last flight that arrived late the night before. I found myself contemplating alternate plans for the summer, maybe going back up to Squamish… Then the lady at the ticket kiosk said “they” could in fact get me to Pittsburg that day. So after three flights, a five-hour layover in the Charlotte airport, and a two-hour car ride from the Pittsburg airport that I was damn lucky to get, I arrived in McHenry, bum-fudge-nowhere-Maryland at 2:30 am — eastern time of course.
The organizers put us up in hotels, fed us, and transported us to and from the venue. Everything went smoothly until I pitched awkwardly off the top of the second problem in the finals and my ankle took the brunt of the 2x4 strategically laid under the jingus pad setup. After the initial shock wore off I was able to put my shoe back on and climb on the last two problems, before the real swelling started.
Overall the comp was cool, minus the pads, and I had a good time hanging out with all the comp climbers and the organizers. The next day, against the pleas of my girlfriend, I headed off to France with a limp, a huge swollen ankle, and a 30+ kilo backpack to meet Jon Cardwell, Andrea and Gabor Szekely, to climb on some euro limestone. The trip felt doomed from the start, but I wasn’t going to be deterred that easily.
My main goal of the trip was to climb, or climb on, the notorious Realization or Biographie, whatever you want to call it. But after suffering my minor debilitating ankle injury and just not feeling like I was in good enough shape in general, I had my doubts. I remember Jon and I talking about Ceuse before going. He said “Yeah, we can get on Bah Bah Black Sheep, you know, some of those climbs… you can get on Biographie, make progress on that. It will be fun, I’m psyched.” I nodded my head in agreement. Sending a lifetime project like Biographie was not feeling so likely at the moment.
So we left Nice behind and started a new chapter in the trip. I didn’t make the 45-minute approach the first day to spare my ankle and upon Jon and Gabor’s return I was sprayed down with tales of sickness, ranging from all points-off dynos to close attempts on Realization. The next day I took the hill with a new found motivation, and a slight throbbing that pulsed all the way up my calf.
The next three weeks rushed by like the storms that we prayed for to bring us the “sending temps”. The temps dropped and climbed, and so did we. We hung out at the Campground, climbed at the cliff, and gorged on fatty foods on our rest days in Gap.
It was nearly impossible to stay away from the sweet delights like ice cream, pastries, and of course the specialty food of the region, the heavenly “Torton”, that was traditionally filled with just potato, but could be found with any number of sweet or savory fillings. We would say things like, “dude, would Edu, Paxti, or any world cup finalist climber go back for another ice cream?” But usually it didn’t work. We would be up after midnight gouging at the Nutella jar, spooning mouthfuls of some kind of sweet goodness until our tummies bulged and our teeth rotted. But somehow we managed to stay in decent shape for the majority of the trip.
I managed to climb to the crux of Realization in about four tries, but felt pumped enough not to be able to break an egg with my hands by the time I got there. It still didn’t seem too likely that I would be feeling fresh enough to pull the moves from the ground, but beta was refined and some level of fitness was gained, and on my tenth or so try I stuck the “crux” stab to the dish and was psyched. After that the healthy level of detachment I felt for the route was replaced with rehearsal of the moves late at night when I should have been sleeping. Dave Graham and I exchanged belays on it, all the time getting closer and closer until I had fallen a frustrating amount of times five feet below the jug that marks the end of the “hard” climbing. I then held the record, by far, for most falls above the “crux”, where all of the routes previous ascentionists had fallen only once, including Dave. One cold windy day, I belayed Dave as he used his heinous new beta that could only possibly be done by him, to cruise the crux and continue all the way to the top.
A few days later, I made a link on the route that Chris suggested I try to do before trying from the ground again. Feeling satisfied for the day, and confident I would send in the coming days, I went to another part of the cliff to try to flash an 8b called Slow Food. My instincts told me not to get on it, that something was wrong, but I tried it anyway and broke a hold a few moves into it, and tore a massive hole in my fingertip. Devastation.
The weather was damn hot when we got to Ceuse, but it didn’t take long for things to cool down and our skin to re-adjust to the pocketed limestone. On my third day back on the route, I cleaned and chalked a hold just below the one I had been falling off that allowed me to crimp and pull more rather that rely on body tension and the low, spread-out feet to do the move. This hold might have had my name written on it, I just couldn’t see the writing on the wall before. I had dismissed the hold as being too small before, but it was perfect. It begged to be grabbed.
The next day was perfect conditions, cold and windy. I was really nervous but it didn’t matter. I finally climbed through the crux and grabbed the sharp pinch I had been waiting practically all summer to grab from the ground, got my feet up a little shaky, grabbed the jug and breathed a big sigh of relief. Jon, who had just sent his project, Dures Limites, his third of the four 8c’s he has sent in Ceuse this summer, came over to give me a hug and together we proclaimed it the end of an Epic.
Photos courtesy of Ethan Pringle
The next day we had a ceremonial shaving of the heads. Hugo, our friend from Los Angles and “trailer park mate” did the shaving. He had shaved his own head a few days before. So we became the four. The four bald Americans. It was pretty classic, but my mom probably would have cried if she saw me. It was however, probably the dumbest decision any of us had made the entire trip because the next days at the cliff were extremely cold and windy. It became our scapegoat to say things like, “I would have stuck that move if I had Hair”, or “I would totally go ask that couple for a ride back to the campsite if I had hair, but I look ridiculous”.
Trailer life.Photos courtesy of Ethan Pringle
So what now? Now I sit in our oversized, stationary mobile-home, typing away on Jon’s Lap-top with ravaged fingers, cut up on my right hand from not fully committing to the dyno on 3 Degrees of Separation, and instead raking off the sharp jug. See, as soon as one epic ends, another one begins, if you’re as blessed with as much time to climb as I am at the moment ... Well, I better go meet Jon and Matt in town. If I don’t leave soon it might be tricky Hitching back up from town later, especially if it gets dark. Maybe I’ll have an ice cream, mint sounds good, maybe tiramisu. Maybe I’ll buy a ticket to Mallorca while in town. I bet the weather isn’t bad there right now. I just hope I can stick that dyno from the ground tomorrow. Only time will tell.