On January 18, 2008, Lisa Rands nabbed the first female ascent of The Mandala (V12; FA Chris Sharma, 2000), in Bishop, California. The tall, overhung prow was for decades dismissed as too futuristic and to this day remains one of the most coveted and storied problems in American bouldering. In the 1970s, John Bachar and Ron Kauk reportedly joked the line would one day fall to John Gill's grandson, likely not considering the possibility that it could go to a granddaughter. The Mandala is just one more climb in a tick list of burly, heady ascents for Rands. Not long after the send—and just after this interview—she placed sixth in the American Bouldering Series Nationals, locking in a spot at the upcoming Bouldering World Cup (the first Bouldering World Cup to be held on American soil), to be held this June at the Teva Mountain Games, in Vail.
How long did you work The Mandala?I saved The Mandala for years, waiting to feel strong enough so I wouldn’t epic on it. Four years ago I thought I was ready (I’d just recovered from a knee surgery); when I went to warm up on a steep, juggy V0 I heard a squish in my knee and it swelled like a balloon. I was devastated! I went through two more knee surgeries and could do nothing more than wait. I stuck to other styles of climbing, never pushing my bouldering too hard or too high until just last year. I started rebuilding my strength and fitness by doing some other hard highballs around Bishop such as Hueco Wall (V9), Golden Showers (V10), and This Side of Paradise (V10), to name a few.
Lisa Rands on Backbone (V10, sit), at a New-New sector, Lorraine Farm, Rocklands, SA.Photo by Wills Young — www.lisarands.com
Did you suffer any more injuries in the process?Chris Sharma visited Bishop during a spell of bad weather and we trained for an evening on my friend's indoor climbing wall. I was tired and should’ve rested, but was inspired by Chris and eager to get strong. Besides, Chris said he was "out of shape", so I thought we'd have a very light session... Right! He did, but I ended up tearing my left bicep tendon trying to climb one of his problems. I refused to acknowledge how bad the injury really was. I’d tried The Mandala a handful of times and knew I could do it, but [after that day training with Chris] I was repeatedly shut down on the first hard move. Finally, I asked a doctor to look at my arm and he assured me I had a torn bicep tendon. By the time that began to heal I’d wasted several days trying the problem… but at least I got the top completely dialed!
Lisa reaches for the sloper on Gaia (E8). Photo by Josh Lowellwww.lisarands.com
What attracted you to the problem initially, and what about it held your interest?It's just an amazing piece of rock and the moves are incredible: long, hard pulls on a steep prow and a high finish with a mantel. I’d looked at the prow before it was climbed and remember people talking about it as this amazing project. Anyone who sees the line would be inspired to climb it.
What was the hardest thing about sending The Mandala?Having the patience to accept I could only try a few times each visit, and to wait until I was feeling good for that big, hard move at the start. This past December, when I tried it for the first time of the season, I felt so much stronger than before; I knew I would do it. But even on the second day, though I made the big move several times, I couldn't quite grab the key crimp in the right spot. Then snow buried the boulder for two agonizing weeks. On my third try of the third day this season I hit the micro-crimp perfectly and went to the top. It was a strange feeling because the problem felt easy.
How does The Mandala compare to the other V12s you've done?The sequence on The Mandala feels considerably harder for me than on any of the other problems I’ve climbed. Even so, I think This Side of Paradise (V10) feels as hard, because it is so scary and committing.
Are you thinking about Mandalion (The Mandala sit start) next?I’d love to try the moves on the sit start but I know I need to get my fitness level higher. I do know that if I can do the moves on a problem, then I can climb the problem—Lynn Hill taught me to think that way years ago and it’s driven my climbing forward ever since. Even so, there are probably other directions I’ll take my climbing, and other beautiful climbs I will probably attempt, before embarking seriously on that line.
Lisa So High. Note the spotter, so low... Photo by Tim Kemple.www.lisarands.com
Anything else you'd like to add about your latest send?One thing I learned from my mini-epic on The Mandala is how important my friends are. Wills and my friends —Jeff Sillcox, for example, and girlfriends who also climb—were so encouraging. They repeatedly went out to The Mandala with me, which made it feel like a team ascent. Climbing a hard climb or problem is something that’s accomplished together with friends and is rarely a one-person event.
Any thoughts on the upcoming Bouldering World Cup?Four years ago I walked away from World Cup bouldering comps with a bad knee that seemed to swell every time I practiced on plastic (so many falls, heel-hooks, and drop-knees aggravated the knee—more than regular climbing) and I’ve always felt a bit sad at having to stop competing. However, I’ve broadened my horizons since then; I feel I’m a much better climber and that I could still compete well. If I’m lucky enough to get that chance, I’d be very excited to climb in the World Cup.
Lisa on Megalithe (M10), Rocher Greau, Fontainebleau, France.Photo by Wills Young — www.lisarands.com