Places With History
I've been climbing since late 2004, but managed to exist as a recreational climber in those early years. I climbed in the gym regularly, but I didn't really seriously train for climbing. I took crag days around the pacific northwest with a variety of climbing partners often, but I prioritized my well-paying corporate gig and regularly missed climbing days for work commitments, or because of other responsibilities.
I took my first big climbing trip in the winter of 2006. Destination, Joshua Tree, where I climbed with a bunch of my friends. More specifically, I spent the week following whoever would lead me up traditional moderates. I fell while toproping a 5.6 in Real Hidden Valley that felt impossible; I experienced my first gear mishap when my ATC-XP jammed on a free-hanging rappel and I had to figure out how to unstick the device; I got in my first real multipitch climbing (all of it as second) at Moosedog Tower and Hidden Valley. I got my feet wet cleaning a ton of gear, and tried to learn as much as I could about being a good climbing partner. I learned that sometimes, you just have to get up the route -- even if you climb badly, fall, lose skin, bleed, hyperventilate, and it starts to hail. Somebody's got to get the leader's gear back, and sometimes, that somebody is going to be me.
I spent five days climbing during that trip, and didn't lead a single pitch. Even so, I got a taste of what a climbing life could be like. I liked the camping, the camp cooking, the fantastic taste of the hot coffee I brewed in the morning. I liked waking up under a huge rock, and getting in a couple of pitches with one of the guys before breakfast while the rest of the crew slept in. I liked the camaraderie and openness of our time around the campfire. I had never in my life been so ravenously hungry as I was at the end of those days, and nothing in my life tasted as good as the leftover pasta shells offered to me by one of my climbing partners once he'd dished up his dinner.
After just a few short days, I was sold on the life. I just had to learn how to climb. I was pretty convinced after that trip that no matter how hard I trained, I'd never lead a pitch at Joshua Tree, though, since the climbing was so unbelievably hard.
I spent the next year climbing as much as my busy work schedule allowed. I climbed in the gym and took trips around the Northwest, to Smith Rock, Leavenworth, more trips to Smith, more trips to Leavenworth, with a few closer to home trips to North Bend in there for good measure.
At that point, I still lead precious little, but I learned more about climbing and being a climbing partner. My next big trip was on the horizon. The crew was headed to Red Rock Canyon for a week, just after Christmas 2007. By that point, I knew enough to pack for wicked cold (I travel with two sleeping bags during my winter trips), and to make a route wish list prior to departure. I was determined to finally take the sharp end, and spend some time on lead.
My ambition outweighed other factors at play on that trip. My successes were in the form of failures... unfinished objectives, unfinished boulder problems, failed redpoint attempts at sport routes, and epiphanies about my life and the way I actually wanted to live it. But even with all of the things I wasn't able to do during that trip, I still had fun with my friends, learned more skills to add to my toolkit, and my list of "projects" to come back to grew longer.
Now, as my fourth year as a climber gets into full swing, I can feel a huge shift. I've been training for climbing specifically for the last year, and I am feeling the benefits in a big way, physically and mentally. I've made changes to my work and lifestyle, to accommodate climbing being a bigger part of my world. I'm no longer just a reliable follower on routes. I'm learning how to be a competent leader. About half the time, I'm climbing with partners more experienced than I am; about half the time, I find myself the more experienced climber in the party. I'm doing more of the trip planning and less of the "going along," I'm carrying my weight more as a climbing partner, with the increased stress and pressure that goes along with it. But most satisfying of all, I'm revisiting those old projects, and places, where I have history.
A few weeks ago I took a driving trip to Red Rock with a new partner. I'd been obsessing about a bouldering problem there ever since my first trip... I spent a couple of post-climbing-day-evenings throwing myself at that problem to no avail... I could make a few moves on it, but I didn't have the strength to put the moves together. I tore up my hands, I poked holes in my thumbs, and I bruised my butt falling off the sit start. Now, a little over a year later I was jonesing to get back on that problem. We headed for the Kraft boulders one evening and like a bloodhound sniffing out a scent trail, my feet took me directly to that fateful boulder.
I dropped my bouldering pad, and started calmly changing shoes, chalking up, and psyching myself up for a few good attempts on the problem. With my climbing partner spotting, I set myself up on the start holds. With the first move, I felt strong. Where before, I had to make a series of small moves on intermediates, this time I had the strength to skip the intermediates and just throw for the next hold. I moved confidently through the problem, and topped out almost disappointed that it was so easy. But my disappointment was balanced with excitement over how different my body felt doing that problem. I knew at that moment, that I am a much different climber now than I used to be.
We got rained out at Red Rock and embraced the situation like a number of locals we chatted with... we turned the car toward the Mojave desert, destination Joshua Tree. I was nervous about my ability to lead — anything — at Joshua Tree, but my climbing partner is a strong leader despite being newer to climbing, so I figured we'd find something to have fun on. We spent our climbing day at the Lost Horse area, home to some fantastic "easy" routes. I followed my climbing partner on a surprisingly cruxy 5.7, then decided I'd better play it a bit safer for my lead. We headed for a 5.6 but another party was on it, and a 5.7 crack to the right caught my eye. You can read that long story on my blog but I'll summarize here — I lead it, and it was awesome. Complete with a cheering section of excited Orange County girls who made me feel like a total bad ass. Sure, it's only 5.7. But for a girl who thought she'd never lead a pitch at Joshua Tree, that lead made the entire trip worthwhile.
Now, I think about my places with history a bit differently. Each trip is an opportunity to find some reason to come back. Each project revisited is a chance to feel the difference in my self from year to year — to feel my body get stronger, and my mind grow calmer. They're an opportunity for me to stop and inventory my climbing life, and my life outside of climbing.What are your places, routes, or problems with history? Please comment on this blog! For more about Sara Lingafelter, visit her blog: rockclimbergirl.com