I returned home from Morocco to Tahoe and it was full-on summertime. I decided that this summer I was going to dedicate my time to challenging myself in new ways and learning some new climbing skills. I’ve spent the last 12 or so years of my life traveling for sport or competition climbing, but the past year I’ve had a hard time finding that motivation to keep pushing myself in sport climbing. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s similar to how I felt about competition climbing a few years ago, the fire just burnt out and my passion shifted toward another genre for the time being. I don’t think I’ll ever quit trying to be good at sport climbing, but I just don’t want it to be the only style of climbing that I excel at, which seems to me like a pretty natural progression. Climbing is such a unique and wonderful sport because it is not just a sport, it is a lifestyle and a great source of personal exploration that can be expressed in countless creative styles and dimensions. Most importantly, no matter how exceptional one is at a certain style or discipline, there is almost always a chance to become a beginner again. I have grown to appreciate this humbling process and I believe it teaches me more about who I am, who I want to become, and reminds me why I fell in love with climbing in the first place. The challenges and struggles of learning how to deal with fear, the enjoyment of pure movement and being up high, visiting new crags and experiencing different kinds of rock, finding new communities….the list goes on and on. Sometimes these basic and valuable experiences get pushed aside in order to reach the elite levels of climbing (or anything), but I’ve been forced to reconnect with these aspects as a result of letting myself become a beginner again. This idea seems to be a common trend among some of my professional climber friends recently, as both Joe Kinder and Daniel Woods have shown.
SUMMER!!!! – Adrian Ballinger photo
Leading Firecracker (10b) – Adrian Ballinger photo
It’s not easy though. A few weeks ago I flipped out while leading a 5.9 crack at Donner Summit – just kinda melted down – for no reason really. The crack felt too wide for my hands and feet, and I was afraid to stuff all four limbs into it because it felt slippery and rattley. Instead I kept my feet outside the crack on tiny granite crystals and crimped the inside of the crack (instead of jamming) while trying to place a number 3 camelot. Ironically, my foot slipped and I almost fell but crimped down hard on the inside of the crack and managed to stay on. Annoyed, I down climbed to a ledge and then started to cry. 5.9 isn’t supposed to be that hard. I know that crack climbing is different and granite is different and blah blah blah but this was a serious ego beat down. As Joe put it in his most recent post about a similar experience: “This whole trad climbing experience has been pretty cool, but super frustrating at the same time. I mean I can KILL 5.11s man… half the time I don’t even take that sort of grade seriously… but with climbing cracks it is another world of difficulty. It’s kinda pathetic, but in some odd-ball way really cool to be so humbled.” I was humbled alright. I groveled my way to the top, lowered down, and then proceeded to toprope the route two more times, focusing hard on staying the crack, jamming my hands, twisting and camming my toes, and trusting the whole process. I’ve since lead the route two more times, and every time it has been a little bit better, but still scary and intimidating.
Adrian and I also went to Lover’s Leap about two weeks ago, where we did two 3 pitch 5.7s (Haystack and Bear’s Reach) and he let me lead every pitch, trusting me to build anchors (we’d practiced a bunch on the ground in the days prior) and belay him up. I also tried Fantasia, a brilliant yet slightly serious three pitch 5.9 first climbed by Royal Robbins and Ken Wilson in 1973. It’s basically a face climb with bolted anchors that only allows for gear every 20-40 feet. I was horrified the entire time despite the easy climbing, and ended up backing off the third pitch after getting lost because I couldn’t find a supposed fixed pin (that we found out later had fallen out) and almost getting blown off the wall by some intimidating gusts. I felt a bit lame for backing off the route (after I reached the safety of the ground of course), but promised myself I’d go back and finish it on my next trip to the Leap.
First pitch of Fantasia – Adrian Ballinger photo
Living in Tahoe also offers far more outdoor playing than just rockclimbing so I’ve been trying to embrace that as well. I’ve been doing alot of mountain running and biking. I’ve run longer than I ever have before, along the Pacific Crest Trail between Sugarbowl and Squaw Valley (about 15 miles) on two separate occasions as well as some other shorter jaunts between 6 and 11 miles. I had the pleasure of watching the start of Western States 100 last Saturday, an epic 100 mile ultra marathon that starts just a few blocks from my house. My friend and fellow TNF athlete Rory Bosio placed 5th after suffering through 105 degree heat with heinous blisters on her feet – what a crazy experience that must have been! She asked me to start running with her this week, which sounds slightly epic, but whatever I’ll give it a shot and see how much I suffer.
Emily Turner running on the Pacific Crest Trail
I bought a mountain bike and have started trying to learn how to ride up and down steep, tight trails without completely wrecking myself. So far, I’ve fallen alot (more like tipped over because I couldn’t unclip from my pedals fast enough), am just barely managing to turn around tight switchbacks cleanly, and have accumulated loads of scrapes and bruises on my limbs as a result – but it’s SO fun. It reminds me of skiing in a way, trying to go fast downhill but not too fast, picking a good line, analyzing the risk involved and getting comfortable with speed and obstacles. I enjoy the feeling of scaring myself just a little with speed, having to control my mind, make quick decisions, trust my instincts, and focus on my form and technique. It’s good mental and physical practice for all sports, so as long as I don’t really hurt myself…….
HAHAHA!!! I’M SO DORKY
Joe Kinder’s been here staying with me the past few days and we’ve been hanging tough doing a little sport and trad climbing around Tahoe and just being overall happy and excited about life (ie ALL CAPS – see above). The sport climbing here is all granite, super tech, and hard for me. It forces you to stand on nothing footholds and sometimes grab only texture for your hands. It fits with the theme of “newness” for this summer though because even though it’s sport climbing, I’m more used to climbing on limestone and this granite stuff is tricky and delicate and ego bruising.
Me on Pumplust (13b) – Joe Kinder Photo
ZEBRA STRIPES!!!! – Joe Kinder Photo
So I’m doing my fair share of being a beginner this summer, and I couldn’t be more psyched about it. Hopefully I grow and learn from it, and become a better climber, athlete, and person through it all. I think it’s a worthwhile endeavor. Whether you’re a boulderer who’s afraid to take a lead fall, a sport climber who doesn’t know how to handjam, or a trad climber who can’t make it up a 45 degree overhang of pure limestone pump; trying new things is rad; and you have to start somewhere – may as well dive in! The journey of learning something new is one of the coolest feelings ever. It allows us to see climbing (or whatever your sport may be) in a new and refreshing light, gain a different perspective, and broaden your experiences and opportunities. I’m motivated to apply all the new skills I’m learning to some bigger, more challenging goals in the months and year ahead. In the meantime however, I feel like I still have ALOT more to learn. I guess that will never change, which is again what makes the journey so amazing. Huge thanks to all my Tahoe friends, new and old, who’ve helped teach me how to trad climb, ride a bike, and where to run in the last few weeks; namely Adrian Ballinger, Andy Bardon, Jesse Bushey, and Emily Turner!! I’m super lucky.
I’m headed to the International Climber’s Festival this weekend in Lander, WY and will be one of the keynote speakers on Saturday night. I’l be speaking about my trip to Morocco and success, failure, struggle, motivation, and all that good stuff. Drop on by if you’re attending the event or in the area.
Lastly, I wanted to extend my heartfelt condolences to Tito Traversa’s family, friends, and all those affected by his passing. The climbing community lost a bright young star and it has been a shock to everyone. I watched him climb in Siurana, Spain just over a month ago and I was in awe of his grace and style. Rest In Peace Tito – your strength and passion inspired many and you will be greatly missed but always remembered!