Monday, April 7, 2014

Breaking Through Barriers

The most difficult thing that I have had to face in my rock climbing career is a hand/wrist injury that I've been crawling back from for about 4 years.

Rewind back to four years ago. I am incredibly close to sending this amazing 5.13b/c at The Wailing Wall called Pucker, located just outside of Mesquite, Nevada. I make the lunge to the final hold, latch it for a mini-second and fall....again on the last move. But this time, it was game over. My finger was injured. For years I tried to crawl back. I took up trad climbing, figuring that a switch in styles would help. And it did. But then every time I would try hard on small holds again, I would be set back by wrist and finger pain that eventually robbed me of my confidence in my grip strength.

In 2013 things started to improve. I started to train, balance and rebuild. I vowed to push my finger slowly and cautiously. So I let go a lot. And I pretty much ruled out onsight climbing all together. I was essentially always searching for the perfect project that didn't hurt. I found some absolute gems, but I still never found the confidence that I once had in my fingers and wrist.

For 2014, I have had one climbing goal in mind: Climb 5.14.
A 5.14 in 2014 just had a nice ring to it.
To me this number just meant that I would finally have to build back the confidence in my finger and in myself. But I have never been one for long term projects, despite my husband trying to talk me into trying harder routes for years.
"It is hard to send 5.14 when you don't even try them!", he says.
Makes perfect sense to me!

So I created the perfect plan... 
Lime Kiln Canyon, Arizona.

We returned to the birthplace of my finger injury, Mesquite Nevada. I wanted to face that finger ruining limestone head on. This casino town is right in the middle of an abundance of fun limestone sport climbing along the border of Utah, Nevada and Arizona. We have the perfect set up here as Kyle gets to live his Texas Hold 'em fantasy on rest days at the casino and I get to climb on that beautiful limestone on my climbing days.

Trilly loves her Mesquite desert home.


Mesquite night lights. Campsite vistas. 

I had one route on my mind this trip, a climb that I had associated with being the most fingery of them all... Magnum Opus, 5.14a. It was put up by Todd Perkins, a local legend and really inspiring climber that I admired. I really looked forward to trying out his Magnum Opus. This technical test piece stands tall at "The Grail", a beautiful limestone crag with perfect 35m limestone face climbing. I felt like I'd earned my keep on this wall after onsighting Honeycombe 5.13a, Mantis 5.12c and climbing both Homo Fabor 5.12d and Hoarse Plattitudes 5.13b in a day. Magnum Opus was the next step, it was the last one standing.

Keith Ladzinski photo of Todd Perkins, getting the FA of Magnum Opus 5.14a
The photo I have had on my desktop since January.

Kyle made me hang the draws on it after sending Horse Plattitudes. It wasn't pretty but I did somehow stick all of the moves except for one my first try. The holds were tiny, kinda tweaky and seemed to accentuate all of the things I was scared to do on my right hand. It scared the crap out of me actually. I was beginning to question if this whole quest was worth it, at risk of being put back on the bench for good.

Limestone delights.

Brendan Oneill and I put down the cliff classic ,Vespers 5.12b.
 We went to Vegas for over a week to climb some big stuff, and I let Magnum be for a while, and pondered if climbing this fingery route was a stupid idea. <Lack of confidence returns>.
But I felt that this fingery testpiece was the much needed final test to myself. To gain my confidence back.

Then I had a great couple of climbing days at Arrow Canyon, and after years of hesitation, I finally went for a harder onsight. It was time. I onsighted Heart of Glass 5.12d and several other 5.12's in the canyon. With Magnum Opus on my mind, I felt like this was the perfect place to test my skills again. <Insert confidence again>.

Arrow limestone sampling

I rushed back to Magnum to work out more beta, and I stuck the entry boulder problem which was the missing piece of the puzzle for me (midget beta). My brain and fingers were still not making the connection though, and everything was telling me to let go and move on.
Your fingers and wrist can't do it.

We switched up the style for another week, climbing some steep stuff on The Wailing Wall and Arrow Canyon. We were very out of shape on steep routes after almost a month in Joshua Tree, yet cruising the technical stuff. I also made it out to the Red Rock Rendezvous for a few days. I was really stoked to of been invited to teach a couple clinics at this event. I had an awesome time and would totally love to do it again!

Red Rocks, Nevada

Climb Like A Girl Clinic, Red Rock Rendezvous.
Brendan Oneill indulges in a link up on The Wailing Wall.
Team Weakness unites

Campsite Bocchee Ball

So many rest day activities!

Upon my return to Magnum, I made some great linkage and was given some key beta from a friendly guy named Chris from Alaska. This new beta was perfect and I one hung the route twice on the next climbing day.

Holy crap... It was ready to send. 

Digging deep on one of the many creative non-holds of Magnum Opus.
Adam Demmert Photo

The next climbing day we were graced with perfect winds from the north. Too perfect actually... as I came down with a mild case of sending anxiety. I was also concerned about a pain that was starting to develop in my wrist. The Grail was busy that day, with our friends and a few other nice people from near and far. With it being a weekend, Magnum Opus was surprisingly a popular route and the 3 of us who had been actively working on it were there and going for the send. Although nobody could seal the deal all day.

But I still had one more try left.....

Nailing the crux. Like a Boss.
It was a perfect moment, to be there with friends, after a perfect day, with perfect weather, clipping the anchors on a climb that represents so much more to me than a number. This climb represents new confidence, moving on to new levels and breaking down personal barriers. This route was my chance to face an injury head on, and I am so ready to move on to bigger things with confidence in my body again.
Anything is possible.
You just have to believe.
And want it.... really really bad.

Wanting it really bad and latching the final hold on Magnum Opus.
This grand finale couldn't of been timed more perfectly. I am really excited to start trying harder stuff and discovering my real limits on the rock. This turned out to be nowhere near my limit, but I will let other people with more experience in the grade be the judge.
The trip is coming to a close. And it is a perfect set up for the upcoming Ontario climbing season.
On the Rocks is open for business May 1st. STOKED for another season of guiding and climbing on the beautiful Niagara escarpment!!!
Just. Really. Stoked.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Benighted on Mount Wilson

There was never a question as to if  I would ever get "benighted", but a question of when I would.
The actual dictionary definition of benighted is:
1) To be in a state of intellectual or moral ignorance
2) To be overtaken by darkness
Both of those definitions could be true for the situation we got ourselves in, but the actual definition in climbing terms is to be stuck on the cliff or summit at dark, with the inability to retreat/sleep in your own bed.
Most of my friends with more experience in the art of big wall climbing have a story or two of their experiences being benighted. I had always wondered when it would happen to me. I had a close call in Yosemite on my first real big route in the valley. But after some bad decisions and a couple near misses, we  somehow managed to touch ground in the dark. In hindsight, I still think that sleeping on the wall would have been the safer option that day. I have a deep fear of freezing my ass off. I'm not exactly well insulated, or cut out for the cold. So being benighted scares the crap out of me, but it also seemed like a right of passage, and I knew my time would come one day.
Which leads me to two days ago on Mount Wilson....
Mount Wilson
My good buddy Davey Z and I had our sights set on a one day push of The Resolution Arete 5.11d V 23 pitches, located in Red Rocks, Nevada. Up until then I had been bouldering, sport climbing and a little bit of single pitch trad climbing in Joshua Tree. Dave was prepped with 2 months of avid x-country skiing and the occasional boulder session on his home wall. Neither of us had climbed any big routes in a while but Dave, a father of 2, had 9 days off and one chance to do something awesome before going back to cold Ontario and teaching high school business. Regardless of the lack of prep work, Dave and I are pretty damn confident with a rack on our harnesses, and we were pretty sure that we could pull it off together. Though it would be tight.
I was really stoked about this 2500ft line that shoots up the central arĂȘte of Mount Wilson. The coolest part of this climb is that it is 100% pure trad, not one bolt on the entire 20+ pitches. It would also be my first Grade V route, which means that by taking into account the climbs height and length of approaches and descents, it is technically a multi-day route. And with the shorter days, it still is was despite our attempts to do it in a day.
The Resolution Arete follows the ridge-like arĂȘte for 2500ft to the summit of Mt. Wilson.
We nailed the 2 hour approach after an early alpine start (4:20am), and made it to the base by sunrise. Dave then linked pitch 1 and 2 and I linked 3 and 4. Despite our quick belay changeovers, running it out and linking pitches, these 150ft pitches moved slower than we had anticipated. The climbing was a lot more physical and serious then we had expected from the Red Rocks, and the tricky route finding and chimney pitches slowed us down quite a bit. By the time we had reached pitch 10, the base of the crux 5.11d roof, we both knew that we wouldn't make it to the summit in time. But funny enough, we both kept these thoughts to ourselves and continued on without a word spoken about our pace. We ate and drank water while belaying, and when we weren't belaying we were climbing as quick as possible. We essentially didn't stop once, except for when we were trying to figure out where the heck to go.

Dave starts up pitch 1,
which most definitely set the tone for the difficulty of the route.


Dave coiling our trusty purple power Sterling nano

Dave high up on Resolution Arete

Dave leads up another sustained 5.9+ pitch, high off the deck

We were at the last two pitches before the final 500ft of "fourth class" and it was almost dark. At this point we needed a miracle. Dave turned it on for the summit push, and flew up the final 5.8 and 5.7. And strangely enough, that final "fourth class" was the most testing part of our day. I don't know if we had missed the line (which is highly possible as it was now dark and we were delusional) but it was more like 5.0 with sections of 5.5, all on terrible rock. We stayed roped up for all of it, and considering it was now dark, we pitched it out to the top. Dave said it best, "When its dark, its dark, there is no rush anymore".

Views from another chimney pitch

The sun setting faster then we can climb

It was pretty cool to summit at dark and with an almost-full moon. The view of the Vegas city lights from the summit was neat to see. To be in such a wild mountain environment with the views of this colourful city below is such a strange contrast. After a quick break, we set out to find the descent which is supposed to take 4 hours if you know where you are going. "We just have to get lucky now Timms!", Dave laughs, but 'lucky' we did not get. After hiking down and around in the wrong gully for hours, we had reached our tipping point and made the decision to spend the night on Mount Wilson. We were now out of water, and could barely walk. We had been benighted.
Full moon and fire glow

Thankful for fire

Our bivy site. I "slept" on the rope and cordellete.
Winds from the north picked up and we tried but failed to find a spot out of the wind. We kept a fire going all night to stay warm. Survival spooning had to occur a few times, and I don't think I slept for more then 15 minutes at a time. By sunrise, the fire had some nice coals so we decided to stay and enjoy it for a bit after a night of shivering. Dave saved a sausage that he packed and we cooked it on the fire for breakfast. It felt so gourmet after that night. We were so ridiculously excited about this sausage.
Sausage breakfast, cliff gourmet.

We made the trek back up to the summit to rappel another route to the ground, but strong wind gusts cancelled that option. We feared our rope getting stuck and not having the energy to get out of that situation. Plan C then came into effect and we descended the slabs on the back side for what felt like an eternity. After a couple hours of hiking, we had a cell signal and called our worried better halves. Turned out that Kyle and our two wonderful friends Adam and Craig were already on their way in. Ready to rescue us. They caught up with us after a few hours of descending and brought us water and snacks. They were my favourite people in the world at that moment, though I doubt that I could of expressed it as I drowned myself in water and food. But alas we had made it back safely, unscathed, with new found appreciation for everything. Not to mention a good story to tell.
Summit views at dawn

Next day summit selfie

Dave and I begin the 4 hour descent with no food/water/sleep.
I have done rustic solo camping in the past, but this experience was much different. Sleeping on the cold ground, without enough clothing, food and water is a different level of "camping". Unplanned usually coincides with unprepared and it is amazing how much an experience like this can make you appreciate the simple things. It was most definitely a character building experience, one that I would do all over again to climb that route with Dave. I have never felt more alive and dead at the same time.
As I rest up in a nice hotel room for two days, I picture poor Dave on a red eye flight home, with two  sick baby girls, and then back to teaching high school the next day. But I know that despite not sleeping for 4 days, he is now truly content, with a climb/experience under his belt that will keep him going strong for a long while. That makes me smile.
I plan to rest up and gain my strength back for the final stretch of this trip. Home by the end of April after a little sport climbing in the Utah Hills. Surely seizing the day from here on out!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Livin' the High Life

It's pretty hard to wipe off the smile that I have right now. Between exploring amazing climbing destinations, sharing these experiences with new and old friends and getting the chance to guide in one of my favourite places on earth, I am in total heaven.

We spent a little chunk of time in Hueco Tanks, Texas. Just enough time to see a couple new areas (for us) and gain a little power after a long break from climbing. Weather was rather brisk, and windy but it was so fun to experience the freedom of bouldering and the perfect rock of Hueco Tanks again, even if for just a short time.

Kyle Thomas sends the classic Moonshine Roof V4

Windy highballin'
Eyeing up the classic Stegasaur V8

Craig Reger flashes Daily Dick Dose V7

Cold and windy adventures with Team Weakness 

Craig stems up the Bloodline corridor

Good climbing and good friends, life is good.

Hueco Tanks

Craig Reger exceeds his own expectations and flashes Loaded With Power V10

After Hueco we went back to Cochise Stronghold in Arizona to get back on a rope and enjoy the peaceful camping in this serene granite paradise. It was just a quick stop but enough time to tick off a few more classics around the camping in West Cochise.

Another perfect campsite in Cochise Stronghold, Arizona

Me, Pam and Chris in Cochise

Chris Pegelo dances up another classic on Rad Rock

Chris Pegelo on the amazing chickenheads of Nightstalker 5.9

Nighstalker at Owl Rock

Soon it was time to head back to Joshua Tree for the first ever On the Rocks international climbing trip. I was so excited about this new chapter in my guiding career! Jtree always seems to be a meeting place, and the stars have aligned and brought several of our friends from around the globe here at the same time. It is so nice to have a big group of great friends staying with us in Hidden Valley Campground. 

Adam Demmert onsights the Jtree classic Clean and Jerk 5.10c

The entire experience of guiding in Jtree has been surreal. I can honestly say that the happiness I experience with guiding trips like these is equal to the feeling of sending a really meaningful climb. I taught a 4 day Course in the park with two amazing women and I couldn't of asked for better weather or people either. I am all smiles from ear to ear. I am living the dream, and sharing this dream and passion with other people is so incredibly rewarding.

Pia on top of Cap Rock

Cap Rock, Joshua Tree

Pia and Maryann on another beautiful Jtree summit

Just another day at "the office".

My next Joshua Tree guiding adventure starts next week, and I can't wait to share this amazing place with another Canadian escaping the cold to seek rocks and adventures with me. Both guiding and rock climbing are the most rewarding things I have ever experienced in my life and I am so thankful for this incredible job I have and life I live.
'Till next time friends!
xox Les