Wednesday, November 4, 2015

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." ~MLK

It is not my intention to undermine the greater meaning of MLK's quote, but the irony of his metaphor to this literal blog subject was too good not to pass. It all started on the bouldering mats Halloween week. My friend Laura and I were working on a few projects. After a few hours of success and failure tallies adding up, our energy levels subsided. Our boulder session turned more into a chat/watch session. (Sidenote: my child nemisis, Anika, is bouldering at a V5 level, while I'm still at a V3)

At some point, Chris sat down, and joined us. We thought he was in the gym for climbing, but turns out he was there to use up time before yoga, a newer addition to his training - it's good for the shoulders, especially in mixed climbing. What's mixed climbing, you ask? Oh, it's a very interesting version of ice climbing that incorporates dry rock. Chris happens to be pretty good at it - pretty good being an understatement.

Here's where it gets interesting, if you're mixed climbing on ice and get to rock, you don't put away your tools and crampons, you keep using them.

Still trying to understand what I mean? See below: Crampons, Ice Axes, Rock

If only the still-shots above captured the difficulty of the day. It's an easy concept, like ice climbing: feet up, stand up, place the ax, repeat. If only the execution were just as simple.

Even the pictures make the concept look easy.

I remember getting into rock climbing last year, and feeling the frustration as my muscles, brain, hands, and feet struggled to work together in one coordinated, successful move. Adding the crampons and ice axes took me right back to square one. The challenge was real, folks.

Yes, even for a tall person like me.

So, how did I get in myself into this position? Well, Chris invited Laura and I along to join our climbing partner Nicole, and some more of his friends in Vail to practice dry tooling. Dry tooling is the rock only version of mixed climbing. By the end of the day I managed to top rope two routes, and let me tell you that route named "Cupcake" was no piece of cake.

Both Nicole and I have been ice climbing before, but this was our first introduction to dry-tooling. Lucky, so very lucky, for us, the Halloween Vail Team had some very positive attitudes. Experienced climbers at different levels gave us pointers and beta while on the routes. Sometimes I understood exactly what they were saying, and other times I did not. For instance, Chris said "Engage the core," and Sam responded with, "Use that six pack."

What six pack? I'm not even sure I have a two pack.
Sure enough, there was always a hold where they told us one would be - getting to that hold though, not always easy. I definitely spent most of the day on the struggle bus, and a lot of time suspended in air from my axes fumbling around for footholds. I was taking a particularly long break, when my belayer, Greg, asked, "Are you ok?" My response was, "Yes. I'm very frustrated right now, but I'm ok...I'm not stopping." Hearing others from the ground calling up with reassurance definitely added to the motivation.

Watching others climb was also pretty inspiring. Moving in and out of figure 4s and 9s. Hanging upside down for extended periods of time. Clearing overhangs. Engaging the core - which must have been at least a 12 pack for some of those moves. All of it was very impressive. I reminded myself that project levels are relative, and it's important to understand that one's level of success is measured on their own experience, not necessarily the experience of the climber next them. (This concept obviously does not apply in a competition setting. In that case, you want to be the best)

Everyone was challenged that day, even the best of climbers. That's what made each of us better between the time we left our cars, and when we returned.

Nicole looking all Lisa Franky...Sam is wearing her wings.
Sam looking all Creepy Lisa Franky in his crash test dummy spandex with wings.

Climb on...Winter's Coming!
Special thanks Chris for inviting us along, and to Sam and Greg for providing loaner axes, mono points, and more importantly a significant amount of your own time on Saturday.