I've been back in Manchester for a few days now and have had a chance to reflect on my latest trip to Smith Rock. Flying back this time felt like the end of an era in some ways, complete with the usual jet lag and kipping on airport benches at 3am, good times! This was my 6th trip in 3 years to try Just Do It and I was aware that time was running out for completion of this project due to the pressures of keeping on trying a route so far away from my home. I said to myself at the start of the trip that it was important to get it done this time around so I could move on with my climbing and free up time and effort to sample some of the classics closer to home. I was lucky enough to have been given the option of staying out for a longer period of time before flying out due to my work circumstances so I had this up my sleeve.
|The slap up to the 'sidepull sloper' on the upper crux (Screengrab: Nate Gerhardt)|
In the back of my mind was my talus fracture back in December and how well I would be climbing compared to previous trips. Luckily, on my first session up on the Monkey I quickly realised that I felt stronger than my last trip and my fitness was decent due to a recent spell at Malham and some indoor routes at Stockport Wall. I had also been lapping my replica of the route at Rockover Climbing Centre that Tom Stewart, the owner, had kindly let me set on their auto belay area. I had been adding ever increasing amounts of climbing going up and down different routes before shaking out on the first hold of the replica (a hold very similar to the big flat hold at the 13th bolt which marks the start of the upper cruxes in the purple rock) and then finishing up it, which I had never been able to do training on the same set up last year. So, just the small matter of climbing the real thing!
|The lower crux in the purple rock (Pic: Mike Doyle)|
|Approaching the porthole rest (Pic: Jason Bagby)|
This time I could feel that I had a bit more fitness in my arms from all the training over the winter and had a good stab at getting past the upper crux, another powerful V8 boulder problem. This sequence is more sustained than the crux before the porthole (comprising 8 hard moves in total) and the hardest 2 moves involve a powerful lock off and cross over from a 1st joint 2 finger pocket to a poor, gaston crimp and then holding this to then fire into another, better, 2 finger pocket. From this pocket, 4 slightly easier moves follow without rest before the relative sanctuary of the 'big, flat crimp' by the 16th bolt and the still tricky exit moves.
|After sticking the upper crux for the first time from the ground (Pic: Steven Dimmitt)|
After a mini-heat wave of 80+F temps, I returned with Crit Concrad and managed to get a move higher, holding the sidepull sloper but not having quite enough power to get crimped up on it, which you need to do in order to execute the next throw to the 'big flat crimp'. Since failing on this move on the link from the 1st chains on my second session, I couldn't decide whether to move my feet 4 times using some intermediate footholds (which seemed to be less strenuous and more in balance) or to stick with my old foot sequence, which was only 2 foot moves and more powerful but quicker. I went with the former option and chanced introducing some new foot moves as these moves felt OK on the link from the porthole. Unfortunately, on my redpoint, I ended up stranded below the throw move with no hope of sticking it as I was too pumped to move my feet! I went for it anyway and took the ride with a new highpoint under my belt of 2 handmoves further up the wall, which was good progress nevertheless. The lesson I took from this was not to tinker with your sequence, best to stick with the devil you know!
The next session with Brady and Jenny Abegg proved to be a turning point and it was a rare occasion when the weather allowed me to take rest 2 days and then go back up for another session without having to wait for a longer hot spell to dissipate. In hindsight, I could have done it this session as I stuck the pocket stab move twice, which I had never done in a single session before. Unfortunately, I didn't get the second 2 finger pocket as well as I would have liked which left me short on the slap to the sidepull sloper so I didn't quite make my highpoint again.
I managed to steady the ship with a session sticking the pocket stab again with Mike Doyle on a session when he came super close to sending the East Face Crack 13d without clipping any of the fixed gear, taking an impressive fall in the process (he sent it with ease next session). However, I didn't make any impression on the slap to the sidepull sloper, which did nothing to ease my fears of having peaked too soon. I decided to try the 1st chains to the top link without lowering off after my second burn and after 10 mins hanging at the 1st chains. This link felt the easiest it had ever felt using my old, quicker foot sequence. I knew I was getting closer and it was only a matter of time.
I was destined to have one more close session and made the trek up there with Jon Roderick, who has been trying the East Face Crack and who I belayed on a very smooth ascent of the lower pitch (12c on trad), way to go Jon! This session, I failed on the pocket stab move twice, despite 2 full rest days so I was stressing out wondering whether I had lost the power needed for this move. However, the saving grace was another 1st chains to top link after 10 minutes rest following my second burn. Jon put up with me offloading a load of doubts about conditions and beta on the walk down, sorry Jon!
I would like to thank everybody who came up to the Monkey to belay me or offer support, it means a lot! Coming from the UK with no partner this time, I was relying on finding partners out here. The fact that I was able to keep coming up there for 6 weeks with not a single time when I had to skip a good day for lack of a partner is a testament to the awesome Smith Rock climbing community. A special mention to my friend Calvin Landrus who came out to belay me a tonne back in 2015 and 2016 but who has recently sadly contracted leukemia. I am happy to hear that the chemo has been going well and best of luck with the recovery.
|The first 2 finger pocket move on the lower pitch (Pic: Mike Doyle)|
I was fully expecting to be able to rest 2 days then head back up to the Monkey and send but the weather had other plans. Another mini-heatwave rolled in and I was forced to train in the morning cool of Morning Glory Wall and Aggro Gully. This was no bad thing as I was able to reference my fitness on my favourite training routes such as Churning in the Wake 13a, Aggro Monkey 13b, Disposable Heroes 13a and The Quickening 12c. I even chucked a lap on Full Heinous Cling 12c in the Dihedrals, for old times sake ;). I clocked up 4 or 5 such sessions over 6 weeks and I think this helped me to avoid burnout. Still, it was not ideal having to wait more days than necessary when I was on the brink of success and there were times during the hot spell when I began to doubt whether it would ever cool off and I would get another chance. It was at such times that I found it important to stay focused and positive during the long hours away from the crags. Using the time productively was important as one of the problems of all the resting was how to keep your mind from constantly obsessing about the route, which could be counterproductive. I spent many happy hours in Redmond library reading classic novels like Jack Kerouac's 'On the Road' and Thomas Hardy's 'Return of the Native', books I will always associate with my time out in Oregon.
|Just below the good rest above the 9th bolt, the chains of the first pitch just above (Pic: Mike Doyle)|
I had one abortive early morning session with Brady Kendrick getting up at 5am for a 6:45am start up on the Monkey to beat the heat. I shall always remember Brady pulling up in his truck and the whooping and hollering and 'Heck yea's' for no particular reason other than pure psyche as I cranked out some hangs on the Tension flashboard hung up in the parking lot while the coffee kicked in. This session was not a success as the entire route was in the sun by 8am before even one redpoint was possible, leading to an impromptu training session in the gully on the way back - at least we tried!
|The stemming rest at the 9th bolt (Pic: Jenny Abegg)|
By the time temps cooled down, I had spent a week without any redpoints since my highpoint and was nervous about whether I would be able to get past the upper crux again. Probably the low point of the trip came after my first redpoint that first session back when I failed to get up to the porthole. To be honest I was gutted as I began to wonder whether I had burnt out and would ever regain my highpoint. A change of pace was in order and I elected not to have a second redpoint from the ground for once. I bolt to bolted up to the 9th bolt and then managed to do a link from there to the top, which was a massive confidence boost as it was one bolt better than the link I had been aiming for on my second session and a personal best in still warm conditions. It also involved climbing into and out of the main stemming rest above the 9th bolt. Every move felt the best it had ever felt and I had power in reserve at the chains. I needn't have worried about fluffing my previous redpoint and had turned the session around. The moves on small crimps leading to the porthole are so hard on the link from the ground that it is inevitable that you won't have a 100% strike rate. If you put your feet a few cm's left or right of the sweet spots on each foothold then you are liable to be spat off. Sometimes, redpoints don't go well purely down to the law of averages - you can't always climb at your best.
|Big move at the 12th bolt (Pic: Mike Doyle)|
|Focus required! Just below the 3 finger crimp on the 1st crux of the purple rock (Pic: Mike Doyle)|
The Monkey was still intent on testing me though as yet another 5 day heatwave rolled in with some pretty horrible, humid thunderstorms thrown into the mix. I made a tactical error of coming out one evening for a session to try and keep momentum going as I had rested 2 days already and felt really fresh. This was a mistake as I fell off the upper crux in really humid, warm conditions. Lesson number 2, don't bother trying things at your limit in bad conditions, rest up instead! In retrospect, I should have gone training at the gym in Bend or something, anything but try Just Do It!
|Starting the upper crux: locking the first 2 finger pocket, about to crossover for the gaston (Screengrab: Nate Gerhardt)|
|Crossover move from the 2 finger pocket on the |
upper crux (Pic: Heather Furtney, from Oct 2015)
|The redpoint crux - stabbing into a 2 finger pocket |
off a small gaston crimp (Pic: Heather Furtney, from Oct 2015)
The weekend looked warm so I would only have one rest day before an attempt on Friday, which looked like half decent temps with the forecast saying 70 degrees. I scoured my contacts for a belayer and luckily Lukas Strauss-Wise agreed to come out at short notice on Friday night, which was a big ask. It felt warm in the air in the gully but hanging out there with my good friends Andrew Hunzicker and Nate Gerhardt helped to create a relaxed atmosphere. We could feel a warm breeze blowing down the gully and all agreed conditions felt good, despite the heat. I left it until the last possible moment to allow for one burn before sunset before hiking up to the Monkey. The initial bolt to bolt go felt good and I was psyched to have the chance for a decent attempt before resting through the heat of the weekend after which substantial rest I should then be in a position to have a full blooded go on Monday.
|The big move to the sidepull sloper |
(Pic: Heather Furtney, from Oct 2015)
To my horror, I proceeded to fall of the move cranking a tiny right hand sidepull just above the 3rd bolt, a move I hadn't fallen off in over 2 years. I put it down to the relative heat then lowered off and rested 15 minutes, which is all the time there was left before it would start to get too dark to see footholds. Without any expectations, just before 8:30, I set off again and managed to slap through the sidepull move. I had extended the 8th draw on my previous session which enabled me to clip it from lower down in a position of balance and made it less strenuous. I arrived in the rest above the 9th bolt feeling fresh and for some reason started for the first time to alternate putting my weight over my right then left foot as I shook out each arm in turn, which I think helped. After my regulation 2 minutes shake, I set out up the familiar 12d section leading up to the 13th bolt shake. I realised I was feeling really good and so didn't stay more than a couple of shakes on this hold before attacking the next big move up and right leading into the crux crimps. I made it through these moves to the porthole with relief and then tried to calm my breathing down.
My send video. (Advisory, contains some slightly 'rum' language)
After 45 seconds and 2 shakes on each arm, I eyed up the upper crux then set off. One thing I had learnt on my previous session was to be sure of adjusting several times in the first 2 finger pocket to get it really well so I really twisted my fingers in deep and adjusted 4 times. Another key bit of micro beta was to do an old fashioned foot swap on the sika crimp on the cross over move to the gaston crimp rather than place your feet next to each other on this hold. My outside left foot came down on the foothold perfectly after the swap and I cranked up to the gaston. I fully crimped this and placed my right toe on the dicey smear. This time, I hit right in the back of the second 2 finger pocket and only needed one adjust before moving my feet up for the slap to the sidepull sloper. After a power grunt, I got more than enough height to get crimped up on the sloper using the crucial crystal at the top of the hold and before I knew it I was crimping the intermediate sidepull and moving my left foot out in readiness for the throw up to the big flat crimp. I went for it and my fingers latched the hold, I was in! The exit moves went on autopilot and the next thing I knew, I was shaking out in the final jug before the last moves 5.12 guarding the chains. Thankfully these went without incident and I was clipping the chains! It was a great feeling to put this project to bed and be able to fly back to the UK without any unfinished business for a change.
|Post send pic (Pic: Lukas Strauss-Wise)|