Sunday, 27 April 2014

To Bolt or not to Be

Hi folks, well I've been back from Smith for nearly a month and the trip has just about sunk in. It was an amazing experience being out there again and much better temperatures for climbing than when I was last out there in October. I was a bit smarter with my fingertips climbing only every other day, given the unique problems for skin that To Bolt or Not Be, the USA's first 5.14a first climbed in 1986 by Jean Baptiste Tribout, poses. I think it was the first time ever I have taken a rest day on my second day of a climbing trip, unheard of! I had written all of the moves down since the last trip (and obsessed over them in every waking moment!) so remembering them would hopefully not be a problem. All my training was done, I don't think I had skipped a saturday in Parisella's Cave since New Year often in the grimmest of weather and the routes at Stockport Wall had taken a pounding in long training sessions with my climbing partner Ant.

So this 2 week trip was time to execute something which I already knew very well; it came down to a brutal 100 move fitness equation. I was a bit worried that my only recent time on real rock had been doing multiple attempts on Hatch Life High in the Cave and most of my climbing had been done on plastic. However, luckily the feeling of some of my friends saying 'you get nowhere training on routes indoors' proved to be illfounded. A pump is a pump, no matter where you're training!

Crag scene - Greg, Tara and Andrew

Anyway, a bit of background about the route and my involvement with it. When I was a kid, one of my first books about rock climbing by John Long called 'How to Rock Climb' had a picture of Ron Kauk (who got the 2nd American ascent in 1988 after Scott Franklin's first) crimping up this incredible vertical wall of volcanic tuff on what appeared to be nothing holds. I was amazed how he could cling onto that face and how long and sustained it looked. I was only climbing VS at the time so the thought of actually climbing this route never crossed my mind. Nevertheless, the seed was planted and as I started sportclimbing and got through some of the grades, I started to wonder if I might someday have a go myself. Visiting Smith in 2007 for the first time, I got to see the climb and was suitably impressed, it looked just as blank as it did in my book. Seeing awesome pictures of Jerry Moffat on the 3rd ascent in 1988 and hearing tales of Steve McClure's near onsight in 2000 only stoked my desire to get involved. Doing Mecca at Raven Tor, a route with the same grade of 5.14a/ 8b+ in 2009 gave me the confidence to believe I could perhaps do it and actually was the reason I flew out there at short notice that year in December, only to find it was far too cold to attempt! (A productive trip to Bishop ensued instead).

                                                                                                                    A lonely place, the 10th bolt shake

 Some different views of the Beast!

I guess the route had always been in the back of my mind so I could come 'full circle' and be like Ron Kauk in that picture in my old climbing book. Funny where inspiration comes from, but best not to fight it, go with the flow! Its a fair point that Smith is 1000's of miles away from the UK and there are many other worthy routes in the UK and Spain/ France of a similar grade but really it is only a 10 hour flight and with routes this classic, I didn't really care about the logistics so much, just getting to try the thing was the main deal for me. My preferred climbing style is faces so where better place to indulge this than Smith!

Since last October, I have been lucky enough to have met some amazing people in Bend without whom I could never have dreamt of fulfilling my goal being a Brit travelling out here without a climbing partner - Andi and Justin, Andrew Hunzicker (who will get his To Bolt send real soon I'm sure), Nathan, Sierra, Peder and Jess, Ian and Kristin, Ryan, Ian and many of the other locals too numerous to mention but you know who you are! Your support is greatly appreciated! When I come back next year, I hope to enlist some fellow Brits, if I can tempt any away from UK lime...

So, how did the route go? On my first day, I knew this would be a strong indicator of how the my chances were. The first time up, all the moves felt desparate! but thankfully I was not properly warmed up and on the next go, I toproped up to the 4th clip without getting pumped and I knew in my mind that it was on. The route itself is characterised by very sustained climbing on moves which are never easy but typically in the V3 - V6 range individually. Here are pics of some of the lower moves. They say the route contains in one route the crux moves of all of the other routes in the Dihderals, which seems fair. A 5.13 crux every other bolt for 14 bolts would be another way of describing it. Having the necessary fitness level is key to success as without it you have no chance of linking it all together so in a way the battle is won or lost before you even arrive, a motivating thought if ever there was one!

                                   First hard moves by the 3rd

                                   The 4th bolt stretch right                                                   Tiny crimps at the 5th


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Gaston at the 7th

On my second day of attempts, I managed to get through to above the 8th bolt and nearly to the first good shakeout at the 9th bolt which was a massive breakthrough as I had not got past the 6th bolt from the ground on my last trip. I knew I was feeling fitter than last time. On the 3rd day, I got to the 9th bolt shake for the first time and shook out well. I attacked the redpoint crux on two opposing razorblade sidepulls (see pic below), which is definitely the hardest move on the route, albeit straight after a reasonable shake.

The crux after the 9th bolt

I couldn't believe I got through this compression move to the next thumb sprag but my foot then greased out of the polished dish I had been using for a foothold on my linkage attempts. I was gutted as both my belayer Andrew and I thought that this was it, the send go! We were buzzing and gutted at the same time when I lowered off. On my next attempts on my 4th day on the route this trip, I should have done it and as I had had 2 full rest days (including one doing the classic 3 pitch 'Zebra Zion 5.10' with Justin). Unfortunately, conditions were pretty warm, even at 7pm when I set off on my second go of the day. Getting to the 10th bolt shakeout for the first time from the ground was a huge moment and I was clinging on there barely able to control the tantalizing thought that only 5 bolts of easier 5.12d/7c climbing separated me from achieving my dream route.

Scott Franklin had said that anybody who makes it to the 10th shouldn't fall there as you can shake anywhere, all I can say is that it depends how fit you are! I couldn't believe it when I dropped it at the 12th bolt at the final tricky rockover move before easier 5.11 climbing through the final 2 bolts. I was just so flamed but discovered that I was outstaying my welcome at the shakes and getting even more pumped in the process. On my 5th day this trip, halving my rest times to just over a minute at the 9th and 10th shakes made a huge difference (I am not one of those climbers who spend 20 minutes camping out at the 10th bolt!), as did refining some microbeta on that final rockover at the 12th. The send came on a much colder, crisper day and even though I had only had 1 day off after the previous massive day getting high on 2 separate occasions, I had now reached the level needed to do the route and it thankfully all clicked into place. Even the final moves were spooky and hard and there are climbers who have fallen even higher than me so beware of relaxing until its all over. Clipping the chain was an amazing feeling and a big relief as I only had 3 days left of the trip and the time pressure to send had been starting to mount. It was awesome too that earlier that day, Andi sent her long term project, Disposable Heroes 5.13b, in Aggro Gully as a surprise send, way to go. Time for a beer and burger in Redmond!

I will leave you with the video of the route I made, I hope it helps any aspirant To Bolters out there! Thanks for all the encouragement from everybody. Good luck and onto the next chapter!

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