No Rest Days for the Weary || Road to V-Tranquility

I have settled into a routine of bouldering every other day, and my body is deteriorating because of it. Detoriating or preparing to get really freaking strong. This is what happened last year: I started bouldering almost every day when my body just could just baaaaarely handle it.

I’d be at work and say to my coworker Bea, “I think I’m gonna climb today.”

“Didn’t you climb yesterday?”

“Maybe.”

“How’s your body holding up?”

“It’s hanging in there. Barely.”

And then I took a rest for a few days or a week or maybe the pandemic hit and suddenly I felt so good, so strong.

These are the things I need to keep in mind on a day like today, when I go to the gym and don’t send my project and if anything feel like I’m making negative progress. Because even when you’re not feeling strong you can still work on technique. In fact, when you’re not feeling strong may be the BEST time to work on technique, cuz that’s when you need it most.

Still kinda wish I’d sent that blue today, though.

Hurting my hip flexor has made it abundantly clear that my well-being needs to be the primary focus. Screw being able to climb, I just want to feel healthy, limber, strong. If I feel these things, then obviously I’m going to be able to boulder. I’ll be able to do a host of other things, too: play soccer, run, skydive. I would so much rather be healthy and boulder less than boulder all the time and have my body be destroyed. But this is a realization that has taken precisely that — destroying my body — to come to. My knee, my hip, my fingers, my elbow, my shoulder. The moral of the story is: Bouldering is hard on your body. It’s harder on your body than sport climbing. Why do you think the natural progression is to go from bouldering to sport climbing, and not the other way around? It’s because sport climbing you’re doing less intense stuff, just a lot more of it. If you can climb a V3 boulder over and over and over, you’ll be a killer sport climber. You might be the best at the crag on a given day. If you can climb V7 over and over and over, you’re going to be world class. Or at least national class. Or at least county class. Or at least city class. Or at least neighborhood class. Or at least street class. Or at least household class.

I’m tired. I was riding a high from mate about an hour ago but now I’ve come off it. I’m basically waiting to have dinner with friends. Not really sure what to do. It’s cloudy and cold outside. I could take a nap. I could clean my boat, but it’s already pretty damn clean. I could work on my writing project, but I’m taking the day off. I could apply for jobs, but I’m not ready for that, yet.

Maybe I’ll just do nothing.

 

 

The Journey || Road to V∞

I am continuing to recover from my hip injury, which was probably an injury in some capacity to my rectus femoris tendon. It’s very tender at the spot where it inserts into the anterior inferior iliac spine.

The injuries as of late have encouraged me to take a closer look at what I want out of bouldering. Not that you have to have an answer for this question, but in my case I think it will help me move forward in a way that minimizes injury and maximizes physical and spiritual enjoyment. Because that’s what bouldering is for me at its zenith: spiritual. My ascent a couple weeks ago of Dirty Dancing V4 certainly felt spiritual, being alone at the boulders, on a cold, windy Monday morning at 7:30am, warming up on a reachy V2, saying to myself, “I’m just going to see if I can pull on,” and then moving up, up, up on the thin edges of Dirty Dancing, finally grabbing the big jugs about halfway up, hauling myself into the scoop. It felt spiritual as I sat there on top of the boulder, in somewhat of a fetal position, listening to the wind. And of course it felt spiritual while climbing the boulder problem itself, as if with each raising of the foot the ground disappeared beneath me.

The injuries have pushed me to explore the spiritual side of bouldering and also to lessen my focus on grades. Read almost ANY article on “Bouldering for Beginners” or “How to Get Started in Bouldering” and you’ll find an author almost yelling at you to “not focus on grades.” I’d read this over and over but never really been convinced. If I want to focus on grades, I thought, I’m going to focus on grades. I’m not going to listen to some jackass who writes climbing articles for Gripped. It’s not like I climb for him, anyway. I climb for me.

But did I really climb for me?

This is where things get tricky with grades.

I’d argue that most of the time when you’re climbing for a certain grade, or at least a decent amount of the time, you’re not climbing for yourself. You’re climbing because of how you look in other people’s eyes, so you can tell people you climbed V5, so you can tell yourself you climbed V5, so you can look at other people who are only climbing V4 and think, Fuck yeah, I used to be one of them. Now I climb V5.

Just to be clear, I don’t see a huge problem with this. There are worse things in the world. There are greater injustices. But FOR ME PERSONALLY, this approach has led to dissatisfaction and, more importantly, injury.

You could climb V10 tomorrow, but it doesn’t necessarily mean your experience will be impactful. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll grow (spiritually, emotionally) because of the experience. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you climbed “well.” As I progress on my climbing journey, I’m becoming more interested in climbing “well.” This means having good technique, this means that it feels good to climb, like I’m moving efficiently, like I’m in harmony with the holds and the rock. It’s more of a yin approach to bouldering, instead of the yang approach that is sometimes adopted. You’re letting the rock and the conditions and everything else dictate how you climb, and you’re responding to that and using it to your best possible advantage (which might mean on a given day that you may touch the starting holds of a climb and not even pull on at all). This is in contrast to the yang approach, where you’re trying to dominate the rock, wrestle it into submission. It is possible to do this. It’s possible to even derive pleasure from this. But for me, it’s not a sustainable approach, since granite is generally harder than soft tissue, and after several attempts at trying to dominate a V5 dyno, when your body is whispering to stop, take it easy, we’re done, and the universe is telling you to stop, put it on hold, come back another time, you strain your rectus femorus.

And then you can’t really climb for a month, at which point: Why not focus on technique? Why not focus on moving well? Why not see if you can derive just as much satisfaction from a V1 as you can from a V3 or a V4? Or even climbing your first V5?

I know it’s cliche and I know it’s hard advice to follow, but if you focus on moving well, on process goals, on feeling good climbing, grades will probably come. I don’t want to say they WILL come, because they kind of promise can never be made, and also because if you’re only trying to move well or focus on process goals to get a certain grade then you’re kind of missing the point. The ultimate goal for bouldering for me is for it to be a sort of moving meditation. This is bouldering at its most wonderful for me. When I approach the rock and all else disappears. When I am suddenly seared into the present moment, and things slow down. I notice the way the sun hits a particular part of the rock, or the way a leaf quivers in the breeze, or the way a cloud looks in the sky. And then when I’m on the rock my body is moving in harmony with it. Yes, great physical exertion may occur, but only where necessary. There is an element of play involved. And in fact this is something I should’ve mentioned much earlier in this post. Play is so important in bouldering, and in life in general. It feels good to play with the movement, and that’s how you really learn. You tinker. What would happen if I put my right foot up really high? What would happen if I engaged my thumb more? What would happen if I took off my shirt and screamed during the crux?

And so I try to focus on these things, the things I can still focus on regardless of injury. And I find that by focusing on these things my experience of bouldering becomes enriched, and I become a better climber. I’ll probably climb harder grades, but that won’t be the point. Or at least I hope it won’t. These things are never completely cut and dry, and there’s always some wavering back and forth. Which is fine. All part of the journey.

 

My Second V4 (Dirty Dancing, Leavenworth) || ROAD TO ACTUAL V5 LET’S GO

Hello friends,

And welcome to Where’s Wetzler, the internet’s premier website for “How to Boulder V5,” or how to not boulder V5, or how to get injured doing stupid shit like the other day when I injured my hip flexor trying a V5 dyno that was, well, pretty dumb.

I was at Leavenworth with a solid crew and we were at Barney’s Rubble in the alcove area and there were all those dumb V3’s and that one V3 that becomes a V5 if you dyno and Pablo, this semi-crusher I was with, was getting close, and I was sort of getting close and at one point I specifically remember thinking: OK, my body is done, and then I give it another go and feel my hip crunch and by the next morning couldn’t lift my leg out of my car without using my hand.

So.

Sick.

HOWEVER, despite having a hip that felt like shit I got up at 5:30am the next morning, couldn’t get back to sleep, and drove to The Washout where I was determined to try Dirty Dancing V4 if my body would allow it. To give you an idea of how determined I was let me say two things: 1) I was pretty injured, and 2) I got coffee. Why is the coffee significant? Well, because I don’t usually drink coffee. Coffee makes me insane. Coffee makes me less moral. Coffee also makes me have emotional crises. But, BUT!, one of my biggest sends ever came after waking up really early, driving to Leavenworth, and getting coffee, and the morning I wanted to try Dirty Dancing it just felt right. Coffee has been shown in studies to boost athletic performance, and I’ve certainly felt that. You feel invincible, or at least less scared, or at least like you can do more than normal. And being injured, I knew I needed every edge (pun intended given the nature of Dirty Dancing) I could get.

ANYWAY, I warmed up on Unknown V2 at The Washout, called Slam Dunk on Mountain Project, and that was fun, though I didn’t do the problem. I couldn’t quite grip the crimp just below the lip, and I also didn’t want to. I just wanted to pull on some damn stone, get the shoulders going, get the fingers going. I also did some jumping jacks. And once I was more or less warmed up I said to myself, “I’m just going to see if I can establish on the boulder. Like, I’m just going to see if I can hold myself on the wall.”

Establishing on Dirty Dancing is not easy. You either have to use a weird undercling or a high right hand and a terrible left hand crimp. But! I did establish, and then I decided to just try and see if I could bring my left foot up to the first dish, since lifting my left leg was what hurt my hip flexor.

And I was able to do that, too.

Now I was really established.

Next step, bring the right foot up to a small edge.

Reposition the hands.

Bring the left foot up.

Reposition the hands again.

Oh god, you’re getting close to the good holds now.

Bring the right foot up. Look for an edge. How did I never see that edge before? Put the right foot on it. Stand up. Now look for the good hands. There they are! Oh god, now just to get my feet up.

And I thrutch and squirm a bit and the next thing I know I’m sitting at the top of the boulder with my head between my knees feeling a bit emotional.

I’ve just sent my second V4.

I was able to enjoy the ride back to Seattle despite the ailing state of my hip. I basked in my send. I put a snus in. I watched as the clouds became thicker and darker as we (the Subee and I) approached Steven’s Pass. It started raining just before we crested Steven’s pass and despite the clouds I was able to look out over the Skykomish Valley and experience some more emotion, almost equal parts foreboding, optimism, and melancholy, but in a good way, if you can imagine that, and then we descended the curving road to 2600 feet, 1800 feet, 1600 feet, 1000 feet. When I got back to where my boat is moored in Seattle I screamed as I tried to get my leg out of the car and realized I definitely needed to use my hand to assist it every time. Now, almost a week later, I’m still using my hand, but I could probably do it without. I just got a book called A Guide to Better Movement by Seattleite Todd Hargrove and he says to NEVER MOVE INTO PAIN. Like, never make something hurt on purpose, just to test it. And I’ve gotten into a bad habit of this because I always want to test injuries and ask: Has it gotten better? Has it gotten better? Even though constantly testing it can just reinforce to your nervous system that, yes, you have pain in that area. Pain can become a habit, and you don’t want that habit.

Or at least I don’t.

So, last weekend involved a conflicted couple of days. On the one hand I injured myself (though not terribly, I don’t think), and on the other hand I sent something that meant a lot to me. I experienced that mystical experience of being alone, in the forest, climbing on granite, moving up, up, up, not as if being pulled by some invisible cord toward the sky, as some have described it, but more as if each time I moved my feet up the entire world beneath them disappeared, and the only thing that existed was where I was and the rock above me, until eventually there was no rock above me and I was sitting on the top. In other words, at one point I knew I was fairly high and probably not above my crash pad, but it was almost as if that world didn’t exist.

It was a wonderful feeling, and exactly the reason I boulder. It is an experience unlike any I’ve had in any other discipline. And even though I’ve just kind of tried, trying to describe it would be folly.

Private Lessons, First Sprints (oh, and first burns on Zelda Rails V4) || R2V5

I just went to the track and did my first sprinting since hurting my knee. It felt good to fly around the track. And then I helped a girl try to find her key that she lost while working out (specifically while doing abdominal exercies; the most notorious exercises for key loss). However, none of us found it. But it was nice to come together for a common cause, or at least it was nice for me, I have no idea if it was nice for her. God, I wanted to find that key.

But sprinting! Sprinting! Sprinting is one of my favorite activities, and one that I’ve been reticent to do since hurting my knee, since your body is basically going full tilt. But as humans we’re MADE to sprint, and we should be sprinting often. Never jog; if you jog you’re an asshole. But sprint often. Basically our ancestors spent HUGE amounts of time walking, foraging, etc, and then every once in awhile A) Running for their lives, or B) Running to take something else’s life. So walk a lot. And every once in awhile sprint. If you want to feel amazing.

In ACTUAL CLIMBING NEWS, I started taking private classes at Vertical World yesterday. Yesterday I climbed twice: once in the early afternoon for my lesson, and once in the evening with homies. The lesson went….not that well. It felt very unstructured, I didn’t feel that strong, and I just felt like a bunch of information was getting thrown at me, none of it hugely useful, and at the same time like NO information was getting absorbed. Like, it sort of felt like when you’re climbing with your way stronger friend who’s actually not you’re friend and you’re kind of nervous around. Like, you still learn stuff, but it’s kind of weird.

HOWEVER, that’s exactly the reason I paid for five lessons up front. It’s probably going to take awhile for the instructor and I to feel comfortable around each other. It’s going to take awhile for him to figure out a plan for me, or for me to demand that a plan be figured out for me. Cuz I think that’s what I want, a training plan. Like, I want a plan to get me to V7, aka V6, aka V5 — aka I still haven’t climbed V3 since coming back from injury but that’s more for lack of tryhing than not being able to do it. I have a thing where I basically only want to try things at my limit. This is something I should examine, because if I weren’t grade chasing as much I’d probably do more volume, and do more climbs just because they’re interesting. And that’s how you get better, really. When you’re having fun and climbing a ton.

Anyway.

As far as gym climbing goes I feel stronger than ever. When I’m feeling strong I usually send at least one new black and make progress on a blue. And when I feel less strong I usually send one or more new orange and make progress on a black. Blues no longer seem as intimidating as they once did. Did I say this in the last blog? I have the memory of a fish. Which I ironically just tried to fix by eating a tin of lightly smoked sardines.

Slash I had mate for breakfast this morning. And it was delicious.

And I also fasted for 15 hours today. Which was bomb.

And….

Finally, I MIGHT be climbing outside tomorrow, and if I don’t I’ll DEFINITELY be climbing outside on Sunday. And maybe even make it all the way to the storied town of Leavenworth on Sunday, where maybe I could FINALLY put down my Dirty Dancing V4 project, and maybe attempt some of my first V5’s (Pentaphobia and Alfalfa vs. Spanky amongst others). Either way, this is the time of year for Leavenworth. In a month it’ll be way too hot, and there won’t be any point in crossing the mountains, unless it’s to climb at night or unless we get a cold spell (which now that I think about it does happen quite a bit in June). It’s time to start on some new projects. And it’s time to get psyched.

Speaking of new projects, how could I forget????? I tried Zelda Rails V4 for the first time last weekend, and I felt like it almost went down! I could do the first few moves, and I could do the last few moves. But I couldn’t do the crux, which was getting to the good left hand crimp at the lip. However, since then I’ve thought about it a lot and I’ve also watched a bunch of videos, so if I’m feeling strong next sesh I think there’s a good chance it could go.

Road to V5!

Aka The Road to Index.

Aka I might need to take a nap right now.

 

On the Road Again || Road to V5

And………….we’re back.

Been awhile, right?

I’ve been working on another project, but I think I’m going to take this weekend off from that project, and also I’ve got a lot to talk about concerning my knee recovery and also the Road to V5, hence this blog. So fasten you’re (sic) seatbelts, or just your regular belts, and make sure you’re sitting down.

The first order of business I would like to discuss is that I will now officially restart the “Road to” series. Before I hurt myself it was Road to V5, and then it was Road to Recovery, and then I didn’t blog for a month, and now it’s Road to V5 again. Since for a few months I wasn’t sure exactly when I’d be able to start climbing again, and then wasn’t sure how HARD I’d be able to start climbing once I started again, I was hesitant to just pick up again with the Road to V5. I wasn’t sure if it would take me months and months just to get back to the point where V5 started seeming remotely feasible again. But now that I’ve climbed like five times outside again, I’d say it’s completely feasible (and maybe even probable).

Second order of business, I’m climbing harder in the gym than I’ve ever climbed before, sending more blacks than before, and also starting to send blues (aka one blue). Blues no longer seem like stoppers to me; they no longer seem impossible. I’ve even started to look at pinks a bit, though whites are still a ways off.

Also, I’m going to be taking private classes at Vertical World.

Also, I’m probably going to Leavenworth tomorrow.

(Also, I think one day I’ll send Kombucha V7, a line at the 5-Star Boulder in Gold Bar I’d never looked at before but actually seems fairly doable (the stopper move seems to be the first shouldery move out left).)

The third order of business is that my body is FINALLY starting to show signs of adujusting to consistent climbing. Take the last two days, for example. I climbed the last two days in the gym. I climbed pretty hard on Thursday, and not that hard yesterday (mostly because I couldn’t). And today, I don’t feel THAT WRECKED. Like, if I had climbed two days in a row a month ago the next day my knees would feel wrecked, my shoulder would feel wrecked, and my finger would feel wrecked. And today my finger feels a tiny bit wrecked, my right knee feels a bit wonky, and that’s about it. Climbing tomorrow doesn’t even seem like it’d be pushing that hard. Which is why I might go to Leavy or at least Gold Bar.

On a similar note, the fourth order of business is that my mentality has changed quite a bit when it comes to bouldering. This injury has changed me in many ways. I used to go to the gym and just throw myself at problems, getting quite frustrated. But now I’m more methodical, not only because I want to treat my body better but because I want a better chance of success. I stand at the bottom of a boulder. I look at it. I imagine myself climbing it; I suss out the beta. And if it looks somewhat doable I’ll get on it, at least to try the first move or two. Another thing I’ve also been doing at the gym is learning boulder problems in two parts, getting the first sequence and then making sure I can top it out and then linking it together. I never used to do that. Maybe I’m maturing.

Basically, the biggest thing I have in mind is: “I want to be able to boulder tomorrow.” And so I do whatever it takes to make that happen. I don’t push myself too hard. I can usually tell when my body is done. And I’ve gotten a lot better at listening to it.

The last order of business, the fifth order, is: What about V5’s? Well, that’s a good question. I haven’t really gotten on any hard outdoor blocs since I’ve been better. I’m mostly trying to resend old V1’s and V2’s and V3’s. However, I feel some V5 attempts coming soon, namely on Stinking Slopers and Gates of Fire in Gold Bar, Pentaphobia and Alfalfa vs. Spanky in Leavenworth, and a host of others. It’s all about finding something fun to project, something that suits my style or that I can become obsessed with. Something inspiring.

So what do you think? I’m one crazy, mature guy, right? Probably not. But I’m super excited to climb this spring and summer. And hope you’re excited too. And hope we see each other out there soon and stack some pads.

– Mark