A Year of Bouldering Progression

Chapter 1: Gym Climbing

I’m still trying to figure out when I went bouldering for the first time. Well, the VERY first time was sometime in maybe 2017 or 2018 when my friend’s friend Marc was visiting Bainbridge from Luxembourg and they took me to the gym on Bainbridge and I was literally fully pumped within 10 minutes (maybe less) and didn’t have a very pleasant experience. That was the FIRST time. But that didn’t start it. I wasn’t like, “Holy shit what is this new activity I must practice it all the time.”

Then at some point I took an Intro to Bouldering class at Vertical World in Seattle. This was (I think) sometime in late November of 2019. I think it was late November because with the intro class they gave you two weeks of free membership but I didn’t use it at all because I immediately went to Vietnam and also didn’t really….want to.

OMG ok here we go I found it. I’m looking through old emails and there it is:

So. I did this class. Was kind of intimidated. Not super stoked. And it’s unclear to me whether or not my friend Hunter took me BEFORE or after I’d done this class. Because that was the critical moment, when my friend Hunter took me to Seattle Bouldering Project. That’s when I might’ve done some reds and maybe even some greens and FOR WHATEVER REASON…became super stoked on bouldering. Because then after he took me I started going on my own. And it’s all history after that.

Chapter 2: Outdoor Climbing

VB-V3

From January to March (aka when the lockdown started) I climbed VERY REGULARLY at the gym. Just before lockdown I was basically climbing at the gym every day, mostly at Upper Walls in Fremont but also at SBP Poplar.

Then lockdown hit.

And I stopped climbing and moved to India.

Aka I took my climbing outdoors.

In March of 2020 I went climbing outdoors for the first time. In April I got Pablo Zuleta’s Western Washington Bouldering guidebook, and that also changed everything. I went to the Morpheus Boulders in the West Miller River Valley and sent my first “real” outdoor boulder problem: Car Door Traverse V0 on the famous Car Door Boulder.

(The first ever blog post I did about bouldering: https://whereswetzler.com/misadventures-of-a-novice-boulderer-part-1/)

The first thing bouldering outside taught me is that bouldering outside is WAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY harder than bouldering in a gym. At least grade-wise. And landing-wise. And conditions-wise. And holds-wise. And pretty much everything else-wise. Bouldering outside you’re falling on a four-inch thick pad that’s (in my case) 4X6 feet and often times uneven. Bouldering inside you’re falling on a perfect pad that’s probably two feet thick and never uneven. Bouldering inside the holds are always dry and they never break and the holds are usually pretty damn good. Bouldering outside the holds are sometimes wet or slippery or covered in crap and usually much crimpier they are than indoors (depending on where you’re bouldering, of course).

Basically, they’re two different disciplines. And both rewarding, though let’s be honest, bouldering outside is the real deal, and bouldering inside is (albeit super super a;sldfjads;lkfjadl;k fun) training.

Or something.

In May of 2020 I sent my first V1 outdoors and got fully owned by a V2 (Beam Me Up) that I’d been looking at forever in the guidebook.

A couple weeks later I sent my first V2 outdoors (Eight Bit Slab, Gold Bar, WA).

And then in late June I sent my first V3 outdoors after projecting U2 in Leavenworth for a couple months.

The Road to V4

It would be a LONNNNNNNNNNG time before I sent V4 after sending V3. Like, many moons. Like, about six moons, to be exact. In the meantime I sent a bunch more V3’s, a bunch more V2’s, and I took my first every bouldering road trip, to Bishop, California!!!!!!!! Which was incredible. What an eye-opening experience. What amazing blocs. What amazing movement. What amazing, juggy holds (at the Happies). What cold camping!!!!!!! I almost froze to death!!! Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh but it was glorious and I can’t wait to get back. I didn’t send V4 there but whatever. I had a wonderful time. I got a bit stronger. Met some cool people.

Then, in December of 2020, I finally sent my first V4. I had been working on several V4’s: Serenity Now, Toto, Fridge Center, and Dirty Dancing. But Toto was the first to go, probably because it’s one of the easiest, and also since it’s slightly overhanging and under a tree it stays dry pretty much all winter. I climbed it just a couple days before Christmas, and I was ecstactic:

Injury

And then, on New Year’s Eve 2020, I got injured. I was bouldering at Goat Rock State Beach in Sonoma County, California with Carolyn and tore my LCL and probably damaged my meniscus due to a heel hook gone bad. I won’t go into details. I’m currently on the mend. In fact I’m getting better every day and I’m stoked and starting to feel really good again and I’m gym climbing and so I’ll just segue into the next segment…..

Chapter 3: Recovery and Beyond

As I said, I’m on the mend, and more stoked every day. I’ve found a lot of silver linings in this injury. For one thing it’s just made me more cognizant of the fact that you CAN get injured bouldering if you’re not paying attention, if you’re careless. Also, you can get injured even if you are these things. In fact, if you boulder for long enough, you’re likely to get injured. But what happens when you get injured? Do you bounce back? Do you learn from it? I hope to do both of these things and more. Recently I started climbing in the gym again, and I’m starting to feel good. My body is adjusting, but more importantly I’m becoming more mentally comfortable. I’m doing physical therapy, I’m trying to eat well, and I’m even injecting experimental peptides into my knee. All in the name of….bouldering? Progression? Purpose? V8?

I hope to continue to feel better, I hope to continue to heal, and I hope to keep climbing in the gym and at SOME point, maybe in April, maybe in May, start climbing outdoors again. I will only say this once, right here: My goal by the end of the fall season is to send V8 outdoors. I know it’s insane. But I also know I can do it. It would be incredible, and of course even if I don’t do it it will be incredible just to progress at bouldering and continue to have it be an integral part of my life. Because that’s what it is. Bouldering has now become an integral part of my life, and I’m thrilled about it. I’m thrilled to try new blocs, get stronger, have fun, and meet new people. And also to connect on some very fundamental level with movement, nature, and presence. Because that’s what it’s all about, right?

 

The Last Chapter (R2V2 #9)

Ahhhhh friends, where to start? This, this ninth installment, will be the last ever in the existence of “Road to V2.” Why? The answer is quite simple, but nonetheless compelling: I sent V2 outside. Yes! You read that right! This is not some kind of hoax, some kind of bedevilry your eyes are playing upon you: I sent the bouldering grade V2, on real rock, not in a gym. And it was glorious. It was glorious and over all too quickly. And as with sending anything that you’ve been working on for awhile, it kind of felt like, “Wait, that was it?”

The boulder in question: Eight Bit Slab V2, of the Road to Zion boulders, of the Clearcut Boulders, of the Reiter Foothills Boulders, near Gold Bar. When? Two days ago, Wednesday, May 27th, the year of Yaweh two thousand and twenty. What were the circumstances? Please read on…

First, a video of someone ELSE sending Eight Bit Slab:

Now, I know what you’re thinking: I should get a new car instead of a used car. Because they don’t cost THAT much more and you get a warranty and they break down less, right? Plus, I’ve never had a new car.

Actually, you’re probably not thinking that. But you probably HAVE thought that at some point. Now, you’re probably thinking, “Jesus, that’s a beautiful slab.” And you’re damn right. That is a beautiful slab. That’s one of the reasons Eight Bit Slab is rated three stars in the Western Washington Bouldering guide by Pablo Zuleta, the mythical pebble wrestler himself. But climbing slab is of course not like wrestling! No, climbing slab is a dance. It’s like hanging out with that guy from Game of Thrones who always used to call “Arya” boy. Be like water! He said. Or he might’ve not said that. I don’t really remember.

I don’t really remember much about this climb, either. All I was thinking was, “Don’t fall.” The great thing about this boulder is it has a pretty good landing, and a beautiful seam running right up the center of it. It’s also high enough to get your heart beating irregularly, but definitely not a high ball. It’s a “middle ball.” Or maybe a “middle to high ball.” If it were a human it’d be that guy named Ryan who’s 5’10”, drives a newish Subaru, has a good paying job, and has never done anything remotely original in his life. No, no, no. It would be nothing like that. It could never be human. If this slab were animate it would be a whale, rolling in the deep. A mythical beast with perfect handholds.

So now this blog will be called “Road to V3,” and you can bet I’ve already got my sights on some V3’s. There’s the V3 slab I was trying with Terri the other day, Rocksteadeasy V3. There’s Summer Solstic V3, a tantalizing delight of slopers and meathooks and overhanging posterity. There’s the Regatta de Blanc V0 version that traverses into BMOC V2, thus becoming V3. There are the V3’s on Hate Rock in Leavy. The cool sloper one and the two campus ones.

And this is getting a bit ahead of myself but of course I already have my sights set on V4’s and V5’s. You’d have to, right? Today I went and checked out the Beach Boulders in Leavenworth and stood humbled and fairly wetting myself at the base of Beached Whale V3, one of the most epic, horrifying slabs I’ve ever seen. And then there’s Dyno 101 V3, which I know I can send, but unfortunately it’s currently three eights underwater. And as for the the V4’s and V5’s I mentioned in the topic sentence of this paragraph before instantly changing gears, today I started off the day by going to Forestland for the first time, where I sent a V1 called XXXXX and checked the infamous One Summer V5, which looked impossible until I later realized I had been looking at a V6 variation. There was also The Real Thing V4, which doesn’t look completely impossible.

So yeah, I have reached the end of Road to V2, though of course the road doesn’t really end but rather bifurcates in countless directions as you continue to try and fail on other V2’s, project other ones, flash other ones, and generally become a “climber.” I never thought I’d say this after the past 2.5 months of lockdown, but I actually need a bit of a respite from climbing. I’m going to climb tomorrow, of course, weather permitting, in the illustrious East Miller River Valley, on the rainy side of the Cascades. And then on Sunday I might go pick up my hangboard from my parents’ house. Once that gets mounted on the boat I’ll be a crimping machine. And maybe I’ll even lose the belly I’ve been complaining about for the past two months.

Beta to Try Tomorrow (R2V2 #8)

The Wenatchee River V12.

I’m headed back to Gold Bar tomorrow morning. Climb the Clearcut Boulders in the morning, then go up to the Morpheus Boulders for the evening sesh. The next morning head to Leavenworth and hit up some Tumwater boulders on the way in. In the evening hit somewhere not too far down Icicle Canyon.

I’m psyched to try some new beta on this trip. I’ve been thinking about these problems a lot. You always think of new beta, and then get there and realize it won’t work. But sometimes it does. And the best is to see someone else do it and steal their beta. That’s what I’ve done in a lot of these cases. Got to use my height! Other than my just pure zest for dermis on diorite right now, my height is the best thing I’ve got.

Today I started training on my boat. I realized I actually have a perfect place to hang from, and if I walk my feet up the wood that covers the bottom of the mast in the cabin, I can simulate bad footholds on a severe overhang. Bonus, since this is one area where I struggle most. Now I just need to get the hangboard on the boat, so I can simulate bad crimps with bad footholds on a severe overhang. There there’ll be nothing stopping me….

Anyway, here’s some beta I plan to try to tomorrow. If I send even a couple of these climbs I’ll be super happy.

The Catcher V0:

Move left onto the shark fin jug. Lunge for the top hold. Don’t even mess with the side rail.

Shortstop V2:

Start in the actual right place. Lunge the right hand up to the arete. Strong.

BMOC V2:

Try it fresher this time? Actually go for the crimps?

Beam Me Up V2:

Think about core tension. Go for that intermediate left hold. Try putting all your weight on the left foot. Think core tension and go for that beautiful edge.

Mr. Brightside V1:

I mean, at least try it this time.

Rocksteadeasy V3:

Ohhh, so much beta to try for this one. Try the right hand on the seam instead of the crimp. Try doing it fast. Experiment with bumping the right foot out and smearing it on the wall and inching it up. Trust the left foot more. Maybe both hands on the seam? Right hand on the crimp and left hand on the seam? Are there any holds I’m missing?

 

 

R2V2 #7: Zen and the Art of Bouldering

 

The Warm Up Slab V0 in the Doja Boulders, view from above.

I feel compelled to answer the question of why I like bouldering. I don’t think anyone should be required to have an answer for this question. There seem to be two schools of people when it comes to bouldering: the grade chasers and the people who do it for the pure joy of the movement. But from my own experience I know these schools are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I think it would be hard to pertain completely to one or the other. In my case I love them both. I love chasing grades. Grades in bouldering to me are like a road map upon which to chart your progress. I love maps. I love knowing where I am, and I also like knowing where it’s possible to go. Whenever I’m at my parents I sit down with their giant, 300 or so page full color atlas of the world and just page through it, looking at places like Botswana and Southern India and the Kamchatka Peninsula, wondering what those places are like and if I’ll ever go there. And so it is for me with bouldering. I love looking at the guidebook. I love getting stoked on climbs. Last night I made a list of all the slabs in the Sky Valley I want to try. And I can’t wait to get out there and get on ’em.

But I also like just the movement of bouldering, the “Zen.” I love the way the granite feels on your skin. I love thinking about each hold as if it were its own little universe. I love thinking about how each individual move on a boulder problem is a story unto itself. When you can do a climb relatively easily, but not too easy! it’s easy to appreciate these stories. This is how it was for me climbing the V0 slab pictured above. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s an adventure. And no part of the adventure is more important than any other. The first move is just as important as the last. In true Zen bouldering there would be no cruxes. Each move would be given the same thought, the same care. Maybe this is why when the girl I bouldered with yesterday named Terri (sp?) told me I had terrible footwork I burst out laughing. Because I do have terrible footwork. I know this. And I think it’s hilarious. It would be hard for someone to have less technique than me when it comes to footwork. But she gave me a great tip. “I noticed you’re not looking at the hold a lot of the time when you go for it,” she said.

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“You look at every hold?”

“I’d say at least 90% of them.”

This made me think. I do almost never look at the holds. This is something I can change, something I actually want to change. And it ties in with the zen of bouldering. Treating each hold with care. Treating each hold with importance.

But anyway, I actually don’t really want to talk about the Zen of bouldering any more right now. I just want to tell you a few more things about this last weekend, which was my first ever trip fully devoted to bouldering!

Some highlights:

  1. Hanging out underneath the overhang that houses Summer Solstice V3, in a rain storm, looking out over the valley and trying the first few moves.

2. Going to Leavenworth the next day for the first time ever (to boulder) and getting absolutely sketched out by The Classic V2.

3. Saying “screw it” later that evening, driving to Wenatchee and getting a hotel. And enjoying every minute of it.

4. Bouldering the next day again near Gold Bar and meeting Terri and climbing with her for the afternoon. Seeing her flash Beam Me Up V2, which I found so badass.

5. Seeing her send Rocksteadeasy V3, in the first couple attempts.

6. Working on Rocksteadeasy myself, trying to trust my left foot, knowing that it’ll go someday.

7. And finally chilling by the creek by the turn-out after the session, sitting on my crash pad, dangling my feet in the water, watching the sun filter through the plants and the tufts of cotton (though obviously they’re not cotton), drift through the sunlight.

Now I just can’t wait to go back. I have my slab list. I think there’s a legitimate chance that Rocksteadeasy V3 could go on my next trip. There’s a less legitimate chance that Beam Me Up will go, since I don’t have the strength for it yet. And there’s a whole mess of other problems I want to try. Hopefully I finally send The Catcher V0. Hopefully I get up on Tetris Left and Tetris Right (both V1’s). Maybe I’ll make more progress on Summer Solstice V3. Oh! And there’s Mr. Brightside, a V1 that looks super fun.

I’ve decided to do the titles differently from now on. Right now this series is called R2V2 (Road to V2), and when I finally send V2 (I don’t Cud Crack V2 at the Pasture Boulders in Leavenworth, since I was tall enough to not have to use the incut crimps that probably make the problem V2) it will be called Road to V3. And then V4, and so on and so forth…

Also, Terri got a picture of me on the Warm Up slab, and if she sends it to me you know it’ll be going up here on the blog. Even though I look ridiculous.

Because that movement….

-W

 

The Road to V2 Part 6: Riders on the Strom

So here’s my question: Does the word storm somehow come from the German word “Strom” which means “electricity?” Cuz like, lightning storms have lots of electricity. But obviously not, because the word for storm in German is “Sturm,” which would make (a lot?) more sense. But maybe it did come from Strom. I guess we’ll never know.

ANYWAY, I’m in the Apple Capital of the World right now, aka Wenatchee, aka Mexico, aka I’m in heaven. I called a place called La Fonda Oaxaqueña last night to get takeout and the guy answered in Spanish and so I just spoke Spanish and everything was perfect and after I hung up, walking across the parking lot of the East Wenatchee Mall, I had a strange lightness in my step. I love Mexico. I love everything about it, and I miss it. But I didn’t realize how much I miss it until being in a place that more closely resembles it. I ended up getting dinner from El Porton, whose quality I’m sure wasn’t like La Fonda Oaxaqueña, but La Fonda Oaxaqueña was closed.

Why am I talking about Mexican restaurants? I was just in LEAVENWORTH yesterday for the first time ever bouldering.

But let’s start at the beginning. First stop on the trip, Gold Bar. I tried to climb the clear cut boulders in what was essentially a downpour. Beam Me Up V2 was of course drenched, and the only thing that wasn’t drenched was part of Summer Solstice V3. Which was actually kind of ideal. I didn’t send the boulder, but I did do the first two moves (i.e. right hand out to the rail, left foot matching on the good edge), which was more than I’d done the first time. And today I’m going back. And it’s looking like it’s going to be dry. But I’m going to force myself to see some other boulders. I’m going to start in The Sanctuary this time, and try to climb The Catcher V0, Shortstop V2, and Stepping Razor V2.

The morning after Gold Bar I drove to Leavenworth, where it was sunny and cool and beautiful. I stopped and got a black tea from the espresso stand on the main drag just as you get into town. I walked along the pedestrian street. Everything was strangely serene and wonderful. I went to the public library where I could sit outside and use their internet. After getting soaked the night before, I was able to hang up my wet clothes and let everything dry out. And then I went up Icicle Canyon, where my first stop was The Sword Boulders.

Here I tried The Classic V2, once again with high hopes. This time I had the beta with me from Tiny Dynos on my phone right there. But what I didn’t realize about The Classic is that it’s kind of a highball. And it also traverses a bit from right to left, and I only have one pad. So I did the first couple moves and got to the ledge, but then didn’t have much in me for the traverse left and up to the top. So I didn’t send it.

Then I went to I Heart Jugs V2, where I had a much better time. I didn’t send this one either, obviously, since I’m somehow fated to never send V2 outdoors, but the movement was nice. The sit start was easy. The holds were great and interesting. I just couldn’t figure out what to do with my feet. This is something I really need to work. And I will work on it, today even, when I head back to Gold Bar to check out The Clear Cut Boulders again.

But first I need to fully wake up. I’m still in Wenatchee! I need to take a shower and perform minor surgery on my right big toe. I need to pack up my car. And I need to do a bit of driving.

Let’s get on some blocks!

Let’s….send it.