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 | R2V3 #13

This is the video I’m warming up my brain with today:

What little progression I’ve had since starting bouldering about six months ago I owe at least in part to watching YouTube videos about bouldering pretty much constantly. Some of my favorites are made by the guy above, a young Swedish guy who gives insights into his training, his battles, his life. I feel like the three ways to learn better technique are: climbing a lot, taking classes, and watching people way better than you. Since I don’t want to pay for classes I’m left with the first option and the third option. And the third option you can do pretty much all the time, thanks to the internet.

Anyway, I climbed V3 outdoors. It happened two days ago in the fairly early morning on Friday. I had climbed the evening before near Gold Bar and had a really good sesh. I sent my first non slab V2 on the first go (not a flash since I had tried it before but couldn’t even do the first move), got closer on the knee crunching first moves of Rocksteadeasy V3 slab, did Regatta de Blanc V0 way easier than I had done it previously, and just generally felt pretty good. Felt pretty strong. Oh! And then I went to the Zelda Boulders, where I tried Zelda Dyno V4 for about an hour. And I actually got fairly close! I was able to get my right hand to the lip and scrape scan off with each unsuccessful attempt to grab it. I know it’ll go soon. I need to go back when the footholds aren’t wet. Also the mosquitoes were merciless. Between attempts I had to walk in circles on my crash pad, 1) to not get my feet wet and 2) to ward off the skeeters.

The next morning I woke up ASS early because of a shitty night of sleeping at the Money Creek Campground. I was convinced the guy in the site next to me was a psychopath who was going to come murder me in my sleep, and trains kept passing in the night. So when I woke up I thought, Fuck it, I’m outt a here. I’m driving straight to U2 and I’m going to try to send it. Leavenworth was about an hour away, but it was still before 6am when I got there, so I went to Starbucks and got an Americano:

And THEN I went to the bloc, aka U2 V3, aka the boulder I’ve been working on for the past month and was hoping to send that day since the next week I’d be dogsitting for my sister and wouldn’t have a chance to get out to it and also felt like sending V3 before the summer solstice would really give me a good psychological boost to actual have a chance to send V7 by the end of the summer.

Tu capisci?

And of course if you watched the video from the last post you know I sent it, but what you might not know is that I really didn’t think I was going to send it. Or I really wasn’t sure. That is, the day before I was CONVINCED I was going to send it, as you often are before you actually get to the bloc and start trying it. But after the first few goes I realized I still didn’t know how to do the top part really well, and short of having a rope or a ladder there’s no way you practice the top part in isolation. So after about four go’s I thought, Shit, this might actually NOT go today. And that would be a huge bummer. But all hope was not lost. I figured as long as I rested 10-20 minutes between burns I could keep going for awhile. But then my right hand started to fail from a pretty small crimp about 2/3 of the way up, and I realized the sun was going to hit it soon. I lay there on the ground, watching the clock just because I was curious, and after about 12 minutes gave it what I figured would be my second or third to last burn.

Funnily enough, I climbed really sloppily on that burn and my foot pretty much instantly slipped off. So I got right back down on the ground and started again. This really is a great climb and I think my favorite parts are: placing your right hand on the ledge in the perfect position before going left hand palm up to the undercling. Standing up on the left foot. Getting both hands on the sloping crimp rail just below the lip. Actually, I like pretty much the entire climb. There’s a reason it’s considered one of the best V3’s in Leavenworth, and I feel honored to have been able to project it. I had gotten so close the lip so many times that I thought, I just have to go for the lip. It’s right there. The reason I’m not going for it is because I’m scared of falling.

On the send burn I was more deliberate about where I put my right foot when bringing it up to the good rail. It’s a good rail but there are parts of it that are flatter than others. I also rocked over onto the right foot more to take stress off my hands. Once I felt fairly stable, I made a bit of a lunge for the lip. Luckily, the lip is amazing and all kinds of juggy. Once you get it you’re pretty much home free. And I couldn’t believe it when I got to the top. It was the best feeling I’d had in a long time.

Afterward I sat for a few moments, basking in my happiness, in the perfect temperatures of this last day of spring in Leavenworth, Washington. Basking in the short hike back to the car and being able to go back to Seattle and enjoy the rest of the day. And basking in looking forward to the next step: V4.

 

 

Serenity Now V4 | First Sesh | R2V3 #11

Morning, y’all.

I would normally never write a blog this early but I want to talk a little about yesterday’s sesh and if I don’t do it now I feel like I won’t do it at all. Or I’ll do it later tonight when I’m not as into it and when I’d rather just sit down and watch the latest episode of “Border Town.”

I knew it was a little bit dumb, but I did it anyway. Yesterday immediately after getting off work at 12pm I drove out to Gold Bar, where, guess what? It was raining. And then I drove to Index where, guess what? It wasn’t raining, but everything was wet. And then it started raining. And then I drove to the East Miller River Valley where, guess what? It was kinda sunny. But everything was still wet. And then it started raining briefly. And then it stopped and the sun came out but it didn’t feel like the stone was drying out anytime soon.

Now, keep in mind, folks, that I wasn’t trying to force anything. I wanted to climb but I was also content to wait until it was the right moment. And of course I COULD have driven all the way to Leavenworth, but I didn’t feel like it. Too much driving. Too many mountain passes. Too much Eastern Washington. So after the East Miller River Valley I got back in my car and started driving back towards Seattle, guided by my intuition like a moth to flame but in this case instead of flame we’re talking about moderate blocs. My intention was to check out the Camp Serene Boulder aka Zeke’s Boulder aka one of the most beautiful blocs in the great state of WA, and indeed, when I got there, it was….dry.

This was witchcraft.

The Camp Serene boulder lies just on the south side of Highway 2, a mere couple hundred feet from the highway, and is home to one of the most beautiful lines I’ve yet to lay eyes on, aka Serenity Now V4, which in the Western Washington Bouldering guidebook is graded a V5 but over the years seems to have been downgraded. Not that it really matters. I just wanted to check out this line. I actually checked it out last time I was out there, when it was completely wet, and was fascinated by it. It starts on some pretty juggy holds and then moves right into a sort of dihedral thing and is just a hot mess of sidepulls, open-palmed smears and smooth granite (or whatever its composition is). I was a bit mesmerized by it. And yesterday evening I was actually able to get on it.

My approach to starting this V4 was very different than how I’ve approached difficult (for me) boulders in the past. I didn’t try to flash it. Instead, the only thing I tried to do was THE FIRST MOVE. Aka go from being matched on a low ledge to getting my left hand up. That was it! And I could do that pretty easily. Then I got a bit stuck and “cheated,” aka sat down and looked for beta on YouTube. Of which there is an abundance. Using that beta I was able to get to the first crux, Which consists of having both hands on fairly juggy crimps and pulling your body weight up so you can get your right foot on the ledge you started on. Or your left foot. I’ve watched a ton of people do this problem, and some people go left foot, some people go right. Left foot makes a lot more sense to me, but then the hard part is releasing your left hand, bringing it across your body, and inserting it into one of the fairly tiny sidepulls in the dihedral. And then you either just stand up, or you smear your right hand on some knobby features and stand up. It LOOKS like it’s not too hard after that. But it could also be really hard. The people who I watched doing my “crux” cruised it as if it was nothing, so many the real crux is actually further up. And this is no lowball. I think you can do it with one big pad, but you gotta have some mustard once you get to the top. It would be nice to practice the topout, but without a rope that’s not an option.

So, I made some pretty good progress, and am fascinated by this line. After the sesh I just stood there looking at it for a bit. I can’t wait to go back. I have so many projects now! Fridge Center V4, Briefs V3, Rocksteadeasy V3, Serenity Now V4, and I’m sure there will be more to come.

But for now I must “go to work,” aka go to work. It’s almost that time. And tomorrow, back to the mountains. Hopefully straight to Gold Bar.

If You Don’t Mind, Sir… | R2V3 #10

Welcome back to whereswetzler.com, everyone’s second favorite guide to bouldering…moderates. And by moderates I of course mean V0 climbs, my current specialty, though my other current specialty seems to be sitting on the bench seat of my boat devouring coconut flakes and watching YouTube videos of a Scottish soccer fan commenting on hockey fights.

Yes, folks: I worked three hours today.

I’ll be the first to tell you that the 9am to 12pm shift can be grueling. Yes, you read that right: 9am to 12PM. Though today I logged on and started battling my inbox at 8:45am, just to stay one step ahead of the game.

I’m contemplating whether to go climbing at the UW crag right now or just make dinner and laze the night away. There’s a slab problem I’ve been trying at the UW crag that actually reminds me a lot of Rocksteadeasy V3 at Gold Bar. Basically I just really don’t know what to do with all this time. I got off work at 12pm, walked several miles to Fremont, walked another couple miles to the U-District, got Chipotle, almost fell asleep on the UW campus, and then worked my way back to my boat. Where I’ve been sitting drinking tea thinking I should be sitting outside. That’s basically it.

Another thing I need to decide is this: Am I going to leave on another mini climbing trip tomorrow, or am I going to leave Wednesday? Tomorrow around midday it should be clearing up in Western Washington, and this high pressure zone should last us for the foreseeable future. It feels like I haven’t climbed on this side of the mountains in a LONG time. Remember when I was “obsessed” with Rocksteadeasy V3? Well, now I’ve almost completely forgotten about it. My thoughts have been taken by U2 V3, Briefs V3, the beautiful slab climbs at The Sword, and everything that’s gone down with my job. Get it together, Mark.

One thing I can say is this, and I don’t care about jinxing because I don’t really believe in jinxing: I’m really close to sending V3. Not just U2, but Rocksteadeasy and Briefs. As in, I’m becoming a V3 climber. I wouldn’t say I’m a V3 climber yet. No sir. But I’m getting there. My fingers are getting better at crimping. I don’t LIKE it, but I don’t hate it either. And I think in the near future I will like it.

So that’s the plan for the next climbing mission. Well, actually, I haven’t really told you the plan. So I’ll do it now. Boulder at the Clearcut Boulders if it’s dry on the way out to Leavenworth. Possibly sleep at the Money Creek Campground, wake up and get a quick session in at the Morpheus Boulders or the Zelda Boulders. Work my three hours. Then either check out Upper and Lower Devil’s Club Forest, or drive straight to Leavenworth, probably straight to The Beach Forest, where I do the following things: Warm up on the warm-up boulder, hopefully sending Fountain Blues V0 with my new beta. Go over to Brickwork V0 and enjoy the ridiculously fun moves. And then….and then…U2.

If I send U2, I might weep.

For now, it’s a beautiful night in Seattle, my succulent is soaking up delectable rays of sunshine, I’ve got delicious chai tea from Trader Joe’s, and I’m probably going to mess around a bit on the UW crag.

Like, right now.