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

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?

 

Is 36 Too Old to Start Bouldering??? || R2V5

Yes.

Sorry, please excuse me, that’s not what I actually believe.

I think I’m saying that just because I’m bitter and I’m sick of being injured and this stupid fucking LCL isn’t healing and I’m injecting shit into my knee and maybe that’s making it worse and I’m running stairs and running miles and doing my physical therapy and come on please God just let me heal.

I mean please Tao.

Let me heal.

Help me heal.

ANYWAY.

The question I’d like to address today is: Is 36 too old to start bouldering? And the reason I’ve chosen that specific age is that’s when I started bouldering, just a little over a year ago. Since then bouldering has become a central part of my life and something that I think about constantly and care about deeply and am even starting to restructure my whole life around, as silly as that sounds even though it makes perfect sense to me. I’ve felt this deeply connected to few things in my life, especially something that makes so little sense. I say “so little sense” because I did not MEAN to fall in love with bouldering. I didn’t think I would EVER like climbing, and indeed when it comes to climbing bouldering is still the only discipline I care about. It also doesn’t really make sense because obviously having started at the age of 36 I’m never going to be an elite boulderer, probably nothing even close, and how can it be fun to start something only to be mediocre at it? Finally it doesn’t make sense just because bouldering is such a ridiculous activity. I mean, you’re climbing rocks that are usually no more than 10 feet off the ground. And often times you’re starting with your ass ON the ground when you could easily start standing, or you’re doing climbs where for much of the climb you’re trying very hard NOT TO TOUCH the ground. It’s contrived. It’s wonderfully, horribly contrived and I love the rennet out of it and I hope I never fall out of love with it.

Even though I love bouldering to death it’s not ALL roses when starting bouldering at such an advanced age. So without further ado the top five pro’s of starting bouldering at age 36 and at least one con.

Top 5 PRO’S of starting bouldering at age 36 (or just starting bouldering in general):

  1. No pressure

When you start bouldering in your 30’s there’s very little pressure to be “good” since there’s very little hope for you to be “good.” If you start at the age of 13 or 18 or even 25 and climb for five years I dare say you better be climbing at least V10. At LEAST V7, but actually at least V10. There’s just no way around it. You have no excuse. Five years is an insane amount of time to learn good technique and get strong.

But when you start at the age of 36 you’re NEVER expected to climb V10. In fact, most people probably wouldn’t even really expect to climb V5 outdoors. So when you show up to the boulder field and little zygotes of humans are crushing V400 all around you and you’re flailing on a V3, you still feel bad, but not in an EXISTENTIAL way. I mean, you feel bad, but it doesn’t cut to your core the same way it would if you were 20 and had been climbing for hella and eveyone around you was still way better.

And it’s nice not to have that pressure.

2. Naivete

This is similar to no pressure. When you start bouldering so late in life you don’t really know what’s cool or what’s accepted and you don’t really care. For you it might be super cool to project a V3 slab, even though most people would look at a V3 slab and if they couldn’t do it in the first few goes would be pissed off and/or ashamed. But as an older boulderer you exist in your own kind of bubble. You watch YouTube videos by yourself of Jimmy Webb and Daniel Woods and Drew Ruana and get super psyched. You go off into the woods and boulder by yourself and get super psyched on easy boulders, on V0’s and V1’s and V2’s, and then you get even MORE psyched when you finally start linking some sequences on some V3’s and V4’s. You don’t really know what’s going on in the larger world of climbing. You know nothing about sport climbing. You know even LESS about trad climbing. And you don’t care. All you want to do is trek off into the forest and climb sick (to you) blocs and then watch YouTube videos at night of people climbing even sicker blocks. You’re in your own little world, and nothing outside of that world matters.

3. Adds strength training to your life

I HATE strength training. I HATE maxing out weight. I hate anything that’s doing exercise purely for the sake of doing exercise. This is probably why I have the physique of a hydrangea vine and have never really been super strong in my life. I don’t go to the gym. I don’t sit around at home doing push-ups. And I don’t really care if my pecs resemble a those of a striped bass.

But then I started bouldering, and suddenly I was maxing out all the time. Because that’s what happens when you climb, you max out. You climb until your fingers and arms literally can’t hold you any longer, and you peel off the wall and float to the ground like a wilting daisy. You do this day after day after day, and suddenly you start getting less pumped in sessions, and suddenly you notice that you (sort of) have muscles. Even if they’re old man muscles.

4. It’s super social

There’s no easier way to start talking to someone than when you’re working on a problem together. “Oh, are you doing left hand out left? I’ve been trying right hand. I’m such a jackass…” Or, “Wait, are you heel hooking that tiny chip? How does your heel not pop off?” Or, “Did you just flash that pink? Why do you crush so much harder than me…”

I don’t meet people every time I go bouldering, but it’s not rare either. I met a guy from Seattle while at a weird (but kinda rad) boulder near Mt. Shasta. I met a girl at the Clear Cut Boulders near Gold Bar on a sultry spring day and we climbed the whole afternoon together and the session made my week. I met a guy from Czechia at the Camp Serene boulder and watched him calmly flash Serenity Now V4+ and we went on to climb together, too. And then of course there’s the gym. At the gym you meet people all the time. And the wonderful thing about these interactions is they’re low-pressure, casual. You’re working together towards a common goal. And there’s nothing better to bring people together.

5. If all goes well, it will consume your life

Even starting at the age of 36, if all goes well bouldering will consume your life. You’ll spend very many of your waking hours thinking about how can you send harder. Will lower temps help? Should you get new shoes? Should you start fingerboarding? And that’s to say nothing about the actual problems and beta themselves. You’ll find yourself in bed thinking, “Maybe if I put my THUMB on that hold instead of the fingers. Then I could just kind of squiggle it around as I stood up.” “What if I went right foot high instead of left foot….” “What if just dyno’d the whole damn thing…”

We all need obsessions, and bouldering is one of the better obsessions you could ever have.

Top 5 cons

  1. Injury.

(this is the only con).

The point is this: You’re never too old to start bouldering. You’re never too old to push your limit. And as I’ve hopefully explained, in many ways it’s even BETTER to start later. Or at least there are a few advantages.

So head down to your local gym, get your temperature checked, put your mask on, and start crushing.