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.

Should I Get A Job? || Road to Recovery

Bit of a strange morning. Is it a strange morning? Making eggs on the boat. About to have some tea. Not Hop Tea, for a change (though I do have one in the fridge); this is Spindrift’s Half Tea & Half Lemon. Five calories, only contains carbonated water, lemon juice, and brewed black tea. As opposed to non-brewed black tea. As opposed to tea in powdered form, I guess.

Yesterday I was watching this video on the boat:

Meet Drew Ruana, crusher from (I think) Redmond who grew up climbing at Vertical World. Recently he decided to say “screw it” when it came to competitions and do more climbing outside. He then proceeded to crush almost every hard boulder in the vicinity of the Denver Area, where he currently lives. If you haven’t seen it yet check out him climbing Box Therapy V16 (!!!!!?????):

The best part of this video is undoubtedly where he stands on top of the boulder at the end yelling “Let’s go!”

ANYWAY, the reasoning I’m MENTIONING this Drew Ruana INTERVIEW is because he SAYS something in the interview that RESONATED with me (me): He said his climbing actually got BETTER from being in school and having less time to climb, since that meant when he DID have time to climb he was always full bore and super stoked.

This is exactly the situation I experienced last spring during the lockdown and also when I was working full time. BEFORE lockdown I would take the bus to SBP everyday after work and climb for a bit, and after lockdown I would VERY OCCASIONALLY make forays into the wilderness to project hard (see: easy) blocs. This was the first time I ever climbed outside. My first ever boulder outside was Car Door Traverse (the guidebook calls it a V1 but it’s definitely a V0 and in J-Tree wouldn’t even be a V0 but rather on the YDS). The trips to Gold Bar and Index and Leavenworth became a bit more frequent as the pandemic drew on, and this was also when I was at my most psyched and at my strongest. Well, I actually don’t know about most psyched (or strongest for that matter but we’ll get to that). I’ve always been pretty over the moon psyched on bouldering. But this time period was when I, for instance, hiked ALL THE WAY up to the Clearcut Boulders by Gold Bar during a downpour just to see if anything was somehow dry, took refuge under Summer Solstice V3, and even gave the first couple moves a few burns. I would never do that now. Not in a million years. Mostly because I know how far the hike is and I know that if it’s raining in the parking lot shit’s probably gonna be wet.

I guess what I’m saying is maybe I should get a job. Not to contribute to society or feel better or make money or any dumb reasons like that, but because it might make me climb harder. You see, when you have a job, it makes it all the more easy to take the all-too-hard-to-take rest days. When I’m somewhat healthy, it’s very hard for me to take rest days. Rest days feel like lost days. My Czech friend (are we still friends????? I think he had a baby. Haven’t heard from him for a while) famously said, “Rest days are part of training,” which, bless his heart, is wonderful wisdom.  Rest days are so important. Your body and tendons need time to recover. You get stronger during the rest days. But it’s also so damn hard to take them, cuz like, why rest when you could go drool over some granodiorite jewels in the East Miller River Valley or caress the handholds on a gorgeous V5 in the Icicle Canyon? Ideally I would climb every day, not long sessions, but every day. Why not? As long as you don’t push it too hard there’s no reason why you shouldn’t climb every day. But if you get a job then on your rest days you have something to do. And then when you CAN actually climb you’re so incredibly stoked.

I don’t know, friends, I’m gonna have to think about this one.

Not that I can climb right now anyway cuz the knee is still on the mend, but it’s coming along, and the physical therapist I see next week is a climber, and I’m going to threaten him — I mean, ask him, if I can start easy gym climbing soon. Just yellows and maybe some reds and the occasionally overhung, kneebar-necesitating white.

You know when you sit down to write a blog post and you completely forgot what you wanted to say? I kind of feel like that right now. I feel like there’s so much other stuff I wanted to talk about. But I guess it will have to wait till tomorrow. Until then, try hard.

– Wetz

Looking at Apartments in Leavenworth || Road to Recovery

Morning, friends! I hope everyone is doing well today. I am doing well, aka decent, aka I just got a matcha latte from Woodland Coffee with almond milk and A LITTLE BIT OF HONEY. LITTLE BIT. This must be stressed: LITTLE BIT. Except I think it was actually quite a bit.

Because it was delicious. And matcha lattes with almond milk and no sweetener are usually disgusting, unless you get them from some place like Mr. West or Iconik, in Santa Fe.

Yesterday I went to Leavenworth. I took I-90 because Stevens Pass was closed — I HATE taking I-90 to get to Leavenworth even though it’s just as fast. This is probably because I hate I-90. I don’t like Issaquah. I don’t like North Bend. I don’t want to drive through these towns. Also, I don’t appreciate having to go over TWO passes, aka Snoqualmie and Blewett. I would much rather take Highway 2 through Monroe and Sultan and Startup and Gold Bar and Index and Baring and Skykomish. And indeed, that’s what I did on the way back, because by that time Stevens was open. But on the way there I was forced to take the dreaded I-90.

The point of going to Leavenworth yesterday WAS TO LOOK AT STUDIO APARTMENTS. No, thine eyes deceive thee not. I looked at apartments yesterday in Leavenworth. And you know what??????????????? I was actually kinda stoked on them.

Were they tiny AF?

Yes.

Were they somewhat tasteless and right next to a Safeway?

Also yes.

Could I see myself living there?

Absolutely.

The apartment I was most interested in was a ground floor corner apartment. Normally I don’t like ground floor apartments, but I think that’s changed since living on the boat, since on the boat I’m so closed to the ground (water). Now it feels weird to be up high. It’s like you’re….in an apartment building. But if you’re on the ground floor it’s kinda like you’re in a house. And this apartment, since it was corner, had three windows instead of one. These rooms are basically the size of small hotel rooms. They’re tiny. But. I don’t know. Like I said, I’m kinda stoked on them.

AFTER looking at the apartments I went to get a coffee at J5. I would’ve gone to Argonaut, cuz it’s much nicer, but they were closed. So I went to the J5 right on the main drag and even though they’re not on the menu they had matcha lattes. Bonus. Plus the girl working there was super nice. And then afterward I went to the bookstore and THEY were super nice. Maybe everyone in Leavenworth is super nice. It’s a weird place because it’s so small but at the same time so touristy.

After the matcha latte I just had to, you guess it, check out some boulders. So I coaxed the groaning Subi into the Icicle Canyon and we went to check out the Fridge Boulder. The Subi waited in the parking lot, since she doesn’t really care about bouldering. I went to check out this waking dream of a boulder. The line I most wanted to look at was Fridge Center V4, since it’s a line I’d tried before. But I also looked at Fridge Left V8, and it sort of seemed doable. Some heinous slopers, but I like slopers. There was quite a bit of snow on the ground, and Fridge Center was wet. Not that I would’ve gotten on it. I would’ve wanted to. But I’m not quite ready yet.

Then I drove over Stevens Pass.

Then I stopped at the Camp Serene Boulder.

The Camp Serene boulder is one of my favorite boulders of all time. The only line I’ve done on it so far is Insanity Later V2, but I’ve tried Serenity Now V4+ about a thousand times and I’ve even given Climax Control V6 some decent go’s. Here I kind of had to pee, but I also just wanted to commune with this hulking mass of granodiorite ecstasy. I sort of got on the starting hold of Serenity Now, but even turning my foot sideways for the starting foothold kind of hurt, and I was wearing hiking shoes, and I’m just so damn out of shape. It’s gonna take a while for me to get back in shape, but desire will not be the problem. Going to the gym on a regular basis will not be a problem. Just need this ligament to heal, first.

So that was my Leavenworth outing. Full success. Saw the apartments. Could move in as early as today if I wanted to, but I’m going to think about it a little more. Since I have the boat in Seattle, I don’t feel rushed. Also, since I can’t even climb right now, I don’t feel rushed. And when I can climb I want to start in the gym first, and there’s no gym in Leavenworth. So no rush. For now it’s off to physical therapy in a little bit to see what my wonderful physical therapist has in store for me. I’m excited.

– Wetzler

The Two V6’s I Think I Can Send by the End of Summer | Road to V5

Now, you may be asking yourself: Why are you writing a blog post about sending V6’s when you’ve only sent one V4 outdoors and haven’t sent any V5’s. And that’s a valid question. It’s an annoying question, but it’s a valid question. And the answer is that I as a boulderer you’re drawn to certain problems, and so far I haven’t found any V5’s that I’m particularly drawn to, but I have found a couple V6’s, and the two listed in the title are probably not only the two V6’s I’m most drawn to but the two V6’s I think I have the best chance of sending by the end of this summer. And not that I like these 6’s just because I think I can send them, I also like them because they’re beautiful lines. They call out to me. It’s impossible to look at these lines and not think, “Golly, that is a beautiful line. I want to get on those crimps.”

The boat was so warm this morning but now I’ve had to turn off the heater because I’m charging my laptop. I can do both at the same time but it’s kind of annoying. A lot of wires. So I’ve just turned the heat off. Plus turning the heater off might motivate me to get off the boat. And get some caffeine.

Here’s a video of local crusher Marque Benion sending Climax Control V6:

Now, I don’t think I’d use this beta. I’ve gotten about two thirds of the way up this bloc and the beta I used was quite different. This bloc doesn’t look that high, but the crux is reaching for the crimp at the top (at least I think) and once you’re up that high you’re up really high. Which means I’m really gonna need to rehab the LCL. Luckily, the landing is bomber. Perfectly flat, dirt. One thing about this bloc is that the wind tends to whip through the valley, which can make it really cold. I wish I’d seen it when it still had trees.

The second bloc I think I can send by the end of summer is the 5-Star Arete, located at the 5-Star Boulder in the Reiter Foothills. This is one of the most famous blocs in Washington, and if you haven’t been there I suggest scheduling some kind of field trip in the next couple weeks. Maybe bring a picnic lunch and some rain gear just in case it’s raining or wet and you’re not able to climb but still able to sit in the shadow of this granodiorite fantasy for a few hours gazing at its gorgeous lines. The most famous of these lines if probably the 5-Star Arete, and a must on any Washington boulderders tic list. This thing has it all, but rather than describe it just watch Lisa Chulich crush it:

Fell in love, right? With the line, you weirdo, what’d you think I was talking about. God, what a gorgeous line. This video doesn’t show the top-out though, which is definitely up there on a the spice-o-meter, especially when the rock is mossy. There’s definitely a no-fall zone. But the holds also look pretty bomber.

Of course, before I can climb V6’s I need to start stacking some V4’s, and more V3’s, and V2’s, and some V5’s. But also sometimes you just find blocs that are your style, and both of these blocs seem to be my style. I know from experience that Climax Control is my style, because I’ve already been on it. And I just have a hunch about the 5-Star Arete.

These blocs will NOT be the focus of my spring and summer once I can start climbing. Hell no. My focus is going to be climbing a shit ton, training more, eating better, meeting new people, having fun, and just building a deeper connection with the rock and nature. That’s what brings me joy, anyway. The grades don’t bring joy. I mean it’s fun af to chase them, but they don’t reliably bring joy the way just touching stone can.

If you have any suggestions about other sick V5’s and V6’s to try this spring and summer, please list them below. Keep in mind I’m located in Seattle but am basically down to boulder the entire American West, so that means places like Squamish and Bishop and maybe even RMNP are on the list.

K now it’s time to actually get caffeine. And maybe even get something to eat.

– Wetz