The Journey || Road to V∞

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

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

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

But did I really climb for me?

This is where things get tricky with grades.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

An Interview with my Dream Boulderer Self

Freshly 37 and with the physique of a malnourished puma, the author rests between attempts.

This interview was conducted on March 24th, 2021 with my future boulderer self and has been edited both for content and readability (winky face). 

How old are you? 

I just turned 39.

How long have you been bouldering? 

I started when I was 36. About halfway through being 36, so I’ve been bouldering about two and a half years.

And you just sent your first double digit boulder? How was that? 

Yes, I’m super stoked. It was actually a week ago today that I sent Chutzpah, which is a V10 near the town of Index here in Washington State. I was so stoked. I’d been working on it for about six months. It’s a cool boulder because it’s on super polished river granite and just a very aesthetically pleasing line with cool holds.

Amazing. How did you get to where you are now in bouldering? Did you ever imagine you’d be sending tasty double digit blocs? 

Actually, sort of yes. A couple of years ago at the age of 37 I was living in Seattle and just sort of decided to dedicate my life to bouldering. Like, put as much of myself into at as possible and just see where it took me. Kind of surrender to it, I guess you could say. When I discovered bouldering I had never felt that passionate about anything in my life, and I just had this feeling that if I completely gave myself over to it, even though it didn’t totally make sense and I wouldn’t necessarily make any money from it, it would still be a good idea. And around that time was when I also decided that it was kind of my life goal in bouldering to send V10, though I also have another life goal which we can talk about too.

What’s that?

Well, a while back I kind of decided that if I could ever send The Method in Squamish, then my bouldering life would be complete.

The Method?

Yeah, it’s a V12 in Squamish. I’m not sure who put it up but I first saw a video of Jason Kehl doing it.  Have you seen it?

I think I know it. Is that the one with kind of the slab start and then some pretty heinous slopers? 

Exactly. I’ve been to it to look at it a few times. I’ve sort of sussed out the beginning slab moves. Like, I know I can get to the slopers, but that’s where it gets pretty gnarly. Getting to the slopers does not mean you’re sending it. But yeah, that’s kind of the new life goal. Send The Method in Squamish.

Awesome. Let’s back it up a little though. You told me earlier that after a year you’d only bouldered V4 outdoors? Which is pretty good, I’d say. But how did you go from V4 to V10 just a year and a half later?

That’s a great question and I’m glad you asked it. You’re a good interviewer. Cute, too. OK, so, yeah you’re right after a year I’d only bouldered V4 outdoors. Actually, I’d only sent ONE V4 outdoors, this crazy lowball in Leavenworth called Toto. And then I got injured, which we haven’t really talked about. I partially tore my LCL and probably messed up my meniscus, too. But once I got healthy from that, or rather when I was recovering from that, is when I really decided to give my life over to bouldering. Like, everything revolved around bouldering. I think the main difference was before I was kind of like, “Well, I’m gonna boulder as much as I can, but like, I should probably be doing other stuff too.” And now it was just like, “OK, I’m going to live my entire life around bouldering, completely unabashedly, and just see what happens. Like, this is what feels natural, and I’m just going to give my body and soul to it.”

So then I started eating better, I started climbing more, I even sort of got a coach at one point, and I also move to Leavenworth for part of the year just so I could be closer to tasty granodiorite pearls. When I really let myself just get wrapped up in bouldering I started making pretty steady gains. V6 came pretty soon, and then all the sudden I was projecting some V7’s and sussing out some V8’s. Like, there were still plenty of V5’s that I couldn’t do, and I was by no means a V7 climber, but I was projecting a few. I knew they would go eventually. And eventually they did.

Nice. Did you train, too? Like fingerboarding or any kind of weight training? 

Not really. I mean, I’ve always done hangboarding for warm-up. But I’ve never done campus boards and the only thing I have around my apartment are those little Metolius holds that you can attach rope to so sometimes I’ll just walk around my apartment crimping like 10 or 20 pounds of weight. Nothing crazy, but so my body knows: “OK, we’re going to be crimping a lot now. So better get strong.”

But also diet! Diet has been huge. And watching bouldering videos and learning different techniques. Sometimes I’ll just go to the gym and do one boulder over and over and over and over until I’ve learned the absolute most efficient beta. Sometimes a heel hook will appear where there wasn’t one before. And then a couple days later I’ll do that again, just over and over and over. And watching videos was huge for absorbing some good technique. When you’re watching Jimmy Webb and Nalle Hukkataival all day, you’re going to start trying to imitate them.

What advice would you have for someone starting to boulder?

None, really. I mean, I’d have some advice for someone who’s been bouldering for a little while and already pretty into it. I’d say, “Whatever you love about bouldering, do that. People say stuff like, ‘Train your weaknesses.’ I say, ‘Fuck that.’ Do you want to train your weaknesses? Then sweet, do that all the time. But do you just want to have fun and climb on stuff that you like to climb or do dynos all day? Then do that. If you love bouldering enough, you might actually WANT to train your weaknesses. But don’t force yourself to do anything. That’s how you lose the love for it, and that’s how you get injured.”

At least that’s my take on it.

Awesome. Well, we wish you the best of luck on The Method and all the boulders to come. Thanks for sitting down with us. Any final words?

Yes. I’d like to thank my sponsors Patagonia, La Sportiva and Metolius. Their support has helped me get to where I am today. Thank you to you guys too. It’s been a pleasure.

-WW

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?

 

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

She Said || The Road to Recovery

I just had a physical therapy appointment. In person. By Greenlake. It was wonderful. I think the best part was when the physical therapist massaged my hamstring. And then I did exercises, all of which felt fine EXCEPT for the lateral walking with a band wrapped around my ankles for resistance. My LCL had to take a LITTLE strain, and I wasn’t used to that. But it’s fine. It’s exactly what I’m there for.

Afterward I got a disgusting matcha latte at Chocolati Cafe and then walked around Greenlake. I think it’s something like 2.8 miles. My knee felt fine. It was gloriously sunny. Vitamin D coursing into my body. My heart singing looking at the treetops, at the blue sky, at the geese and ducks. People walking around only counterclockwise. The odd family or couple walking against the flow of traffic. Me cursing them for it.

Then afterward I went to the Northeast Library Branch to get Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey. I think this is going to be an amazing book. Please, God, don’t be pretentious. Please god make it like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance but more nature-centric. Please god let him be one of my new favorite authors.

I was stoked because the first part of the book mentions Moab and Arches National Park, which I drove through on my way back from Mexico. Moab is a terrible town. It’s basically a strip mall with gas stations. Sounds like it used to be charming, though. The only people I greeted were two Mormons on their missions who always say “hi” SUPER enthusiastically, but I didn’t have it in me to talk to them. Sometimes I like talking to the Mormons. But this time it just kinda made me sad. I did want to say, “Man, people get sent all over the world on their missions. They learn cool languages like Finnish and Russian and Swahili. And you guys are in….Moab. Are you bummed?” But I’m sure they weren’t bummed. They were spreading the word of Jesus Christ Our Redeemer. So I’m sure they were stoked. I was stoked to get a matcha latte the next morning. I was stoked to have a fuck ton of driving time to myself. I was stoked to drive through canyons.

The physical therapist said….

She said…..

She says…..

I says…..

She said, “—”

I said, “So can I go climbing after today’s session.”

She said, “Give it a couple weeks and we’ll discuss.”

I said, “OK.”

I threw a tantrum.

She said, “Your LCL is healing great. I was unable to provoke symptoms today.”

I said, “That’s wonderful news. I want my LCL to be stronger than ever. I want my LCL to be the strongest ligament in my body. I want it to bully the other ligaments in my knee.”

She said, “Just give it a couple weeks.”

I said, “…..”.

She said, “?????????”

I said, “–“.

She said, “.”

It is gloriously sunny. I’m thinking of going over to Bainbridge. I’m thinking of getting a FocusAid. I’m thinking of applying to more jobs. I’m thinking of calling someone east of the Cascades. I’m thinking…..

– MTW