Misadventures of a Novice Boulderer (Part 1)

Imagine driving two hours into the woods, parking your car, getting your bouldering crashpad out, getting everything situated on your back, your backpack strapped to your chest, full of mirth and expectations about the day ahead of you, only to immediately realize you have no idea what you’re doing.

Welcome to the life of a 36-year-old novice boulderer.

My goal yesterday was to climb SOMETHING outside. I wasn’t too concerned about the grade. I was hoping it’d be higher than V0, since just walking on the sidewalk is technically V0, but I didn’t have any illusions about climbing V5 or, god forbid, something higher. No, my goal yesterday rather was just to get my fingers on the stone. To feel the cold hard rock against my skin. To smell the smells of the forest. To be out in it. To feel alive. And this is something I did accomplish, but only just barely.

I drove to the Morpheus Boulders, located between the quaint Washington hamlets of Index and Skykomish. I was in my ’97 Subaru Outback which, despite burning smells every time she runs, is hanging on for dear life. This is largely in thanks to my wily mechanic Al over at Hal’s Motor Clinic. The guy is a genius. Want something welded onto your car? Al will do it. Want something fixed the cheapest possible way, with complete transparency and no screwing around? Al is your man. He has a wonderful memory — but for cars, not people. I went in one day for like the fifth time and said, “Hey, Al!” and when I saw the blank look on his face said, “I’m Mark…”

“Oh, white Subaru!” he said.

Thanks to Al, the Sub-y is running better than ever, which is to say, not that well.

But anyway.

5 minutes into the trip: I spy my first boulder! The Car Door Boulder! For some reason I feel like I’m on safari and I’ve just spotted a wildebeest. I want to climb the thing but there’s already a couple camped at its base. They have a golden retriever. I pet it.

20 minutes into the trip: The Landjager Boulder! Oh, the glory! What a beautiful piece of rock. And right next to the river. But again, already being sessioned. By two dudes who look like they’re trying to figure out the conundrum that is Miller Lite (V5). I press on.

25 minutes into the trip: I don’t really know where I’m going. Another guy walks by and asks if I’m looking for the “log crossing.” I say “maybe.” We check out the log crossing together. He crosses, but I’m scared of falling into the river. I retreat.

1 hour into the trip: I find myself in the mythical “Throne Room,” home of Kingslayer (V13). I did not intend to come here. I look at the first sloper hold, and just want to hang from it and think about life. I would love to try some of the moves, aka the first move, but don’t feel like I have enough paddage and am scared of falling into the tunnel below it. Again, I retreat.

1 hour 15 into the trip: Back at Landjager. No one there. I try Miller Lite and fail miserably. I try the slab — only V2 — and fail miserably at that, too. Feel pretty discouraged and decide to check the Car Door Boulder one more time.

2 hours-ish into the trip: Back at the Car Door Boulder and suddenly all is right in the world. What a perfect landing. And there’s even a stream running next to it? I climb Car Door Traverse (V1) several times, savoring the meaty rail that, if it weren’t granodiorite, I might try to sink my teeth into. I lounge on my pad, just listening to the sounds of the forest. I try some of other climbs on the boulder. I top out. I accidentally crease the cover of my guide book and shake my fist at the sky. And then, eventually, I pack up and head to my car. In just a few minutes my entire outlook on outdoor bouldering has changed. Some things were reinforced for me that I kind of already knew. Find aesthetic climbs. Savor the moves. And do stuff you can actually climb.

For now the V5 will have to wait. Next stop, Reiter Hills? Next stop, V2???