Prison Blocs #1

The goal of these posts is to chronicle my relationship with a boulder project, as much for my own personal records as for my development as a writer. I’m not going to tell you what the boulders are (at least not yet), though if you boulder much in the Leavenworth and Gold Bar areas you’ll probably be able to guess what they are pretty quickly. I’m not going to tell you the grades, either, though the fact that these are “Prison Blocs” should give you somewhat of a hint. I climb at about the V3 level (right now!!!!!!), which means I expect to be able to send some V3’s in the first sesh, and most V3’s within a few sessions. I’ve sent a few V4’s. I’m projecting some V5’s and V6’s but still haven’t sent any. But I would probably never consider a V5 or a V6 a “Prison Bloc,” because I’d expect to send a V5 relatively quickly if I devoted my heart and soul to and it kept going back to it. Prison blocs, however, are a different thing. When I sit down at a prison bloc (or stand up I guess if it’s a stand start), I think, Wow, this seems impossible. Or, Wow, never in a million years. Or, as I thought about the boulder I was trying the other day, and the subject of this first Prison Bloc post, Wow, maybe if I was in prison and that boulder was sitting in the middle of the prison yard and one of the guards said to me, ‘If you send that boulder, you can leave here.’ Maybe then, after days and days of trying it, months of trying it, thinking about it, thinking about the holds, devoting myself to it in heart and body and mind — then maybe I’d send it.

And that’s how Prison Blocs was born.

So, let me take you back to two days ago, when I found the first of these blocs. I was on my way back to Seattle from Wenatchee, having just looked at some land. Forty acres, very hilly, about an hour north of Wenatchee. Still within about an hour of Leavenworth, which is sort of my limit if I’m going to buy land out there. I want to be able to make a trip to Leavenworth to climb relatively easily. So I looked at the land, stopped to try to get coffee at Argonaut going through Leavenworth (it closes at 2pm), and then figured I’d look at some blocs on the way out.

When I got to the bloc in question, I caressed the first hold, which is a sloper, lovingly, the way you might caress a baby. I took note of the amount of chalk on it. I examined the crystals of the granodiorite, the undulations. I looked at it from a profile view, to see which parts weren’t as steep and that I might be able to better grab on to. And, then, of course, I touched it. I ran my hands over it, the way a blind person might run their hands over the countours of someone’s face, looking for any kind of divots or protrusions that allow for some kind of purchase.

I then sat in front of the boulder. I reached both hands above my head and tried to grab the first sloper. With my butt angled in front of me and my legs in front of me, sitting, the sloper felt pretty good. But then I would start to lift my body off the ground and it would swing out and I’d slide off like an ant trying to climb a pane of glass in the wind. I’d peel off like a peel of bosc pear falling to the ground. It became evident VERY QUICKLY that I needed to somehow keep weight on my feet, and that required keeping my feet on the rock. And I couldn’t figure out how to do that. The footholds are fine, but as soon as I started to weight the sloper my feet would drift off the holds like little harrier jets taking off from an aircraft carrier. And I’d fall to my butt on the mat. And by fall, I mean alight from about three inches high.

So then I tried a left heel hook, but that felt wrong/the way I injured my LCL. I tried two sort of two hooks/scums. That didn’t work. I wanted to get my left knee high, to do a knee bar/scum, but couldn’t get my knee to touch the rock (I also didn’t try that hard). I experimented with a variety of different footholds. I also tried to vary the way I placed my hands on the sloper. The temeperature was perfect — about 40 degrees — so I had no excuse there. I simply had to find a way to keep my feet pasted on the wall, and therefore make the angle of force on the sloper slightly more optimal, and make the amount of weight my hands were supporting on the sloper less. But I couldn’t keep my feet on.

That first move, then, felt COMPLETELY IMPOSSIBLE. Completely. I imagine it sitting in a prison yard. You go up to it, sit at its base, put your hands on the first hold, and can’t even remotely lift off the ground. Other inmates stroll the yard around you. Some look at you, thinking, There goes that idiot again. Some laugh. The prison guards watch you from afar. You can barely get your butt off the ground, you strain and try and kick at the rock, and then eventually you give up.

However, that night, you lie in bed thinking of ways you could keep your feet on the wall. You think the left knee scum is the way, and so you resolve to try that the next day. Your life is imbued with purpose. If you can solve this, you get out.

I am not in prison, of course, but I have a vivid imagination and I like to imagine this scenario, like to imagine how if it were true how much dedication I would put into the boulder, how I would come to know every inch of it perfectly, the feeling of every body position perfectly. And that’s what I want with this first prison bloc. It feels impossible right now, completely impossible. But I know it’s not. I can’t even pull off the ground right now, can’t even come close to establishing, but if I really try — really dedicate myself to this — I know I’ll figure it out. At least make some progress.

I’m already plotting my next trip back there. I’ll try this bloc again. Try the first move. Why not? Even if I make no progress. No progress in bouldering is still progress. Backwards progress in bouldering is still progress. It’s just me and the boulder. No one else. No agenda. No place to be. Just me having a relationship with a bit of stone. Hoping it will reveals its secrets to me. Open to what it can teach me.