If you’ve stumbled upon this blog looking for info on the epic boulder problem Feel the Pinch V4 (feel it) I’m sorry to disappoint: This blog post isn’t really about feel the pinch even though I’m sitting in front of it in above picture. No, this post is mostly because I wanted to do my first post with the subtitle of “Road to V5” and even though Feel the Pinch isn’t V5 I had a good picture of it.
Yes, friends, you are correct: The Road to V4 is over and the Road to V5 has begun. Actually, the road to V5 began a long time ago. When I was on the Road to V4 I was also on the Road to V5, and the Road to V6, and V9, and whatever other roads leading me towards further bouldering destinations. I don’t know what v-grade I will eventually climb one day. I don’t really care. I have dreams — oh yes, I have dreams — and they involve problems like Obesity V7 in Gold Bar, Naughty Corner V7, The Method V12 in Squamish…. I don’t look at The Method and think, “One day I’m gonna climb that,” but I also sort of do. That’s one of my favorite things about bouldering: You go to a boulder that’s V8 and look at it and think, There’s no fucking way I could get up that. But then you go back six months later and suddenly you can see yourself doing it, or at least doing some of the moves. What has changed? Our bodies? Our brains? Our sternums?
I’m in a hotel room in Ashland, Oregon right now headed towards California. After this blog post I’ll check the oil in my car and then leave. I’m drinking a venti English Breakfast tea from Starbucks right now with just a LITTLE BIT of cream in it, mostly because I wanted the human interaction of talking to the girl working there since for the first part of today I won’t really talk to anyone. Unfortunately the most interesting part of our conversation was her informing me that she couldn’t sell me produce or booze, a fact I already knew. Now I’m sitting in the hotel room and it’s mostly dark. When I got here yesterday they asked me, Do you have a dog? And I said, “Do I?” Actually I said no and then they upgraded me to the King Suite, where I proceeded to watch Chelsea v. Arsenal and cook bacon in the microwave.
That reminds me: I should probably leave a tip for the cleaners.
I probably have about seven hours of driving today. Maybe less. I would like to climb today — and I could climb near Mt Shasta — but I’m not really inspired by any of the boulders near there. Maybe I could find a new one? Maybe I could climb something near Redding? Or the boulders near Vacaville? Yes, yes, I could totally climb near Vacaville. But I don’t know if I want to.
I think it’s time for me to hit the road. I have two massive bouldering pads in the back of my car. Ninety six square feet of bouldering pad. I haven’t mentioned ANYTHING about it in this post so far, but this is actually a bouldering road trip. I’m planning to go to Bishop. Maybe Joshua Tree. And maybe, just maybe, Cataviña….
It is with great relief that I write the words “The Final Chapter” before Road to V4 today. This last jump, from V3 to V4, was by far the hardest yet. I had been projecting so many V4’s and gotten close on many of them before finally sending Toto V4, in Leavenworth’s Forestland area, a few days ago. And while I’m already starting to look at V5’s and have already started to project one boulder even harder than V5 (Climax Control V6), I realize from past experience that climbing one V4 in no way means you’re a V4 climber or ready to tackle all the V5’s. In fact, it usually means you need to do a lot more V4’s, and even more importantly a lot more V3’s, and a lot more V2’s, etc etc. I definitely need to do a lot more V3’s. And I’m not expecting the next V4 to be easy.
Without further ado, here it is:
At the risk of beta spray (see: stop reading if you don’t want any beta for this problem), I will say that moving my right foot up slightly before going for the lip changed everything. Before I was lunging for the lip with my foot all the way down on the good nub next to the ground. Foolish. But then moving my right foot up just six inches changed everything. It made getting to the lip much higher percentage. It made it less of a lunge. It allowed me to send this problem. And it also made me realize something very important about technique: get your feet high before you trying to make a big move.
My buddy Darren was filming, which was nice because it added some pressure to get it done and also made me not have to worry about setting up the camera.
Now what happens? Well, I’m supposed to start heading south toward California the day after Christmas, and there’s a very decent chance this trip to California will take me back to Bishop and also possibly Joshua Tree. There’s a less likely chance it’ll take me back to Red Rocks, but you never no. And there’s also a chance it’ll take me to Northern Baja, where about five hours south of the border there’s a little town that I like to think of as the Joshua Tree of northern Mexico. Will I actually go there? I’m not sure. There is no guidebook. There is very little on the bouldering around this town. But I’ve been there before, and I’m dying to go back.
As for now I’m going to enjoy Christmas Eve with my parents and a relaxing couple of days before heading south.
I’m also going to start thinking about my next post and The Road to V5.
I had never bouldered outside before lockdown hit. I had no desire to boulder outside. All I wanted to do was watch Bouldering Bobat videos and try to send a blue at Seattle Bouldering Project. That was pretty much my singular goal in life. But then the lockdown hit and I had to either A) not climb, B) climb outside, or C) move to Libya. I chose option B and never looked back. I started on an abandoned building on Bainbridge Island. I moved to a glacial erratic just north of Poulsbo, WA. And then I got the Western Washington Bouldering Guide, which changed everything. I’ll never forget my first session at the Morpheus Boulders. My first V0…
2. First of the Grade
It’s rare to find a boulder that speaks to you. It’s rarer to find a boulder that A) isn’t so easy that you can send it on the first session or first couple sessions, but B) not so hard that you just want to give up.
U2 (V3), in Leavenworth’s Beach Forest area, was the perfect boulder for me. I projected it over the course of a couple months, usually giving it a few burns on each of my bi-weekly Leavenworth trips. One day after I had started getting close I woke up at 430am near Skykomish, sent it straight to Leavy, got an americano from Starbucks, by 630am was at the boulder. That day it went down. I thought it was totally going to go, and then after the first few attempts I felt myself getting weaker, and then finally I went for the lip.
3. Highball (ish???) slab
Making the move from “beginner” climbing shoes to the La Sportiva Miura’s I now sport was huge (I might move to the Solutions one day). My confidence in my feet went from about a 4/10 to about a 7/10. Which is huge when you’re trying a semi-highball slab where the crux move is towards the top and you’re afraid you’re going to fall off to the side where there isn’t a pad or just go skittering down to the pad below you. On this climb I actually did skitter a few times, pretty much from the top, and that gave me confidence that it wasn’t that bad. And then I sent.
4. Pre-covid SBP sessions w/ Homies
Picture this: You project hard (see: easy) blocs with your best homies, and then afterwords you go to the basement cafe, shoot the shit, and drink beers (see: you drink kombucha). This is what gym bouldering pre-COVID was like. Then COVID hit. Now gym bouldering = wearing masks and using liquid chalk. And then gyms getting closed every two weeks because COVID numbers soar into the stratosphere. Which means we can’t soar into the stratosphere on techy purples or reachy blues. Damnit.
5. After work Upper Walls sessions
For awhile there I was working in U-Village for a non-profit, just really doing God’s work, and after work the bus would go right by Upper Walls in Fremont, and usually I would get off and climb for a bit. These after work sessions were my favorite: short, sweet, and most importantly: alone. I mean, not completely alone. I would sometimes talk to other people. Sometimes I would project stuff with random heroes. It was during this time that I sent my first blue, a stemmy thing in the corner that at Joshua tree would MAYBE be a V1. Probably a V0. But indoors it’s a V5. I love stemming.
(Summer Solstice V3. Didn’t post to YouTube ‘cuz I filmed it so shitty.)
Projecting is my favorite aspect of bouldering. Going to a problem that feels impossible, leaving it alone, thinking about the moves and the micro beta as you lie in bed, trying it a couple weeks later, then a month later, and then finally sending it. This happened with a couple boulders for me: My first V3 slab, Rocksteadeasy, U2 V3, Summer Solstice V3, Briefs V3 (which went first try of the day a couple days ago!), Beam Me Up V2, and will HOPEFULLY be happening (any day now, seriously; gotta get this pulley thing figured out) with Dirty Dancing V4, Toto V4, Serenity Now V4+, Moss Bongo V3, the list goes on….
The most important thing I’ve learned about projecting: You don’t learn how to climb a boulder by trying it over and over again. You learn by trying over and over again and then leaving it, for a day or a week or a month, and coming back stronger and with a new plan.
7. Sorange V3
A Red Rock Canyon gem, and the first V3 I ever sent in one session. Basically I got there, a bunch of people were on it, I walked the loop through the canyon, came back, tried a problem near it, and as soon as the new people who were there left I swooped like a vulture descending upon a recently-deceased wildebeest. But NOT before asking one of the leaving dudes, “Bro, can you give me the beta. Like literally tell me every move.”
This problem is kinda crimpy and the last move is kinda reachy. It’s also kinda easy. Or maybe I was just really feeling it that day.
My sister and her son — aka my nephew — and I went on a walk this morning-
Hold on, let me start over.
I went on a walk this morning with my sister and her son, aka my nephew, to “Poo Poo Point,” a short little jaun-
OK, I don’t like that one either.
I’m sitting on my boat drinking matcha this afternoon and what’s different between right now and when I USUALLY sit on my boat is that I’m sitting outside, in the cockpit, feeling the breeze and watching my boardshorts sway in the br-
OK. Sitting on my boat drinking matcha. Boarshorts swaying in the breeze. Sunny. Crows cawing. Tired but feeling ok since I just jumped in the water. Maybe should jump in again to wake up even more? Mellifluous. Not very comfortable. Ducks pissed at each other. Plant looks like it’s dying. What am I gonna do tonight?
OK that’s MUCH better now that I’m sitting on the ground and instead of on that pad. Though the ground is dirty.
Why am I so TIIIIIIIIIIRED right now? I have no good food on my boat except apples and peanut butter, but I’ve already had two apples today. I have kale. What am I going to do with the kale? Eat it plain? Disgusting. Eat it with some olive oil and salt?
OK I’m ready to start.
Good afternoon, faithful Where’s Wetzler readers! My name is Mark Wetzler and I’ll be your host for this afternoon’s blog post. We’ve got a lot to talk about today, including but not limited to: Me going bouldering tomorrow, my hike today, why I feel so tired–
K, sorry, can’t do that either. Can’t do a real post.
Stephen King said: Don’t go lightly to the page. I’m going to lightly to the page right now, Stephen. Light as a feather. Light as one of the leaves on my calathea plant that’s dying. Light as my humor. Light as my right toenail which is becoming slightly ingrown. Here’s the problem with reading books on how to write: It’s like reading books on how to paint pictures. They can only take you so far. At some point you have to launch yourself off the diving board and think: OK, I’m gonna do my OWN thing now. And if people hate it then fuck ’em. I’m going to make the stuff that I know is good, that makes me happy, and if people don’t like it well then they’re the ones with no taste. You don’t tell me what’s good art. I tell YOU what’s good art. I tell you what to like. People don’t know what they like anyway until someone has already given it to them. They say, “Well, I like light comedies,” and then someone makes a horror film and they love it cuz it’s well done and someone says, “But you don’t like horror films,” and they say, “Well, I guess I like that one.”
I’m going to be a piece of shit for the rest of the day and I’ve made peace with that. Go to Whole Foods. Read Pride and Prejudice. You know what I might do tomorrow? I might go session Serenity Now V4 FRESH. I’ve never sessioned that boulder fresh before. Only after a pretty long sesh. So maybe I’ll go there tomorrow, I’ll warm up on the slab a bit, I’ll climb the V0, and then I’ll give Serenity Now some fresh burns. Give it everything I got. And maybe make it past the crux.
K just watched a few videos of people getting up Serenity Now V4 (+!). I think I can do the crux now. And by crux I mean the low crux, there’s also a fairly gnarly deadpoint up to the hold on the lip. God, I got this. I need this. Come on, Mark.
Before we talk about anything this morning, let’s talk about grades. Yesterday I went to Leavenworth for the first time in months. If you haven’t noticed, there’s been a pandemic happening but actually that didn’t prevent me from going to Leavenworth at all. What prevented me from going there was the ‘eat. But YESTERDAY I was finally able to go there, and it was glorious, and it was wonderful, and I sent some new shit, and bla bla bla, but I need to talk about grades here because the last problem I was working on is rated differently in the guidebook than on certain online bouldering websites.
And this annoys the shit out of me. But it’s also kinda awesome.
The problem in question: Dirty Dancing V4 (or V4-, or V3, depending on who you consult). This is a beautiful slab located at the “Washout” area, aka Unearthed area in Leavenworth. It’s a unique boulder because it’s essentially river polished granite even though it’s not particularly close to any river. This is because it was buried up until a huge washout (landslide?) happened in XXXXX and presumably (I’m not a geologist) the reason this boulder is smooth is because eons ago it WAS in a river. Anyway. I wanted to go there to try Dirty Dancing V4 because I kind of like slabs and it also just sounded like a cool problem, and so yesterday, after warming up at Swiftwater a bit and sending The Barista V1 and also Unobvious V2 (I started from the rock and not the ground, making it a V2 and not a V3), I went to the Washout.
Actually first I accidentally went to the Upper JY Boulders and was quite confused. And then I traipsed through what might’ve been a bunch of alder bushes, cutting myself up in the process and fairly cursing. But then I found the boulders, and all was well. I scoped the beautiful Lion’s Den V8 and also Buried Alive V6. But my eyes were drawn to what to me is the most striking line there, Dirty Dancing V4.
The first thing I scoped were the holds. Perfect little crimps. And then I scoped where you might start with your feet. “Start from a good edge in the middle of the scar…” the guidebook says. OK, there’s the scar, and there’s what looks like a pretty good edge. Why is there all that chalk on the undercling? Who is using the undercling? What I’ve since come to realize is that shorter people use the undercling because that allows them to establish, but if you’re taller you can just start with a shoulder height left crimp and reach up to a high right hand pocket/crimp. Neither of these holds are particularly great, especially when it’s warm outside and you’re sweating out of nervous excitment. But the first foothold IS great. So here’s what I did: Step onto the good right foot, lock off a crimp on the left hand and then reach up to grab the right hand pocket/crimp (getting established was pretty hard, so I understand people using the undercling). Once established, bring left foot up to pocket just just above the undercling. After watching YouTube videos, no one seems to do it this way. Most people bring the left foot up to an edge just above the right foot, and then do a foot switch. Maybe I’ll try that. But because I’m kinda tall, I can also do it my way.
From there, you’re basically just laddering up on tiny crimps and possibly a smear or two. If you want to see how it’s done BEAUTIFULLY by a dude who’s not that tall, and see where the name Dirty Dancing actually probably comes from, once again watch a vid of the Badwater Brothers doing it:
Damn these guys. They make everything look so easy, so graceful, so dancing, so dirty.
How close did I get on my attempts? Well, pretty damn close. In fact, I have video but I’m not going to show you until I get the send. I got ALMOST to the easy part, aka I had my hands up where the rock starts to level off a bit but just couldn’t quite get my feet right. I think next time it’ll go. It would help to have slightly colder temps and maybe to go there SLIGHTLY fresher. Like, after a few days rest. Like, maybe next week????? Though next week in Leavy is supposed to be pretty hot….
And now back to the grading discrepancy that I promised to talk about at the beginning of this post but have left off till now. Obviously, bouldering grades are subjective. One gal/guy sends a boulder, suggests a grade, and then everyone who climbs after her/him either says, “Damn, that grade is totally right. Good job. That’s a perfect V4,” OR “Bro, are you out of your mind. That is not V4. That’s like V3+.” The question you might be asking is, “WHERE do these grading discussions happen? Like, where is this documented?” And the answer is two places: Mountain Project and Sendage. Obviously there’s the guidebook grade first. In the case of Dirty Dancing it’s listed as V4. But if you go on Mountain Project it’s listed as a V4-. And on Sendage as a V3. This is because this is the grade resulting from all the people sending it and subsequently grading it. The ANNOYING part of this is when something is listed in the guidebook as a V3 and you get super psyched because you sent V3 outdoors and then you go on Mountain Project and see it’s only a V2. This is actually fairly common. The OTHER way around, problems getting upgraded, is not that common. But it does happen. One I can think of off the top of my head is The Enigma at the River Boulders in Index, listed as a V4 in the guidebook but a V5 on Sendage.
Here’s how I’VE decided to handle this situation: I’m going with the majority. In the case of Dirty Dancing it’s listed as a V4 in two sources and a V3 in one, which means I’m going with V4. Which is a relief becuase I really want this problem to be V4 because I really wanna send V4.
But that’s enough for today! I’ve said too much. I’ve said too little. I haven’t said enough. In case you were wondering, after the Dirrty Dancing sesh I made the tired drive home to Seattle. I thought about camping in Leavy but didn’t really feel like camping alone and also my body was slightly wrecked. The drive home sucked until I got to Safeway in Monroe, where I bought about a gallon of black tea and also come white cheddar Cheetos. God I want to go back to Leavenworth right now….
It’s time to stretch and get coffee and use the foam roller? It’s time to escape to my parents because we’re supposed to get two inches of rain over the next few days? It’s time to meditate?
I don’t know what it’s time to do. But I do know I can’t WAIT to go climbing again.