A Session at Egg Rock in Leavenworth

Yesterday I went to Leavenworth.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Mark hasn’t been to Leavenworth in a long time. What’s wrong with him?

And it’s not that there’s anything wrong with me. It’s just that Leavenworth in summer is hot, and it’s also far away. If you boulder you know that hot temperatures are the enemy of sending. Your hands get sweaty, and there’s less friction. So THAT’S why I haven’t been going to Leavenworth lately. Also, when I go to Leavy I like to stay in a hotel in Wenatchee, and for whatever reason they’ve been REALLY expensive lately. Like, prohibitively expensive. So that’s another reason. And three hours each way is too far to drive in one day. I know the drive takes most people less time, but I drive like a grandma, so it takes me about three hours. I will not apologize.

But yesterday I DID go to Leavenworth and it was glorious. I went to Egg Rock aka I Heart Jerry Garcia aka Musashi aka the cluster of boulders just beyond The Sword boulders aka almost the furthest cluster of boulders down The Icicle in the guidebook. I went here for two reasons: 1) Usually it gets colder as you go up The Icicle, and 2) I figured it would be quiet. Because I don’t like climbing with people. Or rather, sometimes I like climbing with people, but yesterday I definitely didn’t feel like it. Which is why I STILL haven’t been to Mad Meadows. My biggest nightmare is going there on a hot day with six thousand people blasting speakers and talking loudly and stirring up a bunch of dust with their crash pads. Better to stay solitary.

I started off climbing Funiculi Funicula VB which was, as the guidebook stated, quite basic. The mantle was a TINY bit hard, mostly because when you mantle you have to support most of your body weight, and since I’ve started eating whatever I want I weigh as much as a small wildebeest. But it was still a good, easy, fun warm-up. In case you go there by yourself this is probably also the easiest downclimb. So keep that in mind.

After FF VB I went over to China Cat V2, a slab! God, how I love slab. I mean, I don’t love slab, I just love climbing something that requires mostly legs. My legs are strong. My arms and fingers not so much. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Uh, duh, Mark, everyone has strong legs compared to their arms. But having grown up playing soccer and generally just running all over the place, my legs might even be inordinately strong, whereas before climbing (and surfing) I basically never did anything with my arms. So maybe that’s why I like slab climbing. I think I also kind of like it because people love to talk about how they hate slab. It’s cool to say things like, “Man, I’m so bad at slab,” or “Man, I hate slab.” Just once I’d like to hear someone say, “I LOVE SLAB.” Until that person comes along I will simply say it myself.

China Cat is a V2 that has pretty terrible feet after the initial good dish. You’re basically smearing, or standing on very small edges. Which is great practice. It took me at least five tries to get to the top, and when I did it was anything graceful. I basically lunged for the lip, took all the weight off my feet, and thrutched over the top. So at some point I’d like to go back and do it over and do it more gracefully. But yesterday once was enough, because I really wanted to get to the next problem, which was….

Estimated Prophet V1.

This thing is a lowball with perfect staircase edges. It’s a sit start. I thought it might be kind of hard. It wasn’t. It was insanely easy. I mean, as a taller climber I did have to spider my legs off to the side a bit on the sit to get them out of the way, but all the holds are bomber and well, you basically just stand up and you’re at the top. So, maybe not the most fun I’ll ever have climbing something eight feet tall, like the guidebook says, but still fun, and still a great warm-up.

After Estimated Prophet I went back to the Jerry Garcia/China Cat boulders so I could try Weather Report V3. On this problem you start crouched with your left hand on a fin and your right hand on a good sidepull (the good sidepull is the higher of the two sidepulls). You then smear your feet and “lunge” to a good rounded hold above. I tried this with just smearing at first, but it seemed hard. Then I spotted a left heel hook, and got much closer. However, the rounded hold lay tantalizingly out of reach, and in retrospect I will either have to lunge a bit to get it even with the heel hook, or try different smear beta, or maybe even try a left foot smear (or on a small edge) with a right toehook. Either way, I was super stoked to find the left heel hook and make some progress, even though I didn’t send the boulder. I’m bummed if I don’t send a V2 first session, but not with a V3. However, I DID get bummed when I watched a bunch of people doing it on YouTube this morning, mostly because A) I know I’m as strong or stronger than some of the people in the videos, and B) it took the mystique of figuring out the beta on my own away from me. Lately I’ve been into figuring out the beta myself, instead of watching YouTube videos. There’s something IMMENSELY satisfying about “solving” a boulder problem yourself. And it’s still satisfying when you climb it after getting beta from videos, but you definitely feel a bit like you cheated. Or something.

Aka I bought barley milk this morning and it’s disgusting.

Aka I woke up at 6am and couldn’t get back to sleep.

ANYWAY, that was the session yesterday at Egg Rock in Leavenworth. Great bouldering area, lots of rad moderates, and already a project or two in the making. Can’t wait to get back.

 

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.

 

My Second V4 (Dirty Dancing, Leavenworth) || ROAD TO ACTUAL V5 LET’S GO

Hello friends,

And welcome to Where’s Wetzler, the internet’s premier website for “How to Boulder V5,” or how to not boulder V5, or how to get injured doing stupid shit like the other day when I injured my hip flexor trying a V5 dyno that was, well, pretty dumb.

I was at Leavenworth with a solid crew and we were at Barney’s Rubble in the alcove area and there were all those dumb V3’s and that one V3 that becomes a V5 if you dyno and Pablo, this semi-crusher I was with, was getting close, and I was sort of getting close and at one point I specifically remember thinking: OK, my body is done, and then I give it another go and feel my hip crunch and by the next morning couldn’t lift my leg out of my car without using my hand.

So.

Sick.

HOWEVER, despite having a hip that felt like shit I got up at 5:30am the next morning, couldn’t get back to sleep, and drove to The Washout where I was determined to try Dirty Dancing V4 if my body would allow it. To give you an idea of how determined I was let me say two things: 1) I was pretty injured, and 2) I got coffee. Why is the coffee significant? Well, because I don’t usually drink coffee. Coffee makes me insane. Coffee makes me less moral. Coffee also makes me have emotional crises. But, BUT!, one of my biggest sends ever came after waking up really early, driving to Leavenworth, and getting coffee, and the morning I wanted to try Dirty Dancing it just felt right. Coffee has been shown in studies to boost athletic performance, and I’ve certainly felt that. You feel invincible, or at least less scared, or at least like you can do more than normal. And being injured, I knew I needed every edge (pun intended given the nature of Dirty Dancing) I could get.

ANYWAY, I warmed up on Unknown V2 at The Washout, called Slam Dunk on Mountain Project, and that was fun, though I didn’t do the problem. I couldn’t quite grip the crimp just below the lip, and I also didn’t want to. I just wanted to pull on some damn stone, get the shoulders going, get the fingers going. I also did some jumping jacks. And once I was more or less warmed up I said to myself, “I’m just going to see if I can establish on the boulder. Like, I’m just going to see if I can hold myself on the wall.”

Establishing on Dirty Dancing is not easy. You either have to use a weird undercling or a high right hand and a terrible left hand crimp. But! I did establish, and then I decided to just try and see if I could bring my left foot up to the first dish, since lifting my left leg was what hurt my hip flexor.

And I was able to do that, too.

Now I was really established.

Next step, bring the right foot up to a small edge.

Reposition the hands.

Bring the left foot up.

Reposition the hands again.

Oh god, you’re getting close to the good holds now.

Bring the right foot up. Look for an edge. How did I never see that edge before? Put the right foot on it. Stand up. Now look for the good hands. There they are! Oh god, now just to get my feet up.

And I thrutch and squirm a bit and the next thing I know I’m sitting at the top of the boulder with my head between my knees feeling a bit emotional.

I’ve just sent my second V4.

I was able to enjoy the ride back to Seattle despite the ailing state of my hip. I basked in my send. I put a snus in. I watched as the clouds became thicker and darker as we (the Subee and I) approached Steven’s Pass. It started raining just before we crested Steven’s pass and despite the clouds I was able to look out over the Skykomish Valley and experience some more emotion, almost equal parts foreboding, optimism, and melancholy, but in a good way, if you can imagine that, and then we descended the curving road to 2600 feet, 1800 feet, 1600 feet, 1000 feet. When I got back to where my boat is moored in Seattle I screamed as I tried to get my leg out of the car and realized I definitely needed to use my hand to assist it every time. Now, almost a week later, I’m still using my hand, but I could probably do it without. I just got a book called A Guide to Better Movement by Seattleite Todd Hargrove and he says to NEVER MOVE INTO PAIN. Like, never make something hurt on purpose, just to test it. And I’ve gotten into a bad habit of this because I always want to test injuries and ask: Has it gotten better? Has it gotten better? Even though constantly testing it can just reinforce to your nervous system that, yes, you have pain in that area. Pain can become a habit, and you don’t want that habit.

Or at least I don’t.

So, last weekend involved a conflicted couple of days. On the one hand I injured myself (though not terribly, I don’t think), and on the other hand I sent something that meant a lot to me. I experienced that mystical experience of being alone, in the forest, climbing on granite, moving up, up, up, not as if being pulled by some invisible cord toward the sky, as some have described it, but more as if each time I moved my feet up the entire world beneath them disappeared, and the only thing that existed was where I was and the rock above me, until eventually there was no rock above me and I was sitting on the top. In other words, at one point I knew I was fairly high and probably not above my crash pad, but it was almost as if that world didn’t exist.

It was a wonderful feeling, and exactly the reason I boulder. It is an experience unlike any I’ve had in any other discipline. And even though I’ve just kind of tried, trying to describe it would be folly.

Private Lessons, First Sprints (oh, and first burns on Zelda Rails V4) || R2V5

I just went to the track and did my first sprinting since hurting my knee. It felt good to fly around the track. And then I helped a girl try to find her key that she lost while working out (specifically while doing abdominal exercies; the most notorious exercises for key loss). However, none of us found it. But it was nice to come together for a common cause, or at least it was nice for me, I have no idea if it was nice for her. God, I wanted to find that key.

But sprinting! Sprinting! Sprinting is one of my favorite activities, and one that I’ve been reticent to do since hurting my knee, since your body is basically going full tilt. But as humans we’re MADE to sprint, and we should be sprinting often. Never jog; if you jog you’re an asshole. But sprint often. Basically our ancestors spent HUGE amounts of time walking, foraging, etc, and then every once in awhile A) Running for their lives, or B) Running to take something else’s life. So walk a lot. And every once in awhile sprint. If you want to feel amazing.

In ACTUAL CLIMBING NEWS, I started taking private classes at Vertical World yesterday. Yesterday I climbed twice: once in the early afternoon for my lesson, and once in the evening with homies. The lesson went….not that well. It felt very unstructured, I didn’t feel that strong, and I just felt like a bunch of information was getting thrown at me, none of it hugely useful, and at the same time like NO information was getting absorbed. Like, it sort of felt like when you’re climbing with your way stronger friend who’s actually not you’re friend and you’re kind of nervous around. Like, you still learn stuff, but it’s kind of weird.

HOWEVER, that’s exactly the reason I paid for five lessons up front. It’s probably going to take awhile for the instructor and I to feel comfortable around each other. It’s going to take awhile for him to figure out a plan for me, or for me to demand that a plan be figured out for me. Cuz I think that’s what I want, a training plan. Like, I want a plan to get me to V7, aka V6, aka V5 — aka I still haven’t climbed V3 since coming back from injury but that’s more for lack of tryhing than not being able to do it. I have a thing where I basically only want to try things at my limit. This is something I should examine, because if I weren’t grade chasing as much I’d probably do more volume, and do more climbs just because they’re interesting. And that’s how you get better, really. When you’re having fun and climbing a ton.

Anyway.

As far as gym climbing goes I feel stronger than ever. When I’m feeling strong I usually send at least one new black and make progress on a blue. And when I feel less strong I usually send one or more new orange and make progress on a black. Blues no longer seem as intimidating as they once did. Did I say this in the last blog? I have the memory of a fish. Which I ironically just tried to fix by eating a tin of lightly smoked sardines.

Slash I had mate for breakfast this morning. And it was delicious.

And I also fasted for 15 hours today. Which was bomb.

And….

Finally, I MIGHT be climbing outside tomorrow, and if I don’t I’ll DEFINITELY be climbing outside on Sunday. And maybe even make it all the way to the storied town of Leavenworth on Sunday, where maybe I could FINALLY put down my Dirty Dancing V4 project, and maybe attempt some of my first V5’s (Pentaphobia and Alfalfa vs. Spanky amongst others). Either way, this is the time of year for Leavenworth. In a month it’ll be way too hot, and there won’t be any point in crossing the mountains, unless it’s to climb at night or unless we get a cold spell (which now that I think about it does happen quite a bit in June). It’s time to start on some new projects. And it’s time to get psyched.

Speaking of new projects, how could I forget????? I tried Zelda Rails V4 for the first time last weekend, and I felt like it almost went down! I could do the first few moves, and I could do the last few moves. But I couldn’t do the crux, which was getting to the good left hand crimp at the lip. However, since then I’ve thought about it a lot and I’ve also watched a bunch of videos, so if I’m feeling strong next sesh I think there’s a good chance it could go.

Road to V5!

Aka The Road to Index.

Aka I might need to take a nap right now.

 

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?