I have settled into a routine of bouldering every other day, and my body is deteriorating because of it. Detoriating or preparing to get really freaking strong. This is what happened last year: I started bouldering almost every day when my body just could just baaaaarely handle it.
I’d be at work and say to my coworker Bea, “I think I’m gonna climb today.”
“Didn’t you climb yesterday?”
“How’s your body holding up?”
“It’s hanging in there. Barely.”
And then I took a rest for a few days or a week or maybe the pandemic hit and suddenly I felt so good, so strong.
These are the things I need to keep in mind on a day like today, when I go to the gym and don’t send my project and if anything feel like I’m making negative progress. Because even when you’re not feeling strong you can still work on technique. In fact, when you’re not feeling strong may be the BEST time to work on technique, cuz that’s when you need it most.
Still kinda wish I’d sent that blue today, though.
Hurting my hip flexor has made it abundantly clear that my well-being needs to be the primary focus. Screw being able to climb, I just want to feel healthy, limber, strong. If I feel these things, then obviously I’m going to be able to boulder. I’ll be able to do a host of other things, too: play soccer, run, skydive. I would so much rather be healthy and boulder less than boulder all the time and have my body be destroyed. But this is a realization that has taken precisely that — destroying my body — to come to. My knee, my hip, my fingers, my elbow, my shoulder. The moral of the story is: Bouldering is hard on your body. It’s harder on your body than sport climbing. Why do you think the natural progression is to go from bouldering to sport climbing, and not the other way around? It’s because sport climbing you’re doing less intense stuff, just a lot more of it. If you can climb a V3 boulder over and over and over, you’ll be a killer sport climber. You might be the best at the crag on a given day. If you can climb V7 over and over and over, you’re going to be world class. Or at least national class. Or at least county class. Or at least city class. Or at least neighborhood class. Or at least street class. Or at least household class.
I’m tired. I was riding a high from mate about an hour ago but now I’ve come off it. I’m basically waiting to have dinner with friends. Not really sure what to do. It’s cloudy and cold outside. I could take a nap. I could clean my boat, but it’s already pretty damn clean. I could work on my writing project, but I’m taking the day off. I could apply for jobs, but I’m not ready for that, yet.
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
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 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.
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.
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:
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?
Now, you may be asking yourself: Why are you writing a blog post about sending V6’s when you’ve only sent one V4 outdoors and haven’t sent any V5’s. And that’s a valid question. It’s an annoying question, but it’s a valid question. And the answer is that I as a boulderer you’re drawn to certain problems, and so far I haven’t found any V5’s that I’m particularly drawn to, but I have found a couple V6’s, and the two listed in the title are probably not only the two V6’s I’m most drawn to but the two V6’s I think I have the best chance of sending by the end of this summer. And not that I like these 6’s just because I think I can send them, I also like them because they’re beautiful lines. They call out to me. It’s impossible to look at these lines and not think, “Golly, that is a beautiful line. I want to get on those crimps.”
The boat was so warm this morning but now I’ve had to turn off the heater because I’m charging my laptop. I can do both at the same time but it’s kind of annoying. A lot of wires. So I’ve just turned the heat off. Plus turning the heater off might motivate me to get off the boat. And get some caffeine.
Here’s a video of local crusher Marque Benion sending Climax Control V6:
Now, I don’t think I’d use this beta. I’ve gotten about two thirds of the way up this bloc and the beta I used was quite different. This bloc doesn’t look that high, but the crux is reaching for the crimp at the top (at least I think) and once you’re up that high you’re up really high. Which means I’m really gonna need to rehab the LCL. Luckily, the landing is bomber. Perfectly flat, dirt. One thing about this bloc is that the wind tends to whip through the valley, which can make it really cold. I wish I’d seen it when it still had trees.
The second bloc I think I can send by the end of summer is the 5-Star Arete, located at the 5-Star Boulder in the Reiter Foothills. This is one of the most famous blocs in Washington, and if you haven’t been there I suggest scheduling some kind of field trip in the next couple weeks. Maybe bring a picnic lunch and some rain gear just in case it’s raining or wet and you’re not able to climb but still able to sit in the shadow of this granodiorite fantasy for a few hours gazing at its gorgeous lines. The most famous of these lines if probably the 5-Star Arete, and a must on any Washington boulderders tic list. This thing has it all, but rather than describe it just watch Lisa Chulich crush it:
Fell in love, right? With the line, you weirdo, what’d you think I was talking about. God, what a gorgeous line. This video doesn’t show the top-out though, which is definitely up there on a the spice-o-meter, especially when the rock is mossy. There’s definitely a no-fall zone. But the holds also look pretty bomber.
Of course, before I can climb V6’s I need to start stacking some V4’s, and more V3’s, and V2’s, and some V5’s. But also sometimes you just find blocs that are your style, and both of these blocs seem to be my style. I know from experience that Climax Control is my style, because I’ve already been on it. And I just have a hunch about the 5-Star Arete.
These blocs will NOT be the focus of my spring and summer once I can start climbing. Hell no. My focus is going to be climbing a shit ton, training more, eating better, meeting new people, having fun, and just building a deeper connection with the rock and nature. That’s what brings me joy, anyway. The grades don’t bring joy. I mean it’s fun af to chase them, but they don’t reliably bring joy the way just touching stone can.
If you have any suggestions about other sick V5’s and V6’s to try this spring and summer, please list them below. Keep in mind I’m located in Seattle but am basically down to boulder the entire American West, so that means places like Squamish and Bishop and maybe even RMNP are on the list.
K now it’s time to actually get caffeine. And maybe even get something to eat.
I feel like some of the purity from my “early” bouldering days has been lost. I’m not sure why this is. I feel like the golden days of my bouldering were a couple months ago when I was making rapid progression, gaining muscle and finger strength, bolstering my head game outside, and making little trips to Gold Bar and Leavenworth whenever I could that were all the more special because I couldn’t do them that often.
Fast forward to now, when I could literally boulder every day if my body permitted it (which is of course exactly what happened the week before last). I’ve hit a sort of plateau at about V2 despite still constantly watching bouldering videos on YouTube, constantly thinking about bouldering, and still climbing quite a bit. Honestly, the best thing I could probably do for myself would be do take two weeks off. And I’ll do something similar to that soon if my right hand doesn’t figure itself out. If I continue to have finger problems on a my right hand over the next couple weeks, I’ll get out of dodge, maybe sail up to the San Juans, maybe fly down to Mexico, and take some time off. After all, bouldering is supposed to be like piano for me. Pure, only for myself. When I start stressing about grades or whether or not I’m making progress, when I start getting injured and trying to push through those injuries, some of that purity is sacrificed.
But I also think of it this way: This was bound to happen. I couldn’t continue my meteoric progression. At the rate I was going, easily from V0 to V1 to V2 and then getting a couple V3’s and starting to project V4’s it looked like bouldering V7 by the end of the summer was entirely possible, if not reasonable. But this isn’t how it works. Especially when you’re almost 37 and you’ve been bouldering for last than a year. You’re going to push it too hard. You’re going to get injured. And if you do it from an egoic place in which the only thing that matters is proving something or doing a certain grade, you’re fucked. I need to go back to Fountainblues V0 in Leavenworth and just do it over and over, savoring the slopers. I need to get back to the micro side of bouldering, the way a hold feels when you grab it. Giving each hold the love and attention it deserves, not just focusing on sends or progression. And I also have to think of it this way. I was going to have to deal with setbacks eventually, better to do it now and figure out what I’m made of. Figure out how badly I want this. Figure out if I’m capable of continuing “pure” bouldering, bouldering just for myself, for no one else, and not because it means anything, but rather expressly because it doesn’t. Realize that the Road to V7 is not actually a road, and the destination is not actually V7. The road is actually an entire universe of valleys and forests and rivers and lakes, meadows, pitfalls, rain, sunshine, clouds. And the destination is not actually V7 but rather the feeling of my fingers touching granite, the feeling of moving perfectly from one hold to the next, the feeling of, just for an instant, my brain turning off. I haven’t forgotten what the purity is, even if I’ve momentarily lost touch with it.