Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Embracing the steeps

Rob Owens photo. 
I haven't been the quickest to warm up to overhanging climbing. My first steep limestone climbing experience was in Thailand, and it was definitely frustrating. Although when I visited Thailand I had climbed a mitfull of Squamish 5.12- cracks, routes I still find difficult to this day, at Tonsai I found myself getting schooled on the 5.11- warmups. The ones that you climb metal ladders to get to the start of and have to endure the impatient stares from a line of waiting muscly hard men and women while you flail, sweat and curse your way up. Back then, 5.12 in this terrain seemed like a very distant dream. I figured I just didn't have the pipes or the abs or whatever it took to haul my way up steeply overhanging rock. At the end of my two week trip to Thailand, however, whether I knew it or not I had picked up some of the fundamentals on how to move around on steep ground. Nowadays I enjoy the deep pump I get from climbing on the steeps, the ability to turn off my head and climb, the simplicity of clipping bolts and not being afraid to take big whippers when there's nothing to hit but air.

A few days ago I sent my first 5.13a sport climb. It was a super steep and wild line up a beautiful limestone cave on Vancouver Island. I employed all the trickery I could: some soft downturned shoes (5.10 Arrowheads), double knee bar pads which I taped onto my pants with duct tape to minimize bruising of my thighs on the numerous knee-bar rests on the route. I even found a double knee bar bat hang that was comfortable and hilarious! Trust me, there's no better way to shake off the red point jitters than to hang upside down and laugh at the ridiculous position you are in.

Rob Owens photo. On the first of several knee bar rests. 

It's been awhile since I redpointed something that I had worked really hard for, so when I finally thrutched through the last hard moves and climbed to the chains I had the sweet, sweet feeling of endorphins coursing through my veins as I hollered with joy. On this particular climb, it's customary to skip the last bolt and then take a victory whip from the chains - a solid 30 foot fall. Even with the happy send juices flowing, as I clutched the clipping jug I had to yell down to my friends at the base, "should I take the whip?". They responded with a resounding, "yeah!" and so I jumped off, doing a midair kicking and flailing jig as I screamed like a happy banshee. 

A few days later the endorphin rush is gone and my mind has already moved ahead to my next climbing obsession here in Squamish, projects that I hope will be helped by the muscles and endurance I built up on the steeps this month. And on the flip side, the bruises on my legs and the scabs all over my ankles, hands and shoulders remind me that trad climbing skills can also work for me on the steeps.