The best things in life never come easy. This is the story behind climbing. Every route I have ever tried has history behind it. Some routes come super easy, others take more work, what makes the route special is your experience around it. I had been trying this route called Head Cheese(5.12d) at Shelf Road since 2011. It is a route I dabbled with here and there, giving it a burn at the end of the day or if I was walking by and draws were up on it I would give it a go. Whenever someone would ask if I have done Head Cheese, I would just kind of smile. I have only tried the route 10 times or so over the last 4 years, but for some reason or another I could never climb it without falling. In the back of my mind, it was some seriously unfinished business.
What’s ironic is I have progressed to a level since first trying it, that I now have done many routes of this grade on my very first attempt, either as a flash or an onsight. But again, it’s those routes that give you the most challenge that seem to stick with you. This past weekend, I went to Shelf Road, one of many trips I have taken since I started going in 2011. This time, I had one very specific goal in mind; to send Head Cheese. On Saturday, I warmed up and headed straight over to the crag in hopes of getting on it. It was a bit discouraging when I found a line of people waiting to get on it and my first burn confirmed it was still hard. I have climbed 5.13d at this point, an entire number grade harder, How could this route still be so difficult?
Bottom line, I wanted this route to be checked off my ” To Do” list. This route was well within my ability. I guess I just needed to focus and try a little harder. Instead of doing a bunch of other routes prior to Head and Cheese and going into battle mode a bit tired, I thoroughly warmed up on three 5.11’s and when I felt like I was ready, I jumped right on Head Cheese to give it a go. After doing an initial beta burn, and relearning the moves and the proper footwork, clipping stances, etc., I immediately went into redpoint mode. On my second burn on Head Cheese I fell in the middle of the route which seemed to be the crux for me. There is one difficult clip(apparently there use to be a clipping jug but it broke off) and an additional bolt was added. I played around with the clip and determined how I was going to do it and conserve some energy for the upper crux that lurked right before the chains. I finished the route and fine tuned my beta, finding a few more subtle differences that I though might help with the send. After burn number two, I decided to rest for at least 45 minutes before getting back on. The nature of the route is very powerful and because it’s one of the steepest routes at Shelf Road, taking a little more time between burns to fully recover was a smart approach.
After about and hour of just hanging out, drinking water, eating some snacks and stretching, I got back on. I climbed up the 20 foot pile of choss which made up the lower section and clipped a few bolts. I stood there and looked up at what I was about to climb. Wow, this route is steep! I took a deep breath and was off like a lion about to kill it’s prey. Before I knew it I had powered my way through the first crux, skipping a bolt and nearly skipping two(which would have turned out to be an epic whip if I fell) and was now resting on some moderately good holds right before the top crux. I used what I had learned on the hundreds of hard routes I have projected and sent over the past few years, which was to relax. I worked on calming my breathing and getting the feeling back in my fatigued arms. When I was ready, I blasted through the upper crux like I was on a mission and getting to the top meant winning the battle. Before, I knew it I had clipped the anchors and I was being lowered. Mission Accomplished!
Head Cheese is no longer this mythical creature but a route that I tamed through perseverance and determination. Only a climber will understand this experience.
All of the pics were taken in March of 2011 when I first got on the route. I didn’t realize at that point that it would be a four year endeavor. Bottom line, my four year experience on Head Cheese will last a lifetime…