Success and failure often go hand in hand in climbing. In fact, in many cases, you can’t have one without the other, especially when it comes to projecting. In a nutshell, both are an important part of making a climber who they are. My greatest successes in climbing have come with many failures. But that’s what climbing is all about right? I constantly see people getting frustrated on their projects and I always kind of snicker(to myself of course) as to why they are upset. After all, climbing is supposed to be difficult. If rock climbing were easy, everyone would send every route they got on and climbing wouldn’t be the same. The whole point with projecting is to fail over and over until we eventually succeed. This may sound kind of funny hearing this from me, but I love to fail. There is something in failure that brings out the best in our human spirit, the will to try harder, the yearn to get one inch closer to the goal. What makes climbing so powerful and so gratifying is the failures you have before you are successful.
This March I took my annual rock trip to the Red River Gorge, Kentucky with some pretty lofty goals for myself. The last time I was in Kentucky, I went into the trip with some serious fitness and managed to come away very satisfied. I had a huge tick list and sent nearly everything I got on. But for this year, to be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. In the past year, I took my first “real” job and was making a pretty solid salary. But with the money, came responsibility and long work days which started to take over my life. When I had time to train, my sessions had to be focused. The days of spending 6 hours in the gym before heading off to work for a few hours in a restaurant are long gone. Frankly, I just didn’t know what to expect. My job has taken a toll on my mind over the last year, my climbing training has taken a toll on my body and the weather in Kentucky can be so erratic in March that it could be 70 degrees and sunny or 15 degrees and snowing. At the very least, this trip was going to give me a break from everyday life which I very much needed.
The March rock trip to the Red turned out to be better than expected. Of course, I had some failures along the way but the successes and great times far outweighed anything I could say negative about the vacation. I wanted to suss out Kaleidoscope(5.13c) which I have been obsessed with since first laying eye’s on it back in 2011. I knew when I first saw that thing that I wanted to climb it. Year after year I go to the Red, end up at the Drive By Crag for a single day and just seem to drool over the aesthetics of that climb. For this trip, I feel as though I was finally strong enough and capable of now making some progress on the route and get closer to a send. For the record, getting a send on Kaleidoscope is one of the top things on my lifetime climbing bucket list. It still remains one of the hardest routes at the Red and one of the top lines of its grade in the entire country. After consulting with some locals and others projecting the route, it was confirmed that a crux hold was seeping from the winter thaw and a solid attempt at figuring out the moves would be impossible. Meet failure #1.
I was also gunning for a true 5.13 onsight during this trip which was a major objective. I have flashed one 5.13 outside a couple of years ago up at Wizards Gate and have a slew of 5.12d onsights and flashes that have been extremely gratifying. But I have yet to walk up to the wall, rope up and send a 5.13 my very first try having seen no one else on it. A true 5.13 onsight has been a goal of mine for a long time. I had a dozen 5.13a’s picked out and was eager to test my “first” try abilities on them. Unfortunately, many of the 5.13’s I had picked out were either wet or conditions just weren’t good enough for a balls to the walls first try attempt. What I love about first try climbing is that when you step up to bat, you have to go into it like you are in a fight for your life. Your either going to fall and be defeated or fight hard, clip chains and walk away victorious. Of the 5.13’s I tried, I fell on most at the crux. Not sure if I wasn’t as “onsight” ready as I wanted to be, or just that some of the routes I got on had not-so straightforward sequences that were very difficult to read on the fly. Bottom line, I didn’t get a 5.13 first try. Meet Failure #2
Climbing trip’s are always amazing. On many level’s, a single rock climbing vacation can be life changing. To breath the fresh mountain air first thing in the morning, to walk away from a cliff utterly destroyed from a day of cragging or simply sipping a beer when it’s all done reminiscing of the good times you had with friends, one single day can leave a lifetime of memories. This trip was every bit as memorable as any trip I have ever taken and there were many great things that took place. Here are some of the standouts for me…
Meeting up with my homeboy Andrew Mathews, who after a winter climbing season spent in Mexico, literally moved to the Red on a whim and a possible job offer at Miguel’s. By the time we showed up, Andrew had been in the Red for several weeks and was settling in to the good ole Kentucky life. Andrew was living out of his van and making pizza’s at Miguel’s. And given that the style of climbing at the Red is one of Andrew’s weakest, it was awesome and inspiring to see him trying so hard on so many epic and difficult routes. You have come a LONG way brother since I started climbing with you many years ago. Keep up the good work and I look forward to sending some hard routes with you next year in Spain. Until we meet again….
Hooking up with Chaz Ott, a great friend of mine I met traveling and climbing in Mexico many years ago, has become one of my favorite persons to do some crushing with. Chaz is a straight up super crusher, good at all styles of climbing on all different types of rock. The guy can onsight routes like its his job and the Red is his stomping grounds. Chaz and I have shared belays on routes all over the US and Mexico. There is no one that gets me more psyched or fired up than Chaz. He showed up with what he called “not” in climbing shape for the Red and had a typical performance for him, which is to crush. He ended up firing Mosaic(5.12+) at the Gallery in a few try’s and made it look effortless. In a completely tired and burned out body at the very end of the day, he managed to link some good sections on the ultra classic Prometheus Unbound(5.13a). Impressive considering he is only in bouldering shapr.Nice work brother! I look forward to projecting some 40 meter 5.14 tufa route with you in Spain next year!
I traveled East with Jim Mankovich, a Boulderite I have known and climbed with for many years now. He had never been to the Red before so it was pretty exciting to show him around. I can’t speak for Jim entirely, but I’m pretty sure he was blown away by the area and the quality of climbing. At 58 years old, Jim has become an absolute force to be reckon with. Over the last few years, Jim lost 20+ pounds, has been doing PMA(an elite adult training program) and has elevated himself to super crusher status despite being “Over the Hill”! It was very impressive to see him cranking on all the 5.12’s that the Red had to offer. I only hope that two decades from now I am still as motivated and psyched as Jim is now.
Overall, the trip was everything I wanted it to be. I sent a lot of great routes, got to be inspired by all the great people I was climbing with and just got more psyched than ever before to travel, train, and climb. I look forward to the next amazing route I get on and to tie in with the next person on a belay. To life!