If you are a climber and have ever tried a route more than once because you fell the first time on it, you have ultimately projected a route whether you want to admit it or not. Truth be told, many climbers project all the time and don’t even realize they are doing it. Let’s say you fall your first time on a route, but realized you just messed up the beta, maybe you just grabbed a hold the wrong way and fell. A second burn often ensues and you end up climbing the route without a fall(often called a redpoint). The art of redpointing, that is to climb a route in its entirely without falling, hanging on a rope or getting any assistance in getting to the top, is truly an art. The best climbers out there are redpointing Jedi’s, often developed over years and years of projecting routes. Doing a route more than once always becomes a mental game. Sure, doing a route first try is always a cool experience(beta for climbers is either a flash or an onsight). But have you ever thought what it would be like if a route took you 10, 50 or even 100 tries? Most die-hard climbers are quite familiar with this game, or the art of projecting.
Projecting is one of those things that defines us as climbers. What we choose to project and where, can show more about a person that you think. And lets not forget, the biggest thing about projecting is NOT the send but the time it took you to get there. Everyone has heard the slogan, “It’s not about the final destination but the journey”. This rings true to projecting more than you can imagine. For me, projecting has always been the epitome of what climbing is all about. To get on a route and fail over and over and then finally succeed is one of the greatest feelings on planet earth. But did you ever think what it would be like to try a route, say 100 times, and never actually get the “send”? When a climber chooses to project a route, the outcome is always unknown and for this reason, projecting can leave many in a “hyper-stressed” state. It is for this reason, the unknown, that climbing can become such a mental game. Say a hold breaks on the route, say you take a fall and injure yourself or say you just weren’t quite strong enough to pull that V hard boulder problem crux. Either way, for many people, including climbers, failure is always present and often dominating. The most important thing about failing is not the failure itself, but how you deal with failure… What most people don’t recognize is that the best climbers in the world fail more than anyone else. Yes that’s right, let me repeat that. Professional rock climbers who are sponsored, have endorsement’s and maybe even a salary, fail much more than your average climber. In a nutshell, regardless of whether you’re a pro or just a recreational athlete, you have to fail A LOT in order to eventually succeed. For myself, over the last few years, I have become intimately familiar with failing. The sadistic thing about failure is that it becomes addicting. For all the hard routes I have completed over many years, it is the failing that stands out the most. Now, this may sound bizarre but most climbers LOVE to fail. Ironic isn’t it?
Projecting for me has become such a gratifying process that nowadays, it’s pretty much all I do. I am always projecting something because this is what I love about climbing. If climbing were easy and I sent every route first try, it wouldn’t mean the same and I would have probably dropped the sport many years ago. It is the “try hard” mentality that I love so much. I have failed thousands of times over the last couple of years, only to succeed maybe a couple hundred times at most. As you can see the rate of failure to success is grossly disproportionate. So what makes projecting so much fun if failure is always present? That is a great question and one that I can’t answer accurately. Truth be told, I have no idea why failing a hundred times to succeed once is so gratifying. In most other sports, competitors don’t have to deal with these odds. Let’s say you play on a soccer league. You may lose a game here or there but eventually you will capture a win. Well, comparative to projecting, it would be like losing 100 games to win one. You can see where I’m going with this… In my career as a climber, hands down, the best routes I have ever done were the ones that took me the most amount of work. Some projects I put down in a day, others took weeks, months or even years. Some I have yet to be successful on. I think this is what makes projecting so difficult for some people. Again, it is the unknown. Back in March of 14′, after sending a project called Choose Life, which took me well over a year to complete, I immediately shifted my focus to the route directly next to it, a route called Thunder Muscle. Choose Life was originally graded 5.14a, and became my first mega project. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t chasing the grade on this beast. 5.14a is often the benchmark for climbing at elite grades and it is something I have wanted to do since day one. After a lot of hard work, I sent what I thought was my first 5.14a. Smiles and ego boosting thoughts overwhelmed me. Then the sad news came that the route had been downgraded to 5.13+ by most of the people who had also projected the route and been successful. For me, that feeling was like winning the Stanley Cup only to have someone take it away from you. It was a low blow for sure but one that was necessary. Now that I have sampled many routes at the 5.14a grade, I agree that Choose Life was not a 5.14 rock climb. It was hard, really hard and took me over a year of work. It was a major success that tested me in many capacities and even though I was successful, I was robbed of my first 5.14a, something I wanted very badly.
Thunder Muscle, its neighbor, has also been climbed and sent by some of the most elite climbers in the Boulder area. It is a front range test piece and after many ascents, it seems to be holding steady at 5.14a. After sending Choose Life, I quickly chose to project Thunder Muscle. I was now accustomed to climbing a route of comparative difficulty on the same type of rock for about the same distance. One thing I quickly learned was that the styles were completely opposite of each other. Choose Life was a bit more endurance oriented with a moderately difficult crux up high which is why I gravitated towards it. Hanging on forever was always a strong suit of mine and probably why I chose to do that one first. Thunder Muscle, on the other hand, revolved around sheer power and had several very difficult boulder problems lurking throughout, distinctly what has been my weakness as a climber from the beginning. Give me moderately difficult moves back to back and I can climb forever. Throw a really hard boulder problem in the mix and I often got shut down, not even being able to pull individual moves on the route. I had always focused on sport climbing, problem was when you start to get into the lofty grade of 5.14, the cruxes have such difficult boulder problems, that ultimately you have to be a strong boulder too just to be able to pull crux moves. This added a dynamic in my climbing I had never really quite experienced before. I knew what I had to do.
As I look back at my experience on Choose Life and Thunder Muscle, I realize one thing, the experiences for me were completely different. When I was training to complete Choose Life, I ran often which allowed me to build up endurance and help me control my breathing on the route. Months and months followed of aggressive trail running. I remember going out and pounding myself into the ground. I ran in snow, sleet, rain, hail and just about every type of weather pattern that graces the wonderful state of Colorado. I ran and ran and ran. I would often times run for an hour or more, music blasting in my I-pod, visualizing the moves of Choose Life over and over again in my head. I became obsessed. All I thought about was sending that route, it’s all I cared about and all things in my existence that didn’t involve Choose Life got pushed aside. I began training in the gym specifically by climbing triples on lead with zero rest between laps. I was forcing my body to deal with pain, to be able to fight the burn and to continue to push on. Finally magic happened, I was extremely light from running so much, I was extremely strong from training so much and I had the route totally wired. Clipping chains was a very proud achievement for me. Thunder Muscle forced me to flip my climbing training upside down and the experience thus far has been quite an interesting one. Between March 14′ and June 15′ I tried the route A LOT! Now nearly 16 months after first trying it, I have probably taken more burns on Thunder Muscle than any route I have ever tried in my life. I climbed it over and over again in rain, snow and sleet. I have been on Thunder Muscle in intense summer heat and wicked cold temps in the dead of winter and just about everything in between. And despite not succeeding, I came terribly close, at least a dozen times. I told myself if I didn’t send the route by June 1st, I was going to have to let go of it til the fall, mainly due to the temps rising and the holds getting more and more challenging to hold on in by the day. On the very last day of May and under near perfect conditions, I came the closest I have come to sending Thunder Muscle but couldn’t quite pull it off. After returning from the Red River Gorge this past March, I pretty much only climbed Thunder Muscle or trained for it inside. Campus board sessions, finger board sessions and lots of lots of bouldering ensued. I did countless 4×4 sessions in the bouldering cave, attempting to build up my power endurance for the route. I was continuously sticking the v 9 crux of the route and falling on the very last move of the v8 section directly after it. A moderate shake in the middle and then some back to back v6 ish climbing to the chains. Doing each boulder problem wasn’t a problem, doing them all back to back and having enough energy to make it to the top proved to be quite challenging. In the end, my elbows starting bothering me for the first time in about 6 years. I believe the consistently hard training for months on end, coupled with more or less only climbing 5.14 when I was outside, was certainly to blame.
Even though I have yet to be successful, I still have my sights set on returning in the fall when the good weather returns. Until then, I will try to keep my motivation high and ultimately avoid the summertime blues which I get just about every summer. It’s hard to climb at such an elite level when it’s sweltering hot outside, let alone motivate myself to do any strenuous physical activity when the temps soar well into the 90’s. For now, my focus is much less on the grades of climbs and much more about the locations. I have mini projects up at Independence Pass in the Aspen area which I’m pysched to get back to. And lets not forget Tensleep, Wyoming as the season is upon us. There is something magical about Tensleep and a refreshing place to go and visit right at the time when summer burn out starts to set in. I have a project at Tensleep, a route called Hellion, which is one of the best I have tried anywhere in the world. I have gotten extremely close to sending but for some reason or another, I’m struggling to complete this one. Regardless, summer will be packed with lots of climbing trips, new routes, cold beer and the inevitable wait until Thunder Muscle is back “ON”. Looking forward to my next burn on that beast. Knowing that my very next burn could be my last keeps me excited. Despite being super close and feeling very confident, it may still take me another 50 tries. And of course, there is always the possibility that I never get it. That’s the name of the game with projecting though, you just never know…