Monday, October 17, 2011

To Crush And Be Crushed

Using the only two face holds while crushing "The Fox" 5.10d

There comes a time in every climbers life when they climb a route so effortlessly and without hesitation that many would say they've "crushed" the route.  When it happens there could be no higher "high" and it is a feeling every climber longs for. For the common climber this anomaly might only happen once or twice a year, and for some otherworldly climbers (who are referred to as "Serial Crushers") it might happen daily.  When it happens you can always hear the primal yells of excitement and joy coming from the anchors at the moment of the send. But being as climbing is one of the most humbling activities out there, it seems more often than not we spend our days getting "crushed" rather than "crushing". The primal yells that echo through the canyons are more often that of pain, fear, and exhaustion after discovering you are too pumped to continue the route and now forced to take the fall.

Getting inverted on "Risk Brothers Roof" 5.11a left me feeling very crushed. 

After spending a good three weeks consistently climbing here in Red Rock Canyon I am becoming quite familiar with the feeling of being crushed.  I've been shut down on countless cruxes, got even worse at bouldering, dropped my belay device off a multipitch route, bush wacked through the wrong approach, watched gear fall out after I placed it, had the only holds I was using break right off the wall, and walked directly into a cactus... you name it and it's crushed me.   It is simply a part of the sport that every climber needs to embrace in order to truly enjoy the experience and to be prepared for the next great challenge.  For Andy and I the next great challenge is often trying to push our ability to ascend the hardest traditional (trad) climbs that we can do.  More often then not we end up falling or weighting the rope to rest, but in between all the attempts and mild frustration there is an unquestionable feeling of excitement.  This excitement to embrace the challenge is what eventually leads to achievement.  And that feeling of achievement is a reward that is worth all the blood, sweat, and tears. (We don't cry but you get the point.)

Contemplating if I'm going to crush or get crushed.

Crushing my foot.

We recently attempted to climb a route in Calico Basin called "Risk Brothers Roof."  The route is a 5.11 crack that goes directly up a very impressive roof.   The route is located near the top of a cliff band and is a little tricky to hike too, but once you're there you can't help but want to try this beautifully exposed line.  The route starts off pretty relaxed and you're able to briefly use a few good face holds before the real serious part begins.  Sooner than later you have only the crack to work with and you're required to do hand and foot jams to ascend the roof.  For those who are unfamiliar with crack climbing,  jamming is more or less just getting your hands and feet stuck in the crack temporarily in order to keep progressing upward.  The wild part is when you do jams you're not really even "holding on" and you're always walking the line between just sliding out and getting a hand or foot legitimately stuck in the crack. The entire roof section of this route is like nothing I've tried before, and it was the first time in my all of climbing experience were I found it strategic to put both my feet above my head.  This technique allowed me to weight my feet while I moved my hands further and further down the crack.  When I first tried it I was amazed it was actually working and I felt like a million bucks, for a short while... Eventually I fell out of the crack upside down and couldn't really figure out the best way to use this "inversion" technique.  I tried it several times and was almost successful, but before I knew my body was trashed, and I no longer had the strength for any more attempts.  I got crushed. 

Andy gets the rope crushed in the crack on his first attempt.

Andy Hansen digs deep to crush a good handjam. 

Andy gave the route his second try and I hung and shot photos of the attempt.  He got close again but eventually fell out of the roof in the crux section.  He tried once more after that and soon realized he had no strength left to continue and lowered off.  When it was all said and done we were both absolutely exhausted and it became apparent that we had been significantly crushed by this route.  We both can climb 5.11a, but this route was like no other 5.11a that we've done, and we were humbled by how burly it was.  We both deemed the route great and destined it to be sent at a later date.   The next day was to bring yet another burly climb, so we went home for dinner and a beer to rest up.

Andy Hansen crushing his first 5.11d trad climb "Spring Break".

 While looking for potential harder trad climbs to work on Andy and I stumbled upon a great looking face climb called "Spring Break" 5.11d.  The features and color of the stone reminded us both of our home crag Devil's Lake.  This route features lots of discontinuous crack systems that are separated by horizontal cracks with a few good holds to rest on here and there.  Like the Lake, the gear on "Spring Break" is notoriously hard to find and further spaced apart than a lot of other climbs here in Red Rocks.  Also similar to the Lake, the climbing on this route is very technical, balancy, and sequency.  It was a route that seemed to be calling our names, so we went out and gave it a go.   Our first visit to the route we were a little intimidated by the line, and although we both wanted to try and onsight it on lead it soon became clear that if you were to fall within the first twenty feet you'd probably hit the ground.  We decided it might be better to toprope it first and figure out the tricky gear placements in a more controlled way.   So we both got on the route it did it with relative success, the whole time mentally preparing ourselves for the eventual lead.

Me on my send of "Spring Break" 5.11d  Barely crushed. 

Two days after we first got on the route we were back to give it a go on lead.  We flipped a carabiner to see who would be the lucky one to attempt the lead first, and Andy won the toss.  So I got my camera out and set up the ladder (we hiked in a ladder to get a better angle to shoot from) to shoot Andy's attempt.   He climbed it pretty cool and collected like a champ, and before you knew it he was at the anchors with the send.  The psych level was super high after watching my buddy successfully climb his hardest trad climb to date, and I roped up in hopes of getting mine too.  I racked up the gear and tried to remember the beta as best as I could.  Soon I stepped off the ground and in my head there was no turning back.   The scariest part of the whole climb is in the first twenty feet because you only get one piece of gear in at about 10 feet up, so if you fall before getting your second piece you'd probably hit the ground.  Once you get your second piece in the scariness isn't really over either, because now you're climbing another 10 feet higher essentially only protected by one piece of protection.  It isn't until about half way up (and after the crux) that you get a bomber #1 Camalot.  At this point you're starting to feel secure, and now it's just about fighting the pump and not making any mistakes.  The whole climb is very committing to lead, and without the right mental state and gear it would be a disaster. Luckily for Andy and I the climb was a great success and we both achieved climbing our hardest trad climb to date. Crushed it!

Our only friend Jason Molina crushing the moves on TR. 

All of this photos and climbing stories wouldn't have been possible or quite the same without our only friend Jason.  He is always down to climb with us even when that means giving us consecutive belays so we can get better photos.  Thanks to his patient and bomber belays we are able to keep pushing our selves while getting some photo documentation of it all too. Thanks Jason!

Bringing a ladder to the crag (to shoot from) crushed peoples perception of hiking. 

Now go out and crush or be crushed!


RachelEatsAvocados said...

Dude. Matt. Awesome Post! Super freaking entertaining. My favorite line was: "After spending a good three weeks consistently climbing here in Red Rock Canyon I am becoming quite familiar with the feeling of being crushed. I've been shut down on countless cruxes, got even worse at bouldering, dropped my belay device off a multipitch route, bush wacked through the wrong approach, watched gear fall out after I placed it, had the only holds I was using break right off the wall, and walked directly into a cactus... you name it and it's crushed me"

Too funny. Congrats on "Spring Break" ! You guys rock! Maybe we will see you guys on our spring roadtrip??? Yes!! Please have all the holds brushed and ready. kthanks!

Matt Kuehl said...

Thanks Rach! This one was super fun to write. The climbing here has been pretty awesome, and we're getting to do plenty of long routes too. I'd be RAD if you and whoever (any and all climber friends) came to vist and climb with us. We've got plenty of house to share. You better believe the crux holds will be brushed, and if it helps to convince you to visit...I will even brush your teeth!

Ian Reineking said...

MATT! hey reading your blog at work being very unpreductive and I thank you for that. I am sitting here jamming to a band I think you will seriously enjoy. They are called El Ten Eleven. They are similar to explosions in the sky in their experimentational instrumental way, but a bit more up beat and less buildy as explosions. check them out and let me know what you think. You can always email me at
Take care buddy!