Friday, March 30, 2012

Life Inverted

Matt Kuehl enjoying a peaceful rest before pulling the lip.
Leaning Wide Crack V2

There are few climbing techniques as entertaining, mysterious and misunderstood as the full body inversion.  Most climbers have seen at least one photo of the infamous maneuver, but few have actually attempted it or even wrapped their mind around how to use it.  For readers who may be new to the idea, an inversion is a technique used by offwidth climbers to gain vertical progress by using their feet above their heads. The feet can be securely jammed into wide cracks which are usually too wide to accommodate the hands.  Inversions are used primarily on steep terrain where the foot holds are non-existent and your feet can more "easily" be swung upwards above the head and jammed into the crack, which is a relatively secure position to be in.  From this position the climber is able to use their hands (creatively) while they progress their feet higher and higher.... eventually reverting to the upright position.  Like most crack climbing techniques an inversion is quite difficult to describe in text, but once it's understood it can change your perspective on wide cracks. Remember when you realized climbing was easier if you stood on your feet instead of using your arms all the time? Well doing an inversion is this same idea as this, but instead of standing on your feet you're hanging from them upside-down, psychically exhausted, and having a totally rad expeirence. Psyched yet!?

Offwidth guru Pamela Pack on Spacial Relations, Vedauwoo, WY.
Photo: Tom Kingsbury

If you're at all serious about trying an inversion it means you've probably already stepped (or squeezed) into the world of offwidth climbing.  If that is the case you're probably already aware that if you want to be successful on any offwidth climb, you'll most likely have to tolerate a high amount of pain, thrash all your skin into a bloody mess, and wreck pretty much every pair of pants you own.  So if you've ever found yourself trying to bat-hang at the climbing gym, have done a handstand in the shower, or are looking for the next new adventure with some potential of landing on your head, then inversions are for you!  And if none of this sounds appealing but you're still curious to see some inversions, I hope this post inspires and entertains you long enough that you might consider a life of inversions.

My inverted foot jams on Born To Bleed V2

It's hard to say exactly how I got into inversions.  I think it must have been an accidental and gradual process lead by my curiosity to see what was possible while climbing.   I knew a little about the concept of an inversion, but always viewed them as a sort of "party trick" rather than a useful technique.  So over the years I would occasionally do inversions for entertainment's sake, and I've found myself hanging from my feet on everything from juggy sport climbs, multi-pitch trad routes, and vertical hand cracks.  Why? For fun! Although I never viewed any of these shenanigans as a productive exercise at the time, looking back I now believe it begun my process of understanding the legitimate offwidth inversion.  After moving to Red Rocks, my eyes were opened to amazing world of offwidth climbing at large, and before I knew it I found myself in pursuit of anything wide enough to squeeze inside.  The more I did it the more I started to enjoy the experience.  I now find wide cracks to be quite peaceful and meditative despite the fact that they're extremely physically demanding and generally painful.  Offwidth climbing became my excuse to climb a route however I wanted, no matter how goofy, ungraceful, or strange it looked to others.  On all the offwidths I've climbed there has never been a single soul standing at the bottom of the climbing telling me that I'm "doing it wrong" or yelling unwanted advice as I attempt to figure out the climb... hell, there hasn't even been another person wanting to climb the same route as me! I found by letting go of the need to climb a route with "the right beta" I was able to tap into something much greater; freedom of movement.   This freedom of movement also allows me to be creative and expressive with my movements, which challenges my mind and soothes the soul. So if offwidth climbing is my ticket to freedom then I think the offwidth inversion must be my final destination. 

Leaning Wide Crack V2

Pamela on Belly Full of Bad Berries 5.13a Indian Creek, UT.
Photo: Nathan Smith

My pursuit of offwidths is now in full force, and the training has begun in hopes of successfully climbing some classics such as Belly Full of Bad Berries, Lucile, Gabriel, Trench Warfare, and a handful of soul crushing mega-burl-fests that might make me start crying as I puke my pants while still jammed into a human eating crack.  At the moment these climbs still seem crazy hard, but hopefully with a spring/summer training period they will become much more do-able for me and perhaps I'll even get a successful ascent.  They are also a good handful or unpopular offwidths of moderate difficulty here in Red Rocks which I'd like to do.  Pretty much if it's wide and gnarly looking, I'd like to at attempt it! I am certainly not afraid to get dirty, rip my jeans, or occasionally become nauseas upside-down in the pursuit of one of the coolest forms of rock climbing I have ever encountered.   Besides doing countless amounts of inversion sit ups, my training consists of many different boulders spread around Calico Basin.  It all started with the regular "crack circuit" in Kraft, but once this became too monotonous I started trying to make them more difficult by eliminating features, using handstacks, or sending the whole problem feet first.  Although knowingly ridiculous, I've found that this has become a very practical means of building strength, technique, and confidence while also building my endurance for longer climbs.  I've also done a few fun problems near the Moderate Mecca area, my favorite being Born to Bleed which is a great but untraveled offwidth traverse and roof pull.

Jason Molina making progress in the LWC inversion.
Photo: Jake Bourdow

One of the more difficult offwidth problems in Kraft is Leaning Wide Crack behind the classic chimney boulder problem Plumber's Crack.  Jason Molina originally showed me this one a while ago, and on my first attempts I couldn't even finish it!  But since then we've both figured out the moves and successfully climbed it in a dozen different ways, the most difficult way starts in a hand stack and then you climb totally inverted until reaching the top and revert to upright (crux).  Although you would "never" consider climbing the crack this way without some sort of alternative inspiration, doing it upside-down with a crash pad and a friend or two will make your bouldering day a whole new experience.  To make the process more enjoyable I'd recommend you bring lots of tape, pants, long sleeves, and if you don't have high-top climbing shoes, I would recommend tapping your shoes onto your feet.  (It is very unpleasant when your shoe falls off while you're hanging from it!) 

Pamela Pack managing a wide inversion.
The Inquisition 5.12+ Joshua Tree, CA.

If you've already mastered LWC upside-down then you're probably ready for the next big adventure... inverting squeeze chimneys!  You might be asking yourself, "Why didn't I think of that?" Well I'm just not sure... some ideas are just too good to ignore. Although a rare practice, inverting squeeze chimneys is a great way to align your spine, hang solely from a foot stack, and loose a couple climbing partners.   If the chimney starts tight and gradually expands it is also a great way to work on improving your willingness to commit on lead, which will come in handy when you lead Sport Chimney feet first. Besides all the great benefits mentioned above, you will also learn how to best deal with the overwhelming fear when contemplating falling and sliding headfirst back down the base of the crack and being permanently stuck there for the rest of your inverted life.  Alright well, maybe it's not that bad... but I certainly would not recommend going all the way to the top inverted unless you're somehow really good at it, or planning on doing Epinephrine inverted next.

Inversion squeeze chimney? Why not?
Photo: Jake Bourdow

Andy Hansen nearly inverts while using the super high heel hook.
Fisting the Pony, V2.

And last but not least, drag your tattered and sore body just slightly South-West of Plumbers Crack and you will find a little known boulder with a splitter hand crack in it.  Although the boulder is only shoulder height (at best) this little unnamed problem is super fun when done with double fist jams into a foot cutter move to super high heel hook and then go "Au Chevel" and mount the pony.  Just another wonderful Kraft boulder field anti-classic!  

Unfortunately I can't invert everything all the time, and I've been staying busy muttipitching too. So if you're interested in hearing about my climbing outside of offwidth, check out Andy Hansen's Blog for a write up he did about our recent ascent of Challenger

No comments: