I let out a bloodcurdling howl as I twist and shove my bruised swollen toe deeper into the wall. I push harder and harder, pressing out the one-legged squat that will inevitably let me shove and twist my hands a little bit higher up the 120-foot splitter crack. As I stand and straighten out my right leg, I sigh as now the process needs to be repeated. I think to myself how top roping has never been this difficult – ever.
I keep working on my rhythm, shoving each limb, one at a time, into the crack a little higher. My brain goes in and out of focusing on the pain and fixating on the motion. There’s no thought process for retreat, only how to gain small progress against the formidable wall. The anchors hang above me – the end - shining in the distance, at least 50 feet away. I breathe heavily as I work through the pain, shoving and twisting this limb then that, working my way up and up.
I’m in Indian Creek, a stunning part of Bears Ears National Monument. Wide walls with cracks of varying width spread out as far as the eye can see. Large towers push upwards from the ground appearing to reach and lean towards sunlight. Unlike most spring breaks, where I might go sport climbing or bouldering, I’m basically starting at square one with climbing – learning how to crack climb.
Just the week before. I’m emerging from a curtain, stepping onto a wall inside a gym in Reno, NV. I’m at one of the premier climbing events of the year – Sport Nationals. I’m filled with nervousness and apprehension as I press through the first move of the semi-final climb. These moves don’t take all of my effort, and my mind jumps from what I’m doing currently to what awaits me above.
Me working my way up the semi-finals route – photo screenshot from livestream
I get to a triangular volume just as my feet slip beneath me. My hands squeeze harder…I can’t let this one go. I grab my next hold, breathing a little stronger now, then the next. I make a precarious clip, feeling the awkwardness and potential to fall. I squeeze harder, I eye the next hold high above me. I swing my feet right underneath me, bringing my body into a ball. Just as my foot lands, my head swings back and I try my best to explode out of that hold. My hand hits the next hold.
Semi-finals right before my fall. Screenshot from the livestream
But I don’t have enough power to hold on, and I’m brought back to the ground where I started.
Screenshot from the livestream
Competition climbing when done properly isn’t a stressful flood of emotions, it’s euphoria and exhilaration – ideally a flawless execution of move after move. The thought process occurs on the ground, and any excess mental strain is only used towards minor adjustments. On this semi-finals route, my thought process was anything but. I was worried about the moves ahead of me, and what I had done wrong beneath me. I wasn’t in the moment. I was trying to be where I wanted without doing any of the steps in between.
Crack climbing is different, it is freeing. If at any point I were to stop and think about why - if at any point I didn’t have the confidence to think that I could use my body parts in this novel way, the magic would fall apart. Worrying about what lies ahead of me or behind me isn’t an option.
Photo Credits: Amy Lipschultz
Photo Credits: Amy Lipschultz
To some, crack climbing might seem like their worst nightmare – constant self-inflicting pain. But that’s just on the surface. Digging a little deeper, I haven’t had an activity make my entire body feel so activated. That feeling forces you into the moment and away from stressors. As Tommy Caldwell puts it, climbing can push you to a “higher plane of existence.” Maybe I won’t always feel that way about crack climbing, but that “in the moment” perspective I get while doing it is something I strive for in all aspects of my climbing and life.
Climbing has so much to offer besides what training I do day to day. There are so many specialties inside of the sport. Each one of these disciplines has a unique perspective to teach you about other aspects. Discovery occurs at the interface between disciplines, and that’s especially true in climbing. I hope to continue to push the boundaries of my climbing to fully know what’s out there, and to keep giving myself new vantage points to approach competition climbing from.
Crack climbing reminded me of what I enjoy about this sport, moment upon moment of working through difficulties. Competitive climbing is the same. But you have to be present in order to take on each challenge. Till next time..
**Indian Creek and other parts of Bears Ears National Monument are stunning, beautiful open land areas that made me feel truly lucky to live in our country. They’re what make America great, and to lose them would be a devastating blow to Native American communities, outdoor recreationists, future generations, and the whole country. The fight for Bears Ears is about more than just this monument, it’s about preventing a dangerous precedent to rescind other public lands in the future. Please go to this link: https://www.accessfund.org/…/campaigns/protect-indian-creek…from @accessfund to leave a comment for the Monument Management Plan! NOW is the best time to take a stand!**