By Sevve Stember, Rock Climbing Expert:
After a fantastic winter of skiing on fresh snow and training harder than past season, I was ready to focus on other things. March saw me in my home climbing gym, Vertical Endeavors, logging a lot of time on the climbing wall to build endurance, which was definitely lacking. Since I only climbed once/week this winter, I focused on building my power. To do this, I primarily bouldered (climbing close to the ground with crash pads as protection instead of belay ropes) and I definitely saw gains from this focused training. Spring was slow to come and each weekend in March I would get excited to go climbing outside, only to see temperatures below 30 or a wintery mix falling from the sky. So when my partner in crime, Bobby, and I saw temperatures around 37 projected for Saturday, we couldn’t help but get super psyched.
Throughout the week we nervously checked the weather for La Crosse, WI where we hoped to go. I shot another couple of friends texts to see if they wanted to join. Most didn’t. “You guys are crazy! It’s going to be too cold. What if it’s wet?” were some of the naysayer’s comments. We knew better than to fear a little chill.
As Sean, Bobby, and I left Minneapolis around 7:30AM, Sean said, “I’ve finally found people that are as psyched as I am!” Sean felt the energy in the car as it sprinted south. Blue skies, red tail hawks, and open prairies greeted us along the way.
Once we arrived at Granddad’s Bluff, which sits above La Crosse, I kicked on my mukluks to navigate the snowy approach trail. We walked up to the wall. DRY! Many comments about how smart and clever we were for getting outside followed. After a short warm up, Sean and I talked about what to do next.
I had unfinished business from last season called Brown Reason to Live (5.12d). Last season, on December 1st, I had figured out all the moves late in the day, but lacked the power to send (climb the route without falling or weighting the rope) the route. Sean was going to try to flash (climb it first try, having never climbed the route before) the route so I had the task of hanging the quick draws from the protection bolts. As I tied into the rope, Sean and I talked about the pros and cons of trying to send a route while hanging draws. My past experiences lead me to never rule out sending while hanging draws.
Sean put me on belay and I climbed the opening moves, which I had virtually memorized. The first part of the route does not tap into my power much and there’s a large rest after three bolts. I shook out at “the shield” hold and gazed up at the first crux (hardest technical sequence of a route). I moved quickly through the first crux, feeling strong and smooth. Soon, I was staring the final protection bolt and final crux in the face. I heard Sean give some encouragement below, which helped focus my efforts for the final moves. My right hand made a long reach up to a thin pinch. I hit the pinch, moved my left foot up, found the thin hold for my left hand, and hit the final jug (large hold) confidently with my right hand. Clipping the anchors, I looked out over the beautiful spring landscape and took it all in. Sending a route that you’ve put days of effort into is always a reminder to me that success takes hard work. Good thing I didn’t rule out the send while hanging draws.
Sean made a valiant effort, nearly flashing the route. Bobby worked super hard on his project Big Man on Campus (5.12a) and made some definite progress. Next, Sean and I spent some time on The Man in Black Pajamas (5.13a). We both did all the moves and felt like one more day on the route would be all we needed to send it. Later in the day, some other friends of ours joined us, which made for some added fun and laughs. A Midwest climbing icon, Dave Groth, even stopped by and told us some compelling tales about establishing first ascents in the 70’s.
As we drove home, we all felt tired, exerted, and satisfied. We’d harnessed all of our pent-up energy and had a rewarding day. The whole experience epitomized why I climb: meaningful interactions with friends, working to help each other succeed, spending time outside enjoying fresh air, and learning about myself through the lens of a challenging climbing objective. The outdoor climbing season has opened and it couldn’t have been better.