El Matador

This Photo was taken by Boone Speed

The Bull River Canyon sits itself 45 minutes from my house, and over the last four years has been developed into a mixed climbing destination. There are a lot of ice routes nestled in this canyon, but as of lately, this little gem has created a bit of hype.

For four years i stared at a particular area of the bull river. It was different from the rest of the canyon. This huge, polished, overhanging monster with a distinct seem that wove itself aprox. 110ft upwards, it stared back at me, as if we both knew what needed to get done. But for the past few years, I didn’t have the confidence in a) putting in the bolts for the “right line”, and b) having the ability to climb it. I knew that this line was going to be special, but i also knew that i needed to be patient with it, to wait for the right time.

2 months ago, standing below the bridge, 110 ft down from civilization…i stared at my new route. It took 3 straight days of bolting (thanks to Jesse for helpin’ me finish). It was physically taxing…like i had never experienced. Hangin’ upside down, drillin’ with one hand, getting absolutely soaked by the raging water fall 20ft away…it was intense. But it was finished. The line i had stared at for years, it finally took it’s place in the Bull River Canyon.

My first go on the route, like any route that pushes you, didn’t go well. I flailed around like a turkey that just got it’s head cut off. But that was ok, i knew that it was going to take time to sort through this thing. So, after about 6 or 7 goes, i figured out the beta for the first steep section (pretty darn overhanging for the starting 40ft) and was stoked on that. But really, out of all the hard parts of the route, that was the more manageable section. The traverse that comes next, that’s the hard part of the route. You see, there aren’t really any great rests until after all the hard stuff. From the moment you leave the ground, it’s in your face for 11 draws worth.

After the first section, you start this heinous traverse that requires about 6-7 figure 4/9 combos…with no feet…on fairly thin ice. This section took a bit to figure out. Throughout the first few attempts at this section…I took some pretty wild falls. One fall in particular was a result of a 50lb block of ice ripping and hitting me in the face–breaking my nose. That sucked. Anyways, after figuring out the movement on the traverse i then sorted the upper section. This last part, about 35ft, consists of pretty easy climbing. Once through the traverse, you get onto a fairly thin dagger, throw pretty high for the next hold…and then work your way up an M8 to the chains. Just before the chains you actually have to pull through another dagger of ice, but manageable regardless.

The route turned out to be a lot harder and longer then i expected. I mean, i bolted it…but you never really know until you get on it. I’ve been on some hard routes before, but this…this one was really hard. It’s technical, powerful, long, requiring a lot of endurance, and a good understanding of mixed climbing movement. It’s in your face from the moment you leave the ground…and it doesn’t let up for a long time.

Four days ago, after being gone for my “competition season” over in Europe, I was psyched to get back and get back on my route. It had been about a month since i was on it last…so needless to say i was chompin at the bit. Well, to my dismay, staring at the route, i could no longer reach the starting hold. The river, that freezes over, that we stand on, whilst climbing in the bull, had dropped 3ft. The ice shelf had receded so much to the point where the starting hold was too high. Luckily i found another hold lower down that worked out well enough to get going. But that wasn’t the end of the changes. The “ice rime” formed by the spray of the waterfall had all melted off near the bottom. This “rime” was good because you could use it as foot holds. You see, because the rock is so polished…foot holds are scarce. Now, instead of the first few moves being “manageable”, you needed to perform a few one arm lock offs to make certain moves work. At this point i was a bit concerned as parts of the route, near the beginning required harder movement. Which in turn also meant you needed more power endurance to get through this beast. However, after a couple of go’s, working through the new start, i familiarized myself with the first section again, and was able to link it together, putting me where i left off last.

After a day of rest, I returned back to my route–a little more confident as i knew that the first section of the route was pretty dialed. My first attempt of the day I got through the first section…and then to my shock…i kept going. For the first time I was linking into the hardest part of the route. I was able to make 3 moves into the traverse and then fell. This was pretty exciting as that was huge progress. Taking about a 30min break I hoped back on this sucker and gave ‘er another go. Again, cruizing the first section, i got into the traverse and began the “long trek” across. Shocked again, i passed my last high point…and quickly fell from being pumped out of my mind.

Making progress on my route was cool and all, but there was still a little part of me that was doubting my ability to actually get through this thing. There’s just no letting up on the route and i wasn’t sure i had what it took to pull it off.

Passing my last high point, trying to stay focused, trying to ignore from the raging pumped feeling in my arms, scrambling for the next hold…once again i fell off. My last attempt at the route, I thought that was a good go…but this attempt…this attempt brought a bit of hope. My mindset began to change a little. Suddenly…i began to believe. Suddenly I began to see the chains in my mind.

Move after move, on my second attempt of the day, i crushed the first section of the route. Without much hesitation, i cut my feet loose and began the powerful traverse. With the dagger of ice in sight, i was getting closer and closer. In my head…i was screaming, “yeah, you’re so close…come on, you can do it”. Pat, belaying me from below, was screaming the same things. I couldn’t believe it…i was actually making it across the hardest part of the climb. Stabbing my foot out, i had actually made it to the dagger. So pumped, arms screaming…throwing for the next hold above…easy street in sight. It was just about there. I had done it…the hardest section of the route, everything that i doubted…i had just crushed. It was only a few moves of fairly easy climbing to reach the chains. Changing hands, in my rest position, suddenly i was flying through the air. My tool, in one of the bigger “sinker holds” on the route had blown out the hold and i was ripped off the route. Pat lowered me to the “Deck”. We were both silent.

Climbing can be really hard sometimes. Not the actual climbing part, but everything that goes along with it. The pressures you put on yourself, the mental battles. It sounds like i’m whining, but seriously…it can be taxing at times. For the entire evening, and still ’til this moment, i keep thinking about what happened today. It was so close. Yet, it didn’t happen. And hopefully, in a couple of days i’ll go back and crush this thing. But it’s hard. When a route pushes you, when it demands your every physical ability, and when you’re that close to pushing back…wow…what a mind bender.

i was reading an article on Chris Sharma turning 30. He made a very valid point about climbing routes…and i thought it fit quite well with my rant:

Don’t you feel like on some climbs, though, that you’re trying to just get the job done? Does that still happen to you?

Oh, yeah. It totally happens. It’s a constant process. It’s like relearning the same things over and over again—kind of like every route. It’s hard to have that pure attitude. You know, you wanna send it, but that’s almost inhibiting you from just being yourself and climbing it like you know you can. When I climbed Realization, I was kind of feeling tired that day, and was like, well, whatever, I’ll give it a burn, just to remember the moves. And then you kind of trick yourself into not really caring about it, and then you’re free to just do it, I guess.

Anyways, that’s all i have for now. Resting tomorrow. Then time to take ownership upon “El Matador”, the strongest Bull fighter (the name of my route in the Bull River Canyon).


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