Until our last day of climbing in Red Rocks, Las Vegas, I hadn’t bouldered since December 21st. That was the day I somehow fell from the pinch on Saigon Direct, missed the pads, and cracked my heel in two. I wanted to use the forced rest period to address another injury of mine, that being chronic tendonitis of the right elbow, or medial epicondylosis if you’re inclined to use specific terms. Nearly 4 months and hours and hours of physical therapy later and I cannot say that it’s gone. I can say, however, that my condition has improved, and I am now back to trying hard.
Except for a couple of days of sport climbing, I didn’t climb in Bishop after the foot injury. Three months later, As a reintegration to movement, Evan Ludmer and I did a little bit of trad climbing in Vegas, ticking the incredible classics Epinephrine and Sour Mash. At this point, my elbow wasn’t really hurting, but still made the crepitus-like noise that it has been making all year. I figured that keeping the climbing to a vertical 5.9/5.10 level would be okay, and it was. I decided to try some easy bouldering.
For the purposes of this blog post, I’m using grades to discuss relative strength within one person (me). It is not my intention to use grades as ego markers. They are brought up here only to illustrate a point, and in our idiosyncratic sport, grades are the best approximation we have for a standard rubric.
For the first couple of days back on the little rocks, I set my expectations low. V5 was the limit, but I found myself having trouble with V3’s and V2’s, particularly when smaller holds were involved. Day two of bouldering saw myself at the Monkey Bar boulder, perhaps the most traveled little boulder in all the land of Nevada. I had spent so many days watching people climbing on the numerous classic steep climbs that it was hard to resist trying myself. Suddenly, there I was underneath the starting jugs of Monkey Bars (V2). I began to literally monkey around. The sensation was incredible.
Still, I had a long way to go. That day saw failures on Hyperglide (V4/5) and The Pearl (V5). At my peak, I’d flash them both, but I couldn’t even move past the second hold on The Pearl…in fact I barely latched it in the first place. My elbow felt fine, but my finger strength was not up to the task. Not even close.
No worries, I thought. Joe’s Valley, with its friendly holds, “my style” climbing, and soft grades would surely be the springboard. On our first day of bouldering, I went with Will up the Left Fork to Vikki’s project from last season, Big Cheesy (V5). I remember this one being easy-looking when I filmed her. We both managed to do it first try, but I felt, well, weak. The next day, Poseidon (V8) managed to thwart us both. A move that normally would feel easy – a big sloper slap off a gigantic jug – felt very hard, and I stuck it only once. Then, neither of us could do Frosted Flakes (V5), though I know from previous experience that this is a very hard problem for the grade.
A bit later, we met some new friends at the Food Ranch, Katie and Niko of The Morning Fresh. Niko had just done Resident Evil as his first V10, though immediately one could tell that he’s got a lot more double digit rigs in his future. After managing a quick ascent of Bring the Heatwole (V7), we went to Eden and G2-07, awesome problems that go at V10 and V7 respectively. I knew Eden would shut me down, not only as it was much harder than anything I’d climbed in so long, but because the crux revolves around a small, slopey crimp, which is my exact weakness. I didn’t expect G2-07 to be quite so tough though, and though I managed all the moves, linking felt damn-near-impossible.
Still, I was having fun. And I am, even if the numbers don’t show it. When I was at my peak, I could walk up to most Joe’s Valley V7s and give a good flash burn. I did a few V11’s, some V10’s, and many, many climbs in the lower grades. Now I am struggling to do V7 and V8. The other day I got my ass handed to me by a couple of V6’s.
I’m not frustrated. No matter what, it’s climbing, and even if the climb itself is a no-star breaky turdpile, it can still be fun. Furthermore, I want to emphasize that I don’t really care when I get to XX grade. The biggest reason I want to climb harder things is that cooler climbs tend to be harder. Or maybe I should say: I want to climb everything, and the only way to do that is to get strong enough.
And I almost forgot the silver lining!
The best part of recovery is that one improves very quickly. Remember that, two weeks ago, I was unable to do The Pearl…nay, I was unable to even conceive of doing The Pearl! Now I know I could. Strength returns fairly quickly. Also, given that all expectations are thrown out because I frankly have no idea how hard anything is anymore, I have the chance of surprising myself by doing a move that I didn’t think my out-of-shape self could pull off, or better yet, doing climbs I think are too hard.
Basically, I get to throw out all my old expectations, particularly those revolving around grades. Seriously, not many people get this opportunity.
At the same time, though, I am somewhat concerned. I am old. Earlier this trip, I turned 28. I am no longer a dirtbagging college kid whose spare time went to climbing and whose spare money went to gas, bagels and the $2 per night camping fee. I can no longer eat terribly and feel no ill effects. I can no longer drink hard, sleep little, and still climb hard(ish) in the morning. And when I get hurt, I can no longer think of it as something that will, with just a little bit of time, fix itself. Now, there is no guarantee that I will return stronger than before. Is this a bad thing? Sure, if all I cared about was sending V2^4. But few are the little boys whose dreams of greatness aren’t eventually crushed, and by now I have no illusions of being the world’s best in the little world of climbing (especially after watching Daniel Woods not climb Lucid Dreaming). Instead, I have dreams of once again feeling strong and confident in the moves that I can do, and of climbing as many new, interesting, and beautiful climbs as possible.
And who knows. If I take care of this issue now and start training hard, I just might see myself at the top of some lifetime projects. The Shield: I’m looking at you.