Sometimes it’s good to get a little playtime in. And it’s good to bump into some random strangers at the gym and have that moment where you’re all working and encouraging each other on a problem.
I’ve been working doggedly at my strength and endurance on steep stuff. Today I was in Coyote and I did my laps (up, down, up, down, pause on every hold, up, down) dutifully. But then I decided I wanted to go find some technical, thinky, footwork-and-balance problems, because dammit I had been up and down the same three easy steep problems for about 40 minutes. And the skin on those pads right below my fingers was hurting. So I went upstairs to the room where there are always a few fun straight-up technical problems.
In a word: whee.
It’s nice to remember that while problems at one grade will just slap me to the mats in one style, I can sail them in others. If it’s about balance and small edges and fine footwork and physics, bring it on.
I onsighted a couple of fun new problems – one full of slopers, one full of sidepull crimps – and then I found this beauty. (It’s marked in yellow tape, with orange holds, in the picture.)
At Coyote, if I see a set of big holds moving up at an angle on one wall, I get interested. It usually means someone got creative.
It’s over in the corner, and you might not notice it until you see the holds along the brick-red wall. There are some slippery, slanted, greasy-as-shit feet on that wall, and when you walk over you realize there are a couple more on the big grey volume beside you. And then – if you’re me – you find a big grin spreading over your face. This is stemming . . . squared.
A couple of other guys I know at the gym looked at it and thought it looked too dangerous – probably with visions of slipping off and hitting the volume on the way down, though I don’t think the physics actually work like that. But it looked like intense stemming: trusting slanting greasy feet, keeping the pressure on through your shoulders and smearing your feet so you got maximum contact and traction. And not just straight up, but at an angle forward, facing out into the room. I had to get my body onto it, just to see.
So I took a run at it, and started to get a sense of its style. A really fun problem, for me, has a style and a personality, and this one was about trust, belief, and audacity. Just my kind of problem.
I didn’t get too far on the first run, but then I was working on it when another crew came through and looked at it – two guys and two girls. I had just jumped off the halfway point on it, and saw the two girls checking it out. When they started speculating about it, we started talking. Pretty soon one of them had levered herself up onto the first slippery moves, and slowly worked herself higher and higher, until the last, committing, scary move, when you have to get your hand onto a massive jug around the side of the volume, swing around on only one hand, stop yourself against the wall, and go up for the last hold.
She pulled it off, stuck the final hold, and then dropped off, elated, and thanked me for the beta.
I gave it another go, and made it up to the big, swinging move – to the encouragement of the other four – but I’m nervous about my elbow joints – they were feeling a little strained from all the power climbing I’d been doing downstairs – and didn’t commit to the big, orangutan move that would have got me to the top. And then the second of the two women gave it a shot, and got to where I had and popped off. “Oh my god, it’s so scary at that last move,” she said.
The guys with them eventually tried it too, and then we all wandered off to keep climbing other things. But I felt good – I like those kinds of encounters with strangers. I love looking at a thinky route, trying it, working it out, learning its personality and how to tackle it. And it was a relief from the dogged training I’ve been doing. I say I don’t particularly like bouldering, but that kind of thing is fun.