The road trip down to Cody with AJ and Emily was fun, as always. We stopped and ate at our “climber-certified DQ” and then headed to the crag. SteepTeam was there from Billings with Heath and Dillon. They were taking full advantage of the shade, but only had two topropes set up at a time, as not to monopolize the climbing space. We visited with Heath (genuinely nice fellow, climber, and main boss for the new SteepWorld Climbing and Fitness gym opening in Billings in November) for a few minutes while we were waiting for one of the easier routes to open up and then got to the main event: climbing!
First, AJ led and set up a toprope for a 5.9 on the Tunnel Wall called “Rub the Nub”. I attempted it on toprope, but after many attempts, was unable to get past the first few starting moves. Part of my problem was that I was feeling anxious about the “crowd”. I know they weren’t paying attention to me, but it made me feel uneasy, nonetheless. I put the pressure on myself to make a good showing, and it squashed my climbing abilities. I couldn’t focus. Emily made it to the anchors, but not without a rest or two. I tied in to attempt a second time and did make a bit of progress, but still not enough to get me very far off the deck. I called it quits on that route. I’m going to work on it more the next time we go to The Island if it’s less busy.
I chose the next route, which was “Bitch With a Broomstick”, a 5.8 on the Tunnel Wall. AJ again set up the toprope while I belayed and Emily wanted to save her strength for a different route, so I was up. I tied in and was confident that I could make progress on this route because I had gotten about a third of the way up it the last time we had visited this area. Tied in and partner checks done, I turned on my trusty GoPro so that I could actually get some footage of my hand and foot placements during the climb and listen to my breathing for clues as to what I was doing right and what I could improve. Climbing! “Climb on!” AJ replied. After the first few moves, I entered that state of pure movement that is so sought after, yet so elusive. It was highly technical and efficient movement. It was my mind letting go and transferring control over to my body to do what it knew how to do, having three points on and always the fourth searching for the next hold. Pure movement. I was lost in it and I was free! I enjoyed this for a full ten minutes or so, even with the interruption of a rest while my arms and grip strength returned somewhat for a few more minutes’ worth of climbing. I made it halfway up the route!!! PROGRESS!!! That euphoria, though – that pure movement and surrender of the mind that allows me to just climb…that in itself was worth any progress I did or did not make. That, in and of itself, makes it all worth it! I have not felt that in so long! It can’t be planned or forced. It comes when conditions are right or necessary, and it seems the more tired you are, the more likely it is to come. You have to let it happen. If your mind is fighting or perturbed or frustrated, it’s hanging on too tightly to strong emotion and the pure movement will not likely come. Calm thoughts with few or no expectations and a gentle mood lend themselves better to luring in the pure movement state transition when it comes. I was so happy when I decided to tell AJ to dirt me. My day was complete. AJ said with a fist bump, “Yeah! Your efficiency was great! Your movement was so efficient!” We discussed my progress, as I had gotten a full 10′ farther up the route than my previous attempts. “Efficiency!” AJ said excitedly. I love AJ and Emily. A success for one of us is a success for all of us. That is hard to come by and a great feeling. It’s that feeling of camaraderie from the military that I had missed so sorely for a decade and a half! You have each others’ backs, you put your lives in each others’ hands, and you celebrate each others’ triumphs and feel each others’ highs and lows. It really is something that is rare in the civilian world, but I have rediscovered it in climbing, thankfully! That’s how you know you have the right climbing partners!!! 🙂
After AJ climbed the crack version of “Broomstick” on toprope, Emily’s pick was a 5.10a on the Arrow Head Wall called “Lemon Aid”. She and AJ got up the steep approach first. I had to go back down and get my real shoes (as opposed to my flip-flops) on in order to make the approach. AJ led the route as I gave Emily belaying tips, and he left the quickdraws in for Emily, who was going to make this her first 5.10 lead climb. I recorded AJ’s belaying technique while Emily made her way up the route. We were in full sun and the rock was toasty, but she made it! Emily sent her first 5.10a lead climb!!! I was so proud of her!!! She’s made such progress since she began climbing in January of this year. Amazing progress, and I am looking forward to seeing what she can accomplish at Ten Sleep when we go in August! I was so excited for her!!! I recorded the fist bump between her and AJ when she got back down on the ground. Awesome!!!
The next route chosen was a 5.10b on the Tunnel Wall called “Community Service”. AJ and Emily went to work on that one and I gave Emily some more tips on belaying while AJ was setting up the anchor. It had a strange anchor point consisting of one cold shut and one bolt with a locking carabiner and one chain link. Emily had trouble with her personal anchor system carabiner getting stuck because of this odd anchor, but was able to get it freed up again with some suggestions from AJ and some muscle on her part at the top end.
Last route of the day? One of AJ’s favorites, a 5.8 route on The Island called “Feeling All Right”. I love to watch him climb it, yet as his belayer, the most fun moves are often the most tense for me as well. AJ sent the route with no problem. He sent half of it again because the end of the rope got caught in a crack when he was trying to pull it so we could pack up and go. That part was very interesting…
Ice cream at our “climber-certified DQ”, Bawlz at our favorite gas station, and onward through the valley of thick smoke due to a wildfire somewhere in California. It had been a great day! Everybody was safe and had a good time. That’s the best!!!
That was yesterday. Today, we tackle Spire in Bozeman and Emily is going to attempt her toprope belay certification test. I have confidence that she will do fine. It should be another great day!!! Updates pending, my friends!