Let’s visualize this…

Great!  A parking spot right at the base of the approach!  This is awesome!  And there doesn’t seem to be anyone else here, either!  The sun’s shining, the deep blue sky’s showing, and the occasional wispy cloud floats by.  Sunscreen, everybody!  The high today is supposed to be about 74 degrees F with no chance for precipitation, a light breeze of 6 mph, and in general, gorgeous climbing weather.  It rained a few days ago, so the moss is healthy and green, as are the saplings along the way.  The green grass brushes against our pant legs as we start up the trail with our gear, which we’ve carefully unpacked and accounted for so that we don’t get up this long, steep switchback of an approach only to find that we’ve forgotten something vital.  Everybody’s got their water and we’re ready to get up to the crag!

The approach is indeed steep, with flat spots appearing only scarcely so that we can rest and get a drink of water.  The four of us are making our way up to the base of the crag ever so slowly, following switchback after switchback in the trail, which is a game trail in places, and in others, only bare rocks to balance on with a drop-off to one side or the other.  Duff fills our nostrils with every step and a few pine trees now and again provide shade for us as we press on.  The truck gets farther and farther away as we make our way up the slope.  I look back.  We’re halfway up the slope and I’m resting on a large boulder with slack in the straps of my trekking poles.  My knees ache and my heart’s pounding.  Time to wipe the sweat from my brow and get a drink.  At this rate, I’ll have all of my water drank by the time we finish the approach!  The trekking poles help me steady myself with my pack on.  My 40L Mammut crag pack is becoming heavier with every step up the hillside.  I’m glad I brought my trekking poles this time.  It’s an experiment, and I guessed correctly when I committed to buying them to ease the stress on my knees during the approach.  This is on the way up…just wait until we come down later!  My helmet band is sweaty and I know my glasses are collecting every piece of dirt in the air because my friends are getting fuzzy.  Oh, well, blow the lenses off and get on with it!  To the top!  My three friends take turns hanging back and waiting for me.  I’m the slowest of the bunch because, although I’ve lost weight and improved my endurance over the winter, I’m still not in tip-top shape.  I’m not in the shape I’d like to be in when all is said and done, but I’m in much better shape than I was last year when we made this trip!  Progress!  I bear down on my right trekking pole to get up a particularly high step from one rock to another on the trail.  I’m so glad these Black Diamond carbon trekking poles are adjustable!  Ah, one more rest and I think we’ll be at the base of the crag…  I have to pee, of course.  I’m so glad no one else is around!  I tell my friends that I’m going off-trail into the pines a little ways to relieve myself.  I unsling my pack and lean it against a tree that marks the trail and can be easily seen from where I’ve got my sights set.  After that little jaunt into the evergreens, I sling my pack back on and buckle the waist strap.  Almost there…

I work to control my breathing as I step onto an almost platform-like area of rock with boulders strewn about.  We made it!  The base of the crag is right in front of me.  I stare up at it, tall and proud in the sunlight.  It’s about 1000 hrs and I sit down on one of the smaller boulders to rest without taking my pack off.  I notice a wild sunflower with two, then three butterflies attending to it and fluttering about.  I watch them play in all their simple beauty and look around, my breath better under control now with my heart rate down significantly.  Behind me are the evergreens, with a few deciduous trees that look to be poplars or aspens that have crept into the mix of color and shade.  The slope is extremely steep behind me and it occurs to me to unsling my pack so that I don’t fall backwards down that steep slope!  That’s better.  I can’t stay sitting too long or I’ll stiffen up.  I brought my Extra Strength Tylenol to fight off the aches and pains, along with the rest of my medications for the day.  It seems that one can never pack enough water due to its weight, and I have to ration what I have left so I can take my medications later.  I flip the locks on my trekking poles and slide them to their shortest positions so that I can attach them to my pack.

Who’s going first?  AJ, of course!  He’s the strongest climber of us all and the most experienced, so he’s going to lead the 5.10b and set up a top rope for the rest of us while I belay him.  I get my harness on.  This blue Misty Mountain Cadillac harness is much more user-friendly and comfortable than my brown Yates Shield harness, and much less bulky.  I get it adjusted, finally, and AJ has already flaked out my bright green bicolor rope and racked his quickdraws.  We brought the 70m rope in case we wanted to do something a bit longer, and I was glad we did.  Emily and James converse and rest while AJ sets up the top rope anchor, having tied into the rope and led the 5.10b route with ease.  I lower him smoothly to the ground and I’m off belay with my blue GriGri 2 and my DMM Belay Master carabiner.  I rack those and then we decide who’s going to top rope the route first.  Emily bounds up the slight incline and ties into the rope with a double figure-of-eight knot while AJ puts her on belay with his first generation GriGri.  AJ reiterates to Emily the “3-Take Rule” that we instituted last summer and Emily laughs as she exclaims, “Climbing!”  I go down the hill a bit to where James is resting.  He got hit by a truck on his bike late last summer and is just recovering enough to climb.  He wasn’t sure if he was going to climb or not today, but he came along with us, which I’m glad for. James is a funny character.  He’s a genuinely nice person with a fantastic sense of humor and fits right in with our group!  It may be another month before he can climb, but he’s planning on returning to climbing soon, if not today.  I’m just glad we could all be together having a good time climbing in the canyon today.  It’s beautiful outside!  And nothing beats real rock to climb on.  This happens to be a limestone crag that we’re tackling today, but we’ve tackled other types of rock, including granite, basalt, and sandstone.  “Who’s warming up next?” comes the question from up the hill.

My climbing has improved incredibly as I’ve lost weight and kept training with Taylor, so I decide to give this route a try on top rope.  It’s a warm-up, so I’ll just do what I can.  I get my La Sportiva Solutions on and tie in.  AJ has me on belay and I face the crag, looking up to see if there are any holds that stand out to me.  I see a few, and I’m sure there are a few I’ll miss (probably critical ones, haha), but I’ll do my best.  I announce that I’m climbing, and AJ responds, “See ya’!”  There’s a rhythm that I get into right away with the movement of this route.  Now remember what Lou said.  Rest before you need to.  Rest when you find a good rest hold.  Chalk up.  Shake out.  Emily had already unclipped all of the quickdraws when she top roped it ahead of me, so I don’t have to worry about that.  I’m on a slightly overhung limestone crag face with a lot of pockets – lots of potential holds with just as many potential angles to choose from.  I make my way up, one hold at a time, with intense focus and intentional movement.  Precise footwork and technical skill will be my weapons of choice on this route.  The rhythm continues and I experience that euphoric pure movement across the rock, letting my body climb like it knows how to.  All of a sudden, I’m at the anchors, not really knowing how I got there, but I feel ecstatic!!!  “Dirt me!” I exclaim excitedly as I look around and AJ lowers me so that I can get a fist bump from everybody.  I actually sent a route!!!

Now, although that scenario isn’t real, it sure helps to visualize that while I’m at home in the middle of winter, sick with the flu and otherwise miserable, having turned down an invitation to climb at the gym with AJ as I was writing this because I don’t want to make everyone else sick.  Visualization can be invaluable!!!

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