Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The White

This isn't going to be another post about Mill Creek, how awesome it is, how good all the new problems are, or how it's filled with dozens of unclimbed problems waiting to be cleaned. (The torch is passing on to whomever has the desire to keep that place clean!) This is about a journey I've been on for the past few years and the changes I've gone through to find the best climbing in Southern Oregon. It's also about the end of an era and a leap into the next. After this weekend I don't know if I will go out to Mill Creek again for a very long time. I probably won't finish my project at Rattlesnake, climb the arch at Pluto Caves, or finish my routes at the Illinois River. But that's okay. I have unfinished business all over the place: Bishop, New Zealand, Smith, Thailand, Australia, Utah, Wyoming. I'm strung out everywhere! But that's kinda the point; climbing is never finished. There is always something new or something harder.

(Unfinished - Cosmic Game Project, Pluto Caves California.... I just need a little more courage... this thing is TALL!)
(Unfinished - Finders Fee, Bishop California. Didn't try hard enough.)
(Unfinished - Sunset Arete, Flock Hill, New Zealand. Tactics... horrible tactics.)
(Unfinished - Latest Rage, Smith Rocks, Oregon. Maybe I should sport climb more..)
(Bird of Prey Arete, Trinity Alps, California. This entire place is unfinished!)
I've spent the better part of my adult climbing life searching Southern Oregon for boulders, crags, and every climbable, non-chossy or poison oak covered surface out there. I've been searching for something new and better. Always new and always better. Something big enough to put Southern Oregon on the map.

About a month ago I climbed my hardest problem to date: The White (V12).

(FINISHED! The White, Prospect, Oregon. Just after crux #1)
The White was bitter-sweet. I spent two years cleaning and developing Mill Creek, staring at this project, wondering if it would ever be climbed, if it was possible, and who would do it. Thanks to a lot of help and support from my girlfriend, who came to cheer me on countless times and put up with me being gone for days at a time to go sit under a rock and basically fall and swear and fall and swear over and over again. Also, to my good friend and climbing partner, Jesse Firestone, for helping me work out the beta and always keeping me motivated and psyched: Thanks!

Throughout the dozens of sessions on The White I found myself daydreaming about the moment I would reach the top. The White represented more than just a boulder problem to me. It was the grand finally, a final chapter of my efforts at Mill Creek. It was the culmination of everything I had put into that place. It had to be done. Period. 

Over the last few years I've tried to focus my attention on my climbing process: how I think, my body positions, my psych level, fear, what I learned, and what to improve on. If I climb a route and I don't improve in some way or another then I usually don't feel very satisfied with my efforts. I hate a win without effort and I hate tying even more! I would much rather lose knowing I gave an all out effort, everything I had, leaving it all out on the rocks (at least that's what I try to tell myself).

Something different happened on The White. During the process I would imagine myself at the top, in a state of enlightenment, a sort of grand realization about climbing or life or something like that. When I focus my time and energy into something so intently and obsessively, I expect something in return. I just don't always know what that something will be. Against my usual methods for approaching a climb, while working The White, I put a whole lot of effort and thought into the end result and very little into the process. I didn't consider the value of my learning process. It was a mistake that I make when I feel pressured, and one I don't make often. The pressure came from my own desire to reach the top before my time ran out. Literally, I had two months to complete a multi-year project.

In a sense I feel like I sold out to climb The White. I sacrificed a lot to make it happen. Nights with friends, hours working, money, my climbing integrity, and even my health. Some of those things I am very used to giving up and letting go of, and I think they are completely reasonable. Sometimes doing things I love requires sacrificing other things... most athletes will tell you the same thing, and it often turns out to be a paradox. Obviously, getting to the top is the "goal" but when getting to the top becomes my main focus, I end up sacrificing a part of what makes climbing so special to me: the process. But more than that, on The White, I struggled with injury.

I am writing this a little over a month after my ascent of The White with a very badly torn hamstring. Without health insurance I am a little unsure of its severity; however, there is definitely a portion of my hamstring missing; it feels straight up gone. Based on what I feel and after talking with some medically savvy people, I have come to conclusion that I have a partial avulsion tear - basically one of my three hamstring tendons has torn partially or completely from my pelvic bone at the insertion point. This type of injury usually requires surgery and a six month rehab period... but that's only for people who have health insurance and aren't about to hike 2650 miles in the next 5 months! The show must go on!

Being injured isn't new to me. I've torn muscles and tendons, broken bones, had surgery, and gone to rehab. But being injured isn't the hard part. I can handle the pain. The hard part is taking steps backward and putting a pause on my progress. Lucky for me, I am taking an extended break from climbing to do a little walking (which will probably be really good for my arms).

Although The White took it's toll on me I feel very fortunate and blessed to have climbed on such an extraordinary piece of rock. I may have forgotten to enjoy the small things, but there is no way in hell that I am about to forget how magical that problem has been for me. It will go down as one of my most memorable sends - just in time too!

Now, I have a new goal. I will find new routes, new problems, and plenty of challenges along the way. Only, this time, I will try to notice the small things and appreciate the process. After all, I do have 5 whole months to "make mistakes" and learn.

(Enjoy the process!)