Monday, April 5, 2010

Highball Healing

I was gonna do a normal weekend recap but instead I want to share a story I don't think I've shared before. Enjoy.

Back in 2003 or 2004 Jason Huston invited me up to the lake to boulder. At that time my knowledge of bouldering at the lake was rather limited to the North Shore and Monolith. On the way up Jason said we should go to Burma Road and The Reserve. I was ecstatic. I'd heard of both areas before but had never been. I couldn't wait.

We walked in to Burma and I was running around like a kid, not quite able to contain myself. He showed me around and we started out on the classic warmup at Burma. Anyone who's been to the boulders knows the problem. Jugs down low turn to sloping crimps up high right before a massive topout jug. It's a perfectly constructed problem.

Even ignoring the fact that I'd never done a problem above 15 feet at the most, at 20 feet tall this problem would classify as a nice highball almost anywhere.

After he made it look so easy I tried my best to not be nervous. Jason was a strong climber and I looked up to him back then (I know better now). Add that to the height of the problem and I had some sweaty hands.

Looking back on it now I smile.

I made it up the problem fine on the outside, nervous as all get out on the inside. I'm sure I botched the upper sequence, everyone does. I'm sure it made me pucker a little bit. I don't really remember the details that well. What I do remember is how satisfying it was to hit the topout jug and take my first breath in about a minute.

Coming back down I was smiling the whole way.

The smile stopped when I saw him pull the pads over to the slab. Just to the right of the warmup is one of the coolest slabs in the park. In total opposition to the problem we'd just stepped off of, the slab has a low crux and an even taller topout over a low angled slab.

Often times it's soaking wet and green but that day it was crisp and perfect. Probably the best condition I've ever seen it in. Jason waltzed up the slab and I shuddered.

I tried hard that day. Real hard. Jason made everything look so easy and I was trying to do the same, and failing. It may have taken a couple of goes for me to get past the crux, I don't really recall. I do remember the feeling of dread as I finally rolled over the bulge and committed myself. I took a breath and kept going.

About halfway up the slab there's a huge chockstone sticking out. I remember looking deeply at it as I passed by. It'd be so easy to grab it and roll over to safety, I thought. So easy. I passed the chockstone and continued to the top hoping for jugs along the way.

As I rolled over the topout I smiled once more. And I took that first breath again.

We moved everything over to Pinball Arete. I hate that problem now. Hate. Back then though I had no idea what I was getting into.

We both worked out the moves and Jason made some good headway. Eventually he was making his way up to the slopers and then on one go he started fidgeting a bit. I shuffled the pads a bit and did my best impression of an effective spotter. He spent a minute or so up there chalking up and trying to find the good holds. Eventually he committed to the move and stood up on the awful sloping feet. Without hesitation he ran up the slab to finish it up.

I declined to try it anymore.

On the hike out to The Reserve he showed me the cement slabs and the spray painted trees. I just kept on laughing and smiling. Pretty soon we were walking into the area and my mind was blown. It seemed so funny to me that someone actually found this place. Even funnier that it existed at all.

Obviously Huston dropped his pad below Tall Boy. It runs up the beautiful face just as you walk in. The landing is close to perfect and the holds are amazing. It's tall though.

Huston ran up it first and then urged me to follow. I'm sure he said something like "The holds are HUGE!! And plus, we have TWO pads!!!! What can go wrong???". Seems like something he'd say.

I stepped on and without hesitation grabbed the undercling and started standing up. I grabbed the edge feeling really good and strong. My experiences earlier in the day boosted my confidence and I relaxed, took a breath and looked for feet. Then it hit me. I was horrified! What was I doing???

I immediately stopped breathing, hiked my feet and threw to the bulge above me, no clue if it was actually good or not. I got lucky and hit the jug. Once more I hiked my feet in total fear and grabbed my first true "thank god" jug.

I started breathing again at once and stumbled up the remaining 5 feet or so of scrambling to the top.

It's funny looking back on the days that are special to you as a climber. Simple days like this have formed me and give me little memories to look back on. I'm continually reminded of this day each time I do a new highball. Whether it's sketching around on some random warmup with a shitty landing at the North Shore or making "The Crawl" on Slope of Dadaism, I'm always reminded of my first highballs.

Here are some pics of this past weekend.


  1. looks like a beautiful weekend and that was a nice story about a young starry eyed bouldering boy... more importantly though i need to hear tales of punting as well. can I pencil that post in for tomorrow? :-)

  2. Not too much punting really. Just RV on Moj. That was a definite punt. Good little weekend filled with moderates. I did try Axiom of Arete Aesthetics at the end of Sunday. Could be a cool problem. Hard to tell. Fun first few moves lead into no mans land. kinda crazy.

    Also did slope of dadaism again reaffirming how fucking awesome that problem is.

  3. haha. RV is a punter. RV is a punter. na na na na nah nah...

    sorry RV. that Axiom thing looks neat. many pics? havent seen or tried slope. should prolly do that.

  4. Mr Sweaty,

    No need to apologize. I fully acknowledge that I am a punter. In fact Steve was being very generous when he called me a punter. My attempts on Moj this past weekend are better described as complete, soul crushing, abject failure.

    Also, go get on Slope of Dadaism. Easily one of the best problems at the Lake. I am still deathly terrified of it but its amazing nonetheless.

  5. well. u better put it away soon as the weather is getting warmer my friend! Why are u scared of 'slope' is it tall?

  6. Slope is tall, but in a good way. You get a thank you god jug at the right height. Landing is perfect. I am scared because I am a sally.

  7. Axiom looked similar to Moj to me. In that, there did not appear to be any hand or foot holds. But I would like to work it with someone. Sweaty give a shout if you head up this coming weekend. ce

  8. Axiom is kinda funny. I think the sloper will work but not totally sure right now. It'll be interesting either way.

    I think we're gonna head up to beautiful soup and stuff on saturday. Should be fun. Weather looks fantastic!

  9. Hmm... OK. We'll see. I might shoot you an email to see when on Saturday. I love April. ce

  10. Nice post Steve, good story. Confidence RV, confidence!
    Steve, I actually have to work on Saturday up until the comp, shit. I have off Friday, Sunday and Monday. Anyone in for those days?

  11. Remo I will be most likely headed out one of the 2 weekend days. Will shoot you an email if it's Sunday. ce

  12. Ok so there are holds on Axiom. At least, I saw your chalk Steve. It was drenched so I didn't try it. And it was snowing. Fun day even if all my digits were numb. ce