Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Riddles Of Relativity

Forgoing the normal we went climbing here, punted over here and ate Ice Cream over here type of post that traditionally follows a climbing weekend, I'm going to talk a bit about Dodge. I feel like with the Comp coming up this Saturday(Come rock climb here. There will be good prizes and Beer), some time devoted to Dodge is worthwhile.

Eggbert also said something about this past Saturday that hit home with me:

"Was nice to be up there, just like 4 1/2 years ago when I moved here, alone with the birds. Surprising nobody else was out. There was a car from Iowa parked at the Barrel Ridge area, but didn't see anyone."

I think most everyone here is familiar with much of Dodge's history but there is a story I wanted to tell that I've never really told anyone in full. I'll be honest and tell you all that I've been secretly holding back on this story hoping to write it after I eventually did Sandstone Violence. SV is somewhat of an Enigma for me. I've never been closer to a problem without doing it. I was inches away from a totally different story.

In the Fall of 2006 there was a completely different crew in Madison. No one was bouldering at Devil's Lake except for RV, Kelsen and myself and Huston was on a legendary tear of scary first leads that has yet to be even touched, let alone equaled. I'd done some hard problems in short order earlier that fall and was feeling extremely fit at the time. Steve Day and I had a homewall that overhung a good 14 feet and RV, Steve and I had sessions on it every few days.

It was a very good time in my life that I have fond memories of. Looking back on it now is something I do often and many good things happened around then. I met my future wife that fall, most importantly, and that would change my life forever soon enough. I had an easy, low stress job that allowed me to climb basically at will and I had an entire park to myself.

Dodge hadn't even hit the radar yet. I remember going to Dodge a couple of times to check out the park and see if there was any potential. I obviously didn't even think about checking out Group Camp B but I drove past the Godfather once or twice. With most everything I saw being fairly chossy (Some things never change...HAH!) I wrote the place off.

It wasn't until JJ Schlick posted Camp B on Mountain Project that we took notice. What made me pause the most were the projects that JJ was posting. He did a fine job of motivating us by putting giant numbers on them. The Relativity project piqued our interest the most as he had put a big ol' V12 on it.

JJ's original picture of the Relativity Boulder

Kelsen and I, wanting to prove ourselves, were out there the next weekend. Instantly we saw the plumb line. Perfect start jug, small, well spaced holds. It looked possible, but incredibly hard.

We immediately warmed up on the problem to its right, Vitamin VLess, which was a terrifying experience and a terrible problem. Looking back on that now, I'm blown away we didn't get hurt right there. After a lap each, we said screw it and started working on the project.

That first day we each figured out the move going to the left pinch with our right and then rolling up to the sharp crimp. We did the move once and couldn't repeat it. What's great is that this is now the 'go to' tall beta, skipping the right pinch entirely.

Mike Gasch trying the project with the original beta

Over the next few days trying it I kept getting one move further, each time figuring out a new piece of beta on this perfect wall. First came the double pinch beta and next came the high left foot to reach the sharp crimp. Eventually, after a terrible bit of beta when we were told that the upper right crimp was only on for the 'right exit' (unnamed dude just lied to my face), we started grabbing the pistol grip pinch out right, putting a left heel on the rail and started gunning for the upper break.

Each time we went out I'd get closer to the break before plummeting back to the pads. The whole experience was one of the most exciting times of my climbing life. Each day was an adventure and we genuinely had no idea if the project would go at all. It was my first real experience with doing a new, hard boulder problem at my limit and I loved it. The height added to the spice on each attempt and every fall felt especially jarring with only a pad or two under us.

Then in early December Jason decided to come out with me on a perfect day. It was sunny, 40 degrees and couldn't have been better conditions.

He did Secret Agent Man first try that day and we promptly packed up and headed out to Camp B. Just like all the other days I spent out there that fall we showed up to no cars in the lot and the place to ourselves. Jason, like a true friend, let me try that day until I had no skin left. He saw the work I'd put into it and the amount of time I'd spent on it and genuinely wanted me to do it first. Nevermind that the two of us had already spent a day on it a week or so prior, or that he really didn't have to do that.

He's just a nice guy who wanted me to have the FA cause he knew how much it meant to me.

Only after I'd split a tip, come within an inch of hitting the jug at the break and despondently muttered "I'm done", did he shoe up. It's something that I still appreciate to this day. It's something that's shaped my view of First Ascents and just a general view on ethics. It was a stand up thing to do.

After about a half hour of progressively better tries he got to the heel hook, put it on and threw for the break. When his left hand hit the jug he immediately double clutched as both his feet flew off the wall.

It's really incredible how some images stick in your head, right? I can remember how the light felt that day. It was late in the afternoon and felt almost perfectly golden and the entire wall bathed in it. All around us the trees were bare and the red, yellow and orange leaves covered the ground. I can remember standing on a small boulder that moved a bit under my feet whenever I'd shift my weight. I remember my bright, yellow and black Marmot puffy and Jason's ripped to shit Columbia puffy. I remember just how cold it was that day and how badly we needed those jackets.

And Jason above me as I looked up. I remember seeing his black silhouette frozen mid-flight with the deep blue, cloudless sky surrounding him. Just to the left of him, motionless in mid-air, is the block. The entire reason for the boulder problems name. The jug that he had just tried to double clutch, and the hold that I'd been eyeing up ever since the first day we spent on the Relativity Project.

That was somehow in the air as well.

It's an image I see often. Every single time it pops into my head, it's as clear as the day we were there. So vivid and so real that it's a one of a kind image for me. It changed so much about how I climb and how I think about things that I couldn't get it out of my head if I tried.

As Jason came crashing back to the pads it's all a flash for me. Maybe he has a better recollection of it than I do. All I do remember is that I body checked him back on the pads as hard as I could. We talked about it later and both came to the conclusion that if I hadn't he would have landed a good 4-5 feet behind the pads, more than likely on top of me. In turn, I landed back in the leaves by the old tree stump.

As soon as everything stopped we looked at each other and almost in unison yelled at each other to see if we were alright. I was worried about Jason as he'd just taken a 20 foot winger and I wasn't sure if he even hit the pads. He was concerned because he knew what had broken off of the problem.

I had no clue that anything had happened at the moment other than a pain in my shoulder. He grabbed the block and asked where it hit me, and being awesome like I am, I just looked at him all puzzled like.

The chunk of sandstone was about 3 inches tall and maybe 6 inches long. We weighed it afterwards and it came in at about 8 pounds.

What messes with me the most is this. An inch or two left and nothing happens. We laugh. Joke around. Take a picture with the hunk of rock and get on with it. As it was, I was alright and just had a bruised shoulder. An inch or two to the right though, and I'm in the hospital or worse with a head wound. And that's what gets in my head. That's what messes with me, even if it shouldn't.

Jason stepped up and did the problem next try.

On the ride back to Madison we were chatting about names and stuff. He was going to name it Riddles Of Relativity, an homage to JJ's first name for the boulder and to the work that went into figuring out the beta.

Just as we got into Madison he paused for a second and said, "Why don't we call it Sandstone Violence?".


  1. Great story, thanks for sharing.

  2. +1 for Remo's comment. Really very cool to read about the FA Steve. As you know, I tried that heel hook again as well, and IMO it's really a fair bit harder than the jump.

    Speaking of FAs congrats to Ian and Jeremy this past weekend. Very cool.

    Maybe see you at Dodge on Saturday. Should be a fun time. ce

  3. No no, no +1 for Remo's comment. He's a dirty hippy, don't encourage him.

    By the way Steve,

    Great story, thanks for sharing.

    Also, whatever happened to that block of rock. I remember it was being used as a door stop at the condo with the home wall. Sweaty Steve stole it didn't he?

  4. Sweet post Steve! So that block never made a difference in the grade?

  5. Hey Paul, it didn't really change difficulty at all. It may be a smidge easier now but nothing noticeable.

    RV, that block is somewhere on the west side of madison right now. Left it at the old house thinking i didn't really need it anymore. Wish I'd kept it obviously...

  6. And thanks guys. I appreciate the kind words on this one. It means a lot and has been something I've wanted to write about for a while now.