Rediscovering the Sharp End

Let’s be honest, professional sport climbers are like wild buffalo here in America—we killed them all off by the early 1990s…In the late 1980s and 90s, sport climbing was really popular and growing a ton, and the enthusiasm from professional climbers reflected that. Everyone was wearing lycra, clippin’ bolts at Smith Rocks and Rifle and training like machines for all the competitions. I think the rise of bouldering’s popularity is partly to blame for the fact that only a few guys in the U.S. put their time and energy mainly into sport climbing.

In a recent Rock & Ice interview, my buddy Ethan Pringle talked a little bit about the lack of professional sport climbers in the U.S., and it got me thinking – where do I want to put my energy as a climber?

If you’ve been following along with me at all since I moved to California, I’m sure you’ve noticed a whole lotta bouldering. For a while, it seemed like ropes may become a forgotten discipline, tossed to the side for a shiny new toy.

Not that bouldering was new for me; rather, I’d just never focused on it as an individual pursuit. But that’s what I found myself doing in California – and I was totally psyched on it. Coming back from injury, it was a great way to get strong, and my early gains were really satisfying. I felt powerful again, and it was a nice feeling.

On "The Flake" (V7) in Dale's Camp, Bishop, CA Photo Credit: Matt Haig

On “The Flake” (V7) in Dale’s Camp, Bishop, CA
Photo Credit: Matt Haig

But plateaus seem almost inevitable, especially with me and pebble wrestling. Somewhere along the line, I felt like I hit a wall. Indoors and outdoors, the obvious progress stopped, and my motivation waned as a result. With most of my projects in Bishop, it became difficult to stay focused – the long drive combined with a crazy work load and lack of a car all contributed to my diminishing love affair with bouldering.

Around the same time, however, I got invited to do some sport climbing in Joshua Tree with the legendary Kurt Smith. That was in late January, and the weekend in the park showed me two things: first, that my endurance was atrocious; and two, that tying in on a rope and clipping draws was something I should have never stopped doing.

Sport climbing with Kurt Smith in Joshua Tree, California Photo Credit: Veronica Beman

Sport climbing with Kurt Smith in Joshua Tree National Park, California
Photo Credit: Veronica Beman

Getting back on the sharp end felt familiar, comfortable. I was confident. It was exciting. I decided to start committing to sport climbing again.

And here I am, half a year later, more dedicated to the discipline than I have been in a long time. Since then, I trained for and competed at SCS Nationals. After that weekend at Sender One, I was humbled, embarrassed, and motivated to work harder than ever before. I’ve logged more time outside on a rope over the past two months than I have in my entire career beforehand. I sent my first 5.12 outside (something that should’ve happened long ago), I flashed 5.11d, and I fell on the last hard move of a 5.12b on my flash attempt. I continue to push myself in the gym, and I climbed 26 lead climbs of 5.10 or harder for my 26th birthday; I sent every one.

Entering the crux of "Totally Chawsome" (5.12b) in the cave at Big Chief, Tahoe, CA Photo Credit: Alma Esteban

Entering the crux of “Totally Chawsome” (5.12b) at Big Chief, Tahoe, CA
Photo Credit: Alma Esteban

Will I ever be a professional climber making a living off of the sport? Almost 100% definitely not. For me, reducing my focus on bouldering and re-committing to sport is about my own personal satisfaction. I climb because I love the complexity and fluidity of movement, and I feel like I get much more of that on a rope – especially as I start pushing harder grades and subsequently begin exploring more intricate and interesting movements.

It’s been a fun transition back to sport climbing, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Having fantastic partners helps a lot (shout-out to all of you!), as does having quality gyms in which to train. Summertime has been a huge boon for my climbing, and I hope to keep it going as we move into July.

Lowering off of "Raindance" (5.12a) at Big Chief, Tahoe, CA Photo credit: Betsy Dorsett

Lowering off of “Raindance” (5.12a) at Big Chief, Tahoe, CA
Photo Credit: Betsy Dorsett

But I’m realizing that I’ve neglected power…and every now and then I miss the raw burliness and concentrated try-hard of bouldering. I need to do a better job of balancing my climbing and training, and if I want to reach my goals for the next year, I need to get way more organized!

I’m excited to see what the rest of 2014 brings. I’m hoping for big things! Thanks for stopping by and reading this – I wish I could dedicate more time to writing, but it’s just not feasible with the rest of my life right now. I’d rather be out climbing than blogging about it anyways!

Thanks to Skratch Labs for their continued support – I couldn’t do it without you!

26 climbs for my 26th birthday Photo credit: Tabya Sultan

Psyched after 26 climbs for my 26th birthday
Photo Credit: Tabya Sultan


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