Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Dude Abides

Twelve years is a long time to abide.  But after twelve years I picked up right where I left off.  Late in 2002 I gave up bouldering due to severe tendonitis.  I traded my crash pad for a nice Mountain Hardwear tent and tried not to look back.  I told myself I'd had a good run—putting up 500 new boulder problems up to V4 in two years—and there was no reason to mourn.

But I had loved bouldering.  Before mountain biking it had fulfilled the crucial role of movement therapy in my life.  And when we moved back to Kentucky a spark of hope that I might get myself back into it flashed in my brain.

Over the last couple of months I took to revisiting some of the areas I had found and developed years ago but not to climb.  I wanted to see them.  I needed to refresh my memories of those geographic nodes in my brain, but I also kept telling myself I was in too bad shape to even try climbing again.

Yesterday a switch in my brain was flipped.  I took the day off to go climbing with Al.  He wanted to do sport at Muir Valley in the afternoon so I decided I would go out in the morning and possibly boulder.

I had perused my topo maps and identified some likely areas for new boulders.  It would have been easy enough to just revisit existing problems out there, or to make the long drive to BMW and appease Kipp, but in the end I knew some new rock would inspire me.

I looked at the map and said: "here be boulders."  I hiked to that point on the ground and found boulders.  I climbed new boulder problems.  That is what I'm good at.  It's an art and a science.  And it's taken me years to fully develop it.

Those little circles are likely boulders
Since I was meeting Al in the afternoon I didn’t have a ton of time to climb.  I focused mostly on exploration and confirmation of what I saw on the map, but I wanted to tick something worthy.  So as I trundled along the ridge under the odd gravity of my crash pad I saw a hummock of rhododendron through the bony winter trees.  I stopped outside the veil of green, dropped my pad in the leaves, and peered into the dappled shadows.
There was rock!
I waded in, shoving individual plants aside, pulling the high branches back so I could see the sunny stone that was revealed.  Swirls of color; but textures of solidity.  I began yanking dead rhodo out of the grove, and chucking rotten fallen branches from nearby trees over the hill.  Soon enough I had enough space cleared to unfold and throw down my pad.  I stabbed my pale feet into cold climbing shoes, and strapped on my chalkbag. 
I looked up at the line I had chosen.  It was an offset arête—overhanging with pockets—to sloping ledges at the top out.  I eased up to the layback crack move that started the problem and pulled onto the rock.  Long corroded synapses sputtered and tried to fire.  I plopped back to the pad.  Dab at the chalk.  That seemed to spark a little stronger.  Then I pulled back into the short crack, reached up to cross to an amazing left hand pocket, stepped up and snagged a right hand pocket on the arête, and toed out left on the slab.  The next move was a long left reach to a hidden sidepull, then reset feet, huck to the first sloping ledge, and regroup there.  I fumbled to the right match on the ledge, eased up until I could bring up a foot, grabbed the top of the boulder, stood tall on the sloping ledge, and pawed around on the sloper summit until I found the right balance to step up and off the vertical face onto the ridgebeam summit of the boulder.
I called it simply The Dude Abides.  I wrestled with the grade.  At first I assumed I was too weaksauce to give it more than V0-.  As the day wore on and I had a chance to do some roped climbing with Al and ponder I finally decided it warranted at least a V0 grade.  The rock was bullet hard, needed no cleaning, had amazing color-swirls around the line, and begged to be climbed.  The movement was nice and the top out was exactly the perfect finish to the problem itself.  I say it’s a five star classic right out of the gate. 
Now, some would scoff at a lowly V0 (on a scale from V0- to V48 or so) being called a classic, but let’s be honest, not everyone is a douchebag career boulderer.  Not everyone can climb V13.  For what it is The Dude Abides is at the high end of quality.   
I tried a variation to the right, but felt I needed a good spotter for the long move from the arête onto the face.  I will go back.  I also tried a line to the left, and again, without a spotter didn’t feel right committing to the top out moves.  Since my time was running short I packed up my gear and hiked a little farther up the ridge to see what there was to see.  More boulders.  My map reading proved to be true.  I took a GPS point and dropped down a few yards from the crest of the ridge, picked up and old logging road, and followed it for ten minutes back to my car.  From that point it’s a meager twenty minute drive back to my house.  You just can’t beat that.
As I was heading out that morning the mailman pulled up to the driveway.  He had two packages for me.  One was IMBA’s Trail Solutions trail building guide and the other was ten quickdraw slings.  That evening I stripped my draws of the old nylon and replaced them with my shiny new Petzl slings.  Next buy is a new rope, followed as soon as possible by reslung cams to round out my trad rack.
For months I’ve said I want to get back into climbing.  Yesterday I did just that.
From the left: The Dude Abides is the overhanging prow

From the right, same corner

Straight on view.  The Dude Abides basically follows the dark shadow swath in the middle

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