Monday, April 6, 2015

Angle of Repose

There is a threshold.  Once crossed there is no going back.  You can approach the line slowly, gradually, feeling your footing slip as the angle increases and gravity begins pulling at you.  But once crossed you rocket away from the line with no hope of holding on.

I've mentioned that I felt like a sham as a climber these days.  I'm overweight, underflexible, and all kinds of soft from head to toe.  The last two times I've been out bouldering with others I've gone home somewhat dejected because I've not been able to do more than the easiest contrived problems I could find while everyone else was having fun on better things.  I kept my gaze locked on the goal—that if I persisted eventually I would be able to enjoy bouldering once again.

I've struggled to find inspiration.  Truthfully I've not been as jazzed about getting on the Horse Pen stuff as I would have been ten years ago.  Even the stunning highball arête Kipp was holding off for me didn't blaze a white hot line in my memory and keep me obsessed with making the 45 minute drive.

Until Saturday.
David King attempting High Lonesome
His left foot is about six feet off the ground

The last time I was there Kipp encouraged me to try the problem Dwarf Warts. It really didn't do anything for me except piss me off because I couldn't get it.  I was so close.  So this past Saturday I was determined to put that problem in its place.  To me it seemed like a one star problem and yet I wanted it more than I wanted the tall arête problem (that we're calling High Lonesome). Right out of the gate I jumped on it.  I figured fresh fingers would be the key.  Whatever was different I managed to get it.  Three tries and ugly as sin I finally sent the derned problem.  It’s V1 at most.

I wanted to go off by myself and clean and send some stuff.  That's really my M.O.  To the far right at Reactor there's some slabby stuff over a good landing.  And I don't mean low angle easy slab, but closer to vertical and likely to be edgy goodness slab.

But Kipp suckered me into doing the small pocket problem.  And it turned out to be good, another V1-ish.  I nailed it second try without much effort.  It felt good.  The problem wasn't pretty, but it was solid and the movement was good.  I'd call it three stars at least.  Then I got suckered down to a slabby corner Kipp had cleaned with some weird runnel features.  I wasn't going to get on it either, but it was a pure friction problem over an iffy landing.  Okay, okay, I can't pass that up.  That's like candy to me.
Starting move of the friction problem*
Photo by Kipp

I nearly nabbed the FA from Kipp, but easily seconded it.  Pure friction.  It even involved some palm scums to maximize friction.  Solid three move crux to a twenty foot runout through lichens to the summit.  And then a combination downclimb/dropoff to get off the massive boulder.

When I took the freefall descent onto the piled up pads I felt like a boulderer again.  I laughed out loud as I jackhammered into the cush. 

Then we worked a heady slab problem.  I avoided making eye contact with High Lonesome—next time—and I worked the vert to slab problem next to the popular scoop with Kipp but was unwilling to commit to the sloper lip turn. 

He had one more he wanted to try.  On the way over we looked at a blunt arête he had put up a couple of days before.

"You want to try it?" Kipp asked.

"Yeah, I do," I replied, "but you try the other one first.  I'm really running out of gas."  We'd been at the boulders for a solid five hours.  In between attempts on problems we had been scrubbing new lines, prying large talus with metal bars, and then trundling them.  I really was beat.

Kipp gave his last problem for the day a good thrashing, but in the end the key hold was too damp and he was tired.  He gave an exasperated but satisfied sigh and began tossing pads under the arête.

"Get your shoes on," he said.  My choice had been made for me.

He gave me the beta, but it was actually pretty easy to see the line.  After the first try I knew it was a quality line.  I just didn't choke up on the pocket enough and rock over my foot.  Second try I stabbed bad into the pocket and then pawed sloppy with my left foot.  I was sure I would get it the third time.  Nabbed pocket, rocket up good, latched the sidepull/pinch, and looked high to the nice clean rail.  My fingers began to uncurl from the pocket.  I was off again.
Beginning my final descent
Photo by Kipp
I'd reached my threshold for the day. I was okay with that though. I had managed so much more than  I had during a long bouldering session in years.

That earlier friction problem we named Angle of Repose.*  The name is apt considering the nature of the climbing.  It means "the steepest angle of descent or dip relative to the horizontal plane to which a material can be piled without slumping."  Beyond the angle of repose material begins sliding off the pile.

My life seems to be slowly coming back under the threshold. It’s not just that I'm climbing again.  I'm trying to live by the mantra "never say never," and I'm trying to go back on promises I never should have made to myself. I once loved rock climbing and it consumed me.  Instead of moderating my activity I decided to cut it off.  Maybe that was the best thing to do.  But now I think it might be possible to reintroduce it in my life at a healthy level.

It’s a constant struggle to rein in my inattention.  So I'm back to making to-do lists. I'm back to caring somewhat about the things I've neglected for so long around the house.  It’s a fine line I tread because thinking about how much there is to get done and how much it will cost usually results in my being mired in depression.  But if I can push through and feel productive it usually counters the enmirement.  Yeah, I made that word up.

For now I am centered and in balance on the thin friction holds of life.  I've been good at this dance in the past. Pushing on into unknown territory and committing through the cruxes and through again has historically paid off.  I've not fallen yet.


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