Entropy has stolen my youth. As I stand under a one move V3 boulder problem I found, cleaned, and sent nineteen years ago I realize it’s more of a memorial to my lost vigor than a challenge to be met in my middle age. I touch the small, coarse holds and wince.
I once had the energy reserves and more to do the problem. This day I feel a distinct lack of that wellspring I once enjoyed. I feel the wrecked shoulder, the creaky knees, the gunshy forty-five year old body…and I can’t imagine reclaiming the energy I’ve expended into the cold void of the universe.
It’s autumn in the Red River Gorge. Yellow accents color the scene amongst the roadside boulders below the towering Lower Small Wall crag. Emerald green mosses cling to faces I once climbed. There’s almost no sign this was a heavily travelled bouldering area. Well, heavily travelled by me when I used to run a roadside circuit between Tower Rock, Lower Small Wall, and Sky Bridge Ridge.
I look at the other, easier problems to the right of the V3. I know they were easier but they reveal a boldness I’d forgotten I once possessed. Small rounded crimps on an overhanging prow over a back breaking low boulder. Bold...or stupid?
But back to the first line: I called it The Weasel. It’s a joke really—the name—a misunderstood line in a Dave Matthews song. But the problem was wiley enough it deserved a name like The Weasel.
Its one move but still damn hard. It begins with a high four-finger-single-digit positive crimp sidepull for the right hand and a shitty half-pad-two-and-a-half-finger sharp crimp undercling you rock up into as you step onto a hip-high sloping shelf. Once you’re established in this overhanging posture the single move is to lunge with the left hand for a flat but downsloping positive two-digit ledge. It’s a three foot deadpoint. Your feet cut loose and the lower handholds become useless. The summit hold isn’t wide enough to match your hands. You have to find a camouflaged baby dimple smear for one foot immediately and bring your free hand up and higher to the slopey boulder top in order to make the overhanging mantel. It feels like you’re doing a one-arm pull-up.
I have always claimed Dreams as my single best contribution to the bouldering tally in Red River Gorge. And I contributed a lot. Between 1999 and 2006 I put up hundreds of problems up to V5 almost single-handedly. But The Weasel sits out there as another proud line I brought into being. I have no idea if it’s ever been repeated. No one I climbed with ever successfully sent it. Dreams has had scores of repeats. My other V3 testpiece—Who Remembers Briseis?—is also one of my favorites and has never been repeated as far as I know. It’s even more obscure than The Weasel. Hell, I can see my car from the Weasel Boulder as I type this.
So I clean the top out. I clean the other lines on the boulder—there’s not much to clean on The Weasel—and cut the deadfall tree trunk that guarded the top out when I walked up. Why? I’m not going to be able to send V3 after not having climbed anything harder than 5.6 in almost ten years.
But it’s all clean. My crashpad and shoes and chalkbag sit underneath. I learned my lesson on the first ascent of Dreams fifteen years ago. I sit down, do my Mister Rogers quick change, and turn to the start holds. Damn, they’re small!
Muscle memory kicks in as I find the sending position. My right is solid and I remember it has to take most of the weight to get myself off the ground. I step up onto the shelf, bear down on the holds, and wonderfully, miraculously, insanely step up and feel my body return to the stance that sets me up for the throw to the summit edge. And I grin with my whole body and drop off.
But hell, I didn’t even try the move; once again I tickle the edges, toe up, rock into the bear hug set up, and cut loose for the top!
I didn’t come close, but the ability is there still in my bones and sinew and muscle. More importantly—it’s there still in my mind. All I need is a little conditioning.