Impromptu New River Gorge Climbing Trip
Nothing like a last minute New River Gorge climbing trip! I went into Labor Day Weekend 2020 thinking would enjoy low key climbs at the gym on Saturday, bike rides on Sunday, kite boarding lessons on Monday. Ping! I swipe open a text message, basically saying we are leaving town in 24 hours, going to the New, and I am getting on my first 12. Lol! What?!
My goal this fall is to lead my first 12a. Full disclosure, I am not picky about my ‘sends’. I don’t care if it isn’t clean, I just want to clip all the draws and all the moves. I’m practically 40 and over it! I just want to have business getting on 12s, something I never had before, and something I never thought I would have.
So, when our friend texted about this impromptu New River Gorge climbing trip over the holiday weekend, I was like, “Here we go!” and “This could be it!” Really, I was just excited to get out and see what I could do and couldn’t do!
Needless to say, getting on 12s outside for the first time at the New, lessons were learned.
New River Gorge Climbing Lesson #1: Be Less Aggro
Damn it, I swear way to f#cking much when I climb, Jesus Christ, f*ck me.
I do not come across as a very aggro person, like at all. My harness is pink, my chalk bag has kittens on it, I always paint my nails before climbing trips (ESSIE Gel Couture! It lasts enough!), I am an English teacher. More than once, I have been described as wholesome for god’s sake.
Just to give you a little taste of my foul language, this weekend, in a fit of crux rage, I told my boyfriend to f%ck himself when he said I wasn’t trying. Now, mind you, my boyfriend and I are so easy going that we have never even so much as argued. No joke. Going on 5 years together. Never argued. But, this weekend, I discovered my aggro side and told him to f-himself! Interestingly enough, he thought it was cute! Lol!
So, basically, put me on the crux of a climb and holy sh#t storm you will find yourself wondering where the profanity spewing hell-hound you’ve got on the other end of the rope came from! I know I was.
I am sure that all this energy I put into expressing my feelings in such rich language is basically wasted and can be better spent on the route. A baby step in my path is to prevent my mind, energy, and focus from becoming so frayed that all I can do is spout expletives stream of consciousness style.
New River Gorge Climbing Lesson #2: Top Rope Projects First
This weekend, the first 12a we got on was Pockets of Resistance, 40 feet 4 bolts. When my turn to go up came, I was like, “I better just lead it. If I tr this route, then I’ll never lead it.” Considering the laundry list of excuses I used to use to tr a route, I didn’t want to go back to that habit. However, both my boyfriend and our friend highly suggested that I do the tr first, to feel out the cruxes and the beta.
Honestly, without the tr, I do not think I would have been able to get past the second draw. In the image, who is not me, but the blogger Crag Mama, the climber is about to bump left to the chalked up Dorito looking hold, this is the first crux for me. We have similar beta. It looks like neither of us would be able to reach the Dorito using the horizontal seam as a foot. She has her left foot high on an intermediate. At this point, I turn my left hip into the wall a bit for more extension as I reach left for the bottom corner of that Dorito. Her right foot is just above this seam too. Reaching the Dorito from this position basically puts me at full extension! Then, the next move is to cross in with your right hand, and grab higher on the Dorito! A really tough move!
The next moves are quite do-able, but are extremely difficult, and it is very challenging to move out of that position of full extension. I can barely do that Dorito cross move, TBH, I don’t know if I really can do that move. Working that move half a dozen times on TR was way better than half a dozen times on lead though.
This climber is about to do the second crux on Pockets. If I remember right, she will bring her left foot higher to smear, stand it up using that right hand side-pull, reach up left, and get a couple of finger pads on the ledge! One pad is all you need. One little pad! Then get the rest of her hand on the good ledge, left foot in a good hold, stand up, and done. It takes all I have, but I can def do this crux. Again, working this move half a dozen times on tr was way better than on lead.
Between the Dorito and the ledge, this climb is extremely hard, but I could actually string the moves together. This climb might go…? Overall, the tr attempts to dial in the crux moves were clutch.
NRG Climbing Lesson #3: Be Aware and Care for Your Skin
I just shared with you that I needed to work both crux moves on Pockets of Resistance about half a dozen times on tr. I actually tr-ed it twice, so that makes it more like a dozen times on each crux. The first crux involved a bit of a finger lock on my right index finger, and the second crux had my left index finger pad digging into a sharp but good side of a pocket. Needless to say, my skin was a bit thin after the first day.
On day three I was cleaning Satisfaction Guaranteed at Summersville on TR, and the thin crimps on the slab crux were absolutely excruciating. I don’t know what was worse for my climbing, my overall fatigue or the searing pain in my fingertips. Whatever it was, it left me walking out with my tail tucked! Not really, that is where the lesson comes in.
Don’t wear out your skin too fast. I’m not sure what do do with this lesson… because if I hadn’t worked the crux on Pockets so much, I would have had more skin on the third day, but the trade off would have been less practice on the crux. So, I guess I just can have more awareness of how my skin is doing and try to not do too much damage.
I have been back from the trip for 5 days, and my laptop still does not recognize my fingerprint to unlock it so… still growing skin back.
NRG Climbing Lesson #4: Respect and Recognize Your Weaknesses, a.k.a. Greatest Opportunity for Growth.
Ugh. Smeared feet on small holds. There it is. I despise slab! I know I am not alone here. Slab is so hard for me, that for me, every single move on Pockets of Resistance, a 12a and a total face climb, felt easier than the slab crux on Satisfaction Guaranteed, an 11a. It is not just that climb. A couple of years ago I came down off Little Help from My Friends, a 10a, cursing slab.
So, I guess Arno Ilger, author of Rock Warrior Way, would say that I need to re-frame my thinking. Ugh. Fine. I won’t say I suck at slab. I’ll say, the greatest opportunity I have for growth in climbing is to get better at slab climbing. Happy Arno?
I still hate slab.
Lesson #5: Accept Reach-y Moves, Work With Them, or Let It Go
I am just shy of 5’4″. There was one very distinct moment this trip that my height held me back: hanging the 3rd draw on Mr. Cute, a 3 star 11a at Third Buttress. It has potential for a ground fall. The second bolt does too, but there is nothing height dependent there for me, just easy but scary moves. The third draw, however, after a handful of tries I couldn’t get my hand closer than a hand-width’s away from the bolt, so I came down. There is a little bit of a crux move there, and to clip the 3rd draw for me, I would have had to pull through the crux to gain the ledge, and then place the draw with the bolt basically at shoulder height.
A friend, about two inches taller than me, went up and managed to push the draw in with the tippy tips of his fingers. Draw hung, however, getting the rope in the third draw was easy peasy!
There were some other moments that I found myself doing some extra finessing because of height. Sometimes you work with it, sometimes you come down. No biggie.
The lesson here is that, it is all relative! Being a little short is neither good thing nor a bad thing, it just is! There is no use getting annoyed at a reachy move, the way a climb was bolted, or how you have to do 3 moves where your friend only does 2. Just work with it, know your limits, push them a little, and be happy with your best effort!
New River Gorge Climbing Lesson #6: A Sh*ty Performance Is a Lesson in Disguise
The last climb of the trip, and the last climb of the previous 2 climbing trips to the New River Gorge, was Satisfaction Guaranteed, a 4 star 11a. I cleaned on tr, and it was possibly the #1 worst climbing performance of my life! Lol! I don’t know what was worse, the super thin skin on my fingertips or the fact that I was just didn’t have a ton left in the tank on day 3.
I cried a tiny bit, it was embarrassingly pathetic! The climb was so painful, and the moves were a blur. It was ugly. I would say it was the second worst performance I have ever put together climbing outside. Really it should earn first place, but I am only awarding it second place, because when I came down from the climb, the happiest girl in the world that it was over, I was not upset at myself for doing such a shitty job. I saw the forest for the trees; I understood why the climb had gone so poorly. And I was OK.
So, those are my lessons. I wish I had gotten to try out more 12a climbs, but some areas were super busy, due to the holiday weekend. Even so, I have more food for thought when we go back down the end of September! I don’t think I will succeed with my 12a goal in September, still learning. I want to try an 11d first.