Great Expectations and Letting Go

I recently had a prolonged few days of low climbing psych. I had an unexpected success when I sent my first 12a after only 2 days of effort.

So I got a bit big-headed.

I started expecting that every route I got on would feel great. That 11s would feel easy. That I would be able to onsight all the time. After all, I had just climbed a 12! It was a whole new level, right?


But of course, that wasn’t the way it went. One of the great things about being on the road is that you can progress relatively quickly. I climbed my first 11 less than 2 months ago. The downside of the rapid progress is that your base doesn’t catch up, which leads to inconsistent performance.

Which is how I ended up in the doldrums, crying on a 5.11 that was supposed to be fun. Somewhere in the rush of sending a hard route, I misplaced my love of climbing and started worrying about how well I was performing. I was focused more on how hard I was sending than I was on having fun.

It took me a few long days to figure out what was happening. I spent most of my next climbing day on 10s and easy 11s, trying to get my feet back under me. Trying to get my head on straight. And it worked (sort of). I cut myself a break, and started having fun again. I sent the warm-up, on my second go. And I didn’t blame myself  for not getting it the first time.

Clowning around on rap in Ten Sleep Canyon. Photo credit: @Baodehui

I have always had high expectations for myself. I can’t seem to help it. But in the last week, those expectations got in the way of my enjoyment of a sport I adore, preventing me from having fun in a certifiable rock climbing paradise.

As all climbers know–sometimes you can’t hold on any more. You just have to let go. I’m trying–this week–to focus on my love of being alive, being outdoors, being able healthy and able to climb. And to let go of my expectations, until they don’t throttle me anymore.

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First Projects: Redux

Fair warning: This post is a monster. tl;dr–just read ‘Lessons Learned’

1st Project: Magic Light, 5.11a, Smith Rock

Magic Light is a Smith classic, located on the Overboard wall. I first tried the route on top-rope. At the time, I had just redpointed my first 5.10c, and I was beginning to consider the possibility of climbing harder. I fell head over heels in love with Magic Light. The bottom crux involves technical moves on some small crimps to a good hold, and the upper crux is sustained, involving movement on rails and slopers.

The first time I tried Magic Light on lead, I got totally shut down. I went basically bolt-to-bolt, and didn’t make it to the chains. The next time was not much better, although I did make the chains. At the suggestion of one of my climbing partners, I tried the upper crux a few times before I lowered off, discovering an intermediate hold that made a reachy move easier. Before the second time I climbed, the route had seemed possible, do-able, and I still got totally shut down.

After a rest day, I tried the route first thing in the morning. My climbing partner took one for the team and warmed up on the route, pre-hanging the draws for me. I warmed up quickly, then, as the shade receded, hopped on the route. The intermediate crux hold turned out to be crucial, and I sent my first try! I was completely pumped out of my mind by the time I clipped the chains, but I managed to pull it off and send.

Lessons Learned 

  1. Pre-hung draws can make a big difference, especially when there are tough clips on the route
  2. Test out beta on top-rope on the way down. Check for useful holds you might have missed, and try out a few different ways to climb challenging sections.
  3. Don’t stress about falling, or stress about clipping. Let go of all your nerves and fears before you pull on.
  4. Set impossible-seeming goals. You might surprise yourself.

Sunset after another perfect day climbing at Smith, June, 2012

2nd Project: Vomit Launch, 5.11b, Smith Rock

Vomit Launch is a great climb in a terrible location. To get to it, you have to shimmy up a chimney in between some boulders, using a fixed rope for assistance. It’s a major pain in the butt to get up to the gully. In my last week at Smith, I went up there five times in a row.

Unlike Magic Light, I never top-roped Vomit Launch. The first time I tried the climb, I cruised through the bottom section to a jug to clip the fifth bolt, then went bolt-to-bolt in the top section, getting totally pumped silly. There is a decent rest at the 6th bolt, and there are a couple places in the upper, pumpy section where you can grab a shake.

Unlike my first project, I never sent Vomit Launch. On my best go, I made it to the 6th bolt rest pumped, but not too pumped. I was able to recover fairly well before attempting to finish the climb. Unfortunately, on the sloper-jug right before the crack, I matched instead of crossing, and popped right off. I tried the climb one last time on my final day at Smith, but didn’t manage to put it together.  Comparing my last attempt with my best attempt, I realized that on my best attempt, I used efficient beta in the lower crux, arriving at the rest much less pumped, which allowed me to recover better.

Lessons Learned 

  1. Beyond a certain level of pump, I can’t recover very well with weight on my arms. Beyond this level, resting just maintains the pump, making it neither better nor worse.
  2. How you climb the non-crux parts of the climb can be important too.
  3. Sometimes you just need to rest. Sometimes it doesn’t work out. You can learn even from failures though–every climb is an opportunity to get better.

Rain at the end of the day in Ten Sleep Canyon.

3rd Project: The Dope Shinto, 5.12a, Ten Sleep

The Dope Shinto is a 12a in the FCR area at Ten Sleep with two distinct cruxes. The first four bolts consist of long(ish) moves on thin holds: crimps and 2-finger or fewer pockets. The moves get steadily harder off the ground to the 4th bolt, then ease up for 2-4 bolts of mellow, 11- climbing, followed by an upper crux. The upper crux involves a move from a mediocre crimp to a 3 finger pocket on delicate feet, then pulling over a bulge onto slab on decent handholds and marginal feet.

I tried the climb twice, sussed out all the crux beta, rested, and then came back and sent it. It went down surprisingly easily for the grade, but the climb was very much my style. I was surprisingly stressed during the hike up to the climb–I had been obsessing about the climb for the entirety of the rest day. I had put a lot of pressure on myself. I joked around with my belayer before starting the climb, and managed to release some of the tension, which helped a lot. By the time I pulled on, I was relaxed, focused, and ready to go for it.

Lessons Learned

  1. Visualization is good, stress is bad.
  2. Harder routes that are ‘your style’ might be done more easily,  but might not feel as satisfying. I still feel like I ‘cheated’ by projecting a route that was my style.
  3. Hold on. It matters.
  4. Confidence in your belayer is a must.

Anyone have good posts about your projects? Hit me up with links in the comments! :)



Ten Sleep Dirtbag Beta

In a follow up to my Smith Beta post, here’s some dirtbag beta for Ten Sleep Canyon! Ten Sleep is much more of an insider’s town: here are all my best tips!

Where to Camp

You can camp for free anywhere along the Old Road. The Old Road is labeled as WY435 lower in the canyon, and as road number 18 higher up in the National Forest.  There are many sites, both in the lower part of the canyon and in the upper part of the canyon. The upper entrance to the Old Road is currently hard to find due to construction–take a right just after the road becomes dirt. The upper canyon is closer to the climbing areas Mondo Beyondo, Vallhalla, Superratic, and FCR.

Where to get _________ without leaving Ten Sleep:

Where to get beer: Any of the bars in town will sell you a ‘package’ of cheap beer or a six-pack of nicer beer. It’s expected that you still tip the bartender, even if you don’t plan to hang in the bar.

Where to get groceries:  Don’t expect to find fresh fruit or vegetables in town. The Pony Express at the gas station sells eggs, bread, milk, and a few other food items. See the section on Worland for info on grocery stores.

Where to get clean clothes: The Ten Broek RV park has laundry machines available. Washers are $1.50, and dryers are $1.25. Detergent can be bought in the RV store for $0.50, and the RV park has free wifi.

Where to get your fix: The 2nd Street Coffee Shop and Bakery frequently has a contingent of climbers staring at screens inside, or on the porch outside. Please support the bakery by buying coffee, breakfast, or baked goods when they are open (6am – 2pm, Tues-Sat). The free wifi stays up when the bakery is closed, but the family prefers that you stay on the front porch off-hours. All the baked goods sold at the bakery are made on the premises, and all are delicious! You can also purchase copies of the 2011 guidebook in the coffee shop. I cannot emphasize enough how awesome and climber-friendly this business is. Please support them!!

Where to get yourself a treat: The ice cream cones at Dirty Sally’s are a meal unto themselves. The waffle cones are home-made and impossible to resist!

Where to get chalk: The country gifts store at the eastern end of town sells blocks and loose chalk, both Metolius brand. Early afternoon seems to be the best bet for finding the store open. Look for the ‘Troutfitter’s’ sign, near the shaved ice stand.

Where to get down to business: For evenings, days when the coffee shop is closed, or when you just need a brew, the Ten Sleep Saloon also has available wifi. You can print or make copies at the library for $0.25 a page, and faxes can be sent from the bank for $2.00 a page.

Up-canyon Honorable Mention: The Deer Haven Lodge is located a short drive from most of the upper-canyon camping on the old road. Turn right at the intersection of the old road and US 16. The lodge will be on your left. You can buy a beer at  the bar, stock up on some ice, use the free wifi to check your email, or pay to take a shower.


Worland is a 20-30 minute drive west of Ten Sleep on 16, depending on how fast you drive. According to locals, speed enforcement on this particular stretch of highway is high.  Worland is a larger town with more businesses and services.

There are two grocery stores in town, an I.G.A. and a Blair’s. Both are going to be more pricey than your average city or suburban grocery store, both sell beer in separate stores attached to the main buildings.

I haven’t spent much time in Worland, so I don’t have much more advice on what’s around and available. Have any advice for fellow dirtbags? Sound off in the comments.

Comparative Shower Pricing 2012 

RV Park in Ten Sleep – $8

RV Park in Worland – $5

Deer Haven Lodge – $5.50

Buffalo YMCA – $2

Buffalo Pool – free? (this one is unconfirmed)

Ten Sleep Creek – free! Best accessed via the lower entrance to the Old Road.

Have any Ten Sleep tips or tricks? Sound off in the comments!

Nervous Leading 101

Are you (or have you been) a nervous leader?

I am.

Recently, I was sitting at a bolt on Cocaine Rodeo, a 12a at the Valhalla wall here in Ten Sleep. The route was the first of the grade I’d tried, and I was slogging up it bolt-by-bolt. While I was waiting for my arms to de-pump, I called down to my belayer, “I have got to stop clipping from crap holds.” To which another friend replied, deadpan, “Don’t get nervous, and you won’t clip from crap.”

And he was right. I started paying attention to my own nervousness while climbing, and I noticed some negative effects of nervous leading.

  1. You get pumped quickly. Nervous climbing leads to overgripping, which pumps your arms. If you’re deathgripping huge jugs, you’re using more energy than you need to stay on the wall.
  2. You climb sloppily. When I’m nervous, I don’t do my best work reading a route. I tend to let my feet get stuck down low, and throw my hands up ever higher.
  3. Panic Clips. One of the most distinctive features of (my) nervous leading is to clip a bolt or hang a draw as soon as possible, from whatever hold is at hand at the time, rather than from the best hold. While strenuous clips are sometimes unavoidable, it doesn’t make sense to clip from a sloping pocket if the next hold up is a huge jug!

How do you change an instinctive reaction? Form a new habit, one climb at a time.

On top of the ‘Ciagar’ at the Downtown area in the canyon. Shimmy shimmy!

Here are the strategies I’m using to try and control my nervousness and climb more confidently:

  1. Read Ahead. Before you start climbing, look for obvious rests and good clipping holds. If you spy blank-looking sections on the wall, try  to plan a clipping stance ahead of time by identifying a good hold or foot.
  2. Re-set Your Mind. No bad habit changes overnight. Don’t let one panicked clip on a route or a tough move throw you off. Find a good rest, take, or get determined and keep it moving.
  3. Look for Good Feet. My foot-work is generally the first thing to go when I start to get pumped. Getting my feet back on the best holds and planning where they’re going to go next helps me get my technique back on track.
  4. Puppies and Candy Canes! Another piece of climbing wisdom from a friend: “In through the nose, out through the mouth. Just think about puppies and candy canes.” When you get nervous, concentrate on your breathing and relax your grip. Puppies and candy canes!

Over the last week, I’ve been working on reducing nervous leading every day I climb. It’s working out well–I recently managed to pull off an onsight of a Ten Sleep classic–Bikini Girls with Machine Guns, 11a. I used all 4 strategies, kept it together, and made it to the chains!

4th of July in Ten Sleep!

The 4th was awesome! I hope everyone enjoys the photos. We went to the rodeo, the street dance, and the climber’s party, and did a lot of climbing to boot. It was a great week.

Great form from a cowboy on a bucking bronco. I think this gentleman won.

Watching the action from a fence near the chutes.

A cowboy in the process of getting thrown. No one managed to stay on a bull for the full 8 seconds. The crew on the ground did a great job of keeping the guys safe!


At the climbers’ party on the 4th. Keg provided by the American Alpine Club–sweet! It was incredibly frothy, but there was a lot of keg-side bonding over foam-reduction strategies! :)

Aaron Huey’s incredibly rockin’ pink boom box.

A proclamation from on high: In the beginning, there were no bolts, and the earth was dark. On the 8th day, God created Bighorn Dolomite and expansion bolts, and the heavens rejoiced! He shaped a hammer drill from clay and said, “Behold the Bosch. Redeemer of man!” (Proclamation (c) Aaron Huey)