Mar 18 2013

Spanish Five Hang Send

My two hands crowded the partial jug of the limestone hole, shuffling back and forth trying to gain some relief of a pump. My forearms were full of lactic acid, barely able to close my fingers around the hold. My breath was rapid and my heart was racing. I knew I didn’t have much time before gravity won and I was hanging on the end of the rope. Contradictory thoughts swirled through my head: should let go due to the fear that I would hurt myself again? Or should I push through in my desire to challenge myself. As I climbed away from the jug, my arms quickly began to fail.


I’m settling back in after a month long sport climbing trip to Spain. The incredible climbing, the Spanish culture, architecture, delicious food and good friends culminated one of the best trips I can remember.


I found myself climbing at the beautiful cliff of Oliana for the majority of the middle part of my trip. Most of our friends, Joe Kinder, Emily Harrington, Colette McInerney, and Chris Sharma had projects at the cliff, creating a desirable pull to the sunny steep cliff. While most of them were climbing on impressive lines up the middle of the cliff, Colette enticed me with a route called Macedonia on the right flank of the cliff. Minuscule in comparison to the behemoths of the main part of the wall, it provided for my first “project” in years.


After so many years of unrealized expectations, I didn’t hold out much hope or high standards for myself. With injury after injury, and frustration and disappointment, I instead adopted my “psyched to just be climbing” attitude, which suited me well. I was just looking for a route that I could gradually build up to, and hopefully get stronger.


There’s something to be said about being able to push yourself, whether that is redpointing a first 5.9 or putting up the hardest sport climb in the world, the satisfaction that comes when reaching past an expected outcome is immeasurable.


After a few days of flailing on the route, I started up for what I considered my “5 hang ascent,” meaning my goal was to do the route in 5 hangs. Yes, an odd goal, but it allowed for room to hang, suss moves, whip a time or two, clip the chains and still achieve my goal. As I started up the route, I noticed a familiar flow in my climbing. My muscles started remembering the moves, remembered how to pull and climb, it was a faintly familiar feeling. I reached the mid way rest psyched, I had finished the first crux and would have been happy falling and flailing up the rest of the route. My forearms recovered enough to a point that I started to climb again. Another two bolts and I found myself pumped, winded and surprised. I had reached the last hard part of the climb and I still had 5 hangs in the bag. I could literally use five hangs on the last bolt of the climb.


Unfortunately this “rest” didn’t provide any forearm relief. I shook, switched hands, stretched my forearms and nothing came back. Without hesitation I figured I should try and get another move further. I left the sharp, blue limestone hole and grabbed a small jagged ripple in the rock. To my surprise my hand stayed on, but almost instantaneously my right elbow shot outwards as a result of the extreme pump. I looked like a chicken stuck to the side of a cliff.


“Well, I’m basically out of here.” I thought. “I should probably just let go.” That’s been my mentality in my three years of injury proneness, to let go so as to not hurt myself any further. But, a little voice in the back of my head, a voice of the past overruled,”might as well keep going until you actually fall off.”


I grabbed the next left hand, and my elbow immediately shot out like a chicken wing. In shock I grabbed the next right hand, and so on….for eight more moves! With each move and hold I was positive I was coming off, ready to have the rope catch me. After the eighth move I hit the jug, shocked, with a smile. My mouth was parched, my fingers didn’t work and I was gasping for breath, happy as can be.


Macedonia isn’t a hard climb by today’s standards, it’s not even a hard climb by the standards of two decades ago. But that didn’t really matter to me. It was the hardest I’ve pushed outside of my comfort zone in several years, and it felt great.






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