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Unnamed

July 27, 2012

(Max)

An alternate title to this blog post might be: “A long post about a single obscure climb no one is interested in.” But I have to give this some backstory or it will really make no sense. Sometime last year I became obsessed with an unnamed climb at Coopers described in the guide with the words: “To the right of Such Sunsets is a series of fracture flakes, which has been done but is not worth more than a mention.” This climb is on the Electric Avenue boulder and I noticed it while other members of the crew were working Electric Avenue. It happened because we had heard from another strong climber that there was a climb in this area called “Such Sunsets” which had a V6 stand start, and that sound like something worth trying while the others worked an actual classic. Such Sunsets itself was described in the guide as “A buttermilk/granite-esque, Joel Brady special. Start in front of the intruding boulder on thin edges and make desperate moves past pockets, edges, and slopers to the top.” However it was the unnamed flake system climb that seemed to fit this description more perfectly, as the area around the flakes actually had sunset-like coloring in this space. We assumed this was it. And after a few tries from the obvious stand-start hold, it felt like a solid V6.

I wound up spending a lot of time that day on it, since the holds were sharp and the moves very long. I had to work it in pieces and then come back on the next weekend and put it together. A few of the crew tried it with me on that second day, though there wasn’t much interest because the first move is the longest and because the rarely used, sharp holds are very painful. But I ended up posting later that I had done the stand start to Such Sunsets. No one else we knew seemed to know it or have tried it.

The strong climber we had heard about this problem from told us that he had done the V9 sit start described in the book. I had looked at the sit start to this flake climb but it seemed very unappealing; the sharp flakes of the top part were even smaller at the bottom and there were no feet. The smears you end up using are some of the worst I’ve ever tried big moves off of, and I logged the sit start to this climb away as appropriately impossible for me, since V9 was (and still is really) out of my league.

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Jackie on the Unnamed Sit

Months went by and for some reason we returned to the Electric Avenue boulder. I don’t remember who wanted to do what but this boulder is out of the way and only really has one classic line on it. I wound up with some time to kill again between spots and touched the seemingly obvious sit start holds again. For some reason this time they felt better, maybe because my fingers had gotten stronger, maybe because the conditions were better. Either way I immediately called Jackie over and made her get on it because when I find tiny crimps, I go get the Jackie Fingers. To my surprise she flashed the sit start beginning and was immediately up throwing for the very reachy first move of the stand start. In our minds she had just done V9 moves first try and everyone was suddenly psyched. My fingers are about as far from Jackie fingers as you can get, but I didn’t think she was suddenly climbing (make that flashing) moves that were three grades harder than my project grade. I tried the moves for the first time with less certainty of my own failure, and lo and behold, after a few burns, I had gotten the two-move sit start in pieces.

Nothing more happened that day, but Jackie and I went home thinking we were about to send our first V9’s and were beyond psyched. We came back the next weekend and realized that for her, the first move of the stand start was the crux because of the reach, and for me the transition into that move was the deal breaker because the feet were so bad. I could do the stand start only by setting up very carefully on the best of half a dozen terrible smears. But when transitioning out of the difficult sit start moves, I could not set up so delicately. We both worked this climb for at least an hour every week for the next month or so, dialing the individual moves, but not being able to link more than a few of them. Every move was hard, every crux was exhausting, and the three distinct crux sections were enough to tire out anyone. It was a 12 foot tall boulder with about an 18 move sequence and none of us had the gas to put it all together. Furthermore each crux demanded a different skill set, the first with crimps, the second reachy and foot beta intensive, and the last a burly gaston to a shallow two-finger pocket. It didn’t seem like there was one body type capable of making the whole thing easier. “Well that’s what a V9 feels like,” is what we kept saying to each other.

More time went by and I was able to do all of the moves and eventually link them into over lapping halves. Jackie stuck the reachy, second crux move and it seemed like it was well within both of our abilities. I began to have doubts about it being V9, having only just sent a few outdoor V7’s at that point, and I couldn’t imagine that a V9 would even seem doable. I started thinking it would have to be downgraded to V8, or even just hard V7.

Then someone posted about it on the APW blog. And someone in the know replied that we were climbing the wrong problem. Such Sunsets was actually the awful looking climb to the left, full of sharp pockets, cobwebs, and choss that looked like it soaked in runoff year round. It is an ugly gray color and looks nothing like a sunset you would see anywhere but in film noir. We couldn’t believe it. We asked more people, studied the guide more carefully, but finally realized we were wrong. The descriptions seemed like they should have been reversed. The flake system was an excellent climb with orange and red hues, and the pocket climb was a choss pile not worth mentioning. But the grades rang true. What we had been trying really felt like hard V7 after some work, and it had been told to us that it was a stand V6/ sit V7 that had been climbed before, even though it wasn’t mentioned fully in the book. The sit start to the pocket problem Such Sunsets was clearly in the V9 or even harder range. Too bad.

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Max on Unnamed

After drinking away our discouragement we still hit the problem again the next week with enthusiasm because it was still a new V7, and that was still a hard, project-worthy grade for any of us. I personally became even more obsessed with it than before because now it felt like it should have already gone down, as I had done every move on it multiple times. At some point in July we decided to camp at Coopers overnight and climb the next day because it was drizzling. On Sunday the rock was still wet, but because we were already there, we decided to see if there were easier climbs we could still do. It was then that I worked and sent a highballish V2 in the Tilted Tree Corridor area called Visitation. (From the guide: “A good problem, however, the hardest moves are way off the deck!”) I ended up pulling full body weight on my overextended left arm at the top while trying to smear wet holds and keep myself from falling sideways onto wet rocks. I eventually gritted it out and sent, but when I was on the ground again I suddenly had very real pain in my left shoulder. I was done for the day, and that turned into a week, and that turned into visits to the Ortho. After a while it started to feel better and I eventually started climbing on it again against my doctor’s orders. Hard to stay on the ground when you feel so close on your hardest project.

One of the last times I tried it that year I made it one move from the top, and gassed out on the final sloper below the lip. As I said, the crux move into this is a big throw onto a left handed gaston. My shoulder had been feeling better, but I had been noticing that while trying this move I seemed to be getting weaker and weaker on it. I thought this was just from favoring it due to the pain, but my final Ortho visit and trip through the MRI confirmed that my labrum ligament looked like a dog had been chewing on it. I needed surgery, and I sometimes think that working that last crux move on the Unnamed problem might have been what aggravated the injury well beyond any possibility of natural healing. Not wanting to languish in an injured state, I immediately stopped climbing for real this time and got the surgery. Six months on my ass, drinking beer, missing an HP40 trip I had already bought plane tickets for, really low on morale. I know I could have been riding the exercise bike during this time but I just didn’t feel like it. Climbing has been my motivation for all other exercise for a long time and without it I just wanted to relax.

I gained weight, watched climbing videos, and plotted my projects. The rest of the crew didn’t make it back to the Electric Avenue boulder that fall since the weather hadn’t been great and Gretna had new problems for everyone. I came back a little early on New Year’s Day 2012, pushed too hard, and almost immediately strained my shoulder again. I took another month off and when I came back again I took it very slow. It was frustrating but necessary. And luckily I healed pretty quickly.

A few months went by and I found myself staring at the Unnamed climb again. I had talked about wanting to get back on it, and Jackie finally had us go down just to take a look at it. I tried the start holds and they felt good, maybe even better than the year before. After the Joes trip I was back to climbing my hardest and I felt it should go easy. Wrong again. It bouted me and bouted me. All the same cruxes were still difficult and I just could not link through all the powerful movements, even though the shoulder felt fine and that final gaston wasn’t much of a problem. I began training for it specifically, and spending all of my energy on this climb for a few weekends in a row. But still I didn’t feel too much closer than I had a year ago.

Eventually, after riding up with a non-climbing friend to work it when no one else was available, I spent every last bit of energy I had on it, felt myself pulling harder than I ever had before, and Completely Failed. I knew at the end of that day that I was not going to send it any time soon. It was clear that it was time to start over, and I decided I had to ditch all my beta and try to think of something new. Jackie and others had used different beta, more suited to shorter climbers with smaller fingers and the ability to scrunch up tighter, but I had assumed that those moves couldn’t work for me after trying them a few times. There are many small holds on this face, but my overall tendency in climbing is to just make big moves between the best ones, since my fingers are wide and I don’t crimp well. Once last year before working the sit I had seen a video of someone climbing this problem in a way which had looked overly simple, and just suggested to me that this climb was far below the level of the climber. The reachy moves looked easy, and I assumed the guy was taller as well. I had tried to find that clip again when I started working the sit variation but couldn’t find it. The clip was buried somewhere in one of many Coopers compilations that didn’t come up through searching quickly. (Try YouTube searching for the Joe’s 2012 video, you can type in the name of the video verbatim and it won’t be anywhere near the first thing that comes up.) I began searching for it again and spent a good hour watching everything Coopers related I could find. It finally popped up in the middle of a very long video about several other east coast boulder areas. (Minute 5:47 of the video here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QYDq7hm4QE). It was pure chance that I stuck through the 15 minute video of foreign looking areas to see it, but there it was. The guy doing that strange looking beta and making it look easy. I studied the video very closely and resolved to give his method a try.

This was on a Monday. I looked up the weather for the coming weekend and it was hot and rainy in WV. It was hot and rainy all the way through the available weather forecast except for the next day, Tuesday. Not having anything important lined up for the next day work-wise, and completely obsessed with the climb at this point, I took the day off and drove up to Coopers alone. I brought two pads and I was very familiar with the climb at this point, so I knew I wasn’t going to fall awkwardly on the slanted boulder behind the climb. (Later though, Jackie literally slapped me for doing this.)

The guy in the video used different starting holds than I had been using which were off to the right a little and smaller. One I had never touched before. The feet were just as bad as the ones I used for my beta, but he was laying back for the start instead of squaring up to the rock. I tried it this way once, and I could immediately tell it wouldn’t work that way for me. But if I used one of the hands and feet he used, and one of the hands and feet I had initially been starting with, suddenly the ultra-burly first move (for a tall guy with fat fingers) became very doable. I also tested how he had done the reachy second crux with a very high backstep very reminiscent of some of Jackie’s early beta. Usually high backsteps get me too scrunched up to generate any power, but I forced myself into the awkward position and all of a sudden I had the height I needed to reach the sharp flake above fairly easily. Still in disbelief, I sat down to give it a solid try, and suddenly I was through all the hard moves and on top of the rock.

Check out the video here:

So I guess the entire point of this post is really to talk about tunnel vision. When I sent the climb so easily after finding that I had to use what seemed like some short-person beta Jackie wasn’t even interested in, it was kind of a letdown. I thought I was on my way to sending the hardest thing I had ever done (for me personally, not grade-wise) and it turned out to be one of the easier moderates at Coopers and probably the easiest V7 that I know of there (if you’re tall and have fat fingers.) I knew I had been narrow minded and over obsessed. I used to assume that after every move on a climb had gone, it was only a short matter of time before the whole thing could be linked. I am finding this less and less true as I try harder stuff. If I had tried some different movement and different holds at the beginning, or if I had at least tried the beta of the other climbers around me and not assumed that my different body type immediately meant that I had to reinvent the entire sequence of the climb, It would have gone a year ago. I hadn’t believed that a V7 just might feel like a V7.

The problem, as it is so often for me, is that I assume that since I’m not that amazing of a climber, all moves are going to feel over-strenuous, even the technical ones that shouldn’t be. So when things don’t feel right, I often just keep pressing on and on, putting more and more energy into the moves until I get them with will alone. I assume that I have then found my beta and I repeat the climb over and over until I link all the way through, like I tried to do all last year and for the last few months. And the biggest problem is that sometimes this stupid method works. I end up sending not by skill or strength, but pure repetition. I know that sending climbs in this way isn’t helping me be a better climber or improving my technique or sequencing skills. I don’t know if others feel like they have the same problem, but I have found it hard not to take this easier-seeming way out, even though in the end it usually meant more effort, more burns, and fewer sends.

After that Tuesday I resolved of course to try more variations on my sequences even if it initially felt like wasted energy. This is sometimes difficult because Coopers is a fair amount of driving from D.C. and at best we climb one day outside a week. Usually it’s less, and other times we are traveling to places we may not visit again for a year or more. On trips like this the desire is to pick a suitable project and send it at all costs. You don’t want to leave empty handed and pining over that great classic line you almost sent. This causes me at least to try for endurance wasting send-burns far too early into the sequencing process, and usually ends my search for the best beta as soon as every move has been done at least once. This is not the way to approach any climb, even one you get to work on for just one day on vacation. Trying moves a variety of different ways with every available hold in isolation and then putting together the path of least resistance is almost always the best method, even if you have to waste that extra energy trying each variation a few times to really give it a chance. I’m not personally a subscriber to behavioristic ethics like “ground up” especially when dealing with boulders, but for those who are I think this advice still works. It might be good to try the full sequence in different ways even if one has worked pretty well once. I’m sure my process won’t completely change overnight but this experience has pushed me in the right direction and it’s long overdue. I look forward to a more patient process in the future.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. July 28, 2012 8:02 am

    This is not the way to approach any climb, even one you get to work on for just one day on vacation

  2. July 30, 2012 12:45 am

    Yes, that was the point of this post. Thanks!

  3. Joel Brady permalink
    May 9, 2014 2:54 pm

    hello. this may be weird to comment on a two year-old post, and you looked to have figured things out, but yes, such sunsets stand is to the left of unnamed. the stand begins with one hand (left, I believe) in an interesting incut pocket with a sharp edge. deadpoint up and right to a good edge that you fingerroll match on, then out right to a big gaston, I think. the sit begins on really non-descript bad holds–really whichever ones you want to grab, then does a very hard deadpoint into the pocket you start on for the stand. matt bosely later did that sit and broke due left to complete “sunrise” (v10), not in the guidebook. To my knowledge the direct line (“high noon project) remains uncompleted, and is about v11. Best, Joel

    • May 9, 2014 7:21 pm

      Thanks Joel! Yeah its been a few years and now my buddy is talking about wanting to go back and try the real Such Sunsets climb. The holds look small and sharp, but might be good for this warmer weather. Nice job on the FA!

  4. May 9, 2017 9:44 am

    Good points all around. Truly apcperiated.

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