Monday, February 1, 2016

Good Old Neon

Ankle deep in the rest Hueco. Photo Sam Macke
   A little explanation of the name:

 Good Old Neon is a short story by David Foster Wallace. It explores the life of someone who has seemingly always felt in-genuine, a fraud, constructing their outside appearance and "putting on a show" in everything that they do. The subject and narrator is apparently dead and speaking from "outside of linear time".
   My brother recommended it to me, and a lot of this guy's insecurities and problems were disturbingly relate-able. The story was a shining example of how not to be, conveyed through DFWs self-indulgent but beautiful prose. This seemed like an appropriate name considering the following experience I had climbing the route.
   There were around 10 people at the crag, none of them climbing, all of them watching. When I ended up sending the thing, I had a peculiar feeling. When I was in the flow of the moves I was fully absorbed, but while I was at rests I wasn't sure if I was actually shaking out to combat the critical pump at this upside down heel-toe cam stance. Was I making faces because of the blood rushing to my head, or if I was just a pathetic actor performing for some kind of audience? I felt detatched from the experience of actually climbing, and it was disturbing to feel like such a "fucking show pony" as I later told a friend.

To keep it short, I hate climbing in front of people, primarily because my motivations become confusing and I lose touch with my self. This is the same reason that I can't participate in any kind of social media. This blog is the most overt form of public self-promotion I can engage in without hating myself and becoming confused about why I climb, and it still manages to have some of these effects. In sport climbing, it may not always matter why you climb. Sometimes sending, rather than having fun or experiencing self-discovery, is the only imperative, and people (myself included) manage to derive motivation from some dark, petty, or immature places. But if things get really dangerous or committing in other realms (far from sport climbing) it's important to be honest with oneself. A friend explained it like this:
   "I never tell anyone about the solos I do. I know that holds break and shit happens, and it's a waste of a life if you were trying to impress someone else. Your last thoughts are going to be "I don't want this to happen, it was all so stupid"".

I spent alot of time at the Bridge this winter, learning to bolt and training for specific routes and even specific moves. It was a rewarding experience to show up and send the longstanding project (Weasel Overdrive, M10/11), but it was much more satisfying to author my own routes, choosing lines and working fresh moves on natural, untouched features.  I added 10 bolts deeper in the cave, joining Weasel Overdrive right before the crux. This would be Good Old Neon. After bolting the line the day before, I gave it one beta burn and then sent second try, much to my surprise. I had no idea I was going to make links right away. Aaron Mulkey was onsighting a fun M8 that joins the big lines after the crux, and once it was apparent that I was sending he chose to hang tight and wait for me to complete the first ascent. This was a kind gesture, but now none of the 10 people at the crag were climbing, and the pressure was on. I went all the way to the second pair of chains, climbing fast and confidently up the ice to finish, and screaming at the end.
    This line was steeper, with many hard steinpull moves and spans near the limit of my reach. Again, I chose to climb in DTS, using no figures of four, as the euros say. This wasn't a detriment most of the time; the rock is beautifully featured and there are ample footholds even in the horizontal cruxes. Only on a couple of moves and one clip was I truly 'smearing' crampons on nothing. This is likely a spot where most modern mixed-wankers would opt for a figure four.

   I definitely lack the experience to properly rate this, not having redpointed many hard established mixed routes. The only thing it compares to are training routes in the Manitou Ghetto. I would say it requires a similar endurance effort to The Nihilist, but with the benefit of a relaxed and beautiful outro stemming between, and traversing across fragile ice daggers. There was one good rest utilizing a heel-toe cam in a hueco, but it was considerably worse (but less painful) than the knee-bar on Weasel Overdrive.

Good Old Neon, clipping in the crux, on the beta burn. Jade the dog at foreground. Photo Sam Macke
Another concern here: We haven't manufactured a single hold. The closest we've gotten is hammering in old picks to clear choss out of pockets and dirty seams. I think the natural features are really good, and I've always been opposed to  manufacturing, even in a wholly contrived discipline like dry-tooling. The only type of areas in which I've manufactured holds are ones in where the cliff itself is unnatural, like a quarry, or a blasted tunnel, like the Manitou Ghetto. While the early 20th century logging activity at the bridge left a permanent human mark in the rock, the tunnel itself is a natural, beautiful cave lined with calcite drip features, tufas, and stalactites. A lot of people have shared with me their ideas about manufacturing, and the modern, gymnastic potential the crag would hold if we "spanned" the blank sections with a bit of power-tooling. The bottom line is just that I don't want to be the one to do it. It leaves a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. This is a wonder of nature and geology, not some fucking gods-gift to climbers that we can sculpt however we want. I don't care if "they all do it in europe".  As long as I'm working on this crag I don't want to see drilled pockets. I think it's complete bullshit. Using bad holds is a part of the challenge, and ice tools lend themselves well to this type of climbing. This will never be anyone's training crag in the way that the Ghetto, Vail Ampitheater, or the Hall of Justice are. For now there's no chance we'll run out of good, natural, unsent lines to bolt and climb.
Wrestling the moss blobs. photo Davis Merritt
Deeper in the cave, I spent three days aid-rope-soloing, taking as big of a whip as there's room for in the tunnel when a tool slowly seesawed out of a wet pocket. I was actually screwing a hanger on to a bolt when it happened. After several 5 hour sessions of bolting on lead, hanging out in the cold drips with a commercial fishing jacket and waders on, getting incredibly uncomfortable, I finally bolted the 60 foot roof.

The result is another project, Infinite Jest, and like the epic novel it'll take some serious time for me to finish. Moving along with the DFW theme, the hardest lines should naturally be named after the real monsters, The Pale King and Infinite Jest. The line is long and complicated, and at times contrived, and it's going to require some patience and commitment. I could have gone with physics related names, but instead the working name theme may be even more pretentious. It adds 50 feet of horizontal roof climbing into the crux sections of Good Old Neon and Weasel Overdrive. No matter the temperature, it's always dripping, and it's hard to work. One of the points of protection is a piece of 1-inch iron driven into the ceiling back in the days of the logging flume. It's going to go on all natural features, and it would represent a new level for mixed climbing in Wyoming. By the time I was done bolting the line, the season was drawing to a close, ice was falling down, and my body was telling me to take a break.
the incredible features on Infinite Jest.

another FA, Vermin Supreme, M8/9. (alot harder without the ice.)
So far my additions to the crag include:

Least Weasel M7                      (FA Niels Davis (funny business at the anchor...).)
Vermin Supreme M8/9              (first go with ice, sent dry Var. later.)
Weasel Overdrive: M10/11       (kneebar favors small legs, solid 11 if you can't get it.).
Good Old Neon.                        (way harder than Weasels)

Infinite Jest                                (tunnel project, unsent).
and two or three other unsent projects.

This season I managed to onsight every established mixed route at the crag, including
Superbowl Sunday, M8
Sam's M8 upstream, and
Whiskey Pneumonia M6/7

    So far no-one has confirmed Weasels or Neon. Phil managed a quick one-hang on Weasels and returned some positive feedback on the movement.  I've spent 15 or so days here this season, and every one has been memorable. The ice is all cooked for now, but I would be amped to have some people join me to help develop here next season. November and December are definitely the best times, and the only times when public access does not involve a 2 hr ski tour each way. Get in contact with me if you're interested. Right now there are serious access issues (on approach, not at the crag, which is on public land.), so understand that it may not happen. That's it for this year. Peace

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