Tag Archives: katie lambert climber

Least Expected

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Misja Pec

For my third birthday, all I wanted was a chocolate cake. My mom promised me one, so I was excited for this grand delivery of layer upon layer of creamy chocolate covered in ribbons of icing. My whole family would be there with presents and kisses, singing “Happy Birthday” amid the streamers and balloons filling the air. I would finally feel like the princess I was destined to be. When the big day came, my mom plopped down a brown loaf with three tiny candles in front of me with a thud. There was no multi-tiered chocolate cake with towers of icing; there were no balloons, no streamers, no piles of gifts, and no one else in my family except my parents. In my three-year-old mind, everything was ruined.

Flash-forward 33 years later, and I’m sitting in my van with tears running down my face while I ice my ankle and lament my situation: It’s two days before my husband, Ben, and I are supposed to leave for a five-week climbing trip to Slovenia. My feet were about six feet off the ground on Change of Heart, a V6 in Bishop’s Buttermilks, when I jumped down and landed perfectly on the pads in a crouched position. A split second later, I lost my balance and tipped forward, my left foot twisting ever so slightly in an awkward direction. I felt a pop on the inside of my ankle and immediately grabbed it in pain. I quickly tried to walk it off only to realize that something was definitely wrong. Shock set in slowly, then mourning, denial, and grave disappointment, a similar process the mind goes through when someone dies. This was happening almost two years to the day after I broke my ankle (also bouldering in the Buttermilks) when my foot struck the ground between the pads, an injury that took me nearly three months to recover from.

To add insult to injury (pun fully intended), this round of ankle problems happened when I wasn’t even supposed to be climbing hard. I was in taper mode following a life-consuming, 6-hours-a-day training regimen. For the past two months, Ben and I had been visiting family in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and training at the local gym. Every Monday through Thursday we devoted ourselves to training like it was our job. Wake up, yoga, breakfast, then head to the gym for cardio, weightlifting, climbing, hundreds of pull-ups, campusing, hangboarding, Frenchies, circuits, TRX, leg exercises, 4×4’s—and that’s all in a single session. We were sacrificing prime Southern conditions at the half-dozen world-class crags near Chattanooga to toil away inside. I had even trained through a nasty weeklong flu that had me otherwise bedridden with soup and hot tea.

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Training for power

Our goal to dispatch projects quickly on fantastic Slovenian limestone seemed like it was slipping away. My ankle turned into a large purple onion while my mind filled with doubt. What if it’s broken? Will I be able to push off the notoriously glassy feet of Misja Pec? What would I do with my strongest body ever and a bum ankle? Should I stay in Bishop in our van, just limping along and waiting? Waiting for what exactly, I wasn’t sure.

Two days later I was being escorted via wheelchair through three different airports (surprisingly the smoothest travel experience of my life), and we were on our way. I was nervous for what lay ahead. I wanted to be supportive of Ben because he had put in just as much training effort and was looking really strong, but I was feeling sorry for myself. We arrived to consistent rain, but the thatched-roof villages mixed with pastures of sheep and rolling hills covered in fog were overwhelmingly enchanting. I tried to do some physical therapy and keep busy with yoga, writing, movies, and cooking, but things were moving so slowly that after a week there I was disappointed in everything. I wanted to be climbing, but I could barely walk to the base of the wall.

All those weeks of training, the anticipation, the excitement; it had all been for nothing. I thought about the missed opportunities and the what if’s, digging myself a great dark hole of emptiness and gloom. I crawled in that hole, piled all my grief on top, and sat there, alone. I felt like a fool, like a child, like a brat. I felt like that 3-year-old who denied her mom’s homemade bread.

A chance meeting between Ben and a shoulder surgeon at the crag one day led me to Slovenia’s top physiotherapist, who happened to live right down the street. I was doubtful—what on earth would make him so great, but I would do anything to get out of this hell hole.

A rather large man examined my underwear-clad body while I walked around his office. Yanking on my inflamed ankle, he pressed and poked the most painful places with all of his might, telling me to focus on my breathing, always on my breathing. “Just breathe,” he said. “Look at your breathing, calm your breathing.” Then he sat down in a chair across from me and said, “Tell me, what is it that is causing you stress? I can see it in your eyes when you first came in. Something has you unsatisfied that is beyond this injury.” Taking a deep breath and deciding to trust him not just with my physical body but my emotional one as well I told him about the trials and tribulations of my marriage and the stresses I felt from it. He went on to say that as an athlete my whole being needed to be 100% focused on climbing, that any slight irritation, any emotional trouble, anything that could wobble me is harmful to my climbing and my health. With this kind of trouble a small injury can blow up into a big thing. Taking my hands in his, he told me I could climb as much as I want but warned me it would be painful. “Don’t worry, though,” he said, “because it is only the mind and the mind lives in the past.” As I walked out, he called after me, “Do not live in fear and enjoy your life.”

I walked out of his office a little bit looser both in my body and in my mind. He had helped to break up some of the stagnation in my ankle and he helped me to breath deeper, and to  take responsibility for my feelings. I was being healed both physically and emotionally, something that you just don’t find with your typical doc in the States. Getting an ok from him also helped me to relax; his reassurance that it wasn’t broken, that it would heal were really all I needed. I was going to be ok, I just needed time, I just needed to let go of the preconceived ideas I had about performance and red-points and onsights. I just needed to relax and enjoy.

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Taking it all in and waiting for the shade.

Expectations set you up for failure. If you do not achieve the one thing you desire, life can feel like a disaster, and it means you miss a larger piece of the puzzle: the greatness of the unexpected. Expectations make you rigid and closed off to other opportunities. They force you to demand a lot of yourself, of others, and of the universe at large. My expectations for this climbing trip, for all the glorious routes I would climb and prove my fitness to kept me blind to the path I was actually on.

I’ve always heard the saying “there is no success like failure,” and I’ve come to understand that it is in failure that we see ourselves for who we really are and what we’re made of. If I hadn’t hurt my ankle, I never would have gone to see the Slovenian physiotherapist Alan Lilic, I never would have come to understand myself that much more, and I never would have gotten a grasp on the things in my relationship that needed to be ironed out. I  learned the difference between having a goal and having an expectation. Goals are things that I strive for, work for, and build myself for and it has always been that with enough preparation and enough will power to keep pushing through the ups and downs they can be met. My expectation was thinking that the goal would be met with ease, that just because I had trained I was guaranteed great victory in my climbing, that I was untouchable by obstacle. Having goals is great—it drives, motivates, and pushes you, but by expecting to always meet or exceed my goals, I’ve set myself up to be unhappy. When our expectations aren’t met, we’re left with a sort of self-imposed suffering called disappointment, and life is too short and too precious for such frivolity. My Technicolor foot barely fits into my climbing shoe now, and the pain of pulling on polished feet is subsiding more and more, but my climbing goals are still there, as well as my relationship that requires care and nurturing. For years I demanded that my mom admit she made a loaf of bread instead of a cake. Eventually she confessed it was a chocolate spice bread. We laughed over the silliness of it all, and she said, “That was probably the best bread I’ve ever made, which is too bad for you because I lost the recipe.” It’s unfortunate for me that I never tasted it, but unlike the fleetingness of a homemade pastry, climbing and life continue to offer up opportunities for new experiences, new goals, new processes and endless lessons. I’m fortunate beyond belief with the opportunities and accomplishments in my life. Some things have come with ease and some things have been a battle, leaving me bruised and scarred and questioning  how bad I want it but I keep getting up and going back. 

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That sweet taste of sending a beautiful route. Pticja Perspektiva (8a+/13c)

all photos by http://www.bendittophoto.com

a version of this story was published in the May 2016 edition of Climbing Magazine.

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A Women’s Revolution..pt.1

In 1995 I first went rock climbing with a host of other youth and some camp counselors. I had taken a position as a Junior Counselor at a summer camp in North Carolina, an opportunity which came through the urging of my boyfriend at the time and being a 15 year old girl with no other real interest except her boyfriend I decided it was a good idea. Once there I was informed that I was to pick an activity to help facilitate throughout the summer. There were the usual things like beading, swimming, horseback riding, archery, backpacking, but then there was this thing called rock climbing. I had seen some kids climbing on the vertical, wooden wall in the back of the camp and it seemed like a strange but cool thing to do, I signed my name on the sheet. I was taught how to belay, how to make a swiss seat for a harness, how to rappel and how to build a top rope anchor. We went through all the commands, nomenclature and protocol. I picked out a helmet and a Figure 8 and learned the ropes from a guy named Chris. I fell in love with climbing that summer and made a vow to myself to pursue it always.

Summer ended and I returned home to Louisiana. I kept climbing but relied heavily on the skills and knowledge of my boyfriend and other male peers. The climbing community was small and I only knew of two other girls who were interested in it at the time. But, they too relied on their male counterparts to lead the way. Road trips were taken and new crags were explored and as I gained more confidence I grew antsy to start leading. My motivation and determination had me quickly arriving at the skill level of the guys but I still felt that it was something I needed to do with them, I wasn’t confident enough yet to go out with the girls alone.

Through the next 10 years the climbing community blew up worldwide and more and more women were coming onto the scene. I ventured out alone, met new partners and even took out some of my girlfriends to climb. I was meeting more and more females who were keen to go bouldering or sport climbing and these two disciplines dominated my climbing for many years. However, I still found myself looking to the males for instruction on how to use certain gear, or for good spotting at the boulders and for navigating through tricky to find terrain. morning dove

In 2005 tired of leading a “normal” life and wanting to experience some real adventure on the rocks I left behind my boyfriend, my job, my best friend, packed up my truck and headed to Yosemite. I had been there once before but I was still intimidated by the sheer walls of granite, seemingly endless cracks and featureless faces. Even though I had climbed V8 and 5.13 by this time I felt very much like a beginner in Yosemite. I needed to learn the style, the techniques and how to use the gear. Eric Ruderman was one of my first Valley partners, as was Karl Baba, Surfer Bob, Chad Shepard, Eamon Schneider, Jesse Chakrin and Ron Kauk. These guys were encouraging and supportive but would also take the lead at the slightest sign of uncertainty. And even though this was the Big Valley and many women had already made impressive gains for females in the sport there weren’t a lot of women around when I first arrived in Yosemite. I was once again reliant on the men to be the teachers.

Leaning Tower

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katie lambert in the buttermilks, california.

In 2006 I met a gal named Sara Vera. She was strong, independent and keen to go climbing. She had a rack, I had a rope and we partnered up for some adventures. We spent hot Valley days hiking up to the Cathedral Spires only to get shut down because we couldn’t find the route, or bailing off of “easy” 5.9s because they were wide, gaping and terrifying. Sometimes we were successful and would summit a dome or a formation and then summer ended and she went back to Idaho. In 2007 I picked Sara up in Vegas and we headed to Red Rocks. We romped our way up the classic Epinephrine and reached the summit just before sunset. We had a great climb but got lost on the summit looking for the descent. The wind blew too hard for us to hear each other and darkness descended all around. With no hope of finding the correct way down in the dark we shared our very first shiver bivy. Tucked under a small bush, covered by the rope, we spooned until first light. We made it down the next morning and had earned a new notch on our belts as women in the outdoors.

Katie y Ben

In 2009 I met my husband in Yosemite and we partnered up for many climbs not just in Yosemite but world-wide. It is with him that I climbed El Cap for the first time, have freed wall routes, learned how to haul a bag, learned how to set-up a portaledge, climbed 5.14, prusiked up stuck ropes, stayed out too long in the rain, thrown tantrums at the crag, cried, got scared and relied on him to finish the pitch. He has taught me so much and has been unwavering in his love and support and has been one of my best partners ever. It’s that old habit I have of looking to the men around me to show me the way. But, in the last few years with the knowledge and skills I have picked up through the years I have been seeking out females to climb with and not just for bouldering and sport climbing but for trad routes, walls and rocky alpine endeavors. In the last few years I’ve met more and more skilled and adventurous ladies out there and my quiver of rad women to tie in with has grown substantially.

Katie climbs through a long traversing pitch midway up Pichenibule.

And these are real women with real lives – they are mothers, they are teachers, they are nurses, they are engineers, they are scientists, they are doctors, they are athletes, they are cooks, they are powerful and they are inspired. I’ve had some amazing times and some very hard times with these ladies but we look to each other to lead the way, we support one-another and encourage one-another. We are women and we are strong and we are capable. The men in my life who have been there to show me the way empowered me as an individual but also as a woman. They saw in me the potential and drive and helped to bring me to the place I am today. Without those men I wouldn’t be the woman I am now and as the woman I am now I am grateful to them for that but I am also jazzed to be out on the sharp end with the ladies in my life making our own way.

This is dedicated to all the women and girls out there pushing themselves in their endeavors and embracing their power as females. A shout out to the following for being psyched and inspired partners: Sandra Horna, Eliza Kerr, Shannon Vallejo, Mandi Finger, Christina Freschl, Sara Vera, Thea Marie, Ann Raber, Caroline George, Beth Rodden, Jill Church Waters, Lisa Bedient, Kate Rutherford, Ashley Helms, Trish McGuire and all the rest.


The Verdon Gorge

Reposted from: http://blog.eddiebauer.com/2015/02/09/katie-lambert-free-climbs-the-verdon-gorge/

This is the kind of rock that Katie would dream of as a kid in Louisiana.  Perfection on suvellir et punir The Verdon is known for its top down access, the biggest challenge to the approach can be finding exactly where the top is. Sometime in the 1990s, I became aware of the broader world of rock climbing. Growing up in the Deep South, I wasn’t blessed with endless cliffs or high mountains, and places such as Yosemite, the Dolomites, the Hand of Fatima in Africa, and the Verdon Gorge of Southern France became dream places to visit. I lived with the idea that somehow, one day I might be able to visit those places, and if I was lucky enough, I might even be able to climb there at a level that would make me proud. While I dreamed and trained in a hot and humid garage climbing gym, a lot of classic history had already been made. Those places which had so inspired me were falling out of vogue in exchange for a steeper, more gymnastic type of free climbing. But there was something about the bold run-out, very delicate style of climbing in places like the Verdon that were alluring to me. “There was something about the bold run-out, very delicate style of climbing in places like the Verdon that were alluring to me.” —Katie Lambert Situated on a fault line in the Provence region of France, the Verdon Gorge establishes a border between the high mountains of the Hautes-Alpes and the lush rolling hills and valleys of Provence. Through the ages, the river of the Verdon has carved a canyon through the Jurassic age limestone, creating striking gold and gray walls up to 1,500 feet tall. Realizing that these cliffs were prime for climbing, routes started to become developed in the late 1960s. The first features that were climbed followed cracks, fissures and ledges up the imposing cliffs, and everything in the Verdon was established ground up. Classic and historical routes such as La DemandeUla and Luna Bong are results of this era of climbing in the Verdon. However, if men of staunch tradition could not free-climb their way through sections, then they resorted to aid techniques. This practice, which was commonplace the world over, started to take a different shape when more technically advanced free climbers like Patrick Edlinger, Jacques Perrier, Jean Marc Troussier, J.B. Tribout, Patrick Berhault, and the Le Menestrel brothers started to push the limits of possibility in the Verdon in the 1980s and 1990s. The ground-up, all-trad approach was left behind for bolted faces established from the top down. With a road running the course of the lip of the gorge and every cliff being accessible by rappelling into it, it only seemed obvious to start developing routes in what would become known as “rap-bolting.”

This approach opened the door to possibilities, because instead of having to follow the obvious weaknesses up the wall, the “rap-bolting” approach made it possible to piece together the thin and seemingly blank faces, and with that a new wave of hard free climbing was born. With the rap-bolting also came “hang-dogging,” which involves hanging on a rope to sort out the moves and sequences of the climb in order to free climb the route in its entirety without falls or hanging. Not only were new routes being established from the top down, but previously ground up aid routes were now being free climbed thanks to the hang-dogging and top down “sussing out.” At the time, both rap-bolting and hang-dogging were highly controversial for the “old guard” and brought the ethics of climbing into question, not only in France but the world over. However, these new tactics resulted in not only the development of harder routes but also helped to push the limits of what humans were capable of as far as physical prowess. The dawn of a new era had arrived and technical masterpieces were the result. “In September 2014, my long-held dream of visiting the Verdon Gorge had come to fruition when I met up with Caroline George for a weeklong foray into the miles of blue limestone walls. I wanted to share a quintessential Verdon experience with her, and my list of potential routes to do was seemingly endless.” —Katie Lambert In the Verdon Gorge, one of the most famous routes of this nature was established in the mid-1970s by Stephane Troussier and Jacques “Pschitt” Perrier. The two used fixed ropes from the top to find the line of holds and features that would became the 10 pitch traversing route known as Pichenibule. The route was not climbed all in one go until 1980, when the great Patrick Berhault climbed it at a grade of 6c+/AO (5.11c/A0), which was soon followed by the first female ascent of this rating by Marisa Montes. But it was in 1985 that Catherine Destivelle made the first free ascent of this route at a very sandbagged 7b++ (5.12c++) grade, quite an impressive feat, as this was at the top of the level in those days. Through the years, as the grades started to climb, the ratings of many of the original free climbs of the Verdon have leveled out and Pichenibule has finally started to settle around the more appropriate grade of 7c+ (5.13a). In September 2014, my long-held dream of visiting the Verdon Gorge came to fruition when I met up with Caroline George for a weeklong foray into the miles of blue limestone walls. I wanted to share a quintessential Verdon experience with her, and my list of potential routes to do was seemingly endless. Then she suggested Pichenibule. This route would offer up everything the Verdon meant to me: a test of finger strength, technique, and nerve to try the run-outs. I had been made aware that the crux pitch, if done free, was quite hard. I wanted the odds in our favor for making a team free-ascent of this historical line, so I decided to stick with the style of the area and preview the pitch from the top.

I rappelled into the route with a fixed line and two micro-traxions (self-belay devices). The river raged 1,500 feet below and the walls swept away below me. The exposure wasn’t too bad, but as I looked at the holds on my way down, glistening in the sun, I realized this pitch was indeed going to be hard. I clipped into the belay, arranged my gear, and set off on a solo mission to solve the puzzle. I was greeted with powerful moves, very technical footwork and handholds, which were more like single-finger holds that were impossible to grip in the heat of the sun. I had to hand-over-hand up the rope to easier ground and then climb out to the top. I felt a little overwhelmed by the prospect of freeing this route. A little later in the day, after the sun had dropped below the mountains, I went back down to see if it was any better in the shade. The grip was better but the moves were still hard. The Verdon was showing me that the climbing there was tough, and I wondered if I wasn’t being too audacious. A couple of days later, after better acquainting ourselves with the climbing of the Verdon on the beautiful Surveiller et Punir, we roped up to try our luck on Pichenibule. After rappelling into the wall some 900 feet down, we led out, swapping leads through the run-outs, traverses and gouttes d’eau before finally arriving at the crux 10th pitch. We had timed it all just right so that the wall was now in the shade. Relieved at this, I tightened my shoes, had a few sips of water, double-checked my knot and got reassurance from Caroline that she would give me a soft catch if I fell. Then I set off. I climbed up the bouldery intro sequences to the very reachy and thin crux. I struggled to bring my left foot up in order to reach easier ground, and then I fell. I soared through the air and came to rest a few feet above Caroline. My fingers ached with numbness from gripping too hard and I yelled out in frustration and pain. Despite having fallen, the climbing actually felt achievable, but I wondered if I could do it again. I lowered back to Caroline, tied into the anchor, pulled my rope and set off again. The climbing seemed automatic. I wasn’t really thinking about what to do as much as I was just doing it. Before I knew it, I was back where I had fallen, bringing my left foot up and reaching for the better incut crimp. My fingers latched the hold and I exhaled with relief. I rested there for a little while before climbing the last 15 feet to the anchor. I had done it.,I had managed to free climb the notorious 10th pitch of Pichenibule! I belayed Caroline up and then set off again on the last run-out pitch to the top. As I sat there, belaying her up and watching the clouds turn a beautiful pink and gold with the sunset, I felt really proud to have found the sequence that the greats like Stephane Troussier and Jacques “Pschitt” Perrier had seen as possible, and that Patrick Berhault and Catherine Destivelle had unlocked. I had finally arrived in the Verdon, with a great and supportive partner, and had climbed at a level that made me proud. Katie and Caroline organize their gear after a long day out.


A Little Glimpse of climbing in the Verdon Gorge

Freeing the Verdon Gorge from Eddie Bauer on Vimeo.


Sierra Sojourn

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Broken wings. photo Ben Ditto

I started to cringe with each step, steeper and more angled than the previous. The weight of my pack and the events of the day were starting to wear on me and my ankle was getting sore. I was walking differently to compensate for the discomfort and then finally, feet hit flat ground and we were in the home stretch back to the truck. As I dropped my heavy, not so heavy burden to the ground and commenced to follow suit I looked up at Patrick with a smile, the words “Thanks for a great day” spilling from my mouth.

Six months prior I had fallen at the Buttermilks and landed with one foot squarely on the pads, the other crookedly in the hole between the pads. Upon impact my talus cracked in two places. For a minute there, after popping it back into place, I managed to convince myself it was fine. In reality it would be two months of disuse followed by months of rehab. At the time this seemed exceptionally cruel as we had just returned from spending a fall and winter traveling and climbing in Spain.  I had red pointed my first 5.14 as well as numerous other memorable routes and I was feeling strong and psyched.

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China Crisis, 5.14a; Oliana, SP photo: Manabu Yoneyama

We returned to Bishop in February and I hit the ground running. There were a few problems on my mind at the Buttermilks and I went after them almost immediately. I was rewarded with quick ascents and as exciting as that was I was also starting to feel a little confused. I went out climbing even on days I really didn’t feel like climbing and I questioned what my motivation was. I was starting to not feel present and just at the height of that feeling I broke my ankle. It was as if the universe was telling me I needed to sit down and get grounded again.

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Just another day, just another problem. Buttermilks; Bishop, CA photo: POD

No one ever really told me how badly broken bones hurt, or how they go through a range of pain or how the mental and emotional self also hurt. I can safely say one thing I learned is that healing hurts – almost more than the break itself.  For days I could hardly get out of bed, the discomfort coupled with the amount of energy it took to drag myself around were just too much. I watched movies, I read, I wrote, I cried, and I slept.  Despite the pain I never filled my prescription for Percocet – I just endured and winced with the waves of discomfort. I never filled it because I was afraid of it, because I knew I would fall into a depression as the time wore on and if I had those pills I would probably find myself down a very dark hole.

I’m a very physical person – at times in my life one could equate my happiness with my activity level. I have always been this way. I love nothing more than trying hard, pushing myself, sweating and feeling the deep burn. I enjoy my body and using it to it’s utmost capacity. This being my first broken bone I was afraid of the down time, afraid of not expressing myself physically, afraid, afraid, afraid. Some days were better than others and I grew a lot as an individual during that time.  I reflected on what things are important to me and what I came up with was an array of things but at the top of the list was health. I went on to take this apart and ask myself what about health is important, is achievable, am I working with currently and how could I continue to work with that in the longterm?

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Seasonal foods, fresh foods, whole foods. Tomatoes keep you cool in the summer!

The work I do with Sacred Rok as camp cook has pushed me into a realm of being responsible for not only my own diet but the diet of many youth and mentors/adults. I cook seasonal foods, organic foods, local foods, whole foods – basically real food. Being an athlete I also want to know what is the most nutritious and beneficial way I can eat for performance. These two things coupled together with the down time of recovery pushed me to enroll in graduate school for a masters in Holistic Nutrition. I’m a few months into the program and I’m loving every bit of it. It’s pushed me further to consider each thing we put into our bodies.

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Organic, local and free!

After a few weeks of being broken I started to get creative with my exercise. Unable to walk or put weight on my right leg I resorted to a lot of floor exercise – like one leg push-ups, ice-bucket lifts with one arm, countless ab work outs, I even started to strap weights to my legs to do leg lifts, and then I entered into a serious hangboard program. I eased into it and always followed suit with push-ups, wrist curls and other oppositional training. Having trained on the board for years I quickly arrived at the point were I was ready to start training max strength. This involved a series of different repeater exercises with added weight as well as pull-ups with weight. It also involved one arm hangs and one arm pull-ups – these involved taking weight off until I could do a pull-up unassisted. It helped structure my time and give me direction even though it seemed like I would possibly peak in my fitness at a time when I wouldn’t even really be climbing. I did it anyway.

One from the archives - hangboarding in El Portal. photo Jeff Johnson

One from the archives – hangboarding in El Portal. photo Jeff Johnson

Before I knew it it was time to start using my foot again. I developed a program to recovery that included physical therapy, pilates, bike riding and some strength training for climbing. I went to physical therapy twice a week from April until June at the Bishop Physical Therapy Clinic. I worked with 2 PT’s who really helped push me and get me back on track to an even stronger me. They helped strengthen and stabilize my ankle, my foot, my toes, my calf and both hips. It’s amazing to me how once a person starts to pay more attention to their body they start to realize other imbalances and weaknesses. For sometime now I have been going to see Mary Devore at the Bishop Yoga and Pilates Studio. She has been my primary body worker and through her excruciatingly healing touch has helped show me certain problem areas in my body. Stuff that’s been there probably since infancy and accumulated throughout the dramas of life. During my rehab time she taught me how to use the Pilates Reformer. Originally this contraption was referred to as The Universal Reformer because it “universally reforms the body.” It works the small stabilizing muscles as well as a deep core and it also helps to align the body. This marvelous machine has done more to balance me out than anything else. In wanting to train strength I could think of no better resource than Ian Nielson at Mammoth Strength. He is not only a great friend but also a great coach and very knowledgable about the body and how it works. He helped me understand how to structure a training week as well as establishing exercises on the gymnastic rings, hang board and systems board. I worked some with him through my recovery and once I was climbing again.

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Ian and his “Whip you into Shape” shop

 

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Stretching it out on the systems wall photo: Mammoth Strength

 

During my rehab time I also gave in to a long standing desire to own a road bike. For many years I have wanted one but substituted my mountain bike tires for road wheels – it worked for a while but with rehab as a good excuse I bought myself the sexiest, fastest bike I could afford.

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I took some intro rides around the Owens Valley and became better acquainted with two super fun and super rad Bishop locals who were also in the rehab process: Trish McGuire and Christie McIntire. Together we rode through some beautiful places and reveled in our bodies abilities to heal and strengthen.

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The day we poached the pass! Tioga Rd, CA

 

As I got stronger on the bike I took on longer, harder rides solo. The top two being riding to Glacier Point and riding the whole Tioga Pass from Lee Vining to Tuolumne. They were both hard, both alpine starts and entirely worth it.

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The reward of my effort. Dawn from Glacier Point

 

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Looking down Olmsted Canyon toward the Valley.

 

Sometime in May I was able to start climbing again. I took it incredibly slow, only top roping for about a month and not really climbing anything too hard.  Even though I had been training and was feeling strong it felt weird when I started to move on rock again.I wasn’t breathing and I was guarding my movements; things weren’t flowing freely. Thankfully 18 years of climbing have given me a good foundation and I was back to feeling natural and confident on the rock within a couple of weeks. My psyche was high – I felt more motivated, more positive and more appreciative of climbing than ever. I took the opportunity to tick some classics, revive some long forgotten gems and just enjoy myself.

At the start of July I had been leading for about a month and was eager to get into some long valley routes. In scouring the guidebook for things I hadn’t done I came across some lines that had been forgotten to the lichen. I ventured out trying some of these and found a bag of mixed results. Certain unnamed routes should be left in the past and certain other unnamed routes are “c’est incroyable” and will be getting some more attention from me in the future.  I also came upon the fact that I had never climbed the Chouinard-Herbert.

On a hot July 4th Christina Freschl and I left El Portal in the dark, the crickets still owned the air time as the birds hadn’t quite come out of their slumber. We arrived at the Four Mile trail parking just as the cool blue light of morning greeted the Valley. Marching up the Sentinel approach I felt lucky to be able to walk up there, much less climb the route. My ankle had been healing perfectly and this day would be a great test.

The route was amazing and was quite the trip into the past. The climbing went quickly and we beat the sun to the summit. Partnering with Christina was perfect for this endeavor – she is efficient, tough as nails and really good energy to be around. We had a marvelous day out on this old-school classic.

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Psyched as ever on the Chouinard-Herbert! photo Christina Freschl.

As the summer heat rose I migrated to the High Country. For the last 8 or so summers I have been fortunate to do a lot of climbing in Tuolumne. Some might say I have climbed it out, but that just isn’t true. There are some newer, obscure routes that beckon me – one of which was Mikey Schafer’s Night Shift. In mid July Christina and I made an ascent of  this test piece and wow what a route! Anyone intrigued by this line better bring their A-game in the tech-ten department – mentally and physically.

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Night Shift, 5.12; Tuolumne Meadows, CA photo: Christina Freschl

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High up on the Venturi Effect, 5.12d; The Incredible Hulk, CA. photo Ben Ditto

For the past few summers I have been making ventures into the Hulk. Last year after climbing the Venturi Effect I got psyched on the other hard lines, one in particular called Solar Flare. If anyone is familiar with this wall, then you will know the bright orange sun spot on the left side of the formation. The Sunspot Dihedral climbs the right side of this “sun spot” while Solar Flare climbs the left arete of it.  In late July Ian Nielson and I went in for a couple of days to try our hands at Solar Flare. It is a stunning route. I believe actually at one point while digging deep on the 12d crux pitch slab arete I yelled, “Holy shit, this is like Eat your heart out Mikey Schafer.” Needless to say it was hard, techy, physical and at times cryptic. I fucking loved it! Ian was a great partner and while neither of us made a full free ascent we had a great time, did some stellar climbing and got inspired to go back.

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The Incredible Hulk

 

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The 12b pitch on Solar Flare, 5.12d; The Incredible Hulk, CA photo Ian Nielson

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Last year my friend and frequent partner Patrick O’Donnell and I discussed doing the Hading Route on Conness.  By August of this summer it had been in the works for a year. I had made it a goal to be feeling as fit as ever for this endeavor since it consists of a 4 mile hike in and back out, a 1200ft climb and an elevation of 12,600ft. My training, my bike riding, all of my climbing as well as the trip to the Hulk had me feeling pretty fit and the mission was a great success. The route was amazing, the location sublime and I never felt stronger at elevation than then.

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This route, although easier, felt similar in character to the Chouinard-Herbert. Much of that sentiment stems from how historical both routes are as well as the ancient fixed gear that gives a glimpse into a bygone era. The old YC stamped pins in the CH with the some of the original bongs made such an enjoyable trip down a historical path. As I led my way up the notorious 5th pitch of The Harding Route on Conness I felt similar appreciation for the old bolts. They are old Star Drives and the hangers are original Harding chopped piton, hole punched, ring hangers. They are amazing little pieces of art. My appreciation stemmed not from desperately wanting to clip them but from an admiration of the story that played itself out on this Alpine rock. To think of Harding out there, drilling those bolts, groveling through the squeeze chimneys with his hammer dangling made me smile. We are lucky to have such beauty so close!

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While there are no pictures of us climbing Conness there is this: Sunrise view from the tent

In between Alpine endeavors and long routes I worked with Sacred Rok, enjoyed the vibe in Tuolumne, did a lot of school work, and spent a lot of time on the East Side. I sport climbed a lot, returning to crags like the Tioga Wall, Bear Crag and Pine Creek and checked out other spots like Column of the Giants. I found myself to be in good shape, having power and endurance and maybe even annoying my friends a little by doing their projects first go. I made some first female ascents at Bear Crag, Tuolumne, and Pine Creek and the second overall ascent of a new route at Pine Creek called Planet X ((13b), its the extension to Planetarium and its really worthy.)Not to brag too much but it’s been great fun!

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Hey Ladies, 13a; Column of the Giants, CA photo Lisa B

 

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Techy slab, crack edging Pine Creek fun. photo POD

I was fortunate that my ankle break was so textbook and didn’t require surgery. I was lucky it healed so well. As of now there are days when I don’t even remember I broke it, which is interesting because in the beginning I couldn’t imagine how it would ever feel normal again. I owe a lot to my dear husband, Ben Ditto, for all of his patience, help and support. It would have been a long, hard and miserable journey without him. I also owe a lot to all the people who helped me through rehab and training – without this core group of knowledgable and kind people I would still be a gimpy mess.

There are a few little projects to tie up and one more week of work before this Sierra sojourn comes to an end. I will meet Ben in France and we will spend the fall and winter in Europe again. The Verdon Gorge will be the first stop, a place that has been a dream of mine for many years. I am looking forward to spending some time there, pratiquer mon francais et bien manger.

I wish all of you a great end to summer and happy fall climbing season – and may the snow gods please deliver an abundance of moisture to the Sierra!

 

also…in case you all are wondering where Ben is in all of this:

In June he made a free ascent of the Freerider – like a bowse! In early July he departed the US and met up with the Belgians and Cpt Bob for another sailing expedition. As of now they have been to Greenland where they established some new routes and boulder problems and have been in Baffin Island doing the same. Stay tuned for more on their adventures. _DSC28614J5A9739_DSC2846


				

A Meditation on life as a pro climber

 

 

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Getting to know the locals

I have a hazy memory of standing in front of the TV flipping the channels and stopping on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. This was In the back living room of the mid-century house I grew up in, during the heat of the southern Louisiana summer. Two men were on the very tip of some skinny spire, the ground dropped below them hundreds of feet away. I stood there in awe at what I later came to learn was Ron Kauk and Jerry Moffat making a rare free-climbing ascent of Lost Arrow Tip in Yosemite. I recall wondering what they were doing and imagining if I could do that, too.
Photo by Ben Ditto

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On my home turf: Peace, 5.13d, Tuolumne Meadows

I think that’s where it all started. A tiny seed of an idea was planted and no matter how far fetched it seemed and how far away I lived from the rocks, I was destined to follow that seed. In my mid-30s, when I arrived at the threshold of being a professional climber, my first instinct was to run into that world without looking back. However, after spending years around some of the first professional climbers in the industry, I had gained some insight into the game and one question kept coming to mind: “Could I maintain my integrity, my soul, my story, but also be a good rep for the business?” I said yes to some opportunities that seemed in line with my ideals and no to the ones that felt like they would pull me in the wrong direction.
Photo by Jim Thornberg

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The world within worlds

Something I have learned from climbing is that by spending time in nature one becomes more aware of other life—the worlds within worlds. We are all connected by at least one common thing—striving to survive but enjoying the time in between. It’s interesting that as humans we have the capacity to create how we will survive. The mind is a powerful thing. The imagination creates and the body enacts and between the two is the self and the spirit. Being a pro climber means that I get to practice my craft, perfect my movement, refine my technique. It allows me the opportunity to fine-tune my body and my movement as well as my mind.
Photo by Ben Ditto

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#Vanlife

I’ve been fortunate in my climbing to experience faraway places, world-class destinations, dream climbs, amazing partners, and a lot of inspiration from both people and place. We travel much of the year and so it feels like life is in flux. Constantly on the move—to the next adventure, the next objective. So, there is no real solid definition of a home to settle into—save our camper van. Our sense of belonging to a place is fleeting despite spending large amounts of time in the Sierra Nevada. Every place we travel becomes our home. We have become 21st-century nomads on a landscape perpetuated not by the need to survive but by the desire to rock climb.
Photo by Ben Ditto

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So tired

There have been so many places, so many moments—it’s only in looking at photographs that I can bring back the memories. Otherwise it’s as if it were another life. The idea of returning to place comes back time and time again. Through all of my years of flux I realize that the connections to place are deeper than a home to rest one’s head. The connection to place runs deep in our psyche—the relationships we have with the rocks, the landscapes, the people we meet along the way, and the experiences that build in us—these return us to “place” and help guide and center our lives. These are intimate and give us a connection to something concrete and tangible despite being ephemeral.
Photo by Ben Ditto

 reposted from: http://matadornetwork.com/sports/meditation-life-pro-climber/

Seek and You Shall Find

The sun beats against the white lacquered walls of the Tuolumne Meadows store as the grease sizzling in the grill filters out the door. A breeze rattles the notes, flyers and pictures tacked to the cork board out front; climber partner wanted, gear for sale, looking for a ride, missing persons – it’s always the same year after year, week after week yet checking the board, scanning the names, looking for some bit of inspiration scribbled on a scrap has become regular habit. A faded and sun-bleached picture of John Bachar soloing adorns the left side of the board, written in marker below it says, “Bachar Lives.”

Tuolumne is riddled with the imprint of Bachar – while he passed on in 2009 much of him still remains and it’s arguable whether or not what’s been left is a positive force (or not.) We all know the story of the ground-up days of bold in the 80’s and early 90’s – where anything from 5.5 to 5.11 could be so run-out that injury and possibly death become factors of the climb. Bachar wasn’t the only one establishing hairball routes but he did have an immense role in the legacy that modern day climbers are left to face.  Some more modern routes still follow this style but what it’s all led to on the whole are mystery routes not oft repeated; routes that hold an allure but scare off those not seeking the questions or the answers of, “What is going on up there?”

This year makes my 8th summer in Tuolumne and through the years I’ve found myself on quite a few precarious smears and stances searching for the next hold, the next bolt, the next gear placement and the passage that will unfold. Originally, I was drawn to Tuolumne by the Masters of Stone videos – Dan Osman not only soloing but dynoing way off the deck on Blue’s Riff; Ron Kauk crimping his way up the pebbled streak of Peace. I heard tales of having to be head strong, sure footed and unwavering in motivation for the domeland of Yosemite.

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Ron Kauk on his technical route, Peace (5.13+). photo by Chris Falkenstein

Since my first summer in Tuolumne I have picked my way through many of the classics and many of the more obscure, making many second ascents, some possible first ascents and learning a lot in the process. In 2009 I partnered up with Lonnie Kauk and together we made the 4th and 5th free ascents of Ron Kauk’s contribution to Medlicott,  Peace. In over a decade this superb piece of rock had only seen less than a dozen ascents. With a successful red-point of this 160 ft knobby crimpfest my ego made me feel special but I wondered why such a beauty had been left alone for so long. This route opened up a new world to me of Tuolumne climbing and in my search of the climbs of lore what I found were mossy holds, old bolts, weird bolts, run outs, technical test pieces and few people who wanted to embark on these journeys.  It was becoming clear to me that these gems of the past were being looked over for safer, easier, more traveled terrain.

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Katie Lambert on the 2nd Female Ascent of Peace. photo by Jim Thornburg

Sometime in the 90’s Dave Bengston put up a one-pitch climb on Daff Dome which exits left off the sloping ledge from the 1st pitch of Cooke Book.  His long and lanky figure spanned from distant hold to distant hold and he rated the pitch 5.12c and aptly named the route The Albatross. However, two more potential pitches loomed above and yet it wasn’t until some 8 years later that they were unlocked and red-pointed by Mikey Schafer. Mikey’s smaller stature and technical prowess laid to rest what Bengston’s longer frame couldn’t pull and thus The Rise and Fall of the Albatross was established going at 5.13a/b. Another 6 years went by before another ascent was made of the steep, technical and slightly run-out route when Ben Ditto and I both subsequently red-pointed every pitch summer 2012.

While I was temporarily pleased with our accomplishment I was intrigued by a line that was veering off to the far right from the second pitch belay. I realized that this was the crux pitch of the infamous Bombs Over Tokyo. Rumors and mystery surrounded this climb and the words, “hariball and runout” seemed to drip off the holds. Just after our red-points of Albatross we left Tuolumne for the Cirque of the Unclimbables and then Europe. We wouldn’t be in Tuolumne’s graces for another year, yet my interest was piqued by this mysterious route and I vowed to return later.

In July of this year I went from the ground to search out the mystery of Bachar’s Bombs Over Tokyo. After the first and classic 5.10c pitch we encountered the 5.11dR pitch. A Bachar route in all its glory as a fall going to the first and only pin some 20 plus feet up would result in a fall into a ledge and broken ankle. We went around and lowered in. The thin, closed-off seam turned out to be more of a technical crimp fest than a lieback and the possibility of any real solid gear was questionable. According to local hardman Bob Jensen, some friends had tried to pound in another Lost Arrow but couldn’t get it in and they bailed. I was equipped with tiny nuts and managed to get two odd-ball placements of a small brassy and small offset. If they held a fall they would at least keep me off the ledge and even if they pulled they would hopefully slow me down enough to not totally smash my world apart. Hopefully all of my technical training on runout slabs would prove useful on this one.

Then came Pitch 3, the real mystery of the route. Originally the aid line went straight up from the belay and then around an arete into a right angling crack. Bachar’s account is that this is the line he freed; after a few attempts he red-pointed and rated it 5.12c. It looked ok, but what really had my interest was a bolt line going up and then way out right out of sight over a roof. The “hairball traverse,” that maybe hadn’t gone free but had been attempted and was probably in the 5.13 range.

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John Bachar freeing the aid line of “Bombs Over Tokyo.” photo Phil Bard

I ventured up placing some cams and then moved down to the first bolt and the start of the hand traverse out fairly positive edges and knobs for 20 feet to the next bolt. A fall from this zone would have been terrible and resulted in another ankle breaking possibility. Relieved at having made it to the second bolt I peeked around the corner at what lay ahead and what I saw was both amazing and intimidating. 40 more feet of traversing on thin edges to a down mantel to some hand traversing across a roof to another mantel up to hopefully some holds and then 40 more feet to the anchor. In all of that terrain there were 4 more bolts. They were newer, shiny and egged me onward.

I took some deep breaths and set out around the corner and out of sight of my belayer. Climbing across fairly delicate and pliable holds I had made it to the roof and set about hand traversing out it. The exposure was surreal and it was starting to give me the creeps. I thought to myself that all I had to do was mantle up, make a couple of moves and get to the next bolt.  Except the holds were dirty and covered in lichen and every time I pulled up with a heel hook into the mantle my hands would slip a little and every time I would climb back down and way back left to the last bolt 15 feet behind me. I did this about 5 times, each time looking back at my 9.1 rope draped across sharp knobs, wondering if the sideways fall into the unknown below the roof would cut my rope. Eventually I returned to the belay, leaving behind two lowerout biners and we rapped to the ground. John Bachar Lives played over and over in my head as we walked down the trail and I was more intrigued than ever.

I spent time thinking about the route, asking around about it’s possible ascents and was left with questions. I kept climbing on other lesser known and less-repeated routes. Ben Ditto and I made an ascent of one of Drug Dome’s newer, forgotten classics called Anatolio (5.12+R). A route put up by Chad Shepard in honor of his departed grandfather. While on this route I became intrigued by yet another newer, forgotten classic put up by Sean Leary called Acapulco Gold, going at 5.12cR.  It took me three different trips up the route before I could pull the moves on the wildly steep (by Tuolumne standards) crux pitch. In my attempts to stick the polished and sloping knobs I took a few large wingers out into space as there are no bolts which protect the crux moves making this route stiff and committing, (not to mention the R first and last pitches). It was fun to have such air time in Tuolumne and I relished the moments of flying. Eventually with the belay of good friend Patrick O’Donnell I made possibly the second ascent of this route.

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Drug Dome. photo by Ben Ditto

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Katie Lambert red-pointing Acapulco Gold (5.12cR). photo by Ben Ditto

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Drug Dome summit celebration. photo by Ben Ditto

Continuing on with my tour of the harder, technical and less-repeated routes of Yosemite’s high country I set to work on another Ron Kauk contribution to Pywiak Dome called European Vacation (5.13b); A definite technical test piece and one rumored to be too reachy for the shorter folks I was determined to sort out a sequence. In asking Ron about it he could hardly count on two hands the number of known ascents of this route. He did mention that Lynn Hill red-pointed it but as far as other women it was unlikely. My dear friends and fellow petit crushers, Maki Grossnick and Thea Marie and I tried it out one evening. Initially unable to pull the intro moves but managing to crimp and balance and steady our way through the rest of the route I was immediately hooked. Two more sessions in this beautiful spot hidden from the crowds and the noise of the road I managed to figure out the opening sequence and was blessed with another Tuolumne free ascent making possibly the second overall women’s ascent of the route.

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Katie Lambert red-pointing European Vacation(5.13b). photo by Ben Ditto

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Are those really holds!? European Vacation. photo by Ben Ditto

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Reaching new heights and tiny holds on European Vacation (5.13b). photo by Ben Ditto

On August 10th I once again set out to solve the mystery of Bombs Over Tokyo. Cruising up the most enjoyable 5.10 intro pitch I arrived at the 5.11R. Having placed two small nuts in shallow, precarious placements the thin, technical climbing was now protected with three pieces in it’s entirety. As long as I stayed calm I could keep the balance and precision. I recalled the stories of this pitch with it’s original two fixed pins and how one of them had fallen out. My nuts seemed solid enough and keeping my breathing regular I gently made my way to the anchor, hoping that the next crux pitch would go just as well. I belayed Ben up as he did spectacularly well on the foot chips and centimeter edges of the crack.

So, here I was again on Pitch 3 climbing over and around the arete, crossing my left hand over my right onto half-pad edges and smearing my feet on the steep gold wall. I reached the breakable, incut flake edge and shook out. I had a wicked forearm pump and was starting to consider the terrain ahead. Another cross to a bad, layered crimp and then the down mantle to the roof traverse to the final mantle to the balancy, technical face. Two more bolts stood between me and the anchor.

Before setting off I had told Ben to just have a lot of slack out, as a fall from anywhere out there could result in a crater into the roof. I figured at least with a lot of slack I had the hopes of falling past the roof into space. I wavered between totally calm and confident to scared silly. I yelled back at Ben who was out of sight 60 feet away that I was scared and he replied, “It’s ok, nothing bad can happen.” That was all I needed to hear, a light went off in my mind. I just needed to let myself pull the moves. With some tenacity and assurance I climbed down to the roof, one foot below me, one foot heel hooking and into the sloping knobs and mantled up to edges. Soon enough I was balancing on both legs, pressing up to reach the high half pad crimp to clip the next bolt.  I stood up, exhaled, chalked up and kept moving. I made it to the anchor and let out a “WOOT!”

A party below us was on the 1st pitch of Bombs and the belayer yelled up in excitement. With two more moderate pitches to the summit I had done it, I had made the first free ascent of this route.  All summer I had sought out the questions and pulled through the mysteries.  I had just put myth to rest and what I found to be truth wasn’t so bad after all.