Rock Climbing in Your Late Twenties is Harder than Rock Climbing in Your Mid Twenties: A Diatribe Based on Entirely Spurious Reasoning

The scene: A nicely situated crag of gneiss just outside the town of New Halem, WA. Despite a somewhat problematic history, this crag has turned out to be quite a gem: mostly superb, long routes, some 35 meters or more, generally characterized by distinct cruxes and (in general) good or great rock.

This weekend was the venue for probably one of the more inspiring scenes in Washington rock climbing that I've witnessed for some time: numerous climbers tying in to 80m ropes to attempt one or more of the trifecta of 40m routes up the central part of the wall; multiple flash and onsight ascents of said routes; exciting sports action as climbers took numerous sizable falls on some attempts, only to go back up later and succeed. Everyone seemed focused entirely on enjoyment: there were no tantrums thrown, no attempts to better the efforts of others. Discussions of grading were entirely speculative and friendly, as were observations about over-bolting and the unfortunate but very real chipping of holds that occurred in the past. In short, everything positive about climbing with little or none of the braggadocio and assorted invective that so often plagues our quaint little 'sport'.

As for the routes themselves, much praise is to be given, followed by a dash of opprobrium. First the good: the three long, steep pitches of The Hurt Locker, Meridian and Callisto, the ends of each guarded by potent cruxes, stand as monuments to some of the best sport climbing Washington has to offer. As climbers soared high on the wall on these routes, the bright blue and purple ropes made a poignant contrast to the angular, monochromatic rock, accented here and there with neon patches of lichen that smeared yellow on forearms. Peripheral to these gems are more long, lower angled climbs such as Hull Yeah and Lockjaw, where technical ability and stamina are the keys to success. Shorter routes abound as well, with perhaps the best being Paradigm Shift, a potently technical exercise on vertical to lightly overhung rock. Further up the hill lurks Van Halem, another excellent hard, long route with cruxes in the middle and at the very top.

As for the less good: outdated tactics employed by some previous route developers, despite their otherwise commendable efforts.

Enough said. A topo is available on cascadeclimbers.com for anyone so inclined. Enjoy the climbing.


A Couple of Thoughts About Rock Climbing and Life in General

Despite my relative lack of fitness, I am enjoying climbing again immensely. Although I’m doubtful it will ever carry the clout it once had in my life, I believe I’ve entered into a much healthier and perhaps more interesting relationship with it--brought about, oddly enough, by my catastrophic finger injury two years ago. My onsight level, or the difficulty level at which I can climb an unknown route on my first attempt, seems to steadily increase even as my redpoint level (unknown at this point) remains the same. I’m looking forward to trying more routes with the intent of completing them first or at least second or third try. I finally understand the root of the enjoyment of attempting to climb intuitively even on routes I haven’t tried before, allowing the fear and accompanying awkward inhibition of movement to pass through me, allowing me to attempt an understanding of its origins and thus draw from its experiential value. Perception, although somewhat immutable, is subject to alteration by any and all forces, whether substantive or ethereal in origin; to wit, one’s fear of the unknown versus one’s ingestion of caffeine, alcohol, or other substances, or by one’s somewhat more direct gathering of physical information via sensory data. The spectrum of influence is immeasurably great in scope, but intent and the potential focusing of that intent remains a powerful tool to alter perception in interesting and subjectively beneficial ways. Climbing is an activity that requires one to attempt an understanding of these ‘metaphysical’ arenas, as without the effort fear and doubt will always rule the activity. They may always rule regardless, as I have no way of knowing otherwise based on my own experiences. That experience is based on limited attempts to consciously alter perception (there’s a lingual paradox!) to achieve different states of mind, particularly while attempting highly technical rock climbing. For me, a route I’ve never attempted provides a perfect chance to attempt this method of alteration because the only expectations are often ephemeral and based entirely on fear of failure or (often imagined and highly unlikely) injury. I must commit to the challenge with the abilities I have and attempt to harness them effectively. Sometimes failure occurs despite otherwise brilliant execution of said abilities. An adjunct or perhaps equally important linked challenge is the interpretation of failures or successes, both somewhat subjective terms based on perception and value judgments and both presenting their own sets of interpretive problems vis a vis the ego filter and endemic feelings of self doubt and fear of failure. The somewhat extensive literature that attempts to frame climbing as comparable to the act of a warrior, or no different from the acts of a warrior, is by no means accidental: the focusing of intent and temporary loss of personal ego is essentially compatible with the concept of the psychology and metaphysics of a ‘warrior’ put forth, perhaps derivatively, by the like of Carlos Castaneda and again by others borrowing from his texts for more ‘practical’ applications. Suffice it to say that the simple act of climbing is enough, but it can concomitantly provide a rich substrate for personal exploration that shouldn’t be ignored, especially out of personal fear or anger at one’s perceived failures. This concept could also be said to apply to all things that we experience, as all things are essentially perceptual. All it takes is a huge, comprehensive effort to efface a lot of bad habits, feedback loops pregnant with fear and doubt, laziness and ennui, self-hatred...


Monosyllabism, Seachanges in Predominant Paradigms, and New Halem

The latter part of the title, of course, refers to the fact that I finally made my pilgrimage to New Halem to rock climb. An arduous approach, countless ticks, bad weather, seeping, chossy rock, a thicket of poison oak guarding the cliff; these are only a few of the drawbacks of climbing at New Halem. No one in their right mind would ever go...

Or, I could be telling a fib or two to keep the crowds at bay...who knows?

It's hard to describe the joy of climbing on new routes, being a somewhat traveled Washington climber. The fickle weather seems to mire us in strange, obsessive loops. The 'climbing community' is extremely fractious: there are the real enthusiasts, of course, who fly under the radar with their efforts and accomplishments; but the most obvious voice, sticking out somewhat like a sore thumb, is that of the internet 'armchair climbers/critics', who accomplish little save the production of a prodigious amount of predictable and repetitive invective against the various 'impurities' of our beloved sport. This is, of course, a characteristic shared by nearly all forums of discussion on the internet.

The basic result of this contrast is that any real development goes on silently and with a certain degree of anonymity, often with little acknowledgment. Vast amounts of potential adventuring remains for those who enjoy rock climbing. For the rest, thankfully, the internet knows no impatience or exclusivity.

As an adjunct to my rant, I want to provide some real insight into my experiences at New Halem. The routes are, in fact, quite good. The bolting on older routes (early to mid 1990's) is egregiously amateur at best, but this was the result of tactics employed by one or two persons and could easily be rectified with (unfortunately) a lot of hard work. Didn't they make removable and/or 1/4" bolts back then? Thank goodness a new generation of developers took over: the newer additions and extensions are much more sensibly protected and the quality is very good throughout. I feel a bit sheepish for not having visited this area before, despite having heard so much about it in the past. It is certainly one of the better local sport climbing crags in Western Washington.