Thursday, April 26, 2012

Shattered Glass and a White Room

     It was a quiet summer afternoon at Rocks and Ropes when only a handful of the committed gym rats were there, because we had nothing else to do. We had set some routes, slack lined, and performed one or two stupid acts that ended with a few mild injuries. Occasionally a family would pop their heads in but immediately leave at the sight of our pack of shirtless, long haired hooligans taking top rope whippers to see how close we could get to the ground. Eventually we all settled in to the back room which we called the "climber's lounge" to chill and watch a video for the 100th time. Our lounge was really just an vacant, dusty room in the far back of the building with industrial beams and stone walls . There was a TV that only had 8 channels to choose from, a VHS player, a stack of climbing videos and a raggedy old couch that I can only imagine was abandoned on the side of the road at some point before its arrival in our little " lounge".
Just a few of the Rocks and Ropes gang out climbing. ( Cecil Foster, Eric Singleton, Doug Ianaurio and Collin Tice)
     I can't remember which climbing video we watched that day, maybe Dosage 1, but what I heard in that video had an enormous impact on my climbing. It was in a dose of Klem Loskot bouldering somewhere in Europe, Klem was our hero and a master of the mind. We all imitated his psyche and we would scream loud and passionately for each other when we were mid crux and on the line between success and failure, afraid to commit to the next move. Sometimes we would frighten customers because our words of encouragement to our friends could easily be mistaken by an outsider as pure rage. We would grunt and scream, like Klem, as we clawed through a crux as if we were charging straight through a battle towards the gates of Valhalla, committed to seeing our actions through to the end. There was an interview with Klem in which he spoke, in his monk-like Austrian accent, of this specific moment in time he experienced working a hard route, when everything in the world disappears from your mind except you and the rock, a "white room". I loved this allusion of his mind being suspended in time, purely focused on one single objective. The world could be ending behind you at this moment and you wouldn't know it because the mind is in some far away place playing chess with your soul.
Klem Loskot in the zone high above the water.
     Fast forward 9 years. I'm still screaming wildly for my friends and now I have new lines of my own, unclimbed projects that I'm obsessing over, like Klem. The line that sets the stage for my experience is called "Shattered Glass". It is a line I found and admired for months. It goes up an overhanging face with streaks of quartz that resemble the scars of a dramatic lightning strike long ago. I teamed up with my good friend Dan Horne to equip this route and see if it were possible. Dan paid for the bolts and I borrowed a drill and we spent a stormy afternoon establishing "Shattered Glass". Dan bagged the first ascent on his first lead burn of the day; I don't think my drill bit had even cooled when he clipped the chains. I then gave it 2 goes falling at the upper crux each time. I was psyched because now I had a real project! The lines I had established earlier that month went in a day, which upset me a little. I like to work routes for weeks if not months. I love going through the process of failing over and over before realizing success. Shattered Glass would be a route that could provide me with this experience and more.
    Two days after establishing Shattered I destroyed my big toe on a curb in a gas station parking lot. I'm constantly amazed how graceful I can be on an overhanging rock face but yet so clumsy walking on flat ground. As the blood poured from my throbbing toe all I could do was laugh, but deep down I was heart broken. I had waited so long to work this line and two days after getting that opportunity I couldn't even get my foot into a pair of street shoes much less tight climbing shoes. I spent the next week training in the gym on hang boards, H.I.T systems, and anything else I could do to alleviate the chaos in my mind. If I couldn't work my project I sure as hell was going to be ready for the day that I could. One week later my toe had not fully healed but if I taped it enough I could get it in loose climbing shoes.
    I spent the next six days in a frenzy trying to find partners to belay me after work. I would run to the cliff and do a warm up line, hang the draws and give Shattered one pumped go before the daylight would escape into the night. I was making no progress at all, falling at the desperate final crux each time. Most days the holds after the crux were soaking wet but I'd desperately lunge for them anyways. I was basically in my twisted version of heaven! After six days and six failed attempts my friend Nathan suggested I go to the North Side of Looking Glass to clear my mind on some familiar routes and since I felt that I may be developing a mental block, it sounded like a great idea. I spent that Friday evening climbing fun 5.10's that I had done countless times well into the night with my friends. Hanging off the enormous wall of  the North Side with the stars and black sky surrounding me really cleared my head. I was psyched to wake up Saturday and work my project all day with some good friends from Clemson, with a refreshed state of mind.
    I went into the day with high hopes and I was sure I would send because in my mind I did everything right. I hydrated, loaded up on carbs and didn't go out at all so I could get 8 hours of sober sleep. I packed my food (2000 calories), my Katana Laces (my sending shoe), my chaos harness and my super supple 9.4mm Dominator ( my "project" rope). I gave Shattered two great burns that day but failed to keep it together when I was pumped and stabbing at the desperate slopers and edges of the final crux. It wasn't that I didn't know what to do or that I didn't want it bad enough, I just wasn't focused or maybe I was too focused. I was starting to get upset with myself. Physically I could crush every move but mentally I was somewhere else. My mind was lost in the dark and haunted by the whispers of my ego, the distant footsteps of my insecurities, and the quiet breathing of my selfish desires. I vowed that Sunday would be a much need rest day and I would put Shattered Glass out of my mind for the day.
    I woke up the following morning at 8:30 and felt like I had been run over by a train, repeatedly. Six straight days of projecting had taken its toll on my body. My shoulders felt like knotted cables, my fingers throbbed and my elbows were on fire. I got up, had some coffee and packed my bag with my worn out shoes, a harness and a belay device, leaving my draws and rope behind. I packed a little food but nothing to support a high performance day. I  met my friend, Josh Baggett at Brevard Rock Gym and I immediately told him that he had a belay slave for the day and that I would not be climbing. Josh had several lines he wanted to work and I was happy to offer a catch and encouragement as he had done for me many times before.
   We arrived at the crag and began warming up. Throughout the day several people asked me if I was going to give "it" a burn  and I would reply, " No, I'm wrecked and its probably wet again. I'm here for Josh today." Josh set about making quick work of Crown Royal, bagging his first 5.12 and I like to think my "Klem-like" screams of encouragement helped. Riding the high of his send Josh set out to climb Cathy's Corner, a bouldery 5.11 mixed line, just a few feet right of Shattered Glass. Josh fired Cathy's in one go and lowered down happy and accomplished. I agreed to clean the gear from the route and maybe take a look at the hold in question on my route when I got to the top. I felt surprisingly light on Cathy's Corner and when I reached the top I realized the holds of Shattered were bone dry! The voice of my "dark passenger" immediately began to whisper into my mind, " Just give it one go! You need this, WE need this!" I always listen to my "dark passenger", so I called down to Josh that I was going to brush it, hang the draws and give it one burn.
Briefly resting after the initial crux
    So there I was doing exactly what I said I wouldn't do just hours earlier. I was standing below my project for the 8th time, shoes on, bowline tied. Typically I spend a few minutes with my eye's closed, imagining my beta for each move. I try to calm my mind and slow my breathing. I try and try and try to do all these things so that I may be calm and peaceful during the stress of the cruxes, but not this time. Something in me snapped and my mind went to a place it only goes when my back is against the wall and I have to fight my way out. This is a dark but powerful room in my mind where nothing but my most primal rage exists. The walls are painted with images of war, lust and chaos. In the center of this room is my monster chained to the floor, foaming at the mouth and breathing heavily, waiting to be unleashed on the world. I came to and my eyes focused, I began to breath  heavily as goosebumps covered my body. I charged toward the rock and asked Josh if he had me. I was simply hungry for a war, I wanted to be perfect or be ripped apart in the process.
   I moved through the lower V7 crux, turning to stone on each delicate hold. I clipped quickly, without pause on my way to the next move. In seconds I was at the black roof that lies mid route. I hung only briefly to catch my breath then pressed on to the crux. I was not just grabbing the holds I was trying to crush them under the weight of my quiet rage. I made the final clip before the crux and the world vanished. I was in the "white room", the place that Klem spoke of years ago in Dosage. I could hear sounds but they seemed to be universes away. The wind slowed as it kissed my skin and I could feel the granules of rock being pressed into the pours of my finger tips. My monster was gnarling and thrashing at his cage and I happily unlocked his door. I began to squeeze and compress the slopers of the upper V8 crux and before I knew it I was lunging through the air for the final  hold and as I hit it my skin bonded to the rock. I was not coming off. I clipped the anchors slowly and deliberately, savoring what I had waited so long for.
     I didn't make a sound and dropped into the quiet, still air. I sat suspended 60 feet off the ground and took in the moment, trying to absorb every detail  and remember how many times I had been humbled by this beautiful route. Moments later my world came crashing back and all the sounds of the forest flooded into my ears. I looked down at Josh and he was smiling and my friends across the crag were yelling "YEH! Way to go!". It hit me all at once and I let out a scream and kicked my feet in the air in pure, uncontrollable joy. My two month journey was over.
Entering the final crux of Shattered Glass 5.13b
    Days later I was able to reflect on the entire process that was Shattered Glass. The wonder that surrounded it, the creation of the line, the realization that it could go, the injury that kept me away, the countless evenings of training, the frustrating failed attempts and the final realization of the dream. This is why I climb, to be tested and pushed, not just physically but mentally as well. To run head first in to the storm of impossibility and continue forward when rain and lightning crash into the mind. Sadly this experience is gone now and I have to find a new route that will once again provide me with a window into my white room, that will satisfy my monster's appetite. This is the endless cycle of a climber's life and it is a beautiful process.      
   Yesterday I established "Napoleon", a route I  named for its short stature but powerful movement. The moves of this route are stunning and very low percentage. While much shorter than Shattered Glass, Napoleon is leaps and bounds harder in terms of pure difficulty. It will require even more of myself, more training, more sacrifices, more blood, more sweat and more tenacity. The process has started all over. I'll be forced once more to try and find my way back to that place in my mind where peace and power dance together.

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