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The Ice Knife - David Graham

The Ice Knife - David Graham
The Ice Knife - David Graham
The Ice Knife - David Graham
The Ice Knife - David Graham
The Ice Knife - David Graham
The Ice Knife - David Graham
The Ice Knife - David Graham
November 18, 2011 - 

I'm sitting on a plane again, its November 15th, and I am watching "the Fall of the Third Reich." It's been quite an adventure since I last chimed in on the blog-scape and I think I have too many stories to tell as usual the I can handle dispersing into words. Between the rock climbing, the crazy amount of travel, reunions with old friends, music, fiesta, and all of the new people I have come across on the recent adventure, I am a bit stumped as to where to begin. Which feels like is a typical statement I make at the beginning of anything I write, and perhaps something I say at the beginning of every blog here at 5.10. Time to catch up.


Backing things up about 27 days, I hadn't departed for the majestic Petzl RocTrip in China yet, and I was somehow back in Boulder, Colorado (my favorite place on EARTH, jk). I was trying desperately to get over my jet lag from Australia, which was lingering due to the post trip questing (new boulders in Utah,  the amazing Nor'easter Fest, a good ol Maine family visit, and the opening of CommRow in Reno with Five Ten) and hell bent on climbing a particular project I knew of, cached away in the trees up in Guanella Pass.

I had been climbing on the line since I had found it last May. A blunt prow like feature sits on a large boulder in a gully facing North and West. The line is oddly jumbled next to other projects, all rather futuristic looking problems, taking "new-school" rather blank passages to different finishing jugs on the rim of the "comp-wall" like bloc. The arete I liked is surprisingly independent feature. It has a sit-start, and a potential left exit which could be climbed as well, but the first objective was the seven move compression rig, ascending the actual prow. The rock is distinct. Classic RMNP "park-rock," hiding out above Georgetown, seemingly just on the other side of Mt. Bierstadt of Mt. Evans, almost close to Wolverineland. Dashed with bright quartz filled oranges stripes, a dark grey-like-blue gneiss creates the matrix. The line maneuvers between three strange arete-features, a more blunt one of the right, and a two more prominent ones on the left. A nemesis non-hold sits in the middle of the sequence, adherent in a way, but finicky and perplexing in most other ways. The difficulty lies in the connection of the all features; the individual moves are not the big issue, but the linkage of everything in total providing the ultimate challenge.

After six days of work in the spring, with very unsatisfactory conditions, I was positive the climb was difficult. As the temperatures from 40 to 60 degrees F, there were moves I ceased to be able to do. They had felt easy when it was cold and windy, but the project felt thoroughly impossible in any type of heat, so I looked forward to getting strong in Australia, and waiting for the fall to make a real attack.

I had twelve days after the CommRow opening to climb the problem before my China trip. I knew I had a chance to do it, but the weather was looking dodgy: heat for the first 5 days and rain, then a cold front bringing up snow the weeks to follow. Aside from my constant thoughts about the project itself, I had millions of other tasks I had procrastinated accomplishing, which I needed to get done desperately in order to maintain piece of mind. I felt a bit displaced, and needed some space to crack down on the tasks, but sleeping in the living room on my friend's couch on Marine Street provided little solace, and I began to feel overwhelmed, and bogged down.

The thoughts in my head swirled like the solar system moved, hundreds of billions of years before it was organized and shaped by the endless rotation and evolution of time. If the project was a consolidating planet, it was hard to concentrate upon its formation with all the asteroids, and cosmic-rock-stuffs being slung left and right by the distant gas giants, right back at it, impacting the project-planet with constant debris, changing its shape and trajectory, and ultimate relativity to everything. The gas giants feel like my greater objectives, constantly battling for a place in orbit around the sun, causing chaos on the inner circles, but classically grandiose given their place and importance in relation the greater picture, and the workings of the universe.

Maybe thats a bit dramatic, but what ev', it's fun to makes analogies sometimes, and I was freaking out a little as I knew the weather gods where planning a counter assault to my climbing-attack strategy, and the Island was ever-present, looming like some massive space ship from ID4, chilling over some major city ion the horizon.

So. After five days of trying to get the moves all on lock, battling humidity, wet holds, and quasi-hot-as-shit conditions, I had made minimal progress from the spring, and felt almost silly for thinking I was going to send the rig in such a short period of time.

Mentally I felt defeated, even though I knew it was the wrong attitude. However, lucky for me, the weather forecast mentioned a massive change due to the freak Colorado-climate was about to occur. A drop of 30 degrees would be occur, in three days, which was super-bueno. I got all stoked up, and thought this may be my chance, but little did I know, a night of snow was to pass (along with the temperature drop), and decimate all aspirations for alpine boulderers like myself to accomplish their non-mountaineering mountain goals.

Assuming it would be all good, in my typical naive way of being, I drove 1:45 minutes up to the valley, hoping  for a nice cold sesh. I was stunned when I saw the damage incurred by the last nights storm. Snow was everywhere, the street was soaked, it was freezing and windy outside, and spindrift was blowing wildly in all directions. From summer to winter in 24 hours, I was astonished.

The gods must have been very angry.

I had been there the day before, and was pretty impressed by the change which had gone down, albeit it totally gutted, as all hopes had just been dashed, I tried to create a game plan as I  had 8 days left, I was feeling fit. I knew if the air was cold and dry, I could make some good attempts, so the idea would be to get to the boulder, and clean the snow off, regardless of the toil.

The plan failed miserably, after attempting to navigate the snowy forest, in full winter weather gear, I realized I needed crampons or some shit, as the slippery, steep, death-talus approach was out of the question in just plain street shoes, and my sticky Five-Ten rubber could not find rock to connect with, thus filling my heart with fear, and ultimately forcing me to retreat from the elements, and go get hot chocolate at whole foods.

So zoom out again. I am back at my computer but I am in the Red River Gorge now. It's been two days since I landed from airplane flight I was on when I wrote the beginning of this story, and I am about to climbing at the Gold Coast, in pristine freezing-sunny conditions. I climbed in the full on downpour rain storm that was chill in yesterday with Jonathan Siegrist at the Motherlode, and got five pitches in surprisingly, as the cliff had transformed into a giant waterfall. I will be here for a month I hope if the weather holds, and I will be staying with the whole crew here at Andy Mann's and Sheyna Button's place, with Joe and Collette, Scott Milton, Jonathan, and Emily Harrington. I am super amped to try The Golden Ticket and Pure Imagination, but first for some sampling, like 24 Karat, and this sick project at the Dark Side.

Back to the Ice Knife though. The day after the weather got all krunk, I had planned my return to Guanella. I tried the infamous Bridge rig in lieu of the Ice Knife for one day, which gave the snow a bit of time to dicipate, and I was back the next day to the alpine paradise, ready to clean of all the snow, and make some attempts. Somehow, someway, the line was dry enough to attempt. In the 35 degrees temps, I managed to climb to the second to lats move (what I thought was the crux) and gained massive confidence. the cold air changed everything, and with five days left in the state, I could make a good run for my money.

Nathan Bancroft was to arrive in two days, we where planning on filming the project for the upcoming Island film we have been working on, and the forecast looked perfect. It was the classic time-pressure scenario that I experience as a professional climber, and I heard the eye of the tiger track kicking off deep in my subconscious.

The following session I fell of the last move six times in a row. The wind was blowing, it was around 40 degrees, and it was as perfectly sticky as it could be, but I had run into a problem. The sixth move is not even a question of power. It revolves around a toe hook, so it comes down to the angle you place your foot, and the body position that completes the posture, enabling tension so you can move off a terrible edge for the right hand, and connect with a gaston, the first incur hold on the entire problem. Feeling distraught, I battled onwards, tumbling from the top, falling awkwardly, and getting genuinely a muerte with my attempts. By the end of the day, I knew I had one day left, the rig was harder then I had ever thought it could be, and was perplexed. Could I do this thing? In general? How on EARTH does one get their TOE to stick???

I had a rest day, rolled up with Nate and Cameron Maier, hauled up cranes and tripods through the tundra, and set up camp in the freezing shade by the boulder. More snow had fallen, but the rig was dry, and I was feeling it, like when you hear some music and you wanna dance or some shit, I was in the groove, and ready to through down my moves.

Of course, I fell off the cursed toe hook move, at the very end, again and again. After five more efforts people gave me dubious looks like " you got this shit son?" and or "its no or never dawg" so I felt the pressure, and tried to harness the fire. I was cold, it was blowing snow and wind by the end of the day, and I was legitimately worked still from the last sesh, even though I wouldn't let myself accept it.

So it was the classic  "Last day Best day, Last go Best go" situation, I pulled on my Team shoes, which were in perfect condition for the climb, got my knee pad all rigged up on my leg, gave a Dani-Andrada war cry, and pulled on believing success was my near future.

I fell again, lower, and felt dismayed.

I pulled on again, and fell off the first move, and felt distraught.

I tried to relax, realize it would be there next year, tried to eliminate the craving of grabbing the finishing jug and all the glory, sat in the freezing cold, and pulled some Zen shit and got into a warrior-like mental place.

I got on the rig all quick with no warning. The foot moves felt harder then usual, the heel-hooks went perfectly, then I barely placed my toe hook to reach the right hand edge. Quivering from fatigue, loathing the idea of the next toe hook slipping out leaving me tumbling to my back, I though my feet in the right spots and tried to believe anything could happen. Time slowed, I stuck the gaston, somehow someway, jumped to the lip, and let out a war cry as if I had just slain some giant beast, and clambered through the snow to the top of the boulder.

That night I was just plain relaxed. I had just used all my energy, mental and physical, and was on some weird high only rick climbers know how to get. I had somehow climbed the RIG, and I had to think of a name, and I could go to China and finish my fall season with zero stress. I remembered this is why I rock climb, this is why I boulder, this I what I love, and that this is me, who I evolved to be.

An animal out in the freezing snow, conquering ancients formations of nature, getting there and just doing that. Bieng there.

Pure existentialism.


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