Every climber, no matter how long you have been climbing, knows what it is like to have a nemesis. That one route or boulder problem that you just can’t seem to finish for some reason, usually that reason being more mental than physical. Quite often, you have worked out every move and just can’t for the life of you, seem to connect the dots. Rarely is it even the hardest thing numerically speaking you’ve ever done, and often it surprises your climbing buddies who can’t believe you haven’t put the thing to rest.
1. A source of harm or ruin
2. Retributive justice in its execution or outcome
3. An opponent that cannot be beaten or overcome.
4. One that inflicts retribution or vengeance.
5. Nemesis Greek Mythology The goddess of retributive justice or vengeance.
I have had many nemesi before in my 13 years of climbing, but none was quite as epic as Copperhead in Little Cottonwood Canyon, near my home in Salt Lake City. I have lived in SLC since 2005, and quickly fell in love with LCC’s beautiful granite. LCC can be an unkind place to even the strongest boulderers, as it lends itself to technique and finesse rather than brute strength and power. Quite frequently, there are little more than little nubs and crystals to hold and stand on, and the angle is typically vertical, to just overhanging, rather than steep and roofy. I’ve often joked that the V2’s really don’t feel much different than the V10’s and can take just as much time to decipher. Then, even when you think you have something dialed, the chances of repeating a problem seem slim as they feel different every time you climb on them.
I started dabbling on Copperhead in the Fall of 2005. I think the first two seasons, I couldn’t unlock the first move, as it is a very stretchy, long reach to a decent crimp. The next year, I went out with a group of awesome ladies after a fun girls night at my house. I felt light and airy, and decided to hop on the problem early in the day. Somehow I found myself floating up it, I must have been buoyed by such a fun group of gals. I cruised through the bottom, only to find myself confused on how to finish the problem (which is not the crux unless you are, ahem...vertically challenged). I dropped off casually, figuring that I’d get it the infamous, “next go.” Instead, on that fateful, “next go” my foot popped while latching that first crimp and I felt a horrible sensation jolt all the way down my forearm: I had torn a tendon, and badly.
The next couple seasons, I had a bit of a mental block on it, knowing how badly it had hurt me, and being very afraid to get back up on the proverbial horse. It was probably another year before I began trying it in earnest again. I don’t really know what kept me coming back...I guess it was feeling like I wanted to end it on a good note and not let the injury haunt me, along with the fact that I really just simply loved the look of that gently overhanging face...it was my style, save for the big reaches, and I just wanted to do it.
Getting back on it again the following season, no matter what I tried, I still couldn’t figure out the “easy” finish if and when I could put the first two moves together. What lingered in my mind was the one time that I floated it with the ladies, and fell on the top, so I knew in my heart I was capable, even though I couldn’t seem to get back to that place where things felt effortless. It’s a weird thing in your mind when you’ve done something once...even if you can’t seem to do it again...knowing that you did it that one time gives you the drive to know that if you could do it once, you could do it again, and you just have to let go of everything and be zen about it.
Last fall, I resolved myself to return to “my old friend” as I dubbed it in hopes of cultivating a slightly less adversarial relationship with the the problem.. One thing I can say about getting older and being a more experienced climber, is that I tend to have a little more fun and a more positive attitude than I did when I was a younger climber. When I returned to my “old friend” in the Fall, I decided to have fun, and really enjoy the process. I have long since felt on other projects that as long as I was still learning something in the process, than it was worth continuing and not giving up on.
Something changed...I wasn’t any stronger, and I certainly am not getting any younger. I definitely didn’t have more time, as I work around 60 hours or more a week in a job that I am very passionate about. So what changed? I guess maybe for those exact reasons, things felt different. I made my time outside climbing count, I stopped stressing, I remembered to have fun, and I simply just let go of pressure and remembered I was still learning and having fun. Despite the progress I made, I still seemed to still get stuck on the finish, much to the chagrin of anyone I could convince to spot me...I just couldn’t seal the deal. I joked with my friends that I was having a lot of serious, heart to heart talks with my old friend, and even tried to plead with the boulder to let me successfully pass, like the fairy tale troll that guards the bridge. All of this in good fun of course. But I was closer than ever. Winter arrived. I tried to rally with my portable heater, down jacket, and hand and foot warmers but I was getting miserably cold and was afraid I’d hurt myself again. I kept reviewing my beta in my mind all winter, knowing when Spring came, I’d be back to my old friend.
Sping arrived early in SLC, as winter never really got her grip on us to begin with. I had been so busy with work and was so stressed day to day in my job that I hadn’t really been climbing much. Still I decided to reacquaint myself with my old friend, telling myself it would just be good to remind myself of the moves, rekindle the old relationship if you will. People that had seen me get so close last year and in seasons past, still good naturedly chided me for not having sent it yet. I just laughed alongside, and took the ribbing, as I know we all have our nemesis. I could laugh at myself and the amount of mental and physical time I had spent on this problem. Finally, early this Spring,, I unlocked the “easy” finish with some beta that left me feeling a bit like a starfish in the process, but alas, I knew in my heart that all the pieces of the puzzle were there if I could simply let go, put it all together, and BE.
Last month, I decided to head up after work one evening. The days are finally getting longer and the temps were decent, if not a little warm for comfort in the canyon. My supportive husband and steadfast climbing partner came along to spot me, not climbing as much himself these days. I joked that if I one day actually sent my old friend, I’d probably never return to the canyon and maybe I’d even retire from climbing (I was waxing dramatic you see).
The session began just like they usually did, me pulling on, nailing the first move and not sticking the second move, the copperhead hold that I get to by way of a terrible intermediate that I hate. For some reason, in the middle of my next attempt, I decided, why not try something totally different, and in the moment without much of a plan, I skipped the crappy intermediate and decided to just try to pull straight up to the copperhead hold. Holy shit, I just stuck it easily. Ok, don’t freak out, just relax...last week, you figured out the top and dialed it in. Control your adrenaline and finish this problem the way you know you can. Ignore the last 6 years, 12 bouldering seasons...forget the injuries, the good natured ribbing, and the heartbreak. Just relax. You are with an old friend. And just like that, I stood on top of the boulder, having completed my nemesis in what felt like a floaty dream. It felt easy. I completed my journey with my old friend, nemesis, and worthy opponent.
Now that my journey is complete on this one epic problem, I feel all kinds of things: happy, relaxed, inspired to climb more, climb harder, but also feel a little anticlimactic in a way too. Climbers are like that...always looking towards “what’s next?” But in the end, this represents an important step for me as a climber, to never give up, never stop having fun, and never let the confines of a busy career and lack of free time stand in the way of putting a nemesis old friend to rest.