Packing for Hueco was, to say the least, a little stressful for me. Not knowing whether or not I could climb or not… Would I be able to compete at Nationals the following week? Even if I did, would I have a chance to win? Ok, let's rewind a little...
A Tale of a Finger, Hueco & ABS - Mirko Caballero
4 Weeks Earlier
On a beautiful sunny day in Mortar Rock, Berkeley I was climbing with my Mom & Dad and after a few tries on the popular New Wave V9 (7C) my finger started hurting a bit so I decided to rest it off for a few minutes. After a while it started to feel better, and I ran up The Ramp V4 (6C+) few times and then decided to go try Going Blind Direct V8 (7B+). As I started climbing my finger felt sore again, but I just decided it was nothing more than just a little inflammation. So, I pushed through the pain and then I stopped for a second and realized I was standing on top the boulder! Going Blind Direct flash… After that I thought why not try Stan’s Into Going Blind? So I did and I surprised myself by quickly figuring out the moves and linking sequences on it! So after several tries I linked it all the way to the last few moves but got pumped and fell.
Ha! So I rested a little and then sent it! Phew… Not bad for my first time at Mortar Rock!
Although something wasn’t right, my finger was no longer sore but extremely painful and very swollen. So, a few days later I headed to the doctor… And after an hour of painful testing and X-Rays the doctor walks in and says my finger is broken. :( But, luckily it was only a small fracture. It turns out that when I was trying New Wave at Mortar Rock I actually crushed my knuckle levering against the rock in a pocket, and chipped a piece of bone at the attachment of the extensor tendon. Really a dumb accident as you really don't use that tendon for climbing (it's the one allowing you to straighten your finger).
The only good news was that it was just a hairline fracture, and that the chip was still attached to the rest of the bone. The doctor said I needed to fully rest it and stop climbing for 3 weeks... Not bad you'd say, but this happened just 3 weeks before my trip to Hueco, and 4 weeks before Bouldering Nationals!!!
Back to the Present
So, now I was starting to wonder if I could climb and if I could would I be able to perform after three weeks of no climbing? Would my finger really be healed? The fear of not knowing was KILLING me!!!
“QUACK! QUACK! QUACK!” Rang the shrill tone of my alarm…
UUGGHHH 4:30 in the morning and I chose a duck sound to be my alarm?!?! What was I thinking?!? I dragged myself out of bed, dressed myself, and practically crawled to the car. And after what felt like a much too short hour long drive to the airport we started un-loading our gazillion pound bags. Yay! *whisper* Sarcasm *whisper*
Every step closer to arriving in El Paso was building up more and more fear for my finger. Constantly grasping the cold odd metal splint on my finger.
I woke up suddenly feeling the plane shaking violently and I looked out the window and realized that we had just landed. No matter how worried I was I couldn’t help being psyched. I was starving by now and more then psyched to be surrounded by delicious Mexican food. A quick stop at Doña Lupita and a few burritos later we arrived at the Hueco Rock Ranch and it was PACKED with people. After signing-in for the Hueco Rock Rodeo, and meeting new people and seeing some familiar faces we decided to go to bed.
We woke bright and early the next day to get out with our tour. We drove to the office and met our guide for the day, Wilder. I wasn’t feeling super strong, and my finger still felt a bit sore, but truth be told I was just super psyched that I could even climb. When we got back to the Rock Ranch, the Sponsor Company booths were starting to be set up, and my Dad and I had fun checking out all the new products!
Saturday was the Rock Rodeo adult competition, and it started out well with the one and only Fred Nicole baking pancakes for us the competitors. I got a picture taken with Fred, and I talked in French with him which was fun (Fred's from Switzerland like my parents). After breakfast we got ushered into vans and shuttled to the park. I was in the Advanced group and we were assigned to climb at East Mountain where the Open group was also climbing. This was my first time ever on East Mountain, and so I didn’t have much expectations at the comp. This was just a way to get on the mountain to get some good climbing in. At the end of the day I felt that I had had a good day. I got to climb with Nina Willimas, Angie Payne, Paige Claassen, and Jon Cardwell. I managed to onsight a V10 (7C+) and a V9 (7C), and ended up in 5th place in the adult comp. All in all, a pretty great day!
The next day I competed in the Youth competition, and I again onsighted a V10 (7C+) and a V9 (7C). It was a fun comp, and I ended up getting a $200 Adidas gift certificate for winning the advanced category!
After this I spent my next week on several climbing trips guided by Jason Kehl and his girlfriend Martina Mali. I had a lot of fun projecting problems with Jason. Let me tell you, he's not nearly as scary as the Baby heads hanging off his Van would make you think!!! :) He's really nice, and knows everything about every problem in Hueco. Martina is really fun too. She showed me lots of problems to try, had lots of stories to tell all the time, and was just super energetic. If you ever go out to Hueco, make sure to book a tour with them!!!
Climbing with the Pros
Oh, I almost forgot... I got a Facebook message from Mélissa Le Nevé asking me if I was in Hueco. She said we should come climb with them for a day. We already had a tour booked with Jason, but my Dad asked him if we could cancel, and he was really nice about it and said no problem... So this one morning we show up to meet-up with Mélissa Le Nevé, Jacopo Larcher, and... wait for it... drum rolls... Anna Stöhr and Kilian Fischhuber!!! Only like the two best bouldering competitors in the world!!! I had an awesome day climbing with them, although it was a bit intimidating at times. These guys onsight, flash, or send in a couple of tries anything V13 (8B) and under!!!
All in all, during the week I sent tons of fun climbs from the V10 (7C+) to V11 (8A) range. Finally, it was my last day and we went to North Mountain. After warming up, I decided to try Tequila Sunrise V12 (8A+), and sent it in 15 minutes I! I then headed to Terre de Sienne V14 (8B+) and came painstakingly close but strained my shoulder a little and had to stop. And just like that my trip came to an end. Off to Colorado!
You'd think that after sending all these hard problems, everything was fine with my finger, but not really... It still hurt quite a bit, and I definitely felt a huge lack of finger strength. On crimps I could compensate by crimping hard with my thumb over the fingers, but I could barely hold on to pinches and slopers with my right hand... Over Christmas in Bishop, I had an amazing two weeks sending lots of hard problems. So I had big expectations for Hueco, but the finger injury and lack of training forced me to re-visit my objectives. Not a bad week, yet not what I was hoping for either... :(
Climbers Against Cancer (CAC)
I took a week off from school to go to Colorado to acclimate, climb and just hang out. Even though I was nervous for Nationals I was super psyched to see all my friends! Upon arriving my Mom handed me my brand new Climbers Against Cancer shirt that had arrived in the mail while I was in Hueco!!!! CAC is a non-profit organization devoted to raising money for cancer awareness and it’s very effective. John Ellison, their founder is just really passionate about the cause!!! My friend Michaela Kirsch introduced me to CAC & John, and she's certainly their most passionate US ambassador. Fortunately, I haven't had to deal with any cancer illness in my family, although I never got to meet my grandmother because she died of cancer before I was born... My Mom often talks about her, and I can tell she really misses her Mom... If you don’t have a shirt yet be sure to check them out! They’re sick shirts supporting and AMAZING cause.
ABS 14 Youth Bouldering National Championships
Finally, it was nationals and I was PSYCHED, yet still scared about ny finger. My first day went well because I ended flashing all my routes feeling confident on all of them, and finishing in 1st place for the day! We had climbed early in the morning, so I got the whole day to hang out with my friends and just relax... In the evening, I went out to dinner with all my friends and then headed straight to bed because I was dead. I slept well and was ready for semi-finals. I woke-up early and got into ISO way before my deadline. I just hung out a little and slowly started stretching and then warming up. My finger was feeling slightly sore but after a little warm up it felt ok. Finally I was out and felt good. The first climb was a little funky, but I figured it out and managed a flash. Then I flashed number 2, and next thing you know, I flashed number 3!!! This put me again in first place going into Finals!
Finals are always stressy. It doesn't matter how well you did the days before, in the end it all comes down to those 3 last climbs in Finals!!! I didn't sleep to well, but still got up in the morning ready to fight!!! Finally my turn... I turn around for the first problem, a slab... I manage to move through the early moves easily, but carefully. Then a really funky move to the end hold super crunchy with my foot above my hand... I stand up slowly... Touch the finish hold... and NOOO... I loose my balance, and down I go!!! I was sooo MAD!!! How could I let that happen??? I jump back on the problem get to the same move... and this time I send it without a hitch! Next problem... I'm still Really Mad! I turn around, look at the problem for a few seconds, and I know... YOU GOT THIS!!! I get on the climb super confident and flash it easily! Now I'm feeling good again!
Last problem, a big overhang... I like this... I easily move through the initial part, and get to the first crux... A big move to a Gaston. I'm confident in my lock-off strength, so I go static... and... down I go... Back up, same move... I do the same thing... and... down I go... Back on it again, I get to the same place do a big dynamic move... and... I stick the move!!! Next a big move to a small right hand crimp... I hit the crimp... This hurts sooo much... The pain radiates from my broken finger through my whole arm... I fall... I try again, do the same move, but the pain is just too unbearable... That's it! I go back to my seat with my head hanging low... And there's my Dad with a Big Smile!!! You WON!!! WHAT??? You WON!!! I can't believe it!!! Coming into Finals in first place, I was the last competitor climbing in Finals. Turns out the problems were really hard, and no other climber could finish two problems out of three. So by the time I got onto problem 3, I had already won Nationals! I just didn't know it!!! :D
So in the end I had a really good Nationals. Only climber to Flash all my problems in Qualifiers and Semi-Finals. Only climber to send 2 problems in Finals, and I also got the high-point on the last problem. So despite what I thought, I got a decisive victory!
Can you spell Hat Trick? This was my 3rd Bouldering National Title in a row!!!
But there's more Good News!!! My Zero Gravity Team Friends did really well too!!! Cicada, Josh, and Connor also won the Gold Medal in their respective categories! My friend and competitor took 2nd place while Sam (who's not on my team, but still a friend) took 4th place and a US National Team Spot. Natalia took the Bronze Medal in Youth-C Girls, and our Zero Gravity Team won the Team Silver Medal!!!
But wait... So I'm starting to relax, and getting ready to hang out with all my friends, when I hear my name again... What??? The North Face Young Gun Recipient??? That's got to be an error... Well... No! I'm one of 5 recipients of The North Face Rookie Young Gun Award together with my friends Michaela and Margo!!! Congrats to Brendan Mitchell for winning the Young Gun Award!!! You deserve this one man... Nice Job!
So after all the excitement, we headed back home, but I was really freaked out about my finger. Did I break it again? Would it ever heal? We went back to the doctor, and... Good News!!! He said it was healing nicely, it just hadn't fully healed and solidified yet, and I just needed to take another 2 weeks off.
2 more weeks... and then I can start endurance training for my trip to the Red River Gorge for spring break. It will be a bit of a short preparation, but I think I can make it work... :D