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Conquering the Unknown Factors - David Graham

Conquering the Unknown Factors - David Graham
Conquering the Unknown Factors - David Graham
Conquering the Unknown Factors - David Graham
Conquering the Unknown Factors - David Graham
Conquering the Unknown Factors - David Graham
Conquering the Unknown Factors - David Graham
Conquering the Unknown Factors - David Graham
April 30, 2012 - 

I have been climbing in Colorado for some time now. It feels like it has all gone be very quickly, but in reality it has been almost 6 weeks. I returned from Hueco Tanks at the beginning of March with the fire, worried about an injured MCL, and feeling pretty beat down from the Desert.

Luckily, the new crib I live at up in Nederland is super pimp. Equipped with a hot tub, lots of plants, a dog named Ziggy who chase squirrels, Dutchez the best cat in the world,  and an extremely relaxing environment, I was on the mend from day one, sleeping 12 hours nights, and enjoying my distance from El Paso. Whole Foods never seemed so expensive, nor so vast and incredible after months of Wal Mart eating, and the air was relatively cold, a huge relief, and a nice respite from the overwhelming Hueco calor.


My audio/video studio was good to go, neglected for months gathering dust. DirectTv was all up in the piece, so catching up on new release was no issue,  and the Island operations could finally resume. I began to recover, both mentally and physically, on the quick, and it felt great.

Seemingly from the get go, I was out bouldering at the same old spots with the same old crew. Rollin out with Chad, goin to Elkland or into RMNP, meeting up with DanDawg and CamDawg, it was just like before I left, but less snow.

Hueco was a grueling 2 months of developing new climbs and going a muerte nearly every single day, and I had the intuition, that March and April were about to be even more loco.

The Tingster aka DeleteMe was planning on rolling into town for some climbing and skate boarding, and so was Nate Bancroft, to film a segment for Scarred for Life (his new film project), and help finish off Island Episode 1 (A film from back in 2009 I have been working on for way to long). We were about to have a posse take shape, and all the needed to happen was the discovery a brand new bouldering area, full of sick projects for the crew.

Back in Elkland, signs of a change where brewing. Something bigger then us, something more powerful, was happening, and I could sense it. The mountains stopped blowing cold air on us, and subtly, one could sense an immediate change. Our entire zone was getting warmed by an extremely radiant force, everyone noticed, and could feel their own bodies internal temperature, rising, ever so slightly. The Era of Elkland was ending, and we would be forced to migrate…forced to move to a new location, and plants our routes again: find projects, and brush the rocks clean, and make our nests….

Before I left for Hueco, I had been trying an incredible compression project, probably at the top of the 8c scale, yet had failed to many of the movements. I was determined to do all the moves, after "getting stronger" back in the Tanks, and was hell bent to try the rig, even if the tides where changing, plates shifting, and the earth was warming.

I was determined to make some type of tangible progress, but it was going to be a process. Seemingly I was physically strong enough to hold the positions, but to understand the movements involved was an unknown quantity. After many sessions, I unlocked the positions, and did the all moves. It was inspiring, yet depressing. Deep in my heart, I knew this bloc would have to be left to bake in the sun for an entire year, until is was cold enough at its core that I could stick to its slopers on its surface… 

As the season started to change, Elkland transformed. There where flowers, summer-type critters, more tourists, and we even saw a bear! This was unfortunate, all the motivation and energy was here, Elkland was our home, yet, things would not stop changing, planet earth was upon us…we needed to accept this an move onwards.

I thought of the Rats of Nimh, the Hobbit, and other childhood cartoon memories, and songs came to mind, stuff you can only find on Youtube or BetaMax these days, and realized, it was time to move on, to keep going forward, let go of, and that the answer was just blowing in the wind.

I fled Elkland, in search of a colder climbing environment, and was taken to a roof by Daniel Woods he had established deep into the winter. It was amazing. I had seen the problem Paint it Black in its infancy, when Jamie Emerson had found the roof, and taken me there a couple years ago. At the time, I cleaned around on all the projects, looked at the non existent landing, and practically pronounced everything impossible. Over the next years, people would go and try it, I would always say, bahhh, "it doesn't go", or "it will break", maybe something like "does the top out really go?" Oh how I was wrong.

I sessioned the problem for the first time with Daniel and he demonstrated me the sequence (which was really impressive to be honest) and explained to me some of the subtleties. I managed to do most of the hand moves, but one of the crux movements revolved around a crazy heel hook/cam maneuver, and it hurt my still fragile MCL wound badly. I was a bit disheartened, but immediately became entranced. As I drifted off hiking back to the car, I realized some things.  I would try to climb this boulder, I would heal my knee, I would be able to this sequence, I LIKED this rig. Paint it Black became my project, and it had been some time I had found something so difficult I thought I could manage in a reasonable amount of time.

The Peak to Peak Highway, the road between my hood and Estes Park is a majestic, and the new drive to the park led us right along some of the sickest mountains the park has to offer. With a new perspective on the region, and tons of visible granite and gneiss, I was quite certain we where going to find a ton of rock this round, and I wasn't sure how to prepare myself. I would bring gators in my car to hike in the snow, extra shoes and socks, and bring lots of water, but the next step involved running around like a crazy person in search of rock formations. I was interested in trying Paint it Black, Hypnotized minds, and Mirror Reality, yet deep down inside, I just wanted the thrill of finding an entire new sector, a new zone, a new paradise of alpine granite to immerse myself in and make boulders clean. I cut my finger on hypnotized, failed miserably compared to my previous attempts on Mirror Reality in what I considered sweltering April heat, and realized i need to zone in, not spread out. I started to zero in on Paint it Black, but it was heinous, destroying my tips during every session, and wrecking my lower back. I needed something else to do, something to get me extra fit. Maybe I needed an area with a hike. and a ton of hard new projects.
I decided to go look at an area called Wild Basin next to Allenspark, 35 minutes from our house direction Estes Park. My first day in the valley I didn't find much, but I was astonished by its beauty. A low green trough, littered with glacier erattics, cliff bands and terraces. I meandered around by myself, carrying a rock in one hand to ward off Mountain Lion attacks, and a chalk bag strapped to me in case I discovered the next Dreamtime. I ended up getting lost in some dense brush, finding a moose in the forest who was my friend, and then falling into the river.

I knew there was rock out there, I sensed it. There was some magical draw, something magnetic about the valley, and all I could think of was going back, to hunt for the rock. I returned the next day with Carlo Traversi, and we quested out to where I had seen boulders on google earth map. I was more oriented this time, so there was no need to get lost in the brush, we down the trail, and in now time, BAM. A massive talus field, strewn with massive blocks, projects galore, and cool green moss covering all surfaces, we had hit the jackpot. Carlo had seen a bloc I never made it too, described its majesty, and immediately I was knew we would find much, much more rock. This place was gonna be good.

After that day, it was on. The Tingster and Nate had arrived, and we began filming another segment for Scarred for Life about this new realm. At night, we feverishly hustled on the on edit of Island 1, and like clock work, at around noon, we would be driving to Wild Basin.

Paint it Black was put on hold temporarily, as the quantity of projects which we had cleaned began to overwhelm me. It was getting warmer, but by about 20 degrees, and before I knew it, the temperatures where in the 80's. Now, I have failed to mention this entire post that my time here in Colorado comes to an end on the 7th of May, when I fly to Australia for the second time of my life. It will be a two month bouldering adventure with my friends Nalle Hukkataival and Ian Dory, and evolve directly into another two month adventure, in South Africa. I have been extremely excited about this trip, but  I knew my time in the states was limited, and the 6 weeks I had from Hueco till I flew out, always loomed in my mind, taunting me with the idea, that I may not send my projects this round, and it might get too hot.

And this is where things get interesting. In many of my blogs, I tend to describe some of the deeper elements of the struggle behind my experience climbing. Things aren't always perfect, or more literally, its nearly impossible for things be "perfect." Thus there is a lot of my life, while I am pursuing these goals in climbing, where everything just seems to come crashing down. It will get too hot, you will get injured, you will fail for some incomprehensible reason, maybe you will get deported, the idea is, disaster can strike at any point for a climber, and when you are going for it 365 days a year, you can really set yourself up for some disappointment.

This time, there was no disaster. This time all clicked. I think it was because of the full moon, but I haven't even seen the moon lately and I'm not sure if its even full (get that).

I waited out the heat wave which attacked Colorado, threatening us with fires and high winds. I had my sights set on three projects. Two where in the Basin: an amazing Grey boulder with a crazy toe hook crux, an arete which climbed really well, and the looming Paint it Black back in the Park. I had 14 days left in the country to make it all happen, and forecast did not look good. I had nearly sent the first rig in a session with a brief moment of cold air, so I knew I was capable of doing it, the arete seemed to pose no serious threat and would be too heinous in the end if it got cold, and Paint it Black, well, for three days I had fallen on the same move. The last move. A foot move of all things. I was baffled, but extremely close to doing the problem so it seemed. I started to lose hope, I couldn't put my finger on what I was doing on wrong, I felt stumped, like I was trying to solve some bizarre puzzle. It reminded me of these metal ring toys, just giving up, by being utterly baffled at what you could try next.

And then something crazy happened. A cold front swept through the Rockies, and hit Colorado at the perfect moment. I was astonished, it dropped nearly 30 degrees, and low and behold, it was cold as shit. Sending Temps where back, and I was going to try to make the most of it, even though to be dead honest, the last thing I expected would be to send all my projects. I never do that. I am a master at punting.

But this time I did not punt. I went to the Basin the first freezing day, even though it was still snowing a little, and capitalized on the wind. It was epic! Blustery storm clouds, snow squalls, and intermittent sun, I was invigorated and excited to climb, awed by the difference from the last week, and grateful that the giant mosquitos who tormented us for so long where being blown really far away, and hopefully buried in snow.

The Grey was the first rig to go down. I fell off the heinous sloping finish on my first try, utterly devastated I had blown my shot at a First Try Friday (it was a friday, its a fun game) but feeling fit, I fired it the next go, feeling weight lift off my shoulders almost immediately. Its impossible to describe, but all I really wanted to do, before I flew to Australia, was to execute that sequence properly, and glide across the boulder using all four points. It was like a karate exercise, a routine, I just wanted to get it right. To arrive at a concentrated state. To become focused. To rise above what I could not understand.

Somehow, when I sent that problem, I was liberated. I rested for some hours spotting the homies on the amazing Tetris, and then went down to the arete project in the crazy wind. The conditions where amazing, and I somehow felt like I knew how to rock climb, and it was done. After about half an hour, only had one more project in the Park, and I only had 8 days to left to climb it.

The next day I was haggard from the hiking and climbing in the basin. My skin was thin, my back and legs hurt, and I doubted any chance of real success, for no real reason except that I pretty much thought I would fail. We arrived at Paint it Black to find that the conditions where not as perfect as I thought they would be. Immediately I was relieved, and thought to myself that tomorrow, equally, could be a good day to try this thing, especially if I was all sore. I brushed some other problems, paced around, and held back for 2 hours, hoping that when the sun went down, it would get colder. Instead, the clouds developed and it got slightly humid, the wind ceased, and I starting feeling defeated. But at that moment right there, when I was at my low point in confidence, on some other plane, I was at a high point. I started warming up, decided to give it a good run for its money, and test myself once again, even though I feared failure, at the foot swing, like nothing else. I started to make my attempts. I had a brand new Quantum on my left foot, the PERFECT shoe for the heal hook, and a blue team on my right, broken in perfectly. I fell off the foot swing.

I tried again, and fell off the foot swing, but this time I had my right hand affixed onto the crux crimper in the right spot, not too high, not too low. I had felt the position, for the first time, from the ground. I need to dig my fingers into the crimp, and just do the sequence, as I had done so many times from a push in. I then did something improvisational. I used my sandpaper, which is typically for my tips, for my nails. I wanted to really get the crimper deep, and felt like my nails would always grind into that back wall when I dug in deep. So I sanded down my nails, on my right hand, made an attempt, fell before the foot swing but with a good sensation on the right crimp, rested, and climbed the rig.

Now, all I can say about that is: Pure Satisfaction. Like the pepsi add or whatever. But truly, I was content. Wrapping up that problem is a great way to prepare for a trip, and its a rarity for me these days to leave without hundreds of undone rigs looming in my mind. I have 6 more days till I fly to OZ, which will be one of the SICKEST trips I have ever been on, and all I can do at the moment is look forward. For a climber with a lot of projects, its always very hard to do, but somehow, this time around, its my genuine sensation, and I think it will only make me stronger for my journeys ahead.

I guess the moral of the story this time is: it doesn't matter how much you consciously believe in yourself, as you are truly something much greater, then just your conscience self. Even though I have been climbing for a long time, I am still just learning the basics, it keeps things fresh. I love this stuff. Thanks for reading

Blue Sky.


Photo credit: BearCamMedia

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