Often over the years I used to talk to my good friend Mike McClure about the point in time that a boulder loses its appeal. You begin to wish it was sent not because you would be psyched to have done it, but to no longer have to sit underneath the start holds and imagine what finally topping out will feel like. Losing the feeling of elation upon sending and instead feeling angry that it took you that long, or you punted off the last move so many times takes all of the fun out of rock climbing.
I first tried the Buttermilker on a fall trip to Bishop in 2008. Maybe I was an idiot for trying something that was obviously too hard for me at the time, or maybe I was a genius…I had just done my first V11’s that year, and had climbed a fair number of double digit boulders. Compression climbing had come to be my forte for whatever reason, so I set my sights on this particular climb. I think I stuck the first move 3 times that week, and for a trip to Bishop went home with a surprising amount of skin left.
Over the years I went to Bishop at least once a year, for either a Thanksgiving or spring break from school in Idaho. I have walked over a half dozen people through sending that boulder right in front of me. They know who they are and hopefully read this at some point in time. Was it a frustrating thing, to see people I considered my peers send my project in minimal time, right before my eyes? Yes and no. One year, in the span of 9 days in the Buttermilks I fell from the last move 19 times. I could start from the sit, from the stand, didn’t matter. I fell off the last move no matter what happened. Different beta, grabbing holds in different ways, nothing helped.
In the fall of 2009 Kaiya and I were on a 5 month road trip. I was climbing as strong as I ever had, and I was determined to send the project that had become a nemesis. We showed up at the boulder, fit, strong and ready to go. One attempt and I knew there was no way in hell I was sending. Knee problems that I developed on the road strictly forbid me to toe down hard enough to keep my left foot on. Every try felt like someone was tearing my knee apart. FAIL.
A year later, I returned once again driving from Idaho to spend a week. That trip I fell off the last move only 13 times. I rested more, came closer than ever and realized this may never happen. I was frustrated and disheartened by my failure. I remember thinking I didn’t care about sending anymore, I just didn’t want to have to try again. FAIL.
In 2011 Kaiya and I were living in Boise Idaho, running a bouldering gym and finishing school. We took a long weekend to Bishop in February, mainly for me to try to send, and for her to work on things she had tried a time or two. I was stronger than ever, I had sent my first V13 that summer, and was working my way through all the V11 and V12 boulders near Boise that fall and winter. I was able to one-handed dead hang the butter dish. The conditions were perfect, 45 degrees, sunny and a light breeze. We went to warm up, a little snow on the ground still keeping it crisp. I worked my way through warming up, fingers, core, head, legs, power…and popped a pulley on the Iron Fly. My hand blew off the rail and I swung out off the mini-jug with one hand and…POP! Trip over. In the adrenalin filled 15 minutes I taped my hand like a mummy and managed to fall off THE LAST MOVE.
A year later I failed. Again. I had sport climbed all summer and had no power. Guess where I fell?
All in all, I spent 26 days, 1 Toyota Tacoma (got hit on Buttermilk road and truck was totaled) 1 tendon pulley and 39 times falling off the last move before this week.
The first day back in the cave, I booted up, it was a little warm and tried the last move. It felt easier than ever. My good friend Nohl was there with some friends, one being Kyle Owen. I had a short session on the boulder, falling in my favorite spot. Kyle made an interesting observation that “you seem like your body is so used to falling off that move, that you are falling off before you even start climbing.”
The next morning, we warmed up at Get Carter, and I did some problems I had never even really tried before. It was fun, I was having a good time and didn’t even care about the Buttermilker anymore. I had come full circle. I wasn’t mad, I wasn’t frustrated with myself and I knew that I could do it. I just had to wait for the right time. I went into town, picked up some liquid chalk and in the last few minutes of daylight, sent the Buttermilker. Relief of not having to try anymore is not what I felt. I was psyched, had the grin on my face that says “I just sent something” and it didn’t even feel like it was an epic anymore.
Failing on a rock climb for so long always made me think I wouldn’t be excited to do it. I always thought I would feel more relief, as in my conversations with McClure. But in the end that isn’t what I felt. It was the same feeling as if I’d done it in one session. I was psyched. I had shut myself down mentally on this boulder for so long, having done things far harder than this before. I learned a lot about projecting, about myself and what it takes to stick with something long enough to see it through. In the end, I got no video, no photos, nothing. There were a few people in the cave that day including my wife who has spent countless hours there, watching me self-destruct in years past. Not this time. Now on to the next one!