Years ago, I moved from the Jackson, Wyoming area to live and work in Idaho Falls, Idaho. It didn’t take long for me to climb every route in the area. I even purchased a rotary hammer drill so I could develop additional, more challenging routes. Soon, I ran out of rock to drill.
Luckily, it was then (the late 1980’s) that I met my friend Jim Sherner during a foray to the north side of the Grand Teton. He was with a partner heading up to do the North Ridge and I was off to do my first ascent of the North Face. We exchanged contact info so we could keep in touch and maybe do some climbing together one day.
Shortly after the Teton encounter, Jim invited me down to Logan, Utah to climb in a newly developing sport climbing area in nearby Logan Canyon. I fell in love with the place immediately. I was like a kid in a candy store. There was a ton of rock and routes going up right and left. “Hard-men” like Boone Speed, Jeff Pederson and Bill Boyle were developing a place now called China Cave. It was steep and looked impossible, but these Salt Lake hard-men were making it happen. It was then that I began to really understand the process of redpoint climbing. I was hooked instantly.
The idea of working several days, weeks, months or even years on a single short pitch sport climb intrigued me greatly. Up to that point in my early climbing career, if I couldn’t do a route within a couple of attempts, then I was taught by my climbing mentors that I was in-over-my-head and needed to find easier routes to do until I magically became a better climber.
I decided to join the Hard-Men on weekends. My goal was to work up to doing my first confirmed 5.13. After 2 years of due diligence, I chose my first real “project” in the cave, a route that was steep, short and powerful. I drove the 168 miles every Friday night after a long day of work to hang out with my buddy Jim all weekend. We would climb at China Cave on both Saturday and Sunday and I would make the long drive back home late on Sunday night. It became our routine for the entire summer. As fall began to approach, the moves finally started coming together. Doubts were replaced by hope. Fear of repeated failure was replaced with strength and confidence of movement. I had weeded out all the inefficiencies. The climbing sequences were deeply ingrained in my psyche. The climb was becoming an aesthetic, well-rehearsed choreographed dance.
Finally, the day came when I knew that a redpoint was inevitable. It was early September (Send-tember!). Our friend Bob accompanied us to the cave to witness the spectacle. After a good warm up, I felt strong and confident. The route went easily my first attempt of the day. I felt like I was floating. When I clipped the anchors cleanly, Jim let out a loud war whoop! He was either incredibly happy for my success or perhaps just elated that he didn’t have to belay me on this crazy route ever again.
When I reached the ground after being lowered from the anchors, Jim raced over to give me a big congratulatory hug. In that moment the realization that my extreme stubborness and unwaivering perserverance had paid off hit me. I had completed what was once a seemingly impossible goal. Keep in mind that I was in my late 30’s (considered over-the-hill back then) and this was during an era of climbing when 5.13s were still considered somewhat difficult.
It was at that moment of successful elation that Bob smugly interjected, “I don’t understand how you can call that a success when it took you so long to do this ONE route? It seems ridiculous to me.” I was crushed. The wave of negativity hit me like a brick. Then, it dawned on me; we live in a world to which “we” bring meaning. That being the case, my response to Bob was simply, “Bob, redpoint climbing is not for everyone. It takes a special desire, a strong ability to deal with repeated failure and extreme motivation to see a difficult route to fruition. It’s totally cool if you don’t understand this process and its importance to me.” The next week, Jim told me secretly, Bob was projecting his first 5.12 route.
Nearly 25 years later, I still love the process of redpoint climbing. It has never grown old. Now approaching age 60, I’ve red-pointed more then 200 routes rated 5.13 or harder and nearly 10 routes in the 5.14 realm. My only regret is that I had to wait as long as I did to discover the redpoint process. It’s the same process that I’ve adapted to many aspects of my life. It taught me not to be afraid to confront life’s challenges with hard work and concerted effort. Failure is inevitable and should not be perceived as a deterrent, but rather a chance to learn, grow, adapt and eventually succeed. Redpoint climbing builds character. It’s a great metaphor for life.
And life goes on, as catalogued here and at the top of this post by photographer Dave Burleson:
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