Obsession…

It has been a while without putting pen to paper (or more appropriately, fingers to keyboard). It’s not that I don’t love writing, I do. I feel that it’s important to share my experiences. Both Maggie and I realize the satisfaction received from having the ability to travel full time pursuing vaguely meaningless climbing goals is sanctification. We wish that everyone had the opportunity to live as blissfully and mindfully.

My excuse for taking so long to compose something has been my complete obsession with a single climbing goal. It began as a whim. A simple passing fancy. Certainly, in my subconscious ego, an unattainable dream. I’ve always thought of T-Rex (8c/14b-ish) as the king line in the Pipedream (Maple Canyon, UT). It is an overwhelmingly long (40 meters) horizontal endurance climb. The first half is a route called Millennium (8b+/14a-ish) which starts deep in the back of the Pipedream. The extension adds another 20 meters of mostly horizontal climbing which exits the left side (from outside looking in) of the massive Pipedream overhang. It is a masterfully crafted line that saw its first ascent in the mid-2000’s by Salt Lake City legend Tom Adams. The moves are big, the rests are limited and the pump factor substantial. The route was named after Tom’s lactic acid filled arms remained locked in a position similar to Tyrannosaurus Rex the morning after his send.

I first attempted T-Rex after redpointing Eulogy (8b+/14a) in September, 2018. Eulogy is the slightly easier right hand extension of Millennium. I spent three weeks working T-Rex with a close redpoint attempt, falling near the lip of the overhang pumped senseless. A day later, the snow and frigid temps arrived (early October), which ended the season for us in Maple. No send.

My obsession grew over the following winter and I set about training specifically for it. Maggie and I were fortunate to have landed the volunteer camp host position in Maple Canyon, thus insuring our ability to stay a full five months and hopefully knock down a few hard projects in the Pipedream. We both had a strong winter bouldering season. Maggie set about working Eulogy and I focused on working my longtime nemesis, Wyoming Sheep Shagger (8b/13d). I have had a love-hate relationship with this route. It has kicked my ass and eluded me for a couple of long seasons. It has also inflected two fairly serious injuries in past years after attaining close one-hangs and progressive high points. The season of 2019 brought no injury, but worse, it brought mental demoralization. By late summer I threw in the towel.

Working T-Rex in 2019. 📸: Zoltan Papp

In the meantime, Maggie became a sending machine by dispatching Eulogy, then moving on to T-Rex and crushed it as well. She calls it her best year ever. It was a perfect example of “student” turning “master,” and “master” wondering if he should retire and take up knitting in the warmth of somewhere like Cabo San Lucas… via con dios! Maggie’s onslaught was inspirational enough for me to turn my interest, once again, toward T-Rex. My conditioning on Shagger, even though unsuccessful, allowed me to quickly repeat Millennium. Alas, then the unusually late summer/early fall heat lead to a severe decline in my performance. I tried pushing harder through the dry hot conditions, which ended up being incredibly counterproductive. Like 2018, the 2019 season ended abruptly with snow and extremely cold temps in early October. Success on T-Rex would elude me once again. The inner doubts were growing as to whether or not I’d ever be able to do this route. I felt like my internal aging clock was ticking exponentially faster.

Strangely, failure, albeit extremely frustrating, often leads to increased obsession with me. Sometimes a good ass kicking is what’s needed to inspire a positive outcome. I had been left wanting and would have to reach deep into my very essence if I ever wanted to complete this personal goal before my bodily functions ceased their utility, i.e., I become dead from extreme oldness.

Setbacks lead to greater obsession…

The following late fall and winter season would be equally frustrating for both Maggie and me. She spent four months in the cold of Michigan, taking care of her Mom while I climbed sporadically in the Red River Gorge (Kentucky) and trained on a Moonboard in the Lee County Rec Center near our property in rural Beattyville. Not an ideal winter for either of us. Certainly not the training I’d anticipated for the upcoming mania-solving relief I was seeking.

In February (this year) we were able to make our way west to the Hurricave (southern Utah) to begin the long slow process of getting back into climbing shape. Within a couple of weeks, as many climbers around the world would experience, covid-19 began its indiscriminate attack on humanity. It forced us to flee to a remote crag in Arizona after hordes of refugee climbers from around the region began to swarm the desert north of St. George. We suffered through a couple months of sharp pocket pulling on short routes (bolted bouldering, essentially) in Jack’s Canyon. The routes were so short that roughly 10 pitches would equal a single Pipedream pitch. Luckily, a dry winter in Sanpete County allowed us to start our camp host position in Maple Canyon by the last week of April. We fled north.

The early season in the canyon was strangely dry and warm. I made the decision to focus totally on getting the monkey off my back (Thanks, Nancy, for this apt analogy!). It would be sink or swim. I risked mental breakdown if the go under option were to occur, and I consciously compartmentalized that possibility out of existence. Classic denial.

I began by quickly repeating routes I love. First La Confianza (7c+/13a). Then Rodeo Clown (8a/13b) which exits the Pipedream on the same horizontal roof as T-Rex. I repeated Millennium shortly after and had a high-point on T-Rex midway through the final roof by late May. Then, suddenly came summer and oppressive heat. Even worse, the record high temperatures were accompanied by extremely dry conditions. My skin is extremely parched due to my advanced age. I typically need the humidity to be above the 20% mark or I’ll dry fire off cobbles frequently, often without warning. Everything feels slippery to me with temps of 75f and 10-15% humidity. My skin suffers additional cuts and tearing to the point that I have super glue and tape on nearly every finger by now. I’ve become a perfect condition princess. Duchess requires that it be between 25-35% humidity and 60-65f. That’s a pretty narrow window. We might get three or four days a season that fit that bill. I need to be ready and can only hope they coincide with our Monday-Wednesday-Friday climbing schedule… sigh.

Along comes Sendtember…

The weather did a complete flip overnight. A horrendous northerly wind roared down from Canada bringing winter conditions and hurricane intensity winds (115 mph along the Wasatch Range) through Montana, Wyoming and eventually Utah. Maple received a couple of days of sleet and snow with freezing overnight temps. I had an amazingly close highpoint and a strong one-hang of T-Rex on the Monday prior to the storm. Now it was Wednesday and we had to dodge snow bombs from the tall spruce trees on the hike up to the Pipedream. The clouds spit sleet at us and the cosmic intellect appeared to be laughing at the folly of my desire for obsession relief. Suffice it to say, I was not feeling overly confident and we almost bailed.

We arrived in the Pipedream to a cold 49f with a stiff breeze. The sun was virtually nonexistent, randomly peeking out throughout the day, but with little warming effect. The breeze added a wind-chill factor, but the humidity was 33% and to my liking. Maggie packed it in, unable to climb even her warm-ups, and agreed to belay while I numbed out on mine. My final preparation was a full rendition of Rodeo Clown where I was welcomed by sleet at the anchors. Oddly, it felt the easiest it had ever felt to me. I was worried because I wasn’t even pumped.

I waited an hour-and-a-half before queuing up on T-Rex. I wasn’t thinking about redpointing, just giving it a go to stay familiar with the moves. In the back of my mind I was saving it for a good go on a much warmer forecasted Friday. As I stepped up to start, I heard our friend Pete yell encouragingly, “Fuck that thing up, Chuck!” Maggie followed up quickly and quietly, “Take it one move at a time, Charlie.”

I felt jittery and cold starting out. I almost fell at the third bolt…it has 26…not a good sign. Somehow I reeled in the bad pinch that attempted to thwart my efforts and proceed onward and outward with newly adrenalized strength. I stopped at each well-trained rest along the way and instead of monitoring my heart rate and breath, I gaged my rest time by how numb I was becoming. The crux of Millennium felt easier than ever and in the back of my mind, I began to wonder if this could be the day.

The Millenium crux. 📸: Eric Steiner

The connection from Millennium to the T-Rex roof section flowed smoothly. I forced the final good rest before the Rodeo Clown crux to complete numbness in my extremities and then sailed outward. That rare feeling of floating, the euphoria that we climbers seek, the sensation that drives our passion to climb, was ever present and fully engaged. I reached my previous highpoint, a common fall point, and glided through. My final rest is a nearly inverted kneebar at the lip of the cave. My body felt suddenly warm and I jettisoned my favorite hat (made by Maggie!) carefully and watched it float down into the landing zone. The rest was anti-climactic. The relief of clipping the anchors was palpable. The journey was over. The weight of the monkey gone. All that was left was the melancholy of all things final. Upon reaching terra firma, I promptly announced my retirement from climbing… until Friday at least…when I begin a new obsession.

The previous fall point. 📸: Eric Steiner

The stats…

Project time: approximately two years and one month (roughly 70-80 days)
Number of tries: perhaps 80-100
Number of times repeating Millennium: 9 or 10
T-Rex one-hangs: 5
T-Rex two-hangs: 9
Age at time of redpoint: 64 (3 months and 3 days shy of 65)
Petzl gear used: Volta 9.2mm x 80m rope, Hirundos harness, Power Crunch chalk, Kodapouche chalk bag, Grigri +
Fiveten rock shoes: TEAM FiveTen (for the send), Hiangles (for warm-up)
Clothing: Adidas Terrex
Performance Supplements: PhysiVantage Super-Charged Collagen, EndureX, Weapons Grade Whey Protein, CRUSH capsules
Rolls of Duck Max Strength duct tape for securing my SEND Wizard SI knee pads in place: 25-30
Belayer: Maggie
Additional support crew: Jesse, Will, Ryan, Rob, Pete, Hayden, Lola and Poco… fucking awesome positive energy!
Days retired from climbing: one
New obsession: TBA, please stay tuned…

Chuck

The Melancholy. 📸; Eric Steiner

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3 thoughts on “Obsession…

  1. Congratulations!!! I am fairly new to climbing, even though I’m fairly late in life. Just now sending 5.9s outside.
    Reading your post makes me think I might actually want to retire someday so I can climb full time!!!
    Can’t wait to see what your next adventure is.

    Like

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