Homeward Bound

My last days in red rocks have been blast. Much of my time has been spent in Gateway Canyon, attempting the infamous Meadowlark Lemon from the stand start. This problem is certainly in vogue this season, seeing numerous ascents from both the low start (V14) and the high start (V13). I’m nowhere near strong enough to even consider the sit start at the moment so I invested my time into the stand. The 20ft boulder that hosts The Lark sits in the middle of a wash in the back of a canyon. Since the area never sees sun, the sector around the boulder is always frigid. The ground directly behind the boulder is a giant slab of rock. Consequently, standing around in-between attempts sucks the warmth and life out of your body. However, the consistently cold temps are perfect for the sloping holds on the problem.

Meadowlark is one of the most technically challenging hard problems that I have ever tried. Depending on your beta, some the hardest moves involve moving your feet rather than your hands. When I first tried the problem, I don’t think I did a single move. By the end of the second day I could do the crux move. By the end of the third day, I had done all the moves and was making some honest attempts from the start.

Making progress on technical boulder problems is an interesting process. You rarely fall because you are not physically strong enough. Failure more frequently results from incorrect body positions, slipping off footholds, or grabbing holds just a millimeter off. Rather than just focusing on just trying hard, you have to focus on angles of the different parts of your body and where they are in relation to each other. This type of multitasking is extremely hard to process for me. I often find myself focusing too much on one aspect of body positioning, then neglecting another part of my body. For example, while trying Meadowlark, I needed to focus on shifting my hips to a certain point so I could move my foot up. However, once my weight was shifted perfectly, I would lose focus on a specific foothold placement and slip off.

With these types of technical boulder problems, there are always many different options for different beta. Most of my days on Meadowlark were spent with my good friend Max Zolotukhin. We used different beta almost everyday we tried it. After several days of trying some new beta involving a finicky heelhook, Max broke the foothold that made that method possible, and was forced to revert back to his original beta. After several heartbreaking attempts where Max fell off the last move, he ended his trip empty handed. I’m always impressed by Max’s tenacity and focus when it comes to putting a lot of days into a boulder. I, on the other hand, often give up when a climb gives me that much trouble. Although neither of us sent, I think this project has been a great learning experience for both of us. It is also always nice to share that process with friend.

I wish I could say that this boulder will always be there for me to try when I’m a bit stronger, but I’m afraid that might not be the case. Meadowlark Lemon went through a series of changes through the course of my time in Red Rocks. The Meadowlark boulder is a giant layer cake of sand. Every time the boulder got brushed, foots and handholds would slightly erode for better or for worse. This boulder has no doubt changed a considerable amount since the first ascent, especially with the wave of traffic this climb has seen over the last month.

Semi-important foot knob broken by Max.

Semi-important foot knob broken by Max.

My last day of bouldering was spent doing a few classics including a flash of Scare Tactics (V10?) and American Exotica (V10) in a handful of tries. The next day we decided to hike into First Creek Canyon to investigate The Nest. After an hour and half of hiking and hopping around  deep into the canyon, we stumbled upon the amazing boulder. The Nest boulder is completely blank with the exception of three lines: a V13 arête, a V12 dyno, and a V15. The Nest is the best looking hard climb I have ever seen. The blank wall is interrupted by a series of flat edged that trend right over a large nest of bushes and ending in a heinous headwall involving a bad sloper and even worse pinches, side pulls and gastons. After seeing this climb, I could not be more psyched to come back stronger and give that rig some goes.

Max perching in the nest.

Max perching in the nest.

The Nest starts down and left and finishes up the blank white streak.

The Nest starts down and left and finishes up the blank white streak.

Max and Hayden realizing how far we are from the car.

Max and Hayden realizing how far we are from the car.

My flight back to Boston was supposed to leave the following day but my flight was canceled due to the polar vortex thing. This left me an extra day for some sport climbing with my friend Heather. It’s been great having the option of changing up the pace and alternating between sport climbing and bouldering. We spent our day in the Gallery area playing around on some of the classic moderates.  I ended the day by onsighting the Sissy Traverse, a 13b linkup of pretty much all of the routes on the right end of the crag. Psyched to know that I still have some endurance! Sport climbing in the sun was the perfect way to end what has so far been my favorite leg of my trip.

While in Hueco, I realized that my shoulder would not be back in fighting form without some proper recovery and training. I figured it would be a wise decision to fly home for a bit after Red Rocks, regain some psyche, and get back into shape. After almost 3 months on the road, I have some mixed feelings about my experience thus far. Everyone dreams of being able to take off and commit to rock climbing full time. However, it is not as glamorous as many people might imagine and comes with its fair share of ups and downs.

Almost every aspect of this type of trip has two sides. For example, It is hard to complain when have the ability to climb on some of the best routes in the country in some of the most beautiful parts of the United States. However, climbing on rock has always been like a special treat to me. Since it is usually not possible to do it everyday, you learn to appreciate the rare instances when you can make it outdoors, and focus your energy on making the most of your often limited time. Conversely, when you climb outside every single day, I have found that I lost some of that appreciation that I once had. Every day climbing outside just becomes part of a routine rather than a special treat. Furthermore, I’ve found it hard for me to get stronger while on this type of trip. I have improved technically with my climbing, which, arguably is more import than physical strength. However, although I am in no way technically perfect with my climbing, I think I will see greater progress in my climbing only if I become physically stronger.

Throughout the first leg of my trip, I have slowly had to shift my overall goal. Originally, I had the goal of crushing projects across the country. Sounds simple enough, right? I quickly learned that this is not that easy. I began to shift my focus to enjoying the experience as a whole, not just focusing on the climbing. This shift in attitude has made me appreciate what this type of trip has to offer, which is much greater than the temporary satisfaction of sending a hard route. Since beginning of this trip, I’ve gained a much greater appreciation for the people I’ve met, the different cultures I’ve experienced, and the experience of traveling by myself. Nevertheless, living out of your car/tent can be exhausting. So, now is a good time for a break to see my family and friends and get back in shape.

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On an unrelated note, check out this amazing demo reel from Savage Films including a few shots of yours truly. I did some filming with Alex last spring and I can’t wait for the final edit to come out!

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