I’m still in denial that I’m back in Atlanta, even if I’ve spent two weeks in my usual routine of class, work, sleep. Going to Red Rock was more than just a trip without my boyfriend. It was my trip. My trip where I spent four days going from boulder to boulder collecting battle scars and sore muscles. My ego was elevated and shut down multiple times, only to leave me surprised with the things I could do rather than disappointed with what I can’t. Las Vegas, you funny.
I went into the trip knowing I wasn’t at my strongest and determined to have fun and not waste my energy projecting boulders well above my pay grade. What I found was a humbling cluster of boulders and a v2 offwidth called Born to Bleed. I had seen an image of the boulder on Irene’s instagram, who kindly lent us crashpads even though we’ve still never met in person, and after spending several weeks in Indian Creek this past year, climbing a burly offwidth boulder was enough to make me scramble all over the mountain in an effort to hunt down the a-frame boulder with a collection yucca plants underneath the top out.
After risking amplifying my growing sunburn and stubbed toes to find it, I finally sat underneath it. I was sitting under the one boulder I wanted to try the whole trip. Staring up at the crack, I realized I had no idea what I was doing. Brandon, who is much stronger than me, had no interest in trying the crack and our other friend, Jimmy, didn’t seem entirely convinced that it was really everything I seemed to think it was. I tried finding a hand jam. Then a fist. Then a hand-fist stack. Then tried to get both my feet in the crack. Then none of my feet in the crack. Everything felt insecure. I did the top out, slipping once off a poorly placed foot. It wasn’t until Jimmy pointed out a crimp on the opposing side of the crack that I was able suss out any sort of beta. Right hand crimp, left fist, left foot jam. Then, right fist to left fist, drop my left foot, bring my left hand out to a crimp and try to get my right foot wedged in the crack. Fall. I did this repeatedly- trying various adjustments to my foot placements and hand holds. I did moves that I didn’t think I was capable of doing and still I could not send this boulder. Repeatedly I would reach a point where I was unable to go further, one move away from easier terrain. I sat under the boulder and cursed it. I walked away, and I came running back to it, unable to contain my excitement over potentially finding the missing link if only I tried it one more time.
Eventually I began to lose skin. I began our trip by getting two flappers the first day, two blisters on my foot the second, raw spots on both palms from swinging on jugs, and after fighting with the offwidth I lost a chunk from the side of my right hand and gained a bruise on my thumb. I currently still don’t have sensation on the left side of my thumb.
I wasn’t ready to walk away. I had never gotten so frustratingly close to sending something only to leave feeling so utterly defeated. Sure I had walked away from projects before, but usually only after realizing I was nowhere close to finishing them. Born to Bleed was a different beast entirely. I fought, tooth and nail. I got angry. I got close. I got empowered.
Feeling empowered after getting chewed up by a boulder is not a statement I usually hear or make, but frankly, I can’t think of another way to describe how I felt leaving that gruesome crack behind. There was no send, but I do think I learned something. Maybe I like bouldering when I have to suffer a little, maybe I’m a whole lot stronger than I give myself credit for, and maybe I’ve finally figured out this whole climbing for fun thing. I can still try hard and have fun. I can still push myself, suffer, and fail- only this time I’m walking away with a smile on my face.