When 5.8 is Scarier than 5.12

The backs of my hands are bruised and there’s still tape residue on them. My right forearm is slightly swollen. My legs are covered in bruises. I’m not sure when or how my enjoyment of crack climbing became a fully fledged love, but shoving my hands into the cracks of the Vedauwoo boulders elevated my mood immensely. Sure, Colorado is beautiful and all, and a good boulder problem is certainly mentally stimulating but it’s nothing like the painful suffering and brute grunt work involved in getting yourself into and then out of a crack.

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Try to get my feet out of Nat’s Three Star Roof. Photo by Sabine Connors.

Before my first trip to Indian Creek, I used to find crack climbing redundant, painful, and pointless. You were doing the same contrived and painful move for fifty to one hundred and twenty feet. Why would anyone want to do that? I still don’t have an answer to that question. For me, it’s because every time I try it I learn something new, I feel and see minute improvements each time. On regular boulders, it’s hard to measure my skill. One of my friends on my most recent trip, Sabine, told me that I was in the worst spot. I am too strong to enjoy doing v0-v3 all the time, and not strong enough to project the harder more interesting, aesthetic lines. Cracks provide a challenge that doesn’t require me to think of a new way to grip a hold or maneuver my feet to propel myself to the next hold. I wedge my hand in the crack, I twist my feet, I reach for the next parallel slot. I breathe. I breathe more on cracks than I do bouldering. I feel more confident in what I can do and more eager to find the things I can’t and conquer them.

 

Three years ago, I sat suspended in air on Stan’s Crack, a sustained 5.8 at Sunset Park in Tennessee. It was hands, something I could probably do with moderate ease now, and I was crying. I was crying for a lot of reasons. I felt like a failure and Stan’s Crack had become the embodiment of that failure. I forced myself to the top, trying to desperately keep tears from my eyes. I was shaking and terrified by the time I got to the top.

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Working through Beer Crack. Photo by Levi Dudley.

While in Vedauwoo we went to Beer Crack, an overhung v3 that lasts for nearly 15 feet, if you skip the baggy fists and the trench. Did I send? Hell no! Did I sit under it and try over and over and over again? Yes. I tried it repeatedly with abandon, as I did with every other crack we touched. I made minimal progress, occasionally linking together three moves, sometimes only managing to hold myself up long enough to get my feet in the crack. The progress wasn’t made in my skill but rather in my change of outlook. No longer did crack climbing represent all of my failures, instead it represented everything I wanted climbing and life to be– challenging, rewarding, and educational.

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