Sunday, September 19, 2010

Confidence is Key

I had grand plans for that day, more accurately, delusions of grandeur. “Fearless Leader” and I headed off to Foster Falls, Chattanooga's sport climbing hub, but I had more than just a few quick draws in my pack. Influenced by John Sherman's article “Its Big, Its Bad, Its Retro-Trad”, I had lugged my entire rack with me. I was going to show sport climbing who was boss, or something like that. I envisioned crowds of awestruck onlookers gawking at my bold prowess. Skipping bolts and sometimes facings serious runouts, I would cruise up the area classics. I had one particular route in mind. Rumor has it that Satisfaction, one of Foster Falls' best routes, used to go safely on natural gear before it got the sport treatment. I had big dreams alright.

              We made it to Fosters in record time, somehow shaving the four hour drive down to a pinch over three, and were pleased to find agreeable weather. “Fearless Leader” was even more excited than me about the timely arrival and great conditions. I hadn't climbed on rock in three weeks. He hadn't climbed on plastic in that long. “Fearless Leader” had not even come close to seeing rock since his baby was born last May. Since then, I had logged almost fifty days on stone. Needless to say, he was ready to get at it, but before we get to all of that, I have a few things to say about my friend “Fearless Leader”.
              First of all, he is perhaps the most fearful leader I have ever met. He has been climbing for almost as long as I have been able to ride a bike, but it was not until two years ago that through some mental coaching and fall practice, he was able to red point his first sport route. “Fearless Leader” is a compulsive taker. Oftentimes, he will take when he is not even pumped. I figured that day would be more of the same. I could hardly expect his lead head to be screwed on after having a kid and not climbing for almost half a year. That is why I was pleasantly surprised when he cruised right through the warm up, Jacob's Ladder (5.8).
              However, he opted out on leading the next route, Pocket Pool (5.9), because of some rather wonky bolt spacing. I couldn't blame him, but I also was pretty sure that this would set the tone for the rest of the day. The silent observation proved to be incorrect. After stopping and chatting with an old friend, “Redman”, “Fearless Leader” absolutely killed Its all Good (5.9+). By this time, my delusions of retro tradding at Fosters were pretty much deflated, but I was ecstatic to be there for “Fearless Leader”. On the way over to Wet Willy (5.9), he pointed out Moonscape (5.10b) to me and said it was something that he had always wanted to lead. I told him that we should do it now, but he said it was more of a longtime project. It told him that was silly, but he insisted, so we walked past it.
              He scampered up Wet Willy and, when he reached the ground, told me he wanted to go give Moonscape a look. After a little coaxing, he agreed to give it a shot. Moonscape is a pretty fun little route. It follows a prominent arete all the way to its top where a stopper crux blocks the chains. The crux is really the highlight of the route. The correct sequence involves a huge move off of a hidden slopey undercling and is completely inobvious. I probably hung on for fifteen minutes trying to figure it out before I accidentally discovered the hold while down climbing an unsuccessful sequence. It was a perfect route for “Fearless Leader”, and after having a little trouble negotiating the start, he found himself at the well protected crux. Like me, he was incredulous that he had to pull on that measly sloper, but he managed the move much quicker. Had we packed up and left right then, the look on “Fearless Leader's” face as he lowered from the red point of his “long-term project” told me that is would have been a well worthwhile day. However, we still had plenty of daylight left.
              Our next stop was Eclipse (5.12c), a steep and sustained cave route in Foster's famous bunkers. I gave it my best shot, but either my core strength, finger strength, or some combination of the two was lacking. Try as I might, and I must have tried fifteen or twenty times, I could not figure out the sequence that would lead me to enduro jug hauling at the top of the route. Until next time, I am blaming it on my shoe selection. On the way to our next route, I ran into “Coco Puff”, another old climbing buddy. He was in the other bunker working Gas Chamber (5.12d) with some friends. We sat and chatted for a while before “Fearless Leader” decided to make deliberate pace towards the front of the cliff. Between me dogging on Eclipse and talking with “Coco Puff”, daylight was beginning to fade. We opted to finish the day on Tea and Strumpets (5.10a), a nice and steep jug haul that I easily could have led on gear if I still had the wherewithal. It is not the best quality route, but something wonderful happened on it nevertheless. “Fearless Leader” found himself extremely pumped at the final roof, and rather than giving up and taking, his previous modus operandi, he pushed through the pump and held on to the top. It was amazing, a complete transformation. After six months without climbing, “Fearless Leader” had his best climbing day ever. I am excited to see what this fall will hold for him.

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