Photo by Eric Russell

Remnants of the Past, Visions of the Future

Mountain Culture®
May 23, 2014

By Nathan Williamson

I have been working relentlessly to finish a 5.14? project in Little Cottonwood Canyon. It’s funny, for only having a few moves, I sure have come up with a plethora of ways to climb it. However, no one particular sequence has worked as well as I had hoped. The last go I had was by far my best. I did the bottom sequence completely clean, but the middle crux is still throwing me. The crimps are so sharp that they’ve permanently scared my right finger tips. Scars, however, are just a stepping stone for me. It means that I am progressing.

After falling over and over again, I started to think that I was not going to be able to send it this year. The granite already feels slippery from the spring heat and, with summer right around the corner, the clock is ticking. This past winter in Salt Lake City wreaked havoc on my training and I’m feeling the results. My left hand does not feel strong enough to make it through the crux. It was time to go back to my favorite stomping grounds and train as hard as I could. It was time to go back to Nevada.

Tucked away from the hot desert sun with my dog Prayta, I studied a massive boulder that if I didn’t climb perfectly could have killed me. That, however, was the furthest thing from my mind because I was in love with the smells of the desert and I felt free. I had trained my mind to forget the word “impossible”. Thinking back to the first time I looked at this boulder I believed there was no way I’d ever be able to send it. This time I could see a clear line directly up the center with tiny crimps, high balling and a scary landing. Would it be hard? Hell yes, but in no way impossible. It was time to push my fear and be present.

Photo by Eric Russell

Photo by Eric Russell

As I cleared a decent landing for my crash pad, I thought to myself how much I had changed as a man and as a climber in a short period of time. What had seemed out of reach was now a potential onsight. Once on the boulder I moved with relative ease and a high level of confidence despite the twisted crux and slippery top out. That level of ease and confidence stuck with me through the rest of my unfinished projects in the area. I wondered what it was that changed in me since I was there last. I felt the same and, aside from a few new scars and a couple new wrinkles, I looked the same too. I think it comes down to a change in perspective about height and what I consider acceptable risk. As climbers, often our biggest battles are with our fears. Sometimes my fears are consuming and I feel completely unable to make a single move. So… was it fear holding me back from finishing that 5.14 project in Little Cottonwood? My biggest concern, the one that constantly weighed on my mind, was blowing the second clip and smashing into the rocks behind me leading to the demise of my career as an athlete. I decided to put away the idea that I am not strong enough to stick the crux and replace it with the strength to overcome fear and focus on training in a sea of challenging highball boulders for the next week.

Photo by Eric Russell

Photo by Eric Russell

Despite my cut fingertips and pumped muscles, I fought through each one of the boulder problems, sending the majority of them. I fell off a few, but of course that’s to be expected. After grabbing a few first ascents and absolutely crushing some old projects, I decided it was time to head back to Salt Lake City, Utah.

Feeling totally exhausted but entirely inspired, I unpacked and went directly up to my project in Little Cottonwood Canyon. The conditions were perfect. With no hesitation, I tied in and began to climb. With the crux in my reach I held my breath, clipped with ease, and made the first difficult crossover move with my left hand. I stuck it. Then, something amazing happened. Not only did I stick the left hand move I’d been worried about, but I stuck the next right hand move too! Only a few more moves left, I thought to myself… then my right foot blew and I was off. I sat there, pissed, dangling in space, but happiness soon overwhelmed me because I realized I had just made one of the hardest moves of my climbing career. I know now that it’s only a matter of time until I can link this entire project together.

Photo by Eric Russell

Photo by Eric Russell

I’ve already begun to venture out in search of new possible 5.14 projects in Little Cottonwood Canyon, and have my eye on a few. Keep your eyes open for the next phase of this year’s adventures.



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