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The Continuing Climbing Saga 21 January 2018

At the end of November, The Circuit had a Black Friday sale where annual memberships were 20% off. Given I had been going consistently 2-3 times a week since early September, a membership seemed inevitable and an annual membership was going to save me about a $1000 a year. So, I took the plunge, bought a membership, and have committed to making climbing a serious pursuit in 2018.

I have always been a dabbler in climbing. When I first tried it back in Ohio in 1997, it was a single wall within an outdoor store a 20 minute drive away. Reed College gave me a couple chances to visit the Portland Rock Gym and a single outing to Smith Rock, but lacking a car and funds for gear really kept me from doing anything more. During the fifteen years post-Reed, I only climbed a total of three days outside and a handful of visits to PRG. It was not until I attended Portland State, where they had an easily accessible climbing wall in the gym, did I do any manner of regular practice. Then the knee injury happened and I did not touch another hold for six years.

Primarily, it was priorities. Soccer and running completely absorbed my attention for the better part of my 20s. And then I tried mountaineering in my late-20s and found another activity where my natural ability to push myself for hours on end worked wonders. Skiing and rock climbing always seemed like fun when I did them, but neither clicked as a passion until recently. Wish I had clicked into them 10 years ago when my joints were in better shape but oh well.

But I am putting in the effort now. Last Thursday at the gym, I was working on the latter half a v6 and a friend pointed out that the move I was attempting would not have been possible over a month ago. I simply would not have had the finger strength or technique. That was the same session where I did my first v4 on-sight. And to top it off, I have now completed seven v5s. According to the Portland Boulder Rally website, this categorizes me as an intermediate climber. Woot!

There are certain kinds of boulder problems that consistently give me trouble; mostly because of my low finger strength to body weight ratio. Or in other words, I am pretty darn heavy for how strong my fingers are. Crimping is not my favorite thing and the term “climber fat” has been thrown about on more than one occasion.

On the flip side, there are certain problems and holds that come more naturally to me. Being tall and having a decent amount of upper body strength does come in handy. More than a few climbs have been sent thanks to dogged, muscly determinedness.

And then last weekend, during the annual friend trip to Sunriver, we spent both Saturday and Sunday climbing at Smith Rock. The first day was sunny and warm enough to belay in t-shirt, while the second day was foggy and chilly to the point where we had hand warmers in our chalk bags to keep our fingers from completely losing sensation. Pulled off a 5.8, two 5.9s, 5.10a, 5.10b, and a 5.10c. The latter was NOT pretty and by the end my hands were trembling from exhaustion, but it gave me an inkling of what I could achieve with more hard work.

So, yeah, with the annual membership to the Circuit and enough friends interested in continuing to climb both indoors and outdoors, I am considering working this year on becoming a stronger climber and increasing my skills. Sure would be nice to pull off a number of v7s in the gym while also doing mixed alpine climbs in the Cascades. I am going to make a joke here, and I hope you will excuse the pun, but I have high hopes.