Friday, June 12, 2009

You can ignore a boulder problem, but, at the risk of over-personification, a boulder problem won't ignore you.

I'm embarrassed to admit it: I spent the last year or two avoiding a certain "classic" boulder problem at Santa Barbara's bastion of stellar river-stone, Skofield Park. Where Mission Creek cuts through Skofield at its northern end, a large, immaculate boulder with a crack splitting it's face overlooks the river. The undercut of the boulder touts an ominous traverse of odd pinches, gastons, and slopers. The problem? She Made Me Do It, a benchmark Santa Barbara V8, and my bouldering nemesis for at least the last four years.

It hasn't been a continuous struggle. I didn't engage in Vaudevillian repartee with She Made Me Do It; no all-day duels, no tizzy-fits. I tried the problem only sporadically over the course of four years, beginning every session with psyche, but, invariably, leaving in defeat. In the ample space between attempts, I trained, climbed elsewhere, flirted with Big Walls, Sport, Trad, more bouldering, and even enjoyed a long stint in The Shed, Phil Requist's Chamber of Pain. I got strong. I climbed other hard problems in the Santa Barbara area, such as Dancing Outlaw, Scoot Patrol, and the sit-start to Gangsta Hippy. I ticked almost every route at the Owl Tor between 5.11d and 5.12c (in a day, no less). All said, I was beginning to feel my pedigree as a somewhat experienced, marginally seasoned climber.

Big mistake. Fast forward.

On Friday, June 12th, after a long day in the shop, I mustered the energy to hit up Skofield. The skies were overcast, and much of the area around Skofield had burned in at least one of the cataclysmic fires of the last twelve months. Think Mordor near the ocean. Alone, without someone to whom I could justify my cowardice, I fought the urge to send some easy stuff and retreat to a mellow Friday evening in town. This is the part I like about climbing: when it comes down to it, the raw, beleagured, pansy-ass parts of your soul bear their banished heads, and you have to DEAL. As I sat beneath She Made Me Do It, I knew that I wouldn't leave Skofield until I sent.

After the first attempt, all my hubris from the last year of climbing fizzled. The stopper move—a hard pull over a steep lip—spat me off repeatedly. While I had the rest of the problem absolutely wired, I couldn't maintain enough energy and flow to finish. I bemoaned what appeared to be a mental block. And I was getting tired after about seven or eight attempts (She Made Me Do It is a very long problem). With psyche waning, I stepped back, drank some coffee from my thermos, then put my shoes back on and started climbing.

And sent.

It felt exactly how a climb should feel: intuitive, aesthetic, victorious, and piss-hard. In the end, it was just thirty feet of rock-wrestling up a river boulder, and me, on top, alone in the woods, yelling at the top of my lungs.

If you want to see a video of stronger-than-I-man Bernd and his buddy Nathan on She Made Me Do It, check out this video: