I’m feeling great, executing every move perfectly. The next passage is the hardest part of the route, the crux, which I have never passed from the ground before. This is it. HOLY MOLY, I’m through the crux. Now it’s just a couple of more moves to the anchors, OMG I’m going to SEN-
Well, that was the dialogue (or monologue?) that was going on in my head as was climbing on Pure Imagination (5.14c / 8c+) in Red River Gorge. A millisecond later I was hanging in the rope, having placed my foot on a foothold way too high, on a hold I had never used before. I messed up. I lost my flow. It had never happened to me on a project before, and damn it really got to me. It was such a stupid mental mistake! Thinking about the moment I realized I messed up was almost painful and – I haven’t told anyone about this – I actually shed a few tears when I came down haha (also a first, crying over a piece of rock).
Pure Imagination is one of the legendary routes in Red River Gorge, Kentucky. It’s about 30 m long, slightly overhanging and known for its notorious crimps. The route was bolted by Kenny Baker and then first climbed by Jonathan Siegrist. The first woman to climb it was my wifey, Sasha DiGiulian.
In short, Pure Imagination consists of a series of boulder problems with great and not so great rests in between. It sounds weird, but the trick on this route is to never get pumped, because if you do, there is no chance you will get through the cruxes (at east not for me haha). In other words, you have to make sure to really recover where you can and climb as efficiently as possible.
I knew I had some time left on my trip but the problem was that the weather got really cold, like freezing cold. Stubborn and determined I still went out to try but I couldn’t even get passed the first crux and my hands got so cold and numb I could barely tie my shoelaces (thanks for coming out to belay me those days, Tina) I started getting some serious doubts.
Mind games. It’s tempting to think about sending or not sending, to focus on previous tries and start doubting yourself. For me I try to forget every previous try, seeing each new go as a blank page. Not focusing on sending, but focusing on climbing and finding the urge to explore the mental and physical state of mind where you’re pushing yourself to what you’re capable of. The feeling of flow where you’re completely present and aware of everything but at the same time it’s like your body is executing on autopilot. Sending almost (yes, almost) becomes secondary and it’s more about trying to tap into that state of mind where you’re able to push your own limit to the max. After all, sending a route is never a certainty if it’s on your limit, that’s why it’s so exciting and interesting. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a challenge. And when you DO send, when everything comes together, that feeling is unbeatable. Gosh, I love climbing and I love this process!
The last day of the trip I walked up to the crag psyched to climb and give it all I got, not thinking of my previous tries or weather I would send or not. The moves had never felt easier and I could clip the chains of the route. Pure Imagination became reality. It was one of those magical moments where everything “clicks” that I will always remember.