“Is today the day?” Drew asked as he arrived at the base of Muscle Beach.
“It’s wet,” I said. “I just walked around the corner to look. There’s water seeping out of the sloper above the 5th bolt.”
“Oh, now you’re just making excuses,” Drew said.
Maybe he was right, but it definitely looked wet. Drew thought so too when he glanced at it a few minutes later.
Muscle Beach is a bullet-hard plug of rusty quartzite located near Trail Creek Summit, which is about 20 minutes from Sun Valley, Idaho. I was there to send my longstanding project, the Vigilante (5.13a). When I saw that the route was wet, my first thought was whether or not I would have time to come back before flying to Europe a few days later.
“I’ll get a good pump today,” I said, “Rest tomorrow, and then come back Thursday.”
“You mean you’re not even going to get on it?” Drew asked, seemingly appalled.
“Oh, I’ll check it out, I guess,” I said.
Also with me on this day were Steve Thompson, my partner for many Muscle Beach missions, and fellow guides Drew (Daly), Katie Bono, and Marc Hanselman. All heckled me about the “alleged” wetness of the route and said, like Drew had, that I was just making excuses.
But in my mind I’d already let go. Today was not the day. The route was wet. The send (hopefully) would have to wait.
The Vigilante was put up by prominent local climber Dave Bingham and climbing legend Tony Yaniro in the mid 1980s. Yaniro lived in nearby Hailey at the time, and Muscle Beach became his personal climbing laboratory. Several of the holds on Vigilante are drilled pockets, which made another anonymous local climber so mad he stole all the hangers off Yaniro’s routes at Muscle Beach. Over time, the anonymous local became less active in the climbing community and a handful of us up-and-comers, who needed as many after-work climbing venues as possible, re-equipped several of Yaniro’s old routes.
As a result of a busy family and work schedule, I desperately needed a local project—something to keep me motivated to climb and to train for climbing. City of Rocks and Lost River limestone were out. They were just too far away, but Muscle Beach was only 30 minutes from my house. The Vigilante fit the bill, and I committed.
After a couple seasons of on-again, off-again effort, I gave the route a solid go last fall and got to within one hang. Winter arrived, and instead of working the route at the crag I worked it in my head, over and over, on any night that I couldn’t get to sleep. It was my own personal way of counting sheep.
By mid-February, I started climbing at the indoor gym in earnest, which I’d never done before. By April I felt strong and couldn’t wait for the road over Trail Creek Summit to open so I could get back on the route.
On my first attempt in early June, I had my best run ever. The combination of mental and physical training paid off. Then two tries later I fell off deadpointing for the finishing hold. I was getting close!
And then when I showed up psyched and ready to fire, it was wet! So I gave up. It was not the day. If I had not been getting such a hard time from my friends, I would not have even tried it.
I started up convinced I would have to hang at the 5th bolt. Sure enough, as I took the sloper with my right I could feel it was a little slimy. But I wiped my hand on my pants and moved up quickly to the next holds, a crimpy, three-fingered gaston and a drilled mono. I was surprised to feel strong! In fact I momentarily got disoriented because I didn’t need my usual foot beta. I clipped the last bolt and realized I had a legitimate shot! I reached back and stepped high and left for what had looked like the wettest hold on the route, but it was dry!
“Wow, I might really do this,” I thought to myself.
As I made the final move to the clipping hold, the sun, which had just crested the top of the crag, flashed in my eyes. But it didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to fall.
I let out a muted scream as I clipped the chains and slumped onto the rope. I didn’t even feel excited. The redpoint took me entirely by surprise. I was so convinced I was going to take at the 5th bolt that part of me thought that I had.
Chris Sharma said of sending his uber-project, Jumbo Love, “It was really important just to clear my head of everything and not think about how I’m feeling, not think if this is the time I’m going to do it. Just try and be 100 percent in the present moment.”
Granted, Sharma’s route is likely the hardest sport climb in the world. The Vigilante wouldn’t even be a warm-up, but the ingredients to success were the same: steadfast determination and learning (or in my case tricking myself!) to let go.
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