Anyone can have confidence in the thought of completing a send, but confidence is moot without action. After a seven-hour drive up to Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee, I wistfully fell asleep on my new Stonelick crashpad in the hatchback of my car at a Wal-Mart parking lot, trembling with shaky confidence towards the next day’s pursuit.
Niko and I got a fairly early start out to the Montlake Golf Course that houses the epic climbing spot called Stone Fort, and eagerly trekked out to the boulder field with an arsenal of crash pads. We eyed Art of the Vogi, warmed up on a few rounds of easy routes like Needless Things (V0-) and Fire Crack Flake (V1). Once our muscles had stretched out, we began our day of chasing climbs.
We immediately trekked out towards the Super Mario boulder, where we met up with three rapscallions from Kentucky who took a liking to the strings of incoherent obscenities I bursted with every time I popped off the boulder. By the end of our time climbing together, we had all collected a few new curse combinations – but I still hadn’t sent Super Mario.
My morning session boosted my esteem over my efforts; I was able to stick a move I had never made it to before. Here’s how it goes: I had my left hand tightly perched on a deep, sharp crimp, with my right hand fulled extended out in a high undercling, while my leg was locked in a great knee-bar. The next move required me to ditch the security of the knee-bar, and balance my legs as far over on the right as possible. I then locked off with my right hand, and pulled on the undercling as I reached up above with my left hand to a solid pocket.
And then I fell.
Again. My most familiar feeling on that boulder is the movement of falling off it. I’ve slipped, snapped, and popped off that route’s holds more times than I’d like to admit over the last two years.
*Note: This is an older photo; don’t worry, I’m not crazy enough to be wearing a
hoodie and sweatpants at Stone Fort in the middle of June.
Once the southeastern swelter began to bear down with relentless humidity, Niko and I retreated for a lunch break. We drove over to the Pep Boys crag parking lot, threw down our crash pads to make a little napping spot, cooked up some spaghetti, and prepared for our evening session.
As we hiked back out to Stone Fort, I decided I wasn’t going to hop on my project again until the next day – I figured I ought to give my tender fingertips a chance to heal before torturing them again. Instead, I gallivanted around the crag, following Niko to his own projects. I lounged on boulders, played with insects, and cheered Niko on as he sent ‘A Face in the Crowd.’
Satisfied with his climb for the day, Niko urged me to hop on something else before we called it a day – so I decided to give Super Mario a quick burn.
Stone Fort was eerily deserted that day; Niko and I didn’t see a single climber during our evening session, which is unheard of at this popular climbing destination. It’s even more rare to have the Super Mario boulder all to yourself, as this rock tends to draw big crowds of boulderers projecting the many climbs that sit on it. Pleased with the solitude, I took my time working the route, and focused on cleaning up my messy footwork.
There were three unsuccessful attempts before I decided to just stop thinking about what I was doing. Without any intent of sending it on that particular burn, I shook out my arms, hoisted myself off the start holds onto the first big ledge, and cruised through the first series of moves.
When the knee-bar crux section approached, my technique became a little shaky. Feeling a slight instability, I jammed my knee into the space before the proper knee-bar, and ended up incorporating two into my beta. I swung out to the undercling, stuck it, and danced my feet over to the rightmost portion of the boulder. With a heavy burst of breath, I reached my left hand up to the pocket – and it stuck.
From there, the route was all but sent. I brought my left hand up into a bowling-ball shaped series of solid pockets, shifted over to a large jug, and hoisted myself towards the sloped top-out area. Admittedly, my top-out was probably one of the most hideous sends that boulder has ever witnessed. Exhausted from my unexpected success, it was a struggle to beach myself up onto the rounded boulder – but I made it happen.
After two years of sporadic projecting, countless shredded finger tips, an outrageously bruised knee, two knee-bars where there should only be one, and the most ridiculous top-out of all time, I have finally completed my ultimate climbing project.
It wasn’t about the grade, it wasn’t the hardest climb I’ve ever attempted, and it wasn’t a glorious moment surrounded by cheering fans and snapping cameras. It was an intimate moment, shared only with Niko, with nary a single photo or video to bare evidence of my conquest – and it was the best feeling I’ve ever had while climbing, because it was mine.
We retreated to Chester Frost Campground feeling pleased, sweaty, and famished. Niko whipped up a delicious campside dinner of quinoa, roasted tomatoes, black beans, and avocado – and then we promptly crashed in our tent. We woke up the next morning feeling more sore than we’d ever imagined, but it was one of the best mornings I’ve had in a while.
My epic send was celebrated with a trip to one of my favorite places in Tennessee – the Chattanooga Market, which was celebrating their annual Blueberry Festival on this particular day. One of the best farmer’s markets I’ve ever been to, this venue is loaded with produce delights like impossibly long green beans, crispy sunflower sprouts, golden zucchini, and the tastiest homemade bread I’ve ever tasted. We loaded up on the goods, slurped on frozen lemonade, and then hit the road back to Florida.
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