It started yesterday when I went to Red Rocks in Gloucester with "Chuck" and "Softspeak" to have an easy day outside in the sun. The forecast called for sunny skies all day with temps in the 70s, and it did not disappoint. There were four routes at RR that I knew I wanted to do: one was a stiff 5.8, another was a stiff 5.9+ that I think is actually a 5.10a, a fly-up-the-wall 5.6 called Zipper and an incredibly slopey 5.11 to the right of zipper that "Ashmont" and I worked last year but couldn't get past the S-curves about a quarter of the way up the climb.
As can be expected, Zipper went easily and quickly, then Zits (the stiff 5.8 that pulls back against some slopey laybacks and off-balanced slab steps off slick, granite crystals), and then we took on Morning Glory (5.9+) on top rope. Morning Glory, which requires a dyno onto a foot-long crimp before burning out the calves on a nothing-to-hold face, is definitely somebody's ego playing games with everyone else. I can see it being 5.9+ twenty years ago when the climb wasn't as polished as it is now, but it is definitely harder than 5.9+ at this stage of the game. Still, it was a fun toprope, and before I had reached the ground after topping out, I was contemplating leading it to get my nerves up for climbing at Rumney the next day.
I then jumped on what I thought was a damn near impossible 5.11 and worked the hell out of it until I finally figured out the moves. I fell like crazy all over the place, but I made each move and felt as if I really had improved my climbing over the past year or so. I didn't stick it pretty, but I'm finding that my grades are getting higher and higher now, and I'm feeling a lot more solid on routes that I would have flailed on in year's past. This was part of the reason why I wanted to lead Morning Glory, to see if I really had improved enough to be confident in my abilities to make certain, dynamic or committing moves. It was my last climb of the day, and I was tired, but I got up through it clean and felt good about leading at Rumney on Sunday.
Rumney, on the other hand, has not always been friendly to me. I'm not sure why. The routes don't seem to be sandbagged at all. In fact, they may even be soft, but for some reason I've always had a hard time leading there. Part of the reason I wanted to lead Morning Glory was because I figured that I would be doing a lot of leading on Sunday. I wanted to get my head into the idea of climbing 5.10 on the sharp end for once. I mean, it's about time that I finally got up the nerve to climb something hard, even if "hard" means 5.10, which, in the gym, is well within my range.
I knew we were heading to Jimmy Cliff first thing in the morning. I knew that there was a fantastic 5.8 called Junco on the right side of the cliff that I had climbed well last time (and I climbed it well this time too, so no worries about taking steps back). But I also knew that the last time I was there I saw a group climbing this 5.10a on the far right of Jimmy Cliff called Lonesome Dove. I heard so many great things about it and had keeping it in my mind all year long. It was my goal to do this route this year, and I finally got my chance to do so.
"Wrongway" was my partner yet again, and this is something I'm becoming comfortable with. He's a good climber, smart, knows his limits and can pull off a tough move if he needs to. It's nice to know there is a person I can climb with who is at or above my own ability who does not get heady on tough stretches. Again, he was a good partner, as he was in the 'Dacks. We started on Drilling For Dollars (5.8 with a really sketchy move at the top, just below the anchors) and moved on to a 5.7 chimney that is not in the book (to the right of the 5.9 that is to the right of Drilling For Dollars and to the left of a 5.10d that's called Hammond something or other). We took a bit of a rest and then it was my turn to run up this 5.10a that I've been thinking so much about for the past year.
You'd think that I was nervous considering the fact that this was going to be my hardest lead climb outside ever, but I wasn't nervous at all. I was a little worried about not finding the route easily, but not worried about the climb itself. I guess in some respects climbing Morning Glory the day before really helped me get my head into shape. I felt fine and, despite not reading the route clearly in a couple of spots the first go around on each move, I flashed my first ever 5.10 outside. People had told me beforehand that the moves were really balancy and that they required hugging the rock a lot (it was a bit of an arrete), but I didn't find that to be the case at all. I felt the holds were all really solid and were easily gained with just a little technique and boldness. I think "Wrongway" said it best however, for some people, 510 slab climbs are easier than 5.10 pumpy climbs. This would ring true later in the day.
After climbing at Jimmy Cliff, "Wrongway" and I headed down to Bonsai to do a couple of recommended climbs: Masterpiece (5.10a) and War And Peace (5.9+). Both of these climbs were overhanging jug-fests, but Masterpiece was much harder for me because I was tired and because I need feet on overhangs, and my feet were never settled enough to make me feel confidant. I took three times on the same move and did the rest relatively well (I may have taken one more time before finishing up). I was really tired after that and was worried about leading War And Peace, especially since the difference in the grades was less than a full grade. But War And Peace was a much easier climb for me. It was still overhanging and very pumpy, but the jugs were the same as on Masterpiece and the feet were much better. I sent it, my last route of the day, with ease. It was funny because "Wrongway" felt the 5.10a was much better and cleaner than the 5.9+, while I thought the 5.9+ may have been a little soft. It's all preference, I guess, but it is still something to be happy about.
I keep thinking, however, about how I took a nasty fall on an overhanging finish on a 5.10 in the Meadows only a month or so earlier. It is a route that I've been thinking about and working for a couple of years now (it has a tough roof section that I just can't get at this point). In April or May, when I was last at the cliff with "Gammie", "Chuck" and crew, I took a big fall and swung pretty hard. It was scary, so much so that I made "Chuck" pull me off so that I would actually fall. I didn't feel that fear today. I had no problem falling. I almost fell on Morning Glory the day before, and that was almost an intentional fall, something that I never do. But this weekend, for some reason, I felt fine. I'm not sure why, but I think maybe it is because I'm getting stronger and better. This is a long time coming. I hope it continues.