“All the training in the world will have minimal benefit, if you don’t give yourself room to believe.” – Arno Illgner, The Rock Warriors Way. 

This tidbit from our recent car audio book came over our stereo only minutes after my last burn on my big project for this summer “Room to Believe (5.13a)”

Room to Believe has been the culmination of what has come to be quite a surprising climbing season for both Robyn and I.  Arriving in Valdez fresh off an ambitious spring of climbing at the New River Gorge, Robyn and I were less than psyched on our new local climbing.  In State College we were a weekend drive from a number of famous climbing meccas. In Valdez it was apparent we needed to redefine our goals, and swiffer the web for hidden climbing crag gems.

Spring flowers at our favorite Alaskan crag

By the end of the summer of 2010 our climbing had dropped off considerably, in part due to the weather, decreased motivation, loss of great climbing partners, and the search for new crags. By October we stumbled upon a crag 4 hours from here near Wiener Lake.  With a sweet camp spot across the road, but no guidebook we spent a cold weekend thrashing our way up unfamiliar climbs with mysterious grades.  Our second visit was much the same, and this time punctuated with piercing cold.  October around here is officially ski season.

In an attempt to keep climbing from falling into the past as “something we used to do a lot” we bought a hangboard (used to train finger strength) and hatched a plan.  The plan was to use the advice many goal setting coaches preach, and post our intentions publicly.  This keeps people asking about it which keeps your goals fresh in your mind.  And so The Psych Blog was born.  The Psych Blog is a place where a group of our climbing buddies get on to post about their recent projects, trips, climbing news etc to keep in contact, encourage each other, and most importantly, to stay psyched.

As the 2010-2011 ski season finally drew to a close, we caught wind of some new routes going up around the Valdez area.  Revisiting the local crags we were pleased to see several new routes thanks to Nick Weicht from Valdez.  Nick was super motivated, and during his time back in town cleaned and bolted several crags.  Most notably Nick bolted some great lines near the Worthington Glacier in Thompson Pass.  With a shortage of hangers, Nick managed to equip 3 new and challenging lines.  With new climbs on glacially polished rock our early season projects were set.  Our climbs at Worthington kept us busy for much of the month of May as I projected Trustafarian (5.11d), a nice endurance route with a boulder problem crux near the top, and Robyn projected a route we dubbed Sweet and Sour (5.11b).

Again depleting the local projects, we found our minds wandering back to the cold days at Wiener Lake, should we give it another go? This time with a guidebook in hand we revisited the lake, as well as explored Ravine Lake, Weekender Wall, and Puriton areas.  With much milder temps, and a host of great climbs, we really began to enjoy it. With a renewed psych, a renewed Psych Blog and new food and mental diets we were feeling back in the groove.  A few notable sends from this period included:

Sapphire (5.10a), Mixed – “Super fun. One of my favorites so far here in AK.”
On Your Celtic Way (5.11c), Sport – “Interesting rock and fun holds. You should climb this one too!”
The Truth of the Matter (5.12c), Sport – “Hard pinching on the bread loaf. Short and powerful route.”

By mid June we were ready to set our sights on our fall projects.  Fresh off some hard sends, we decided to aim high. In most of America the sending season is September-November as the temperatures come down and the humidity drops.  In Alaska, it rarely gets above 70 degrees during the summer, and snow will start flying at the crags by mid September. As we made our way to Anchorage to fly out for the Puddy wedding, we stopped in at Wiener Lake.  Over the previous week we poured over the guidebook and selected our projects: Room to Believe (5.13a) and Seismic Wave (5.11b/c). Our first tries on the routes (June 30th) suggested what we already knew – these were going to be very challenging routes for the both of us.

August 7th, view from Wookie Wall

Ethan during a foggy burn on Room to Believe

Fast forward now to late July.  July was incredibly busy for me at work, and 14 day-trips in a row varying from 10-13 hrs/day left me gassed.  Anxious to get back on our projects after a 30 day hiatus we were back to our climbs with more excitement than ever.  Since then, every random day off I get, we drive the 8 hour round trip even if it means we only get a few goes at our projects.  These climbs have been great for us.  Not only are they challenging physically, but mentally as well. Working to arrive in the proper head space before a climb, memorizing beta, controlling your breathing, problem solving… obsessing. Robyn wakes up doing moves in her sleep. Car rides back and forth are spent hashing out beta, reading climbing books out loud, and listening to audio tapes geared toward climbing.

Room to Believe has been the perfect culmination of a focused effort in a shortened Alaskan climbing season.  After 7 days of work and 16 tries I sent my project!

Just after my send. So stoked!!

As for many things in life I owe a big thank you to Robyn.  After my first go in the misty morning, it began to pour and I wasn’t into the idea of another damp romp up the slopers. Instead of lowering after my fall, she encouraged me to head back up. I rethought the crux, eliminated a strenuous hand match on a sloper, practiced my new beta and lowered off.  Robyn then hopped on her project and got a highpoint, right outta bed!  I was so insipred that I decided I better get back on my route and give it one last go with the new beta.  On the very next try, I sent.

This has been the most focused I have ever been on a single route and it will certainly go down in my mind as one my most memorable climbs. This climb has taught me that we are always capable of more than we think, and that pushing my limits physically and mentally is always an involved and worthwhile process.

So for the rest of the short climbing season?  Well, by September 20th the leaves will be gone, and the snow will have arrived here in Valdez. Just in time for Robyn and I to fly south, get married, and set out on a 14 day climbing trip through British Columbia.  A great capstone trip we hope to be filled with exploring, great climbs, and fun memories.