New River Gorge is kind of my happy place. It’s only eight and a half hours away from the city and worth the drive every time. The climbing is much more technical than in the Red. I know, I know, blasphemy. Everyone loves the Red—and I love the Red, too! But if my options are between endurance and technical face climbing, I will always choose the latter. And I’m not just talking about the trad—the sport is phenomenal! Bolts feel a little spaced out but it’s not fun if you’re not running it out, right?
Andrew Erwin was kind of an inspiration for me two summers ago. I watched him almost send B52 (5.13a) in the Meadows. I have a lot to thank Andrew for because that was the moment when I realized I wanted to do what I’d just watched him do. I don’t necessarily mean I wanted to climb 5.13, but I wanted to reach a point in my own climbing where I could ascend with his effortless movement and ease. He didn’t even make it look like he was trying very hard. After watching him, my world of possibility grew. For some reason, he thought I was strong enough to keep up with him on that trip, and I’ll never forget how he made me feel—like I could be great, like him.
We climbed together only a few times in the Gunks that summer. Shortly after, he left to travel the world (from Colorado to California to Australia now to New Zealand). Andrew didn’t know how much that trip meant to me, but he taught me to get after it. And what’s really stopping you from trying but you? I think of him often when I’m turning down a climb because I think I might not be strong enough. Being honest with your feelings isn’t always easy, but when I tell myself that I’m just afraid of failure, I stop. And I just try anyway.
I now have a mile-long list of routes that I want to go back to and try. The only 13 I’ve ever truly projected is Apollo Reed (5.13a) in the Coliseum at Summersville Lake. I’m not really sure what inspired me to try that one in the first place. Maybe it’s because I’d been told it’s the easiest 13 in the Coliseum, or maybe it’s because I happened to be with Mike Farnsworth that day, and you feel like you can pretty much climb anything when Farnsworth is around. Matt O’Conner used to say he would see Farnsworth in the Gunks, and he was just the most ridiculously humble guy you have ever met as he lays waste to all of your projects.
The highlight of the last trip was a crack that fellow New Yorker Dan Yagmin recommended. Michael Locke and Mikaela Wegerhoff wandered over with me to the Genocide Cave. Genocide (5.12a) is the hardest thing I’ve ever tried on gear to date, and I whipped and took all over that route like it was my full-time job.
Finger cracks aren’t necessarily my “thing”, but I guess that the point of challenging yourself is that you need to try something that you might fail at. It’s not really a challenge if you know you can do it, and I’d rather be challenged than have a to-do checklist.
Genocide is split into two climbs, in my opinion. The first half climbs like a powerful sport climb, except that you have to place all of your own gear (minus one bolt in an alcove). The second half is a finger and thin hands crack. I fell twice below the bolt. As hard as I tried, I got too pumped and couldn’t clip my quickdraw in time! The pump was too much for me to fight, and twice I took twenty-foot falls.
The finger/hand crack was absolutely stunning the whole way up, until the spider incident. Yes, there was a spider nest with FIFTY BABY SPIDER BABIES in it. SPIDERS don’t bother me (although this one was about the size of a golf ball), but apparently many tiny baby spiders do. They had me silently hyperventilating as I held my breath and tried to slot in a nut above my head. Dan promised that he would come back to the Cave next time and clear the nest for me.
Up until my last visit, I’d never really fathomed trying any of those climbs. They are for sure out of my league. There is this one part of my brain that doesn’t think I’ll ever send Apollo Reed, even though I go back to it every time. I’m also kind of okay with this. I think that I’ll keep going back and working on the moves because I know that it would be a mistake to stop trying. Plus it’s just a FUN climb.
Even though I’ve taken and fallen a hundred times over, I’ve never seen a single fall as a failure. Brick walls don’t mean instant failure. Brick walls exist to try and teach you not to turn around and give up. So don’t let the voices inside of your head make you forget that. You have to want it and you have to do the work. Each time I tie in, I take that first deep breath and I tell myself that every single accomplishment starts with the decision to try.