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 New boasts some of the best single-pitch lines, both bolted and on gear. And did I mention the lake?
Two summers ago, I watched my friend Andrew Erwin project B52 which is a 5.13a in the Meadows. For some reason, he thought I was strong enough to keep up with him on that trip and invited me along. Climbing with Andrew and watching him project hard routes was hugely inspiring to me, and climbing with him made me feel like maybe I could try hard, too. I think about our summer in the New often, and how that trip made me realize that the only thing stopping me from trying was myself.
Since then, I’ve been inspired to try my first 5.13. Something in my bones told me that one day, I could at least get to the top of Apollo Reed, a classic jug haul in the Coliseum at Summersville Lake. Maybe it’s because I’d heard that it’s everybody’s first 5.13, 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.) Farnsworth, who is the most ridiculously humble guy you will ever meet, will lay waste to all of your projects.
I also gave Genocide (5.12a) a try, which was the hardest thing I’d ever attempted on gear. I whipped all over that route like it was my full-time job. Finger cracks aren’t necessarily my “thing”, but I guess that’s how you get better at anything. The first half climbed like a powerful sport route, 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. As hard as I tried, I got too pumped and couldn’t clip my quickdraw in time. I missed the move twice, and twice I took twenty-foot falls.
While there is one part of me that doesn’t think I’ll ever send climbs at that sort of level, there is the other side of me that is a little bit curious and a little bit determined to keep attempting. I don’t think falling is necessarily the same thing as failing, even though it can be hard not to. To this day, I find myself inspired by Andrew’s attitude, telling me that the reason walls exist is to teach us not to give up. You have to want it and you have to do the work and know that every single accomplishment in life starts with the simple decision to try. When I tie in, I take that first deep breath and tell myself that.
Cover photograph courtesy of Mikaela Wegerhoff.