During one of my first visits to Chattanooga, it had been raining severely for days and I was waiting for Human Chew Toy (5.11d) to dry out. It wasn’t going to happen and we decided to climb it anyway. That day, Local Ron Nance said to me:
“Some folks shy away from poor conditions. I guess the upside is that any storm should be short lived. Welcome to the southeast. We have some serious humidity at times.”
I made my way back to the south and it was was hands down the best trip to the southeast to date. Kirk Brode asked me if my solo road trip had been an important experience for me. I replied that so far, it had been the single most fulfilling decision of my life because of the roads it had placed me on, the people I had encountered on them, the strength I had been able to draw from others, and that which I have found within myself.
I checked my calendar and saw that I had a week free of work, and so the car was packed with big cams and the dog in less than an hour. Nineteen hours, five states, and one battery jump later, I met Danny Birchman at Stone Fort. At first, he was leaning towards going someplace where he could bring the dogs (dogs are not allowed in Stone Fort). He hiked back to the Glamor Boy boulder and as I stood in the Whole Foods parking lot refueling on coffee, I received a text message from him that said: “I’ll get on it. Where you at?”
I drove up to Soddy Daisy and stuffed cams into my pack, plopped a rope on top, and secured it before I started hiking in to meet Danny. As I navigated the boulders, I wondered if I had enough mojo to send this rig. I found Birchman bouldering by himself. I dropped a few cams for an anchor at the top to avoid having to carry them. HCT is only about 45 or 50 feet anyway, but I was convinced that every ounce counted.
Zack Slade caught me last July and right before the lip, I was scared of an awkward fall. I took. I didn’t even know how to climb offwidths last summer, let alone turn myself upside down in them.
Kirk didn’t remember the time of the year they’d tried it; it might have been during the summer months as well because he recalled Jeff and some others doing Celestial Mechanics (V7) around that time. He said that usually, the fall is dry in comparison, but even though it was early December, the base of the climb was wet. I took my time, afraid of taking a stupid slip. My first piece went in way up high in the bombay chimney before backing down to the narrow crux. Kirk later laughed and said that he and the guys had placed a bro near the beginning. “Can’t remember why, though—maybe because we thought we might fall.”
Something felt different about climbing HCT this time. Maybe I found better rests. Maybe I knew what I was doing this time. Maybe I was the one who was different this time. I didn’t have to hang on a rope and fiddle with positions. I threw my right arm in and started slowly dropping down to get into an upside down position.
I felt my foot catch but barely, and I immediately started thrusting my butt up higher for more security. And then I took a breath and I let go. It went so much smoother than any invert I’d ever tried. I’d like to think that my technique got better with some practice, but honestly? I just felt confident that it would go this time.
That was the difference. That made all of the difference.
I moved quickly, thinking about the edge of the lip. It was a perfect corner that I could sit up into and grab—all I had to do was just sit up into it. I hit it on the first go and pulled myself up higher until I could throw my left arm inside of the crack as my right leg dropped out. And then, in went my right arm for a glorious double chicken wing, and it was the most secure thing I have ever felt.
I’m really starting to dig double chicken wings. Who knew?
As I hung onto both wings I’d wedged in, it came down to that moment: fall or fight. My face was kissing sandstone and covered in dust. I could hear Red and Megan Murphy’s words of encouragement from the ground. I remembered how badly I wanted it the first time. I remembered that this is why I came back to Chatt.
The rest of the climb can be explained in the words of Mr. Birchman: “Goddamn hell yeah dixie rebel yell yip!” (Danny is the best with words.)
I remembered the good jug—it was ever so slightly too far out to the right and I inched carefully to it. As I grabbed it, my feet accidentally slipped and cut, but the sandstone hold bit the palm of my hand and I stayed on and continued to climb a few more feet to the anchor.
Excited to tell Kirk that I’d finally redpointed the beast, I’d sent him a very happy text message and he was kind enough to confirm that HCT had not seen a female ascent, nor any attempts or interest that he was aware of. Very few people of either gender had climbed it, and he was proud to be with me in the small club of those who had sent it, and those that it would appeal to.
But really, I was the proud one.
Coming back to redpoint a climb is an interesting thing, for me. I normally don’t do that. I don’t really onsight things anymore. I used to in the beginning, when I first started climbing in the Gunks. I couldn’t have asked for a better first year. Every fucking thing I climbed was an onsight, and I was psyched. I built up the confidence in myself and my abilities and then the following year, I started falling a ton and building confidence in my placements. Now, I mostly flail.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again with more emphasis: I’m so glad that this was a redpoint and not an onsight, because it let me see how far I’ve come since last summer.
“Sometimes, you won’t make it to the top at first. Sometimes, you have to put a little time and space between you and the things that you want. Allowing myself to take the time to work things out has given me the courage to keep pushing because starting from the beginning is just as important as getting to the goal.”