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. Finally, realizing that the conditions were never going to be perfect, we decided to attempt it anyway. Chattanooga 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.”

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“One second, it’s chewing on your head and torso with your legs sticking out, the next second it’s chomping on your thighs and legs. I felt like an action figure being abused as a dog toy.” – Kirk Brode

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 Birchman. As I navigated the boulders, I wondered if I had enough mojo to send the rig this time. When I tried it for the first time last July, Zack Umbarger gave me a patient belay. I was scared of an awkward fall and didn’t know how to climb offwidths, let alone invert on them. I took.

Kirk told me that he couldn’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.

It was extremely wet this day. I took my time, afraid of slipping. My first piece went in way up high in the bombay chimney. (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 Human Chew Toy this time. Maybe there were better rests. Maybe I knew what I was doing this time. Maybe I just felt more confident to try hard. It was almost instinctive when I placed my arm in to chicken wing and slowly started lowering the rest of my body. Unlike my first attempt, turning upside down in the crack felt naturally easy this time. I took a breath and let go. The invert went so much smoother than any I’d ever tried. I’d like to think that my technique got better with some practice, but honestly? I was so determined this time. I felt confident that it would go.

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My first attempt, July 2014. Photograph by Ron Nance

I moved quickly to the edge of the lip. It was a perfect corner that I could make one sit-up move into. In went my right arm for a glorious double chicken wing, and it was the most secure thing I have ever felt.

As I was wedged between the crack on both wings, my face kissed the rock and I was covered in dust. The only thing I could feel in that moment was how badly I wanted to send it. It was why I drove all the way from Colorado.

As I reached out for the good jug to finish the climb, my feet accidentally slipped and cut, but I held on with all of my might. The sharp sandstone bit the palm of my hand but I didn’t fall. Danny yelled out, “Goddamn hell yeah dixie rebel yell yip!” as I breathlessly clipped into an anchor at the top.

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The first (female) ascent of Human Chew Toy

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 Human Chew Toy had never seen a female ascent. I was the first. 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.

I don’t really onsight things anymore. My first year climbing in the Gunks was littered with them, which helped me build confidence in myself and my abilities. But falling on things gives me the chance to come back and see what kind of progress I am making. 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.”

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