A few days into my trip to the southeast, I received a text message from an unknown number. It turned out to be one Mr. David Draper. Danny Birchman had passed on my number to a friend, letting him know I might be looking for partners.
David is a man of considerable size, towering over me with at least an extra twelve inches. He is muscular in build, loves his two dogs more than anything and has the sweet, soft eyes of a man well-traveled. Originally from the south, David bopped around a great deal growing up and had just returned from a thirteen-month long road trip.
Two days prior, I’d been up at the Twall with Parker Kempf and Evan Raines. Parker and Evan both raved about Electric Rats (5.10c), claiming that it was probably one of the best Twall 10s they’d ever climbed. Pass through a small series of roofs with jugs (you can place gear, but the jugs are wildly good) to a ledge,
To the left of Electric Rats was a beautiful 12- called Mrs. Socrates. Parker urged me to try it. I insisted that 12s were way above my pay grade. At first, I’d considered toproping it, but Parker had such confidence in me that I was feeling moderately okay about it. I say moderately because 12 is still a grade I am trying to break into.
I was nervous about some loose rock to my left, but Parker assured me that he had fully weighted it and it would be okay. (This is the same piece of rock that broke off a small piece two days later during Arian Bate’s onsight attempt.) The move still looked huge, my arms are small, and I wavered somewhere between feeling brave and feeling stupid. But the gear was good, as Parker had promised.
I found a perfect nut placement from an incredibly awkward stance. I readied my right hand for a lock as I decisively sunk my index finger in the crack. My feet sat high and Parker coaxed me to go higher. I slapped with my left and then pinched hard, establishing my right foot out to the side. When I stood, I twisted my left hip into the wall. Nervous about having my nut so far below me now, I took a breath and locked a finger downward into the thin crack. That’s when I brought my left foot directly underneath me—and that was a mistake.
I’m coming off, I thought.
It’s funny, how you can either have nothing to think about as you catch a little air time or a thousand thoughts flying through your brain all at once. When am I going to stop? Will I hit the ground? Is that piece going to hold? Hey, everyone’s been giving me serious crap about my slings—they’ve been looking a little fuzzy. Will the force of my fall shred them? Please dear god let those slings still be okay.
The slings were good!
The fall felt big, but it felt good to take a winger. It was the first fall I’d taken in a very long time, unplanned and euphoric.
When I climbed with Gašper in the Creek a few weeks ago, he watched me sketched out and take on a piece. After coming off of Death of a Cowboy (5.13-), he said to me: “I used to be a chicken—not that I think you’re a chicken! But……I used to be afraid, and what’s changed for me is that now, I tell myself to go for it. And why not? The gear is safe. And the climb is always yours for the taking.”
In the end, those words helped more than he probably realized. I was above my last piece (too high to down climb to it at that point) and hadn’t gotten in my alien yet. Gašper’s words of advice flashed through my head, and I remembered Scott Albright yelling up at me, years ago, on Never Never Land (5.10a) in the Gunks: “Kathy! There is no taking in trad climbing!”
I followed Gašper’s advice and I pushed, and I pushed again and then another push and then air whizzing by my ears and through my hair and in my nose. Parker caught me softly. I climbed back up, pulled the crux, and continued to the chains. I clipped them and lowered and we all went back downstairs and Parker almost ate an entire pizza.
I returned with David, Evan, and Arian a day later. I let Arian take the first burn on it. Arian is one of the strongest boulderers that I know, which I thought would bode well for him because the move on Mrs. Socrates felt very bouldery. He made it a little higher than me but whipped real good on a blue alien, a few feet higher than I’d made it.
When my turn came, I felt good about the move and more so, the fall, should I mess it up. This time, however, I didn’t fuck up the feet. I kept my movement static and the rest of the climb was successful. I was ecstatic about sending my first Twall 12!
When I reached the ground after my redpoint, David laughed and said: “Bio-mechanically, you have EVERY advantage over most climbers. You’re ninety pounds and got less pounds per square inch. You are not too short! It means is you’ve got to get your ass up and climb harder.”
And I appreciated him saying so, not because it was funny or he was being honest, but because it was all absolutely true.
Also, it was funny.