Winter blues got me hard this year. Every year I try and prepare myself for several months of gym climbing and hermit-ing (AKA eating my weight in snickerdoodles and sushi.) So, I booked it to the southeast in search of sandstone cracks at the Tennessee Wall. From the mind-blowing roof on Superwave (a Kirk Brode 5.11c/d) to the classic 5.10b, Love Handle, Evan Raines and I had a full-value day climbing until the last light faded. The weather gods gifted us with clear, blue skies both days.

Last light on Love Handle (5.10b). Photograph by Tim Foote

But when the forecast started looking a little misty, we considered our options. With acres of land, the boulder problems are stacked at Horse Pens 40. Once winter hits the south, pebble wrestlers from all over flock to this renowned destination—and it only costs ten dollars to shred your skin into bloody oblivion! The rock lives up to the bulletproof sandstone that the south is known and loved for, but what makes it so unique is its unusual features carved by wind over time.

Shaina Savoy and I drove to Alabama with the promise of clearer skies and met Alma Baste, who is always excited for a ladies’ day. After finding Tim Foote weaving in and out of the boulder field, we dropped pads at Bum Boy (AKA the world’s hardest V3.) Shaina and I both agreed that slopers were our anti-style. In fact, BOULDERING is kind of my anti-style. From years of observation, I’ve concluded that boulderers have style—unlike me, who mostly exhibits awkward movement up routes combined with rapid, shallow breathing and Elvis leg, shakily asking nobody, “Is this piece any good?!”

I want to acknowledge Alma’s pussyhat more than I want to talk about the climb. Photograph by Tim Foote

With bouldering, in a single day, you can accomplish twice, if not three times as many climbs as you can route climbing. The commitment level is generally much lower and you never have to worry about leaving beloved gear behind. But you know what else? EVERY PROBLEM IS A GUARANTEED DECK. I’ve been a climber for six years, and when it comes to climbing sans rope, I’m really just a noob afraid of falling. But we were in a world-class bouldering destination that was undeniably one of the best, and I would be foolish to not take advantage of it. (Also, this trip I discovered the freedom of running around a boulder field is really great for my adult ADHD!)

Every sloper felt huge to my hands, but the prime temperature was crisp enough for me to trust my feet. Smooth slopers and moderately stressful mantling top outs are, again, my anti-style, but still, I walked up to each boulder with straight up Beyonce confidence (think: Single Ladies era). When I attempted Bum Boy, I had no expectations, a fantastic spot, and cheers of encouragement from above. I slapped those giant slopers with intention and let good friction and cold weather do the rest of the work.

Hey guys, I bouldered AND I did it with shaky Elvis leg.

Photograph by Tim Foote

Pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone is awkward and uncomfortable because to do it, you have to enter a fairly uncomfortable place for a little while. My human brain is wired to seek out what feels safe because I, like most people, am a creature of comfort. But every once in a while, it’s good to allow myself a chance to slip into the discomfort of uncertainty. Plus, a little bit of healthy stress can actually prove to be a powerful motivation to get to the top, whether it’s a job, a boulder, or a mountain.

Cover photograph courtesy of Tim Foote.

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