A ‘Brief’ Personal Climbing History

2 09 2009

This post will be far from “brief”, but considering how much I could write about each route I consider personally significant, this is short. The feeling of a prized send, a realized dream or even a hard attempt is difficult to describe so I will give a simple overview of  my many years of climbing.

I come from an outdoorsy family.  My parents both ski-ed, were avid scuba divers and enjoyed the outdoors. Despite this I grew up with a funny concept of camping since we always road-tripped in a ’78 Chevy van that my dad had converted to have a bed and a special sleeping spot for me. I remember the first time I saw a tent and was confused about what it was for. I had my special fort in the van where I slept, and I had never camped ‘outside’.

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Too cool, wearing cutoff Gramicci’s and wearing Oakleys…

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On one of the many “solos” at Marymoor. I often wouldn’t touch the ground for an hour  or more.

In middle school I was not as outdoorsy as the other kids despite going on various hiking trips around Washington. I became a bit more “normal” in 8th grade when I started playing Ultimate Frisbee and climbing indoors at Vertical World in Fremont (before it was torn down to create the Adobe Complex). After 8th grade I was pretty hooked on indoor climbing and my dad and I almost built a climbing wall at our house.

Before going to high school I took a 3 week Outward Bound course in Oregon. We spent a week rafting the full Deschutes River and then spent. Two weeks learning how to mountaineer (use ice axes) and eventually climbed the Middle Sister.  While I had been climbing indoors and on artificial outdoor structures Outward Bound was most likely my first real rock climbing. We top roped some easy cliff band in our La Sportiva Makalu’s and it was fun. We came back later that night with a full moon and rappelled down the wall exciting!

When ya gotta Aid you just gotta

Aiding up the Monkey’s Face on our 9 hour (yikes) 5 person ascent of the West Face Variation.

In high school one of my first friends was a climber and had been climbing for years with his father. Through my friend Hartley and the outdoor program at Overlake I slowly learned about climbing outside. During the summer I spent my time at Marymoor park bouldering, traversing and soloing on the climbing wall there.  I often would spend 4 days a week climbing still a bit oblivious to going to a crag to lead routes on my own.

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The door to my bouldering success at Bucknell.

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Our new routes board at the Bucknell Climbing Wall.

From junior to senior year in high school my focus on climbing shifted towards ultimate frisbee but I was still enthusiastic about the sport and upon graduation bought my first set of cams.  Until this point I had been climbing indoors on ropes and leading a bit of sport and trad outdoors but had never really bouldered. I did traversing and short boulder problems but I didn’t think too much of it.

The Summit!!

Gordon points to the summit of Tower II on our climb of the Yellow Spur

College brought about a big change in my climbing as I now had access to a small climbing wall on campus and could climb almost 5 days a week (seen above).  Due to the height of the wall we mainly bouldered and in the first month of college I went on my first outdoor bouldering trip.  My strength increased a lot my freshman year and my climbing took another big step when I ended up working at Vertical World in Redmond the summer of 2004.  My life was climbing and this year saw my biggest increases thus far. I went from V1 to V4 (indoors) and lead my first trad 5.9 (Godzilla at Index) sent my first 5.11b (Aborigine at Exit 38) and did my first 5.9 multipitch leading all the pitches (The Yellow Spur in El Dorado canyon). I returned to college much stronger and full of power.

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Working up Five Finger Discount at the Red River Gorge.

Sophomore Year went fairly quickly and my sport climbing was taking off. I broke further into 5.11 at the Red River Gorge and the Obed but my trad climbing was lagging. I had taken a few trips to the Gunks but had yet to make it to 5.10.  I climbed my first 5.10+ crack at the T-Wall outside of Chattanooga but couldn’t figure out the Gunks. I had been thinking of studying abroad and decided that going to Melbourne would be a great academic challenge and would allow me to go to “school” at Mt. Arapiles.

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Flashing It’ll Never Fly at Mount Arapiles 23/24  (5.11+)

Victoria, the Australian state where Melbourne is located, has a strict trad ethic and taught me a lot while I was there. These 6 months of 2005 brought my trad climbing to a new level as I moved into 5.11 routes. I learned how to place gear faster and found the relaxed zone required for hard and runout routes.  A big mental change also took place as I learned to accept the local  standards for climbing style.

The route the changed my mind was a popular toprope on the Kitten Wall above the Watchtower Faces called Hard Nipples. At 22 (11b) this route was at my limit and after doing it clean on TR I wanted to lead it. The gear was beyond tricky and I was pissed that it had not been bolted. I steamed at my partner but he told me that since it was possible to be lead on gear, it should be lead on gear. A month or so later after leading a few 21s and 22s I realized the route was in my reach.  I toproped the route again and figured out the gear and was amazed that I could find something that would work.

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Way excited to be at Castle Hill!

The first boulder problem would have to be soloed to about the 20 foot mark but I knew I could do it and committed to the techy moves and reached the ledge. In when two cams and I started up the steep section. one more cam and then the crux. Grab a left hand pocket and make a full span right to a good hold. Reach back and plug a red TCU in the pocket and work up into a roof. A blind yellow alien above your head and then the final face crux. A few moves get your feet over the roof and then easy moves lead to a bolted anchor. I had sent and in doing so had changed my perspective on bolts and had done my first 22 gear lead!

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Learning how to Mantel at Castle Hill, New Zealand

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Attempting my first 24 at the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, Australia

Returning to the states I quickly lost my trad lead head but still had the power from the longest time of climbing I have ever had. I put this power to good use on a trip to Horsepens 40 in January 2006 and sent my first two V6’s and a V7.  Also on this trip while in the Obed I climbed my first 12a a long time goal that had evaded me in Australia despite doing my first 24 (5.11d) in New Zealand. From November 2005 until the 2nd week of January 2006 I had climbed almost 50 days culminating with a first place finish in Mens Advanced at my first ABS comp at SportRock.

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Toproping my first 5.11 crack – at Mount Buffalo, Australia

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Going for the crux deadpoint on Undertow (my first 12a) at the Obed.

Sadly all my my climbing and enthusiasm would start having consequences in 2006. Psyched to climb as hard as possible on an upcoming trip to the Red River Gorge I started intense campus training. The day after a session of two finger campusing I had pain in my left ring finger. I properly took a week off and slowly eased back into climbing with a month before my trip. Over the next many years my finger has given me varying amounts of trouble. I was able to climb fairly well at the Red River Gorge and returned to college psyched as ever for the next bouldering comp, this time the Mammut Gravity Brawl in New Jersey. My friend Adam and I had a blast but during the comp but I dislocated my right shoulder on a V7 that where I had campused into an Iron Cross and was trying to do the next move.

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Hanging out at the Mammut Gravity Brawl after dislocating my shoulder.

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Hanging out and taking photos at Governor’s Stables.

My shoulder only partially subluxed and in 6 months I was climbing fairly well again and have since sent harder problems and routes than before the injury. The main thing that changed was my climbing style. I was no longer so willing to dyno freely and took a lot more time to think about the moves and make sure I would not re-injure my shoulder. This mental change brought with it a bit more hesitation and fear and still effects me today.

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Flashing the classic Ro-Shampo 5.11d/12a at the Red River Gorge.

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Flashing Bourbon Sauce 5.11d at the New River Gorge

(My ambition to do this route was  inspired by a trio of women who sent it when I was at the crag 3 years earlier.)

After healing up and sending a handful of 5.12’s by the end of 2006 I turned my attention to bouldering for my senior year. I wanted to climb V7 again and worked on power. My crowning achievements from that year were The Bubbler V6 and Iron Lion V7 at Haycock Mountain.  After graduating and working on bouldering for a little while including a send of Blue Flame v7 at Tramway I switched back to roped climbing. The blue flame had taken many tries over two days and had done a number on my shoulder.
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First day of attempts on Iron Lion V7.

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Many months later sending my hardest boulder problem yet.

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Loving the Triassic Diabase of The Bubbler V6

Climbing on routes I could still push my limits climbing 5.12 and didn’t have to worry about moves that were as taxing as bouldering. In 2007 Lizzy became my main climbing partner and we focused on sport climbing to train for a trip to the Red River Gorge for the Petzl Roc Trip. This training was very effective and Lizzy saw large strength increases and I onsighted my first 12a. At the RRG I onsighted another 12a and Lizzy flashed her first 11b.  Onsight climbing is tricky business and I was happy to have achieved another long time goal.

In 2008 we started the year with a lot more trad climbing and Lizzy attempted here first 5.12 leads at Indian Creek. By 2008 I had adjusted to the climbing scene in San Diego and found a strong and committed partner. During the summer of 2008 I stared to have real endurance and spent a bit more times on harder routes. I managed to climb my first 5.12c and 5.13a and turned my focus towards my super project Equinox.

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Putting up a second wall in my training room back in Maryland.

Equinox as I have written in the past was the hardest project that I have ever attempted. When I first tried it I hated it soo much was entirely frustrated and uninterested. Lizzy persisted in her desire to climb the route and we spent many Equinox days out in J-Tree until in November when I finally did it clean on TR. My goal was an ascent with preplaced gear (which fit the remaining time in the J-Tree season) and I got it down to one or two falls on lead. One particular week my skin was particularly soft and I was trying so hard that I removed half of the skin from all my fingers. This put a dent in my schedule so we took some time to boulder and I came back full of power.  The day of my redpoint I barely made it out of bed not wanting to make the drive to J-Tree. When I sent,  after 3 false starts or failed attempts, the route fit together perfectly and I made it to the anchors with a mild pump but fully in control. This was an excellent ending to 2008 and I could not have been happier.

I had been taking steps towards climbing harder routes and my goal for 2009 was to develop more power and break into the 5.13 grade. Since Equinox had been my first 5.12 trad route I wanted to keep up with my crack climbing skills and try to progress on other routes in J-Tree. 2009 has been quite the wild ride since I have been injured since late January and have been unable to crimp well with my left hand. In recent months I have gained back fitness and had an excellent trip in Indian Creek with multiple 5.11 trad onsights. I was able to jam without harming my finger. Now in August I am starting to feel powerful again and have started campus training. Having done a few 12a’s quickly I think that I am ready to try some harder projects.

Since life is a bit up in the air I have yet to commit to a given route. My motivation in May was very high for a trip to Zion. I had one of my best trad climbing days with a 5.12 and two 5.11 onsights.  My motivation is currently on the Incredible Hulk where I had an amazing ascent of a variation of Positive Vibrations and then went back and onsighed the standard finish pitches.

With a strong showing this past weekend at Pine Creek, including a 5.12a onsight, I think that I may beable to make some progress in 2009.

Thanks for reading aren’t you glad it was `brief` 😉

– Luke

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10 responses

2 09 2009
Kai

I enjoyed this (as I do all your posts), nice to see it all in context.

so, what’s in store for the Needles this weekend (my favorite climbing area ever)? Romantic Warrior? If not that one, Atlantis, Ice Pirates and Don Juan Wall are all fantastic…

2 09 2009
Julie

Ha ha ha oh my the photos of the Bucknell wall are amazing. It never really entered my mind to go back to visit and those photos almost made it seem conceivable. Its too weird to see photos of Haycock and the Blue Mtns and other far away memories. Thanks for posting them! And I’ve never heard the full story of how you started climbing until now!

3 09 2009
Narc

Excellent post! The one thing that really stuck out to me was that you have pictures all along the way. Somehow I never had much inclination for cameras the first half of my climbing career and now there is no proof it ever existed!

3 09 2009
lstefurak

Being injured in college really got me into photography and prompted my DSLR purchase. My parents also helped influence me to take lots of photos. When I was younger we even had a darkroom in our house.

At the Needles hopefully we will do Atlantis, Spook Book, and Ankles Away. Don Juan wall is also on the list but time is limited. Not sure I am quite ready for Romantic Warrior, soon!

Thanks for the comments!

4 09 2009
Kai Ewert

great! spook book is fantastic, too, and hard. Haven’t been on Ankles Away yet, but there’s so many incredible pictures of that route. I just couldn’t decide whether to TR first or go for an onsight…

4 09 2009
Kai Ewert

can’t wait for the TR (trip report, that is) 🙂

8 09 2009
Laurel

Ha, I recognize that brick “wall” 🙂

8 09 2009
lstefurak

I really love Marymoor and sometimes even biked there when I lived in Redmond. Some days driving home I would be so pumped it was hard to steer! A fun place to train locally and “outside”.

18 09 2009
stephen

awesome! i live about 90 minutes from mt buffalo and it was awesome to see that photo! Arapiles is absolutely awesome and personally I find trad climbing much more memorable, usually because of the extra mental dimension.

15 05 2011
Chris Lanterman

Luke, I take offense to you saying you weren’t very outdoorsy in 8th grade. We were pretty badass taking up the rear in XC. Also, hiking in Costa Rica.

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