The low, incessant beat of the rave droned on in El Chorro as the end of 2016 faded into the heat of the the late morning hours. Party-goers stood like zombies, bleary-eyed and drunk praying for the music to the end so they could crawl back to their tents and sleep the start of 2017 away.
Having opted for sleep instead of the seemingly endless revelries I awoke in the pine forest, surrounded by the chirps of birds and dew covered grasses. We would be climbing this day, my favorite way to celebrate anything. The morning was slow as we sipped tea and Nescafé and hoped that we would be joined by a cool breeze at the crag.
El Chorro is a beautiful place and like many beautiful things it’s also a bit of a tease. Loads of climbers come here from the UK, Norway, Denmark and other rainy and cold loathsome locales, opting for the sun and break from the bleak winter days. As a California climber I am prone to avoiding the sun as mush as possible and searching for the cold and crisp, perfect sending conditions. In this regard I find myself unable to understand how these people can throw themselves at slick and polished limestone routes, sun cooked and desperate over and over again.
I’ve been searching for a hard project but have been faced with a few obstacles. With no car we are committed to staying local and going to the crags we can walk to with the fortune of every so often catching a ride to other areas. What this means, however, is that we are destined to climb on the south facing walls and true to it’s reputation, El Chorro is amazingly hot. Like any good tease,it lures you in and then spits you out with seared minds, chapped tips and swollen feet. And if it isn’t the sun keeping me struggling harder than necessary it’s the endless battle of the 5′ 00″ climber – the one where that next hold really is ages away and unfortunately there is no way around it. So, I’ve swallowed my pride and decided that I’ll just keep climbing for the sake of climbing – onsighting, and trying things that look good.
On the first day of 2017 I rung it in with a good and fair onsight of a really nice, albeit a bit choosy, 8a. With 12 more climbing days here there is plenty to do and perhaps in the end I will have tamed the tease a little bit.
With curiosity for what else happens in the next 363 days I look back on what transpired in the last 365 days. It was all so varied and interesting and I realize again and again how fortunate I am to have the freedom and flexibility to make the choices I make.
2016 started with a serious and almost too instense training in Chattanooga, perhaps being a bit over-trained but I feeling stronger than ever we booked tickets to Slovenia. Misja Pec was on our minds and all systems were a go until… a depressing and demoralizing sprained ankle set me back. Unwilling to let go of my desire I went on the trip anyway and had one of the best experiences ever. (Link here for write-up <https://katielambert.wordpress.com/2016/05/24/least-expected/>).
Spring was in full force when we returned from Europe and this had me in preparation for Yosemite season. I trained in Bishop for El Cap, lifting weights, hangboarding, campusing, biking and doing route link-ups in Pine Creek. My goal was to send the Gecko Wall in Pine Creek in a day – the most stacked granite wall in our area going from left to right as: 5.12c/d, 5.12c, 5.13a, 5.12b, 5.10, 5.13b, 5.11, 5.12c, 5.12a, 5.12b, 5.13c, 5.12a, 5.12c. I didn’t quite send them all in a day missing it by the last two 5.12s. But, it was a good time and a nice random objective and I was feeling pretty damn fit.
I arrived in Yosemite psyched and ready to give El Cap a good fight and alas Alix Morris and I were well on our way up Freerider. The heat was almost unbearable, but we forged on climbing at dawn and dusk. I came within a few feet of making a free ascent of the route, getting thwarted by the notorious exit of the “Boulder Problem” and having to come up with some techy alternative beta but still no send in the bag. It was bit heartbreaking but an enjoyable time and left me hungrier than ever for trying to free El Cap.
Rest was in order and I took some time off of personal climbing goals and focused on guiding in the Sierra and completing my Masters in Nutrition. With some time off and a renewed psyche for projects Tuolumne Season arrived in July with much anticipation. Always psyched for the high country I found myself there a few days a week, escaping the heat of Bishop and checking some boxes on things I wanted to accomplish.
In the late summer of 2015 Ben established a new route on Drug Dome called High Times – a four pitch 5.13 that ascends some cracks and dihedrals before exiting out of a steep bulge on dime-size knobs. I tried it with him then and had found the last crux pitch to be almost too reachy and quiet bouldery, however he convinced me I was capable and so it was first on my list of things to do. In mid-July I was really psyched to have led all the pitches free, surprising myself with a fairly quick send of something I thought I might not really be able to do.
After this I did a fair amount of bouldering, building the power and ticking a few lines in Tuolumne that I had my eye on from the year prior. The heat was still pretty intense through July and early August and I occupied myself with road biking, Sacred Rok work, and a bit more guiding helping a client achieve a big goal of hers before the summers end.
Once September arrived I started to try Top Gun; a route that had gone undone in Tuolumne for over twenty years until Eric Bissell made a first free ascent in early June. This route had kept many at bay and had gained a reputation if being elusive, finicky and a bit of a mind f*ck. I gave myself over to this route,m having to learn it’s subtleties, it’s movements and the complex beta that literally took me over 4 sessions to unlock. Once I had the sequences, placements and understanding of the movement I was one-hanging the route over and over. Finding a dedicated partner was also really tricky, as not many people have interest in this route and I was subject to the schedules and availability of anyone who was willing to trade belays on other things. I came close a few times, overlapping the crux and climbing to the top but didn’t walk away with a send. In the process, however, good friend and climbing ninja, Keenan Takahashi nabbed the second ascent, making really quick work of perhaps what is Tuolumne’s first 5.14. It was inspiring, exciting and has me with my eyes on the prize for this summer.
October had me in Germany where I met Ben who was there presenting at the European Outdoor Film Tour. We spent a few weeks touring around the Frankenjura, Schielerwasserfal and the Geisterschmiedwand and enjoyed numerous Pretzels, local beers and goulash. We met up with some friends we made a few years back in Oliana and waited patiently for a weather window for the main objective we had traveled to Bavaria for – The Wetterstein.
The Wetterstein came onto my radar early in the year when I found an old climbing calander from the 90’s with a picture of Heinz Zac on a route called Locker vom Hocker. He was run-out, in the mountains on some beautiful, smooth, blue limestone route. I didn’t know what it was but I knew I wanted to go there. Finding information on this area and climb had some challenges, as it was quite limited and mostly in German. But with some persistance and the help of some European friends we were able to piece together the basics and decided in early September that we were going to go for it.
When we arrived in Munich the weather was quite bad and snow graced the limestone alps without giving much of a hope of us getting into the mountains. However, our patience paid off when on our last two days in the area we received a perfect window to head into the region and get it done. Locker vom Hocker had been established in the lates 80’s by Kurt Albert and Wolfgang Gullich and held a big reputation among the local climbers of Bavaria as being runout, stout and a bit of a sandbag. We arrived at the hut without a topo or much of a clue as to where the route was exactly and proceeded to ask some climbers who were having beers if they could tell us where it was. They looked at us with surprise and amazement as we told them what we were up to and proceeded to offer their guide books. With not much more than 24 hours left before we would be boarding a plane to Kalymnos we set off to see what we could do and lo and behold Locker vom Hocker became a highlight of 2016.
We sent the route with style, stuck the alpine descent, slept under a boulder and made it on time to our flight. In no time we were in Kalymnos, donning sport shoes and logging some serious airtime.
We spent six weeks there snorkeling, climbing and eating our fair share of fish and feta. The island life is serene and the vibe is really quite good – needless to say I became a bit enamored with things there and found it to be a really special place with many lovely people. I onsighted a few 5.13s, ticked some hard projects and left there with a good pyramid of routes to see me into the next year.
2016 was full and fun and ended on quite a high note built was also filled with some expectations. 2017 started off with a slight change in attitude – a lesson that I seem to learn over and over again. Perhaps this year will be the time it sticks. Regardless though, I’m psyched for all that is to come and wherever it is I may go.
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