Hueco Wisdom

High Quality Rock and High Quality People

Hueco and its ever changing culture has taught me a lot about the climber I think I am, the climber I actually am, and the climber I wish to become.

Phillip doing the pretzeling figure four on Eckstein.

Starry Eyed Man, Photo by Ron Ralph

The Privilege

of being able to escape the frosty grip of winter and drive for twenty-four hours straight south to the "the best bouldering in the U.S.A" is one I will never take for granted.  For three and a half weeks my friend Eric and I explored the corridors and passages of Hueco Tanks, Texas.  Full rooms of boulders are built from the crumbling archaic mountains; and the echoes of  ancient peoples blanket the walls.  Scanning the piles of rock I saw the most diverse field of climbing I had ever laid eyes on.  The rock supplied problems no human could ever imagine. For the next few weeks I learned a whole new way of moving.  New sensations of dynamic spans with lines of tension running from my fingertips to my toes overwhelmed my nervous system.  It inspired new ways of thinking about how I move on rock and how I move through life.  Only now am I starting to unfold what is to be learned from this sacred place.

Strengths and Weaknesses

are always changing as I evolve and discover new styles, I have begun to realize I am not as good as I thought in some places.  On the other hand I can always surprise myself.  

South Africa comes to Hueco on Jingus Bells

The difference between a strength and a weakness is the environment in which it is placed.  A organism must access and adapt to the challenge it is up against.  Otherwise what was once a tool can quickly turn into a handicap, or vice versa.

 For every climb, for every move there is a new set of senses to focus on.  For instance, a climber balancing a barn door with an inside flag may have been graceful and efficient on the last climb. Yet, on the next climb the climber attempts to use the same move again except there is a subtle toe hook the climber is missing.  They may be able to pull the strenuous move a few times with success, but the foot move afterwards is very difficult.  The climber falls close to the top, and was simply too griped to mange the last few easier moves.  So they will have to come back another day and try again.  

Ways to be more aware?

Once you have fallen off the flash attempt.

  • Stay open minded. 

    • Do you ever say no to the beta you come up with in your head before you even try it?  I know I do.  But, even though 19 out of 20 times my ridiculous beta does not work.  One time, one day it will!  Also, I will be able to play with crazy fun moves I have never done before.  It allows me to have creative breathing room with the route or problem.  To experiment and enjoy  the route for what it is, and what it is not.  This gives me permission to be artful and not become tunnel fixated in doing the climb a certain way.  It gives me a more enjoyable experience rather than being outcome oriented. Often the newer the climber you are the more possibilities you can imagine, yet sometimes it's the veterans that get caught in the trap of doing it the first way they read the sequence.   Discovery is one of the best feelings in the world.
  • Focus on a new part of your body.  

    • Sometimes you are so focused about nabbing the next tiny hold that you forget about your body tension or pulling with your heel.  You may think the hold is too small and placed too far away. You place more and more attention on grabbing it, but while that is going on your torso sags and pulls your heel down instead of out.  This causes you to load your lower arm and hand more which makes that small hold feel farther away. This cause and effect is a chain reaction where you only see the symptom (not grabbing the tiny hold).  So next time your are stumped by a move try the move in isolation if possible.  Attempt to focus on a new aspect of the move each time you attempt it.  The pressure on your toe, your hips in space, your twist of your shoulder; it is all a part of the big picture. It is not going to be easy, but it will be fun.  Soon you will find all the small subtle parts of the movement.  By breaking this down you can find where to initiate the move from.  There is always more to a move than "I am not strong enough."  You just have to take your time and think about the 12 to 20 different things going on during that move. Focus on giving it your all in the moment, and know that just being aware will make you a better climber. 

Eric ending the day on Baby Martini

High expectations

were my grinding struggle for the first half of the trip.  Sometimes when I expect to do something quick or first go and it bucks me onto my toosh I can become a ball of tension.  I put a lot of pressure on myself at the beginning of this trip.  It made me tense and anxious while climbing.  This effected me in a negative way.  I was trying to flash things.  I never gave a lot of effort to this style.  Because I have little experience climbing I still do a lot of cognitive thinking on the wall.  I feel that doing more flash/on-sighting would help me tap into my intuitive side of climbing.

I found myself laying on the pads feeling very peeved after my first go on some of the best problems in the world.  I was beating myself up for making an easy error.  I didn't understand why out of no where I became so self critical, and irked when I was falling.  Something was different.  I was not in the same head space.  I was pissed. I was agitated.  Why?  Had I lost my love for climbing? Was I turning into a rock grinch? Is this what getting old feels like?

No.  I had expected to win, to top out. To knockout my granite foe with one swift blow.  This in turn is a high expectation that, if not fulfilled, is left to be criticized by my ego.  It put unnecessary pressure on myself, and left me with a lot of internal struggle with my self image.   

I find I personally perform best on something I think is going to be extremely difficult or close to impossible for me because I have no attachment to finishing or even doing all the moves.  

Then I am free to just try my best without worrying about the next move, clipping the anchors, or topping out.  I just focus all my energy and attention into that move, that moment, and that breath.  It's when I surprise myself and surpass what was perceived "too difficult." 

Eric matching the Africa hold on Choir Boys

 When something is assumed to be easy I have a cap on how hard I am willing to try.  

For example, Jeffery, a runner who normally runs the same 5 mile gently rolling trail every weekend is invited to go run a new 3 mile trail with his friend Ben.  He assumes its going to be a cake walk, and now has implanted that idea in his head.  Once they arrive at the trail head they begin running.  The trail is more technical than he expected.  He quickly manages to get out of breath because of all the winding and twisting up hill sections.  He is now in a position where his expectancies of easy are meeting the realities of being difficult.  It is at this point he will either have to change his idea of a 3 mile run being easy for him, or he will become quickly frustrated, and discouraged because now the numbers do not make sense. Mental dialog would sound like this: "How can five be easy and three be hard? What's wrong with me?  I should be able to do this without breaking a sweat."  

On the first week of my trip I found myself choosing the later internal dialog.  I became frustrated with my abilities.  I looked at the number and expected it to be easy. When I was abruptly plucked from my dream, I was upset, that maybe I was regressing. Climbers see numbers as levels of our skill or strength but many times we fail to see the rock behind the number.  I have come to realize: never assume anything is easy, and understand that if i am still falling, the rock has more to teach me!  

Eric "giving it some gerr" on Something Different.

Trying hard in front of others

 is one of my all time inhibitors.  I found myself only giving 80% effort.  I inherited the fear that if I tried harder people would look at me funny or think I am weird. I would refuse to allow the movement to appear or feel difficult because I believed that it should be the opposite of difficult.  I became obsessive over making moves pretty, and if I had to try "too hard" for a certain grade I would deem that beta "bad".  I would refuse to do the move in that manner because I was so convinced that it should feel easier than what it did.  I feel vulnerable when I try really really hard.  Its a personal experience. Tapping into that primal intensity is not something that comes easy.  So I only feel comfortable around close friends to do so, but eventually I had to find a way to get over it!

I will always have to climb in front of people.  Climbing areas, gyms, and competitions, they all involve performing around other groups of strangers.  Yes, it is cool when I find a spot at the crag and its just me and my close friends.  You should enjoy that, but it's a rarity.  So, unless I want to be that guy that only climbs well when nobody is watching, I need to buck up and stop feeling shy.  

It was frustrating to know I was  holding back on a problem just because some stranger made it look easy.  Well, a wise person (Ryan Palo) once told one of my best buddies (Eric Williamson),  "Before every climb know it is going to be a fight.  It makes no differance if it's an easy grade for you or you have climbed it ten times before.  Know that it is going to be very hard, and nothing will pan out the way you want it to.  You have to try so extremely hard when you are on that wall!"  This is very very true.  Every time I go on a new trip I redefine a new level of personal effort.  

The other comforting idea I soon realized is that most people are way more excited to watch someone fight desperately for a V2 than watch someone float up a V12.  Thats why it's so fun to watch Chris Sharma, and Adam Ondra climb, because they fight with passion and emotion.  You can tell they are putting all the passion of every cell into the climb.  That's what I want to learn how to do.

 People often say, "I wish I was as strong as Sharma", but I never hear people say "I wish I could try as hard as Sharma." You are bound to get stronger and stick much harder moves if you would learn to try half as hard as he does.  I am so excited to be in this sport. It's an eternal river of wisdom, and I am thirsty for more!  

Without further ado, a video from the trip!  For future reference, if you're not a reader, the videos are usually at the bottom.  Thanks for all the support.  Can't wait for the next post.  Should be a little more "creative."