Magnum Opus

“How many more bolts until the end of this thing?” my partner Mike asked as he powered past the crux of a climb.
“You never really reach the end,” I replied sarcastically. “Greyhound stays with you forever; you’ll never be the same after you clip those chains.” In that situation it was a joke, but for the climbs we would later go on to send that day, the words held unironic truth. Some sends are just a box ticked on 8a.nu or an excuse to drink beer at the end of the day. Others tell a story: of lessons learned, friendships made, challenges overcome, or in the case of Magnum Opus, all of the above.
When I was 19 and on my very first climbing road trip, I met my very first dirtbag. He was living out of a van with his dog and another climber he’d picked up somewhere along the way, and rock climbing was his life. As I traveled around for the next three months, I toyed with the idea of doing such a thing myself one day, but also wondered if I actually had what it would take.
The years went by, and I found myself drawn to the comfort of a stationary life, with a community, friends, a home… basically a support system so that I never really had to face the thought of being truly and one hundred percent alone. I always set ultimatums for myself, with the hope that one day I would be ready to face the adventure of leaving home with just the things that would fit into my car and see where life might take me. When I sent 8a/13b I would do it. That came and went and I only settled down more. When I’d lived in Seattle for a full year, then I would do it. Three years went by. When I turned 25, that would be the year that I’d reevaluate. 25 finally happened, and I found myself with the opportunity I had always been waiting for.
In December of 2017 I met a guy in Mexico named Alex who was psyched to travel and climb together. We hit it off and stayed in touch, and so I, ready to make the most of my last year of Dad’s health insurance, hit the road. I was travelling by myself, but I still had a safety blanket; a seasoned dirtbag to hold my hand as I jumped off the deep end. It was the push I had been waiting for all this time.
Unfortunately he was ready to let go of said hand after a lot less time than I would have liked, and I was faced with a new ultimatum: venture off into the unknown by myself, keep climbing with a guy that had just broken my heart, or head home with my tail tucked between my legs. None of the options were what I had been mentally prepared for when I left home.
I called a few friends, cried for a few hours, drove to St. George, got a hotel, and drank an appropriate amount of wine for what I figured the situation entailed. I felt more physically alone than I have in many years, being solo in a very foreign place with absolutely no plan. Luckily, I received endless support from all of my friends, and that comfort got me through the night.
I couldn’t afford to stay there more than a night however, so I needed to come up with a new plan pretty quickly. I found a place to sleep in my car just outside the city, and considered all my options. I had friends coming in soon, but I wasn’t just going to sit around and wait until they got here. After two rest days, I needed to climb.
I showed up to Moe’s Valley with no knowledge of the area, no crash pads, no guidebook, a marginal amount of psyche to boulder, and a healthy level of fear at the thought of putting myself out there and trying to befriend some strangers in my already emotionally vulnerable state. I walked up to the first people I found and asked to join them. It was a couple from Salt Lake who were working on a V7 called Paradise Lost. I ran two laps on the warmup V2 next to it, and then proceeded to start working the 7 and subsequently dispatching it within three tries. I can only imagine what they must have thought! Who the fuck was this girl? Luckily first impressions are quickly overwritten by honest friendships, and we ended up having a great day together. I began to feel like I could actually make something happen with the rest of my trip, if I was able to see the many opportunities around me for what they were.
At the end of the day I also ran into another few familiar faces from my time in Mexico: Mike and his dog Sequoia. He was on a similar soul searching, partnerless vision quest in Moe’s, and it was through pure serendipity that we happened to sync up that day when we were both wandering through the boulders while actually yearning to sport climb.
After a few more days farting around until my other friends showed up, I rallied my crew around me to head back to the Grail. I had unfinished business, and thy name was Magnum Opus.
Driving back to Lime Kiln brought with it a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Would Alex still be there? Would the place still seem as exciting and magical with a different crew? Did I have a prayer at sending this rock climb? The answers were ‘No,’ ‘Yes,’ and ‘Maybe, just maybe.’
I wasted no time in diving into the project. Magnum Opus was everything I had been told it would be: bad feet, shallow mono pockets, and very few rests for 35m. Pulling on some of those holds felt like an injury ready to happen, and if I didn’t hit some of them just right I had to force myself to just let go to avoid blowing a tendon. I had to tape one of my fingertips and it made many of the moves much harder because I had to be significantly more precise to fit into some of the pockets now, and other holds were now quite slippery. On my second or third burn I split a tip on my other hand too, so now I was double taping.
A rest day yielded hope for the skin, but when I came back the draws had been taken down, so I had to hang my own. Suddenly there was a new pressure: I couldn’t leave without either sending or accepting defeat, because putting them up was an ordeal I was not enthusiastic about repeating. I also didn’t have enough remaining draws to do anything else, so I couldn’t realistically consider leaving to climb somewhere else and just coming back in a few days.
Friday marked the arrival of more friends from my previous stint in the Grail, but they were only there for the weekend, and Mike was also scheduled to leave on Sunday. I had two days before there were no longer any partners I knew, plus I also wanted to meet up with my friends back in St. George. I one hung the climb twice, feeling strong, psyched, and stressed.
Saturday came, and I knew I would need a rest day after that. It was time to sink or swim. I felt terrible on my warmup, and my skin felt like every hold was sharper than crimping on the blade of my pocket knife. On top of that, when I walked up to the climb there was a family toproping the approach pitch, so I had to wait for them to finish to get on. It wasn’t until after lunch that I even tried it that day, but the first burn brought another high point and one-hang. Even with the continued progress, I didn’t think it would go down. There were just too many places that you could screw it up (i.e. every single hand and/or foot move from the start of the crux until the anchors), and even the most minor of errors would send me pitching off with a flurry of expletives.
The main reason I didn’t think it would go down was because that would make everything just a little too easy. I would send the project just as my partners were all leaving, just as my new friends were arriving in St. George, just before my skin got any worse (I was worried about another finger splitting), and just before I would need a rest day. Yet somehow, the universe decided I had earned a break, and I found myself crimping through the crux with confidence. I got to my high point and felt myself slipping off the same hold as before, but through sheer force of will I managed to pull through and get to the rest. From there I knew I could finish it as long as I climbed well.
If there’s one thing the Grail has taught me about climbing, it is that the difference between climbing poorly and climbing like I should be on this technical terrain is almost entirely in my head (unless I’ve had too much coffee, then it’s anyone’s guess). ‘Climb well, Brittany’ I found myself telling myself whenever my leg would start to shake or my heart would begin to race. ‘Climb like you should be climbing, and you can do this’ and similar mantras became my constant internal dialogue. For me this is a dramatic change from the norm. Usually I find myself thinking things more along the lines of ‘don’t fuck this up,’ or ‘wouldn’t it just suck to blow it right here?’ There is no room for those sort of thoughts on Magnum Opus.
When I clipped the chains my own cheering was almost drowned out by the chorus of encouragements from friends and strangers alike from one end of the crag to the other. The wall at Lime Kiln is such that everyone can see everything from just about any vantage point, so I was lucky to be able to celebrate my victory with the masses who had watched me punt off (quite vocally) so many times before now.
Many other members of the crew sent their projects that day, and it filled me with endless joy to be able to share my experience with all of them. Not only was Magnum Opus the first 13d of my climbing career (the grade receives many different labels depending on who you ask, but that is what I feel is right for me), it is the most tries I’ve put on anything away from home crags, and the hardest I’ve done outside Washington. It represents all of the elements of my journey so far, and also everything still to come in my remaining days of travel. From making pizza for five hours over the campfire, to crossing state lines several times a week, to watching 360 degrees of sunrise en route to Las Vegas, to cooking dinner in parking garages, to sleeping in shooting ranges, to falling asleep stargazing on crash pads, to overstaying my welcome at McDonalds to use Wifi, to bleeding through the knees of every single pair of pants I brought, to sewing car curtains at the library, to getting baked and watching Jumanji in the rain, to ground score potato chips, to so many other memories—These days are long, but the weeks are short, and I am eternally grateful for each and every moment, from the ones that break my heart to the ones that make it feel like it will burst with joy. Every day brings new lessons, opportunities and adventure, and while nothing has tuned out at all like I had been expecting, I wouldn’t change a single part of it.

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