Posts by Brittany Goris

Short shorts, long pitches, and the pursuit of self improvement. Climber for La Sportiva, Forsake, Deuter, and Darn Tough. Welcome to the toroidal.

Zombie Finger

I’ve considered Seattle home for a few years now, but when I returned in April after a month away, I somehow felt very much not at home in my own apartment, my climbing gym, and pretty much anywhere I went in what was supposed to be my city. I was immediately homesick for the mountains, the desert, or simply just the outdoors. Freedom had become a hard habit to break now that I had gotten a taste of it. After ten days of straight work, rain, and sickness, I eagerly jumped on the opportunity to get out of town and follow my friend Jasna to Smith to support her attempts on To Bolt or Not To Be, a dream project of hers. She told me she could stay for up to two weeks if necessary, so I planted the idea in the back of my mind that I might not be back in time for work on Monday when the weekend was over. I drove down solo on a Wednesday night, she sent on Thursday evening, and Sunday morning I awoke to an empty campground and a note that she had bailed back to Seattle. I had sent nothing myself, having been fighting off my cold the entire time. Thus, I was far from ready for my own departure, despite my sudden lack of partners.

With no belayer for the day, nor place to stay for the night (aside from solo in the BLM land), I had to fight my ever present fear of the unknown that told me to just bail back to Seattle rather than face the uncertainty of being alone. Instead I headed for Redpoint, the local gear/beer/coffee shop, to wait for opportunity to strike. I found a familiar face outside: a friend named Austin with whom at the time I had more mutual friends than actual memories together. We had crossed paths plenty over the years, but barely knew each other on a personal level. Regardless, we were both psyched, and immediately made plans to climb that evening along with Jess (whom I didn’t know at all) when she got off work at RP. The two of them would quickly become one of the main reasons I stuck around Smith for as long as I did. Austin invited me to stay with them at Tree Matt’s house, where a commune of vans had assembled just outside of town that housed an assortment of climbers, slackliners, dirtbags, and Terreboners that would quickly become like family to me.

I quickly fell into a happy routine: waking up slowly to the sun creeping around the edges of my curtains as I waited until the last possible minute to rip them down, crawl into the driver’s seat, and race to Redpoint to use the bathroom. After that I would work for awhile, sit around playing yard games, board games, or music, stretching, or just straight up loitering, and then eventually head off to climb with whoever was most psyched. Usually Austin. When our fingers ached too much to climb any more, or the pangs of hunger were too strong, we would bail back to RP for beer (Bend’s surplus of breweries meant the shop was always well stocked) and usually more chess with whoever happened to be around.

Life was cheap, convenient, and easy. The only thing not so easy about the central Oregon desert was the climbing itself. Smith is known for being sandbagged, runout, spicy, and extremely technical, and after the rough start I had to keep telling myself that I just needed to put in the time and eventually I would hit my stride with the difficult, scary, and insecure style. One of my first days of actually climbing well came when I was invited to venture up into the Marsupials with Alan, a local developer/crusher that was eager to put my psyche to the test when it came to arduous approaches and chances of choss on newly bolted lines. I was hesitant at first, but he sold me on the adventure by promising that we wouldn’t have to carry much gear up the steep hill, so it wouldn’t actually be much more of a hike than the standard Smith Rock slog. The next day as we assembled our packs he asked if I had room in mine for a camera. Sure, no big deal. And also a rope… So much for traveling light! While there may have been some sandbagging to get me to agree to go, it was all well worth it when I got a taste of the climbing at the ‘Sups,’ a more pumpy and powerful (aka more in line with my strengths) style than Smith proper. I managed a second ascent of one of Alan’s excellent 5.13s, the Empire Strikes Back, after breaking off a few holds along the way. The taste of success, as well as the healing of a split tip that had plagued me up until that point, made me start to think that I had finally unlocked the ability to climb well at Smith. Little did I know that my battle for climbing success had only just begun.

[Alan getting into the first rest on one of his projects in the Marsupials]

Two days later I split another tip on Taco Chips, blowing my send with some sloppy footwork on one of the easier moves well past the crux. Frustrating, but not the end of the world. I could still climb well enough, I thought to myself as I managed to clip the chains on point several tries later. The following day was the Smith Rock Spring Thing anyway, so a bit of rest should mean I could heal up quickly. During the event I signed up for the Marsupials project, thinking how great it would be to give back to an area that had left me with a pretty meaningful first impression. The trail needed serious work, and I was psyched to try and be a good samaritan. We hiked up (the extra long way) and started moving rocks around to build terraces and stairs. In my enthusiasm, I hoisted a particularly large one right on top of my left hand. Pain shot through several of my fingers at once and a feeling of dread hit me as I immediately knew I had done some serious damage. I looked at the back of my hand to see what I had done to the nails, and was surprised to see they all looked perfectly normal. Then I flipped my hand over and had to force down my gag reflex as my eyes were immediately drawn to the dime-sized blood blister that now took up the entire pad of my middle finger. The most important finger for climbing in Smith’s pockets.

Jess and Adam gathered around me as we debated what to do. They insisted I shouldn’t pop it, but it felt like if I didn’t it was going to explode as it continued to inflate with more and more blood. I let the doom and gloom take over my disposition as I was sure I wouldn’t climb for days, maybe even weeks as the skin inevitably fell off, or maybe the nail fell off, or maybe the entire finger just fell off. Tears ran down my face as I wondered if I should just head home right then and there to lick my wounds. After a semi-painful rest of the day, a few drinks and a free rope later, I decided the event wasn’t a total loss and decided to stick it out at least a few days to see what happened. That night as I stood around a bonfire at Matt’s I listened to friends make plans to climb the next day, miserably lamenting my own loss of ability to try hard. When talk of trad climbing came up, my ears perked up like so many of the dogs that loitered at Redpoint with the climbers each day. That sounded like something I could do with the finger!

[All taped up and waiting for the rain to stop in the lower gorge]


A lot of tape and a needle to drain the blood and fluid after every attempt enabled me to climb the following day, to my great excitement. Crack climbing allowed me to still get after it without using the finger. The day after that I found myself able to weight it too, though it still needed to be drained after every pitch. Soon it ceased to even cause pain, though each day brought with it all kinds of changes in its appearance, none any less disturbing than those before. At first it was black and blue and full of blood– that was when it was most painful. Immediately following that it turned white and squishy, like all the skin had been submerged in water for too long, or maybe it had just died and started to rot away. After that it became red underneath and hard as plastic, which was when I decided I was fed up with the amount of tape and superglue I was using, and started just climbing on it. Every stage was equally disgusting, and thus it was dubbed it the Zombie Finger.

[The progression of the Zombie Finger, from when it first happened to after my last pitch on my last day.] 


I was cautious at first, for the thought of the entire thing peeling off to reveal raw hamburger and bone underneath sat at the forefront of my mind as I tested it without tape for the first time. Soon enough though, I discovered that it was at a point where it was only holding me back as much as I was willing to let it. The same can be said for most excuses at Smith. “It’s only heady if you have a weak mind.”

Finally, it was time to crush. Unfortunately the return of my skin coincided with the return of the impending summer heat, and a string of back to back 80 degree days struck all the climbers like a tidal wave of lethargy and frustration. We had to wait until the late evening to climb, then try and crank out a few pitches before the sun set and the park closed. Even doing that made the rubber on our climbing shoes feel like chewing gum on the hot rock, and fingers feel like mush on the small holds that define Smith climbing. Nonetheless, if I could climb through the zombie finger, I could deal with the temperatures. I gummed my way up Karate Crack on one of the worst days, then finally managed to send Oxygen and Nacho Cheese on my last day after a thunderstorm cranked the humidity up to almost unbearable levels.

A last day of project sending ended my time at Smith on a high note, but the majority of my time there was defined not by climbing success, but by important lessons learned, friendships made, and experiences captured. From jamming late into the night with the TerreBand, to finding beginner’s luck at poker, to reconnecting with old Tinder dates, to not scoring a single point at foosball, to second hand smoke, to bonding over shared childhood confusion over Disney characters, to failing to find river crossings in the dark, to the most beautiful sunsets imaginable, to all the things eaten by Jess’s dog, to how to get Austin to take a shower, to second ascents, to so many rest days that ended with going climbing instead, to NOT taking the whip on full Heinous Cling, and most importantly of all, to each and every incredible person I got to know– Smith has once again cemented itself in my memory as a place of real magic. I might have to make every four day weekend turn into a spontaneous three week trip from now on!

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 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.

Focus on Your Ability

[[On Sacrifice and Motivation]]

A Wednesday night in February–

“What time did you get here today?”
The question came with a laugh; my friend already knew that my answer would be something absurd. It was 8:30 pm and the happy hour crew had just showed up for a bit of climbing before the drinks started flowing at 10.
“4:30,” I replied anyway. I wouldn’t be joining in their session. The remainder of my evening at the gym would be spent in the weight room. How badly I’d wanted to climb with everyone else, but the only way to be done with my workout by Happy Hour was to get started many hours before my friends, and slog through it alone.

Another Wednesday evening, this time in July–

“How was the rest of the event?” I asked a different friend.
“Good, how was climbing?”
He knew exactly why I had left the brewery the night before without saying goodbye. The moment the clock struck 9:30 I had silently disappeared so I could be in bed by 10pm. How badly I had wanted another drink though. How badly I had wanted to stay and socialize. Alas, the rules of my ‘Dawn Patrol’ morning training schedule meant bedtime was not flexible.

A Tuesday morning in August, long before sunrise–

“We are psychotic,” my partner said to me as we stepped out of his car at 5:30 am in the Little Si parking lot. It wasn’t the first time the thought had crossed my mind. We had been doing this for weeks after all. He stopped for the bathroom and I hiked on alone, the first person to clear last night’s cobwebs from the trail. What was that light gleaming just ahead in the total darkness– could it be the eyes of a mountain lion? The caffeine I shouldn’t be ingesting caused my heart to keep racing long after I assured myself it was just my headlamp reflecting off a trail sign. How badly I wished to still be in bed that day, safe from all this anxiety, but this was the only time I could get outside during the work week.

“Third Thirsty Thursday,” a mid September evening–

Free raffle, free shoe demo, free films, free food, and of course free beer. As someone who considers herself frugal to a fault, even one of those freebies is a solid selling point. Thus I found myself at the gym for movie night, hanging around waiting for the show to start. The only problem was that I had given up drinking temporarily to try and send my project that weekend. They tapped the keg and I unconsciously sidled closer, watching red solo cups full of FREE beer being given to everyone but me. The line for drinks finally cleared and the table was left unguarded. Instead of moving towards it (and how badly had I wanted to), I walked in the other direction, not stopping until I was turning the key in the ignition of my car to head home. The free movie hadn’t even started playing, but I knew I wouldn’t have been able to resist the temptation had I stayed. Why was I putting myself through this? It wasn’t the first time I’d questioned my own self-induced suffering. Was all this sacrifice really worth it?

Any given day–

There are times where these sacrifices come without a second thought. I can, I should, and I will skip that handful of french fries off of the plate someone got to share. “Suffer the pain of discipline, or suffer the pain of regret,” or so I’ve heard it said. There are also times where I can’t help but ask myself, what’s the point?

I find myself wondering sometimes why I bother pushing myself so hard that I miss out on all the luxuries of an easy life: food, alcohol, sleep, free time, an unimpeded social life, etc. Why must the cost of my goals be so high, and do they matter enough to make it worth the price?

I find that for me personally, the better I get, the harder I have to work to keep improving. Each new project demands more and more from me, and learning what it takes to keep moving forward is a constant physical and emotional battle. Even just this week I found myself falling off my latest project in tears and screaming “What more could it possibly take!?” at the route, as if World Wall could answer any of my many existential questions. I was heartbroken by how much I had sacrificed for this one and still come up short. I also knew that my ability to care was getting stretched to its limits, and it was questionable if the suffering was even fun anymore.


Catching one last burn before the sun hits the wall

My battle with that particular route aside, I find that in general there has never been a point where I was completely satisfied with my climbing. Perhaps that is what drives both the need and ability to sacrifice. I’ve always been in this game to see how far I could go, and how fast I could get there. What it would actually take to get there might come later. I’ve never lowered from a set of chains without thinking of what the next even harder project might be.

Most of the time I’m good at making sacrifices for climbing, because even if it doesn’t yield the desired result, the choice to push myself is a reward in and of itself. Even if it feels like I’m barely moving forward at all, when motivation is at rock bottom and all I want is to go home and do anything other than train, I’m still going faster than if I’d stood still. I call this state of mind ‘focusing on my ability.’ It comes from the lyrics to my favorite song, and it’s always been my motivational failsafe. What it boils down to is that when everything sucks and I have no answers, all I have to do is shut everything else out and simply focus on my ability. My ability to climb, my ability to train, my ability to improve myself in even the smallest ways. I make sacrifices for climbing because of that desire to keep trying to be the best possible version of myself. The version that didn’t fall at the crux, or that didn’t turn down an objective because the approach was too long, or that didn’t miss the podium by just one boulder problem. It’s an endless pursuit, but that makes it no less meaningful.

Sometimes the ability is simply to make whatever sacrifices I can. I’m a better person, or at least a better climber when I have the focus to do these things. To get up early. To eat healthy. To take a burn on the project when the conditions are bad or skin hurts. To take a rest day. To wear the more aggressive shoes. To not be stopped by fear. To not give up. Sometimes just to start in the first place when it would be so much easier not to.


Chasing Down a Feeling

I’ve long held the belief that I was in the climbing game to see how far I could go, and how fast I could get there. I’ve had goals, dreams, and fantasies about what was possible for me since I first learned what the Yosemite Decimal System was. Over the years I’ve crept my way through the grades, sometimes jumping multiple in a season, and sometimes slogging through multi-year plateaus of injury, burnout, and bouldering. Sure, when things get hard I wonder if this is it, if I’ve peaked at the ripe age of 24. Still, most of the time I think it goes against human nature to accept that at any given moment in time you have already reached your limit, actualized all the potential you’ve got inside you, and are on the decline for the rest of your days. There may always be ebbs and flows, but it’s a rare breed of climber that would gladly confirm that they had absolutely already done the hardest thing they were capable of, and accepted that they were in a permanent ebb. Thus I now tell not the story of Fight Club (since the first rule of Fight Club is that you aren’t supposed to talk about it), but rather the tale of the aftermath.

With all my desires to be in a constant state of flow rather then ebb, so it was that I found myself engrossed in the biggest project of my life. It was a climb that would test me like never before, in terms of mental fortitude through many long gym sessions, and many redpoint attempts in which I struggled to inch my highpoint closer by progress as minute as a single foot adjustment. Along the way I managed to rally a support group around me, both for the heinous training days and the long and emotional belays. After one particularly savage plastic beatdown, a friend dropped a comment about my project that made me laugh at the time, but has come to haunt me in the months since. “Once you send Fight Club you’ll be set adrift,” were he words he used. He was implying that I wouldn’t know what to do with myself in the aftermath, as this process was quickly consuming my entire world. It would be a problem I’d gladly accept, I thought back then, because it would mean I had sent the hardest climb of my life! I had no way of knowing just how relevant that passing sentence would come to be.

Those months of training were filled with a passion I had never known. My oxygen deprived brain would conjure up visions of clipping those chains to get me through cruxes in the weight room and I found pockets of strength I hadn’t known existed. Dozens of weeks of rain and the ending of a relationship left me with nothing but time and pent up energy to spare, alongside a desperate need for purpose and challenge. The project consumed me and all facets of my life. It was the first thing I thought of in the morning, and I would fall asleep rehearsing beta at night. Absolutely everything, EVERYTHING was Fight Club, and it was absolutely electrifying.


Entering the crux on Debate Club, the intro pitch to Fight Club

I sent on a Wednesday evening after work, just before the cave was totally lost to the darkness of the approaching night. That gave me two days to celebrate before I had to face the gravity of the inevitable question: what came next? There were so many things I wanted to try, and finally I was free to do so. I tried Hellfire, fell off that. I tried Chain Distraction, fell off that. I tried Baby Fight, fell off that. I tried Flatliner, and Van Halem, and Meridian, and fell off all of those. I sent a few moderates, and trained aimlessly in the gym, and it was fun, but through it all I knew deep down that something was missing. It wasn’t burnout, I’d been down that road before. I wanted to climb, I just didn’t know WHAT I wanted to climb. I yearned for a new project with all of my heart, but everywhere I looked, I found no inspiration, no motivation, no excitement. I wasn’t liberated at all, I was lost.

I went to Europe, continuing to chase that feeling that Fight Club had given me. I climbed world class limestone in country after country, and I climbed it well. I sent hard and I celebrated the joy of all that climbing is supposed to be: world class rock, best friends, beautiful places, tufas, kneebars, and sweat soaked glory. I was literally living out the stuff of my dreams, but still I found it lacking. My partners insisted it was okay to not be psyched all of the time. At first I found it reassuring, but after the first few months the sentiment started to lose its comfort. After all this time, all I’d managed to find were dozens of places where the answer was NOT.

I returned from Europe with a mixture of relief and nervous anticipation. I hadn’t found what I was looking for abroad, so maybe it lied somewhere back in the muggy summer sun and slippery (and often wet) crimps of the Pacific Northwest. I half halfheartedly plunged into a few new projects upon my return, but the fickle psyche remained elusive. More time has passed and still things remain somewhat in a standstill, albeit less and less so as time passes. The contagious and indoctrinating psyche for Little Si from the Dawn Patrol crew has brought some relief fromthe chase, but it feels like the answer is lurking just out of sight, teasing me from around the next arete or waiting at the next belay station. Climbing will always be fun, but I know the day will come when I’ll find the next big thing (or more likely it will find me), and my world will once again be set on fire. Until then…

“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”
-John Lennon

Northwest Boulderfest 2016

Yesterday was the NorthwestBoulderfest: a competition I’ve done every year since its origin. I’ve been doing nothing but ropes for months and haven’t even bouldered in the gym in at least two weeks, so expectations were not exactly for it to be my best comp ever. I would say that the fact that I had an easy excuse for failure took some of the pressure off, but I’m so damn competitive that it didn’t matter at all. It seemed like I was making so many mistakes– a foot slip blew my flash on one route, bad beta cost me too many tries on another. When every attempt might count, these things can add up fast and I thought I probably didn’t have a chance against the giants I was competing with. As time went on I started to have more success and sneaky peaks at other scorecards left me surprised at the idea that I might actually have a chance at finals if I played my cards right. I threw them all in on one route, hoping for a seventh top to give me the extra points I would need to sneak my way into the running. I was making progress, even though only one other person had done the boulder problem, and there was still an hour left. It couldn’t have been harder than V7, so in theory if I didn’t give up I should be able to do it– that’s plenty of time to put together five simple holds. Then there was only thirty minutes left, but I was getting close. I had to do the route, but somehow the line had gotten ridiculously long and I suddenly had to worry not about just putting in the time to figure it out, but making every chance that I got to get on the wall count. Almost twenty minutes went by and my yellow card (the color of the women’s) was still buried in a sea of orange (the men’s cards for the other route sharing a judge with mine), nowhere near the top of the stack to indicate it was my turn again. There were ten minutes left in my heat when I finally got to go again. I fell. It looked pretty bleak, but somehow I heard my name called for one last shot at redemption. It was all I needed, and I squeaked out the send with minutes left in the comp.

Fast forwards to finals, which I did qualify for thanks to my last minute send. Sitting in isolation the competitors talked about how the comp had gone. Almost all of them had topped more routes than me, but that was no surprise– these were world class athletes; internationally ranked veterans of the world comp circuit. I’d competed against almost all of them before, if you could even call it that. In the past it was actually more like I was competing near them. In years past I couldn’t even dream of being on their level, or even anywhere close. Another excuse for failure, but this time I wasn’t thinking about that kind of nerves for a change. Winning wasn’t really on my mind, as strange as that sounds from someone as competitive as me. I had already succeeded by simply making it here.

For me, being in finals is pure type 1 fun– you feel like a superhero. It’s interesting because it’s both a totally ego-feeding thing, yet it also manages to simultaneously be a deeply humbling experience. On one hand there’s the fame and glory, enough said. On the other hand though… I was completely overwhelmed by the support from everyone that came to watch me. Friends and strangers alike, sending me photos and videos afterward, telling me how psyched they were when I stuck a dyno or unlocked a sequence nobody else figured out, or even just being there. I said that winning wasn’t so much on my mind, but I wanted to climb well for a different reason. I knew that I’d already earned my spot under those bright lights for my ability, but what mattered now was earning all that support, making them proud. I desperately want to prove to everyone that I deserve to be there, standing next to those giants.

It’s a crazy feeing, having everyone in the crowd screaming for you, fighting your battles with you, and believing in you even when you are staring down a move that looks physically impossible. That energy enables me to try harder than I ever thought possible. By the end of the finals it felt like I could barely walk, after giving everything I had into those sixteen minutes of climbing (four minutes each on four problems). Of course there was frustration that I didn’t get one move farther or place a bit better, there will never not be that drive to constantly improve in my climbing. More than that though was the pride in having tried harder than I maybe ever have on plastic, and at having held my own against some of the strongest women in the world. There was definitely an element of physical pain adding to the potpourri of emotions as well, having gotten annihilated in different ways by each problem in turn. I didn’t leave the comp with any cash prizes, swag, or anything more than a few sample clif bars, but I still got what I came for: Five minutes of fame, and the chance to try really, really, really fucking hard.


[Author’s note: this was originally written in the summer of 2016. Basically an entire year passed between when I decided to start a blog, didn’t post anything, and then decided to write another post, which also remained in my drafts folder until now, a year later. The only update to the story is that I still fall on Psychosomatic all the time. Not always though!]

Yesterday marked the end of a three year battle with the longest standing project I’ve ever had. Psychosomatic, a 5.12d at Little Si, was surely going to be my first of the grade, a groundbreaking revolution that would usher in a new era of me slaughtering 5.13s left and right. That’s what naive young Brittany thought back in 2013, the first time she one hung the project. The thirtieth time, however, and even the fleeting memory that there had ever been a positive thought about the climb was nowhere to be found. All summer long, I would diligently try and do my time on Psycho, three burns a session, two or three times a week. It was a new grade for me, so I was expecting to have to work hard at first, that’s how it goes, right? Soon enough I climbed 5.12d, and soon after that 5.13a, yet I still couldn’t do Psychosomatic. No longer interested in chasing the grade, I somewhat lost my investment in the climb, though when I went to Little Si every now and then, I would still inevitably find myself hanging there at the last bolt before the anchors, yet again having fallen off the crux.

I can’t give a very accurate estimate of how many times I fell off of Psycho, because after you try a project so many damn times they all start to blur together. One attempt I do remember though, because it was the one where I decided I was officially giving up. I had tried switching up my beta several times that day, eventually coming crawling back to what had never failed to get me that fateful one-hang but never closer. I failed to execute once again, and something snapped. I had a meltdown on the wall, kicking and swearing and not even trying to hold back tears. I was high enough off the deck that no one could bear witness to my shame, but the burden was heavy enough that I knew this had to be the end of this project. I would come back one day, when I was either physically or emotionally stronger, and Psycho would meet its match once and for all.

The problem with Little Si is that there’s only so many climbs. No matter where you stand on that narrow ledge, you can’t ignore a climb that remains a skeleton in your closet when it stares you down even as you’re getting on something else. It was always there in the back of my mind; my greatest failure as a climber, and forever the one that got away. I switched to Chronic and eventually sent that, thus climbing two full grades harder than the numerical value assigned to my nemesis, and even used Psycho as a warmup for it, under the charade that I really only cared about the real project. If I just so happened to put down Psychosomatic in the process it was just an added bonus, but I could never commit to projecting it again.

With that mentality… yesterday it happened, just like that. On the warm-up go, as per usual, I climbed up to the crux and barely felt pumped, but the last few times up had felt just as good and still ended in thinly veiled disappointment. There was no desperate yelling or magical clicking of beta, but instead I grabbed the last jug, clipped the chains, and confirmed my send to the shocked crew of my friends who had all witnessed at least a portion of my dozens of previous attempts. Being able to finally put Psycho to rest should have been cause for celebration, but the dominating emotion I felt was more along the lines of genuine relief. I no longer would be haunted by the endless one-hangs, and now have become finally free to start getting shut down by the extension…