A few weeks ago, I returned to lower Lower Chaos Canyon for the first time in 10 months. Each season that I return there, I feel more and more comforted by the familiarity of it all. The drive, the hike, the boulders—it all feels like such an integral part of life now. But, of course, it wasn’t always so.
I still remember the first time I hiked to The Park and sucked wind the entire way, having just come from the flatlands of Ohio. It seemed like such a dramatic undertaking that first day, to hike so far to go bouldering. Everything felt foreign and intimidating and dangerous, and my teenage brain felt so extreme for being up there.
It took a few years to get used to the routine of climbing in The Park. The hour and a half of driving, the summer traffic in Estes Park, the inquisitive tourists on the trails, the forty minutes of hiking, the fast-moving thunderstorms, the long days.
There were many times when I left in tears, hungry and exhausted from a full day in the mountains. And there were days when I was stopped by storms and sat huddled under a boulder questioning my sanity as lightning struck ridges around me. But I came to love The Park, in all its extremes, and it started to feel like a bouldering home of sorts.
On my first day back this season, I felt more excited than normal about being there. There was something calming about seeing it all again, the trails and the trees and the boulders, and recognizing it all. It’s amazing that a place that once felt so foreign and intimidating now feels so welcoming and peaceful.
I had anticipated this season’s start since last season’s end when I left my personal project unfinished after 25 days of work. I came heartbreakingly close to finishing it off before I had to step away and let the winter consume the boulder. On my first day back, I had a single objective: to resume the process of working Freaks of the Industry.
To start the season off right, we got an alpine start, waking up at 6:15 to make it up to Bear Lake parking lot before the road shut down at 9 for daily construction. Chaos Canyon seemed bashful as we approached, hiding behind an early morning fog. I think this added to my excitement, as the eeriness heightened the feeling of uncertainty as to what the day would hold.
I was pleasantly surprised by the entire morning. The snow had melted almost completely, the extreme heat we have been experiencing was mitigated by the fog, and the climbing itself went better than expected.
The first day of the season is an easy day to have low expectations. Every other day this is extremely challenging for me, but when I haven’t touched a boulder in many, many months, I don’t expect to do much on it. And maybe that is why today went so well. I was able to repeat all the moves quickly, and even started doing some good links again. My body flipped back into autopilot and remembered the movement immediately. I even figured out better beta for the crux move.
And so the process of projecting began again. Many people probably find it a bit crazy that I actually enjoy going to the same boulder for 25 days in a season. I know it is not most climbers’ idea of a good time, but I love it.
I find projecting to be satisfying, frustrating, calming, motivating, and exhausting all at the same time.
Some days I wonder what I would do without the challenge of projects, and other days I wonder why I submit myself to the frustration they entail. While discussing this with a friend the other day, he offered a simple theory that helped me make a little sense of my projecting habit: a person climbs in the same style in which (s)he lives. While this is certainly a topic that could spin into a much more philosophical debate, I generally agree with him. In life, once I decide something is important to me, I commit my stubborn self to it completely and see it through to its end. Plus, I love structure and can be slightly obsessive. So, I guess it’s no wonder I enjoy projecting.
On my first day back, I left The Park feeling giddy. I felt more joyful about climbing than I have in a long time, and I felt re-energized. But I know that every day won’t be like that. Some days of the process will feel full of failure, and I will have to search for signs of progress. Some days I will walk away not wanting to return. But I will….again and again and again, until it is done.