Lately Ivan has been asking a lot of “which would you rather” questions. Like to to his dad: “Which would you rather? Eat black licorice every day, or wash dishes by hand twice a day”? Paul hates black licorice, and no one likes washing dishes by hand, especially on a climbing trip. So, tough question. At the beginning of this climbing trip my question was: “Which would you rather? Send a lot of nice moderate problems in Yosemite Valley, or send one single hard one?” My decision ended up being the latter after all, even with a single week and poor weather in the forecast. I went all in on Hexcentric, v7.
The Hex boulder is definitely not the size and type that I gravitate to. It’s of decent height and you start up it from a stand start (versus sit start), so in just a few moves you have some air below you. While Hexcentric doesn’t get the heart with wings in the guidebook that denotes tall, possibly scary and “not for the faint at heart” (even though the easier, shorter climb next to it does), it’s high for my standards. High boulders, referred to as “highballs” in bouldering, scare me, always have. Some I venture up but most I do not. Being afraid of the tall and proud lines used to bother the crap out of me, keeping me up late into the night while the family slept peacefully in the van. It would pain me to no end that I was capable of loving this sport so much while simultaneously fearing this sport so much. If highballs were so scary, why on earth did I want to do them so badly?
Thankfully I’ve matured out of this for the most part. We’ll walk up to an amazing but tall line now and I will shamelessly decline to even put my shoes on to try the bottom moves. While still very much obsessed and absolutely in love with climbing, the pressure to put myself in scary places has let up. This was exactly my first take on Hexcentric when I saw it for the first time a couple years ago. Nope, not for me. And I will sleep like a baby tonight.
Two Novembers ago though, while trudging up the hill past Hex for Paul to take down The King, v6 (another tall and stellar line) I looked at Hexcentric again. This time though I got that little excited jumpy feeling in my chest. It looked good, doable, and not so high. I decided to give it just a teensy try, checking out the opening moves. To my delight, the opening moves climbed as well as it looked. I was hooked.
As the next year ticked by I at some point I put Hexcentric on my Valley wishlist. We arrived for our annual Thanksgiving trip last November and I was determined to give it a try. Driving into the Valley though on that first day and parking at the trailhead pullout that accesses the Cathedral Boulders where Hexcentric lives, there were literally signs and caution tape: CLOSED. A controlled burn was being conducted. From our parking spot on the side of the valley loop road, we scoped the smoldering trees between us and where The Cathedral Boulders lie. Probably a good decision to not be the dumbass that decides to navigate a controlled forest burn to get to her project. We started the van back up and drove down to the next major bouldering area pullout, Sentinel, which hosts plenty of other great classics including Sentinel Traverse, v6. Thankfully I had trained some endurance specifically for Sentinel Traverse, just in case I had a change of heart on Hexcentric. I ended up sending Sentinel Traverse on that trip and never making it over to Hexcentric. It’s good to be prepared with a backup plan.
Now spring, we venture to Yosemite Valley again. We have one week for the kids’ break from school. We drive in with a good couple of days weather in the forecast and no controlled burns. I’m psyched and make the which-would-you-rather decision of dedicated the entire trip to a single hard climb: Hexcentric.
I quickly get reacquainted with the opening moves: small crimps, interesting drop-knees and big twists to both stay on the rock with foot pressure and also gain reach to the higher crimps. My fingers feel strong on this “nails hard start,” as a female climber also trying it with me so eloquently put it.
With the start moves dialed I am now faced with the most critical hold of the entire climb. A slopey crimp, atypical of what I am used to grabbing on sharp Hueco crimp climbs. No edge on it, nothing for my finger pads to bite behind, only pure pressure allows this hold to be usable. I twist up to it from a drop knee position, right hip to the rock, jut my right arm up and land all four of my right fingertips square on it. Once stationary again, I pull my right fingers into a crimp position. Locked in now with a death grip, I hike my left foot up high to a huge edge out left. And now here is the crux: With right hand death gripped on the slopey crimp and left foot high, figuring out how to move the left hand that has been left behind down by my waist during all of this up more than a body length overhead to a good edge. Land the decent edge with the left hand and you’ve sent the climb – just a couple more delicate high moves that just need “rock climbed” and it’s done.
How many times I tried the crux on this trip I cannot say. Too many to count. I can say though that after each day of working this climb, my fingers felt like claws and my butt and thighs were sore from the drops. I tried different left footholds, I tried matching the slopey crimp. The good edge just seemed way too far away. If I went with too much speed I would fall away from the wall, if I went too slow I couldn’t get no where near the height I needed.
It snows. I rest. And now it’s the last day of the trip. I warm up and tick off some of the other easier climbs in the Hexcentric area – frantic consolation prizes to undue my which-would-you-rather decision that is now looking pretty dire. I have no new plan for Hexentric. No new beta ideas to try. I’m hoping the two days rest will have given me some strength back, but I know that this crux is not about strength. While strength can get you quite far on these Yosemite boulders, strength plus technique is what gets you to the top. “Last day best day!” the kids announce, one of our many mantras we use to get psyched.
Three, four, six? attempts later and I’ve made no progress. I still can’t get that left high crimp. Paul makes a last ditch suggestion – maybe stop trying to match the slopey crimp? Keep your left hand down low where it is until the last possible second? To me, his suggestion sounds like turning the move into a massive v13 lock off. But I’m desperate. I’ll try it.
Here goes. Drop the right knee, right hip into the wall, land the slopey crimp with the right hand and pull it into a death crimp, hike the left foot up high to the good edge, leave the left hand low where it is, and crank. Magically, my weight is now transitioning over onto my left foot much now more than before and I’m able to use my left leg to make upward progress. Stand up, stand up, crimp hard, crimp hard. I slowly inch my way up the rock, controlled and sucked in close to the boulder. I get high enough to finally release the low left hold and snake my left arm between my body and the rock. I am now staring down a small crimp about 6 inches below the goal crimp. I quickly recall seeing a dude using this small crimp as an intermediate a few days prior and make the quick decision to use it. I grab it. It’s awesome. I’m still locked in and now just need to bump the left hand from this small crimp to the goal crimp. Do I pop to it? Or do I lock it off statically? I choose the latter.
The very tips of my left finger pads graze the edge goal hold, the hold that secures the send. I come barreling off and land on the pads below. Paul and the kids are cheering because although I did not stick the hold, they now know it’s possible. Another go and I’ve got this. Me on the other hand, am cursing myself for not popping to the hold and just grabbing the damn thing. I was RIGHT there! RIGHT THERE! Should have just grabbed it!
I rest a great deal and try it again. And then again, and again. Even with using the exact beta, I can’t get back up to my high point. Now the crux is more about strength for me than technique. I’ve got the technique dialed but am now too tired to execute. I try another handful of times until I start to degrade on the opening moves. I admit defeat. The trip is over.
The long drive back to Tucson provides plenty of time for thought and reflection. I page through the guidebook and sum up my ticklist for the week in my log book. I tweak my wishlist for the next trip. As usual, the ticklist is quite pitiful and the wishlist continues to grow. Dang these Yosemite boulders! They lure me in, spit me off and I just can’t stop coming back for more.
So now, I ask myself: which would you rather April? Send a lot of nice moderate boulder problems in Yosemite Valley, or project a single hard boulder problem….but come only painfully close to getting to the top of it?”
As painful as it is, I still choose the latter.
posted by ARR