Wow. I just redpointed Necessary Evil and I’m not sure how to express all the emotions. I’m happy, motivated, relieved, proud and thankful to name just a few. It was a long process and I actually am surprised it is over.
A couple of things before I get into the post:
- I’ve had quite a few people say they think it’s amazing that I work full time and was able to climb this route. I really do appreciate that and yes, I do work a lot but honestly that’s not the part I am most proud of. I’m proud that this route was hard for me and I did it. I set myself up pretty well to be able to get out once during the week and on weekends. The community in Vegas stepped up to support me and made it possible. Everyone is different and has different ‘distractions’ in their life. I don’t hold myself above anyone else because I work full time and can’t climb at a peak level all the time. It’s a choice I made, continue to make, and a lifestyle I accept. My work is just my distraction. For some people it is a family, others it is financial issues, relationship issues, emotional issues, sponsors etc… but for me it is work (and that should say something when I say work is my distraction from climbing, not the other way around haha). Yes, there are days when I can’t climb well because I can’t shake work, or I’m stressed about a deadline or I didn’t sleep well because I was working until 3am or… but everyone deals with something like that and learning how to deal with it is part of life as a climber.
- While I am truly proud of redpointing Necessary Evil, I know it is not a big deal in the world stage. There are hundreds of people who could do it quickly and many more who could do it after putting in the same amount of time I have. Whether they would is a different issue. I am proud of the decisions I made, the process I set forth and sticking with it. That is what I will remember the most.
Ok, moving on. I always tried to visualize success on this route and what’s hilarious to me is that one of the things I thought about is, how would I let people know via social media? I have received so much support from friends around the world that I definitely wanted to share my success with them. I could:
- Try a bit of an obscure post like “Hmm… that was fun. What’s next?”
- Try the Canadian self-deprecating humour post “Yay I just became the oldest, shortest, weakest and least talented climber to do Necessary Evil!” (All true by the way).
- Go with the blatant self-categorizing, self-promoting “I just did the first Canadian – named Mike – born in September – living in Las Vegas ascent of Necessary Evil – Woohoo!!”
- Or the Joe Kinder all-caps, always psyched “F*CK YEAH I JUST SENT NECESSARY EVIL!! DAWN WALL MUTHAS!! F*CK YOU DP!!! I LOVE THIS SHIT!!!” (Love ya Joe, you know it).
In the end though I went with what mattered most to me and that was the support I have received from the climbing community. In the fall of 2013 I wrote a post about how I was committing to trying Necessary Evil. I wanted to put my goals out there and make them public so I would be held accountable to the community at large. I actually didn’t expect the level of support, kind words and positive energy that I received from around the world. Joe Kinder thought there was a good story in the process I was going through and made a great film about the sacrifices I was making to try this route.
It was the support of the climbing community that I wanted to highlight. People were always offering to come belay and suffer through some horrendous conditions. The crew of people from Vegas and Salt Lake City were always around the cheer me on and keep me motivated. At random times I would get calls, emails, texts etc… from friends all over the globe asking how it was going. My answer was usually the same: “Thanks for asking. Still trying. Still putting in the effort.”. I spent close to 100 days out there, had over 20 different people belay me and countless people cheering me on. So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you all.
Getting back on Necessary Evil in the fall was completely different than getting on it last year. Last year I was just coming off a finger injury and couldn’t even try the crux move until early January. This year I quickly, in bad conditions, made links on the route. What was surprising to me was that even after all the time I spent on it last year I was still finding better beta this year. (my finger injury combined with my summer training allowed me to be more efficient throughout the climb. It’s all about learning the intricacies of these routes.
Last summer I trained with only one goal in mind. I spent most of June, July and August doing hangboard workouts and trying to get stronger fingers. I think it paid off . I also made a conscious decision to drop weight. During my strength training I did a lot of trail running and hiking up on Mt Charleston and bulked up (just my body type). When I switched to low impact street running and eating more healthy I dropped almost 15 lbs from August to February – but in a good way I think. I wasn’t drinking much at all and tried to cut out sugary food but I was still eating quite a bit and didn’t feel like I was sacrificing much. For fun I had my body composition tested – 4.7% .
The weather and conditions were the tricky thing this year. The Virgin River Gorge is always a condition dependent place and this fall was quite warm and wet. Over the New Year we had a few cold days but then it jumped back up to being unseasonably warm and humid. Through January I was making steady progress and started to feel very comfortable on the lower sections of the route. The hardest single section is right off the ground and I was able to execute this almost without fail. I tweaked my beta and was able to get through the middle section without using up too much energy and that allowed me to actually rest on some bad holds that lead into the ‘Route of all Evil’ crux. Then it was just a matter of getting strong enough and comfortable enough to do the RoaE crux when I was fatigued.
I can’t remember exactly when but at some point in early January I actually climbed up through the crux of RoaE, up to the slab, as my third warm up route. Clearly I was getting more comfortable on those moves. It was around that point that I knew I ‘could’ do the route. At this point anything could happen, I might not do it but I was finally willing to tell people that it was possible.
One day in late January I was looking at a 10 day forecast that looked miserable; rain almost every day, high humidity and low wind. That day I was out there and I was just sure I was going to do it. I had to! I climbed well and finally stuck the pinch (the move pictured in the first photo) from the ground, stepped my foot through and was reaching up to the hold where I can rest when my right hand popped off and I was in the air. That was actually the low point for me emotionally on this route. I had been good about staying positive every time I did the first boulder problem, just satisfied that I could even do those moves. With the next 10 days looking like crap I knew it was going to be a struggle to stay focused and motivated. I managed to get out once a week on some poor condition days (thanks Seth!) which allowed me to keep my skin in condition and the moves fresh in my mind but there was almost no chance I would redpoint on those days. In poor conditions I was having to squeeze a lot harder and that just took more effort which made the upper crux that much more difficult. Still – good to get out there, good to keep trying, good to stay focused.
Early this week the forecast was showing some slight promise in terms of wind and low humidity. The overnight lows were pretty high which meant the rock would be warm and the daytime highs were ridiculous but if I could get out early I might have a chance to at least play on the route without sliding around too much.
On Wednesday I woke up at 5:30am, stretched, worked a bit and was at the cliff by 7:30. I broke out a brand new pair of La Sportiva Testarossas and was ready to go. It was windy and felt dry but while I am a good morning person I hate trying hard to climb in the morning. I just felt ‘off’ but actually hit the crux pinch on all three tries, just never well enough to keep it together and make the next foot then hand move. It was warm on my last go and I lost a lot of skin but it was encouraging to be able to get up and hold the crux pinch consistently.
Thursday I woke up even earlier since I had to be back for a meeting at 11. Rob Jensen was willing to suffer the early morning and try to climb. My skin was so thin I actually didn’t even climb and just belayed Rob but it was still good to get used to getting up early. The conditions were perfect; 57 degrees, 27% humidity and windy! I was actually a little upset I couldn’t climb but was happy knowing that the early morning was ok.
Friday wasn’t looking as good. The overnight low was a little warmer and it wasn’t supposed to be as windy but with the weekend looking impossible I thought it would be worth at least getting out there then resting (and working) over the weekend. Lisa Davidson had promised to come out and belay anytime, no matter what, and I called in the favor. Once again we got out early and it was really windy while warming up. Having woken up early the past two mornings I actually felt a little better but the conditions weren’t as good. My first try on NE I didn’t even make it to the first hard move before my feet popped off. There are horrible feet throughout this route and with warm rock it makes it a little harder to put as much weight on the feet as you’d like. I fell, rested a few minutes and tried again. This time I made it into the first boulder problem but my feet popped off while holding the little, sharp crux chip. OUCH! Again, rested a few minutes and tried again. This time I just moved really slowly and concentrated on my feet. I made it back up to the crux, stuck the pinch for a second and tried to bring my foot through but no luck. I then belayed, rested, snacked and drank some water.
As with all my attempts I really just tried to focus for a few minutes before climbing to calm my mind down, forget about work, and focus on the first boulder problem. I left the ground feeling good and felt a strong breeze at each rest. Launching into the upper crux didn’t feel any different than many attempts before but I when I hit the pinch I did a microsecond analysis of how I was holding it (it’s easy to get it ‘wrong’) and realized I had it PERFECT. I stepped through and was able to reach slowly to the crimp where I could clip and rest. I felt good, composed and focused. I didn’t let myself feel much of anything in terms of excitement or happiness, I just tried to breathe and focus on the next few moves which lead to a better rest. Honestly it was these moves that worried me the most. I wasn’t sure how tired I would be for them and while they are relatively easy I could still fall. Fortunately I didn’t and made it to the good rest. I stayed there awhile then climbed up onto the slab, past a few more hard sections and then was faced with about 40′ of low 5.11 climbing. Barring a hold break it was done!! I just climbed each move slowly and deliberately. Stopping to rest, shake and enjoy the moment. By the time I reached the anchors I was already relaxed again. I actually clipped then unclipped the anchor and was going to take a victory whip. It’s the VRG, communication with your belayer is difficult. When I yelled down to Lisa “I’m going to jump”, what I heard back was “No, I wouldn’t appreciate that!”. Which makes sense since I would pull her up to the first draw pretty hard so I clipped the anchor, lowered and scrubbed all my ticks. Turns out Lisa said “No, you have to clip the anchors!”, not even close to what I heard…
Then it was back to Mesquite to work for a few hours, then back to Vegas where fortunately a friend was having a house party it was great to see so many friends and be able to celebrate with them.
Someone asked what was different about the attempt I redpointed. I actually think it was just slow steady progress. It’s hard to explain unless you have tried something over and over. Simply put the moves became more natural and it allowed me to switch focus to different aspects of the movement. I took a golf lesson once and the instructor said that during your swing you can only think about 2-3 things so you have to know what those 2-3 things are before you swing and everything else has to be completely natural and instinctive or your swing will be off. While climbing isn’t the same as golf it’s similar because the exact same movement can be repeated over and over until it becomes just a muscle memory and you don’t have to consciously think about it. On NE it took me awhile to get to the point where the RoaE crux felt natural while I was tired. The first few times I was up there I would concentrate on getting the left hand correct but then wouldn’t place my feet properly. Once it became natural to get the left hand correct, then I had time to focus on getting the feet right. Blah, blah but eventually I beat it down enough that I could focus 1-2 moves in advance while entering into the upper crux. That’s it. The stronger you are the less natural a series of moves have to be and since I’m not that strong I had to have the moves just flow.
So why did it take me so long? Honestly this route was above my ability. For me V10 is really, really, really hard. I haven’t done a boulder problem harder than V10 in years. Here’s the list of people that I know have done NE, let me know if you’ve heard of any of them; Chris Sharma, Tommy Caldwell, Sonnie Trotter, David Graham, Jason Campbell, Francois Legrand, James Litz, Ethan Pringle, Daniel Woods and Jonathan Siegrist (anyone else?). All of these guys have done V13, most of them have done V15. All of them have done 14d, most have done 15a. V10 is easy for ALL of those guys. NE, being at the VRG, is not a fun route to ‘work’ so you do it quickly or you don’t do it. Or if you are me, you are stubborn. I had to make V11 and V10 feel easy. That’s what took so long. I had to use siege tactics on the route until it surrendered.
Oh, and since I know everyone is dying to hear. The magic number was 59 . 58 times I linked the bottom two boulder problems and fell up on RoaE. Haha. That’s insanity and I know it. Don’t even get me started on the financial cost…
I need to go paint over this… I stopped walking by it on the way in and out haha.