Body odor. Not the topic of this post, but c’mon people – showers aren’t the end of your calluses, so let’s try to keep things fresh.
My dear friend Lisa, aka Queen Crimpinista, introduced me to Operation Branch Out in the year 2010. Lisa is one of those friends whose laughter, wit, and inextinguishable smile spill over into the lives of everyone around her. But it wasn’t until this past month that I truly began to embrace her absurd idea. Branch Out requires participating operatives to humbly, if not reluctantly, guide their attentions away from a given project of fixation. During this brave exploration of new territory, operatives will likely encounter unfamiliar holds, unrehearsed sequences, fear of the unknown, and in rare cases, personal fulfillment, contentment, and enjoyment.
These possible confrontations offer an alternative to scenarios frequently piqued while projecting, including but not limited to: continual and cumulative bruising of the skin; continual and cumulative bruising of the ego; bouts of frustration and disappointment; tantrums; the “I’m the worst climber that ever lived and should quit” mentality. And so on and so forth.
[Branching out on Scavenger (5.12c) at Mill Creek in Utah.]
In between 50+ falls off the same move on the same route over a number of years, Lisa has intermittently convinced me to attempt other routes in the surrounding area, “just for fun”. Although the concept of climbing for fun initially seemed inefficient, counterproductive, and wasteful of precious skin resources, I eventually relented. On one particular occasion, I paused midway through Crush the Skull (5.12d) to exclaim “This route is amazing, why haven’t you made me do it before now?”.
And with that, Operation B.O. took flight.
[Lisa takes a lap on Crush the Skull (5.12d)]
Over the past month, B.O. advanced with unprecedented success. First, I visited Mill Creek without even laying eyes on my project, only climbing high star alternatives such as the Black Mamba (5.12d) and Fine Mexican Boyfriend (5.12a). Second, I willingly sacrificed a day of climbing at Mill Creek to boulder at Big Bend. Next thing you know, I’m giving up days projecting at Smith Rock to toprope 5.10 cracks at Trout Creek in the sun with Ian, Liv, and Mikey. And it was awesome.
[Liv motors up Alchemy (5.12a) at Trout Creek in Oregon]
And suddenly, my projects started to go more smoothly. I realized that beating my head against the same piece of stone every day isn’t the only option. An entire world of cruiser climbs awaits our attention. The distraction helps regenerate motivation, build confidence, and acts as a form of training to keep our bodies sharp on unrehearsed moves.
For some, branching out might mean leading a route you aren’t sure you can do all the moves on. For others, it might mean embracing a new style of climbing, an intimidating angle you typically avoid. For me, it’s simply climbing routes that aren’t my project. Routes without bolts. Routes without holds. Routes that require wedging extremities in between rocks rather than pulling down on features. Routes that aren’t routes, but boulders. I’m very fortunate; practically any day out climbing on a route other than those I can count on two hands is a branch out mission.
This past weekend, I tackled what is perhaps my hardest ascent to date, ironically located just right of my other nemesis project. I’ve spent quite a few hours staring up at Flaming Groovy (5.12b/c), and have even tried it on a handful of occasions, never making it past the 5th bolt. Thanks to an afternoon of Operation B.O., I finally found my groove on the overhanging wave. I’m still horrendously sore after the less than graceful wrestling match, but I finally topped something out at the Wicked crag!
[Throwback of Beth Rodden on Flaming Groovy (5.12b/c) from Rock&Ice]
Thank you to Lisa, the mastermind behind Operation B.O, for opening my eyes to the other 3 million routes in the world that I’ve never given a second glance. From here on out, the world is a playground.