Pumped. The Painful Kind.

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The Portal (V8), Estes Park, CO © Shannon Forsman

Staring down at my forearms, I’m appalled by what I see. They’ve wasted away to average looking sticks. These days, when I tie into a rope, I return to the ground with a dreadful sensation in my forearms. It’s as if the volume of blood rushing to feed my muscles is too much for the vessels, or the muscles themselves don’t have room to expand. I don’t know, my physiology experience is limited, but I’ll just say it feels as though something might burst. Worse yet is that the pain builds as I rest on the ground, waiting for the sensation to dissipate. I send mental vibes to my appendages demanding recovery, yet the throbbing only grows worse, as if to yell back “you deserve this for neglecting us!”

I think this is what being pumped feels like. I say this not to brag about my heroic endurance – I’ve never had that. But typically, my triceps fail before my forearms, so I rarely experience the trademark forearm pump.

Until I started bouldering, with hopes of giving my triceps a boost. Suddenly, I understood why boulderers perform just as well on a 5.14 as a 5.11. Individual moves aren’t difficult on either, but getting past the second bolt is a daunting task. On a recent trip to Chattanooga, I decided to lead a 5.11 at the Sunset Wall on gear. “5.11, no problem!” I thought. Wrong. Not only was I wrong, but I was wrong long before I should have been wrong – at the second bolt, or in this case, my second gear placement, which isn’t exactly where you want to fall on a trad route. I found myself returning again and again to the rest ledge, which stood a mere eight feet off the ground. What was this feeling in my arms? Why wouldn’t it go away? Why was it getting worse? Why am I pumped on 5.11? Why am I pumped on 5.11 so close to the ground? The questions plagued me.

Since I returned home from Smith Rock in June, I’ve been primarily bouldering. It was summer, and the Park was in season. My sport climbing partners had somehow all disappeared, moved away, or injured themselves. I found myself suddenly surrounded by a group of strong, motivated powerhouses. So I fell into their trap, and took to the little rocks.


Arjan de Kock sussing Hypnotized Minds, RMNP, Colorado


Angie Payne crimping something that doesn’t exist in Little Rock City, TN.

Most importantly, I knew that if I wanted to climb harder routes, I needed more power. I would need to pull through harder moves without exerting all my energy. But building a power base took longer than expected. I thought I would notice gains quickly. After all, I have strong fingers and I’m fit. I just needed to learn that snap.

Six months later, I’m just now beginning to feel more capable on harder moves. I realized that it wasn’t just the snap, the try hard, the engagement of specific muscles in a specific order that I needed. It was tension. And not the sport climbing tension I’m used to, crucial for making hard clips or keeping my feet on the wall so as not to waste energy pulling them back on. Bouldering tension is a different animal, an animal I still can’t tame but am slowly learning to understand. When I figure out how to explain it, I’ll let you know. For now, I’m trying to shelve the idea of conserving energy in order to exert maximum effort and utilize momentum. And then somehow combine that mentality of max exertion with my sport climbing tactics of minimal exertion when I’m ready to work hard projects. We’ll see how it goes. In the meantime, let me know if you have suggestions!


Chris Danielson on an ascent of Deception (V7), Little Rock City, TN.


Angie Payne warming up in Zahnd, TN.

11.20.14 LRC with Paige-144

Biggie Shorty (V10), Little Rock City, TN. © Angie Payne


Seth Lytton on Con Artist (V7) at the Holy Boulder, IL.


Arjan de Kock working Hypnotized Minds (V15), RMNP, CO.


Angie Payne, Little Rock City, TN.


Seth Lytton on an ascent of Digital Scales (V9), Rock Town, GA.


Spidey Senses.


Dave Chancellor, Little Rock City, TN.


Con Artist (V7), Holy Boulders, IL.  © Seth Lytton


Angie Payne in Wyoming’s Wilderness.

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