To Bolt or Not to Be
I began climbing when I was 9 years old. I only wanted to climb in the gym and compete, because climbing outside was scary, uncomfortable, and just not as much fun. I didn’t know anything about grades, and my knowledge about the sport in general was quite limited, but one thing was certain. Climbing 5.14 meant I would need to learn to scale dry wall.
I didn’t have many climbing “heros” when I began climbing. I looked up to the older kids on my climbing team, but didn’t know much beyond the Estes Park Climbing Gym. Fortunately, fellow Estes Park local Tommy Caldwell popped into my secluded gym world one day when he came in to sign posters for the team. That poster of Tommy on To Bolt or Not to Be stuck with me for the next 13 years. Until I started climbing outside nearly 8 years later, 5.14 meant no holds, stick to the wall like spider man.
This past weekend, I climbed the only route that I’ve cared to complete since I was little. To Bolt was an important milestone for me in many ways. Established in 1986 by Jean-Baptiste Tribout, America’s first 5.14 has held its grade for over 25 years. Repeats are somewhat rare, given the route’s staggering presence and accessibility in perhaps the nation’s best maintained State Park. But projecting To Bolt means signing up for mental warfare. Down pulling holds are rare, and each move is just like the last – barely there. For the first 9 bolts, there are no rests, no places to pause and recompose. There is nowhere to go but up, and no option but to keep maximum body surface area plastered to the wall. If your hips come out an inch from the wall, you’re off. If you don’t have 100% confidence in a foot placement, you’re off. If you hold on too hard, you’re off. Each movement is part of a 105 move delicate dance.
Ryan Palo photos
This dance was not easy. I found each and every move to be very similar in difficulty, meaning I could fall at any given point. Unlike other projects I’ve had, falling wasn’t a matter of not trying hard enough or lacking strength. Instead, it was the slightest of errors that sent me hurling backwards down “the great slab”. The ninth bolt hosts a 3/4 pad “rest” before launching into the final redpoint crux. However, on redpoint, the last 5 bolts of 5.12 climbing proved the most difficult for me. I recovered fully after climbing the meat of the route, and immediately fell apart as I began the moderate finish. My beta was wrong, my feet cut, and I was pumped out of my mind. But somehow I kept climbing and clipped the chains, after the most nerve wracking 47 minutes of climbing in my life.
At my favorite crag in the world, among great friends, I completed the route I’ve gazed upon with starry eyes since I was little girl. It was’t quite climbing up drywall, but it was certainly a fight up some pretty small holds.
Eagle photos by Jon Glassberg