Success in Failure

Climbing is hard. A lot of times it’s not even fun. In fact most of the time while I am in the physical act of climbing I wonder why the hell I do it. So that’s just it, why do I do it? Recently I have had countless almost successes that for whatever reason make me want to climb more than if I was winning competitions and sending the hardest routes in MT. These are those stories and this is why I climb.

The wind is blowing and the van is swaying. The outside air temp: -27 degrees Fahrenheit; the inside air temp: -24 degrees Fahrenheit. It’2:30am and I still haven’t gotten any sleep. I lay in my small cot in my van in Hyalite canyon…in the winter. The water is all frozen but the beer is not so I drink that. This is the second night in a row like this and I haven’t taken a single step outside in two days because the snow drifted against the van while I slept and now I can’t open the doors. “Is this hell?” I wrote in my journal. The next entry – “probably”. I wake up the next morning and have had enough. I know I cannot turn on my engine because the exhaust pipe is buried in snow and all the Co2 would have nowhere to go except the cabin of the van. I also cannot roll down the windows as they are frozen shut. I decide to take my propane heater and hold it up to the window. This too emits Co2 so I know I’ve only got one shot to thaw it out and hopefully roll down the window. Sure enough, it works and I crawl out the window and into the snow. I dig myself out in two hours and head straight to Bozeman for some hot food and water.

Van Life

Van Life

Getting oh-so-close yet again on Northwest Passage. Photo Credit to Ben Herndon Photography

Getting oh-so-close yet again on Northwest Passage. Photo Credit to Ben Herndon Photography

“Come on Justin! Just breathe brother!” my friends below yell to me. I give out a war cry and manage the next move. I clip the next bolt and now only have a few easy dry moves to the chains and the top of the route. I shake out my hands and let the blood return to my fingers. I move up one move, then one more, then suddenly-Pop!- and I am off. I’ve been working this same route for over a year and still it prevails. I try again and fall again. The following three days I get on it only to fall as soon as I get passed the hard moves and am extremely pumped. I know the competition is only two days away so I decide to give it a rest and just focus on the comp. Fast forward two days to the morning of the competition. All the climbers (most are foreigners) meet in the Ballroom at the Emerson in Downtown Bozeman, Montana. It is good to see old friends and new faces as well! The first round of the competition goes well and I climb the route, putting me into position to do well in the next round and go to finals. The second round goes well as I have many friends and family cheering me on but the time runs out when I am one hold before the qualification hold for the finals. Although I did not make it to finals, I’m not disappointed because I know that I gave the route my all and that’s all I can do. Later that night I would watch my 20 year old Slovenian friend Janez crush the other competitors and go on to win the North American Championship. Huge shout out to Janez! Keep it up man and you’ll win a world cup!

Me starting up the second pitch of Winter Dance.

Me starting up the second pitch of Winter Dance.

I look at my right tool then my left making sure the directions of pull are perfect. I place my right foot on a loose block and my left on a hold no wider than half a centimeter. I step up and feel my left foot pivoting as I search for the next hold. This is what I call a ‘no fall zone’. I’m fifty feet off the deck and run out thirty. I breathe, open my field of vision and find the next hold – a half frozen moss clump. I swing my ice tool gently into it and pull up. This continues for fifteen more feet until I get a small c3 behind a loose flake and a spektor pounded into another loose block. I finish the pitch and belay my partner Peter Mamrol up to me. Having climbed M10, that M5 was the hardest mixed lead I have ever done. We are trying to climb the Hyalite Classic – Winter Dance. If you don’t already know, Winter Dance is the king of Hyalite Canyon. It sits above the parking lot on the largest cliff in the canyon. The cliff is overhanging so ice only forms on the top half. The route requires one scary M5 pitch, one bolt ladder pitch that goes free at M8 and two steep pitches of ice to take you to the top. I start up the bolt ladder pitch confident that I can free it. I am mistaken. I pull on every single bolt up to the next anchor. Peter follows me up and we sit at our hanging belays talking about how down right intimidating and scary this route is. I tell him I will take the next pitch also but that he will need to lead the fourth and final pitch. After some discussion we decide to bail. It takes a lot to tell your partner you aren’t feeling up for it when you are dangling two hundred feet off the ground. Kudos to Peter for being honest with me and letting me know he thinks he needs to go down. As we walk away I get one last glance of the route and know that someday soon I will climb it.
One last look at the dance.

One last look at the dance.

All three of these stories give a basic description of my last month or so in and around Bozeman. Even though the month was not full of success, I learned a valuable lesson in that things don’t usually go the way you think they will so might as well just have no plans and jump head first. You’ll learn to adapt along the way.

Next up, Ouray, Colorado then I am headed down to Belize for a couple months to get away from climbing and just have a good time in the sun.


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