Talk about a mouthful for a name.
This is one of Joshua Tree’s “classic” boulder problems. Rated a V5 and the hardest boulder problem I’ve worked on at this point. What is bouldering? Well it’s a form of climbing where no ropes are used and climbing problems or routes or puzzles, are completed through a series of intricate and/ or powerful movements. These are typically low height problems where “crash pads” (mats for protecting a fall) are used. However, that being said there are some boulder problems that seem like they should climbed with rope!
I haven’t bouldered a lot in the past few years, primarily because I have to travel a lot for work and it doesn’t leave much time to work on a boulder problem. When one does have the time to commit to working on a problem – it’s called “projecting.”
I find there’s a completely different form of meditation and focus required for bouldering. You have to work at problem over and over and over again before you solve it. Sometimes it takes hours, sometimes weeks, days and even years. When you finally get to the top of a problem it’s called “sending” it. Or you “sent it,” in past tense or you’re going to “send” it.
In the short amount of time I had in Joshua Tree, the John Bachar Memorial Face Problem became my project. Over the course of my trip I was able to work on it on three separate days and I came so close. I really believe if I had one or two more days to let my fingers heal I would have gotten it…
This was the first day I had met Karl, and we looked over the guidebook and settled on going to the Hidden Valley Area. It’s common practice for climbers to kind of scope out a new partner and see how much you trust them, and bouldering was a good way to start our relationship. Even though you can boulder alone (and many people do) it’s nice to have a spotter and an extra pad or more if you’re working on bigger problems., or problems with sketchy landings.
When I saw the climb “JBMFP” in the guide book my heart instantly fluttered and my hands began to sweat. “This is such a Melba problem,” I thought. For many climbers, there’s a certain type of climbing that we excel at. Some love climbs with tiny crispy holds, or steep overhanging features, and others may love climbs with no holds and just gently sloping surfaces that only spiderman climbers can somehow stick to.
We started off with Karl warming up on some high ball boulders (really high climbs, that I would rather be on a rope for). Then we migrated to the John Bachar Memorial Boulder and tried out a V3 arete which wasn’t going no where, so we moved around to the face and started working on JBMFP. I think I intentionally steered Karl over there with a “Oh hey, would you that? This one it looks good!” Fully knowing exactly what climb it was.
I guess I over estimated my skill. We didn’t get very far. Maybe 2 or three moves. But it was progressing and we decided it was worth trying again another day. And besides, it looked like such an awesome problem, I KNOW I can get it!
While I was away at my cousins wedding in Palm Springs for the weekend, Karl had met up with a couple of other climbers and they gave him some “beta” (411 or key moves on the climb… secrets!) and he was happy to walk me through it and we progressed even more. Well Karl, the bugger, actually sent it! When I gave it a go…I remember how excited I was to see Karl get to the top and there’s something about seeing someone get a send, it makes you want it so much more.
I hopped on it a few times and each time I got a little higher and the last attempt… I made the mistake of looking down at my pad. My drained when I realized how far it was and my hand started to slip, karl was bending over and moving the pad. Then all I remember was Karl’s head lined up between my legs and as I fell and I thought for sure I was going to sit right on his head and kill the guy.
When I finally contacted the pad and I was checking all my resources to see if I was still in one piece and I’m I had a dead body on my hands, all i could hear was ringing and this muffled voice of a brit cursing at me for letting go. Karl was so mad that I didn’t keep going, he yelled at me like he would his daughter – “Bloody this,” “bloody that,” I felt so bad… I let him down! I tried it maybe one more time to appease him and then I couldn’t muster up the guts to get up any higher than the last time. I look down and my knuckles are bleeding.
It was Karl’s last day and he told me. “YOU better come back tomorrow and get this. Go find a spotter and an extra pad and come back tomorrow morning.” I sheepishly looked down at my feet and said “yes, sir.”
When a man like Karl tells you to do something you do it. Did I mention he was a retired Principal? Yeah. Well… imagine.
Karl and I shared a lovely meal together at CrossRoads in Joshua Tree and I was rejuvenated. I spent all night planning on when and how I was going to find a stranger to build an instant bond and convince them to spot me for an attempt for the send. I posted new notes on the message board and actually was able to pay it forward with a couple of Polish guys that were out of luck for a campspot so I invited them to join mine. It was nice to have some company for my last night in the desert.
Rafal and Piotr just came from Yosemite and small world being as it is, they happened to meet the one asian in Hidden Valley Campground that also happened to speak a little Polish. Needless to say we had some awesome conversations and hopefully they’ll be visiting Adam and I in Canada next year!
I was up before sunrise, due to some unwavering nervous energy. I spent the night dreaming of JBMFP. Playing out the beta and over estimating the height so when I would get on the face it wouldn’t be a factor.
It was a quiet morning. But why wouldn’t it be? It’s 6 in freaking morning… I read my book, made some coffee. And as the sun rose I saw another climber (with a crash pad) camping across from me and I decided that this was the first guy I would approach to see if he would spot me.
I’m funny this way, even though at times I’m a Cassanova at conversation and social skills, there’s times when I’m a stuttering idiot. This was one of those times.
I recall saying “Good Morning,” and asking if he was climbing today. And before he even answered I think I just blurted out this pleading paragraph of how it was my last day- my friend just left – I don’t really boulder much but i’ve been working on this problem- today is my last day to send it – I really need a spotter because i’m scared of heights and I might die – but if he was busy with his friends I totally understand. And started to back away slowly and dismiss the idea before he even has a chance to say “oh hello there.”
I’m crazy like that. But Jay, being a super awesome nice guy and friendly as most climbers are, simply said “No,problem. Let me just make some tea and we can go.”
Wow that was easy. I’m such a dunce.
I discovered that Jay, was a theatre tech and that instantly resonated with me because of my love of community theatre. We had some great conversations and my awkwardness quickly dissipated. We we got to JBMFP it was game time.
The Final Attempt.
I had gone of the moves in my mind numerous times. I played it over and over in my head. Right hand crimp, left hand crimp. Left foot smear on black crystal, right foot step onto thin edge. Left hand bump to sloping nub. Left foot move to chalked crystal below the bulge near my knee. Slowly step up – big move to right hand thin side pull. Cross left foot to edge next to the right foot. Step up and smear on a dark scoop with the right foot. Adjust the right side pull and bring up left foot to sloping nub while maintaining body tension because this is where it’s dicey and vulnerable. Solid. Step up and grab the next slopey nub on the top left. Feeling really thin right now. THROW for the INCUT! Stick it. Keep it! Reach to the left edge, now I’m just 7 inches below the top out!
At this point it’s the highest I have even been on this climb. But I was focussed. I just didn’t know the beta. I haven’t been here before. My right foot tests an edge. Nope I feel like I’m going to swing out (Barn Door.) I bring it back. Uh.. this feels better…. but I only have three point of contact and my right foot is useless… I test that edge again. “Fuck NO… that’s SUCKS.” …. I bring it back. Again. It’s so close.. but I am so stretched out I’m like a broken record, repeating the same move over and over but not moving forward. I HAVE to move my feet – I start to fall. Only inches away from my send. And I’m grasping at the air thinking “NOOOOOO, KARL IS GOING TO GIVE ME SHIIIIIITTT.” I felt like I fell for a long time, but Jay’s got my back. That feeling, of moving so many moves in this first attempt was unreal. It the feeling that combers live for. Some call it adrenaline, I call it passion. Love. Climbing.
I gave it a couple more go but my fingers were done. There was no more skin left and I just couldn’t get any higher than the first couple moves. The sun was coming out and the air was getting hot. I missed my chance. This time.
And, thus ends my epic trip to Joshua Tree. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Okay maybe actually sending JBMFP but at least this way… I have a story of the fish that got away.
I’ll be back fishy. I’ll be Back.
To see the video of my fall click here: JBMFP V5