When we got to the mountain I was in awe of all the giant jugs (large, easy to grip holds) I saw. I used to wonder why companies would make artificial humongous holds that were easy to hold onto, when every route I had seen climbing outdoors (to be fair, not that many) seemed to contain holds you could barely see. On this mountain though, there seemed to be holes so big I could crawl inside of them! (Later I did climb into one of them and Ji-hyeun said the rock "ate me.")
The group set up on a large rock and we walked down the crag a short ways to set up at the "easy route." I figured that this was the easiest route on the wall and we would be doing it as a warm-up for the 5.10b everyone figured I could climb this trip. I also figured it would be graded a 5.9 (within my capabilities for a warm up).
The route was called "Baek-am 3" (pronounced Beckam, as in David Beckham), which translates literally to White Rock (route) 3. My previous attempts at outdoor rock climbing had been less than brilliant (climbing a good two full number grades - 8 letter grades - below my highest gym grade). This was my sixth try at sport climbing outdoors though, so I was finally starting to become more comfortable and figured I could at least climb a 5.10b (my previous best outdoor climb being a 5.10a).
I flashed my "warm up" route and when I came down everyone said, "wow, you're footwork is very good" (it ought to be after more than five years instructing in a climbing gym). "You can flash 5.10b!" I said, "thank you... where is the 5.10b?" I was quite surprised when everyone pointed at the route I had just climbed. It hadn't actually seemed that difficult, which I attribute to the fact that I thought it was only a 5.9 and was therefore more confident.
With my new revelation that confidence makes climbing easier, I moved to the next hardest route at the crag, the 5.11a classic, Baek-am 5. The first day I worked the route three times on top rope, and once on lead (harder, with longer falls). Each time I tried though, I fell on the last move. I knew I could easily do the last two moves, because I had completed them every time after resting, but I just could not muster the endurance to complete the route in one clean run and I was starting to lose confidence.
On Sunday I was still tired from my all out effort on Saturday. I only attempted the route twice, and both of those were on lead. On my first attempt I finally made the last move, but could not muster the energy to make the final match - which is by far the crux of the route. The desperation attempt to make the final hold produced a big fall, but I was expecting this. I was not, however, expecting my foot to slip under the rope as this happened. On the subsequent fall, the rope stretched violently across the back of my calf and I received a gigantic rope burn that scorched the top few layers of skin right off my leg. Choi cleaned the wound out with rubbing alcohol, which stung quite badly and caused my to cringe and twitch every time the torture juice touched me. My belay partner thought this was quite funny, and he laughed every time I jumped or twitched.
(When I showed the kids at school my giant scab, one of the little girls thought that my leg was hot because she heard it had been burned. She bent over near my leg and blew on it to cool it down. Bless her heart.)
After a lunch and a rest I decided to muster what little energy remained for what I decided would be my sixth and final attempt for the trip. While I felt a little tired, I had a secret weapon. On my last attempt, I had discovered a trick resting maneuver in which I wedged my forearm between my knee and the top of a small "cave" in the wall. I call it an advanced knee bar, since my lower leg was too short to do a regular knee bar.
The rest allowed me enough time to recuperate, and I was finally able to complete the final move. I felt like Chris Sharma in many ways as I hung on the rope for a minute at the top of my route: I had completed a back-to-the-wall, stand on a ledge rest like he did on Clark Mountain in the DVD King Lines (if you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about), I had overcome my anxieties and was able to relax and enjoy the route, and I had dedicated myself fully to the route. I suppose the only differences would be that Chris Sharma gets paid to climb the hardest routes in the world, and it takes him upwards of four years to finish some of them, whereas I had struggled to climb something he would have finished-off as a thirteen-year-old.
On the Saturday, one of the women had completed a 5.12 "project"she had been working on for the last 2 or 3 years, and to celebrate we ate a 3 course dinner (made on the portable stove, with camping utensils and dishes) consisting of a vegetable and beef curry, a samgyeupsal-like dish, but with eel as the meat instead of pork, and some corn with cheese melted over it. Of course there were multiple side dishes too just like at a Korean restaurant. Every time I saw one of the Koreans making a new dish, I would say "amazing!" which garnered many laughs. I tried to explain the glory of hot dogs and marshmallows to them, but they didn't seem to make the connection with how that was better than the 3 course feast. I guess they don't have The Alberta Advantage over here though, so it's not really their fault.