Wild Iris Recap: From Sucking to Sending

Wild Iris Recap: From Sucking to Sending

There were three fundamental truths surrounding the tears that streamed out of my eyes as I hugged the slab section of American Beauty. The first, I was irrationally afraid of falling. The second, I was frustrated that I was fairing much worse than I had the year prior. Third and finally, the wind was blowing really hard. Even a person who was perfectly happy might have had watery eyes in these conditions.

Once I had my fill of desperation clinging, I begged my belayer to lower me. I then slunk back into the shade where I stewed over my failure for the rest of the day. My disappointment leeched into campfire that evening.

In my first two days I had succeeded in little but hangdogging on routes that I had easily climbed the previous year. On the first day, I was thwarted by multiple “easy” routes. Despite a year of training, sending some more 5.12, and getting stronger, it seemed like a year of effort had somehow amounted to a decrease in proficiency.

Dicey beginnings aside, this 2020 trip to Lander ended up being my best climbing trip to date. So here are the lessons I learned from day one to day thirteen, turning this adventure from disaster to success.

Build Momentum

After the first couple of days in Lander, I realized that I was not magically going to bounce back to my outdoor performance at the end of last season – ahem, last November courtesy of COVID-19. I decided that it was not only wise, but absolutely critical to build some momentum with some more moderate sends.

Believing you can send something is a skill just as much as sending is itself. I knew I needed some wins on the board to rebuild my outdoor confidence so I turned the difficulty down and started cranking.

First, I set the draws and wobbled my way through Pocket Hero, 5.10a. Next, I battled my way to the top of Wotai, 5.10d, fighting pump to get the flash. With a couple of wins under my belt, I decided to try to match my last season flash grade. I tied in below I’m a Lead Farmer, Mother F*er, 5.11b, and did the thing.

Over the next few days, I hopped on many classic 5.11s in Wild Iris. Some I sent, some I didn’t. I racked up pitches and clawed my way back to confidence.

Invigorated by the lower-tier sending, I decided to try to match my previous redpoint grade with Wind and Rattlesnakes, 5.12a.

lander climbing girl
on the send of The Guns I’ll Never Own, 5.11c

Little things to smile about

Last year, I tried Wind and Rattlesnakes a couple of times. I didn’t remember much about the route except for one horrible toss from a side pull to a jug that seemed improbable last year. This move I dreaded specifically as I pulled on to try again this year.  

Whether I can credit stronger fingers, better conditions, or more creativity – I found new beta for this move. This odd little success brought me a lot of joy. With this alteration, I began to believe I could send the thing.

A waterfall rest day and two burns later, I was clipping the chains on the send go. Wind and Rattlesnakes was my first 5.12 of 2020. I again believed even more in my ability to send, and send quickly too. I then set my sights on a new challenge, pushing my redpoint grade.

Make Projecting Fun Again

With some help from a Lander local, I picked a new project, an inspiring 5.12b called Court and Spark. The first day on it, I tied in a couple of times to figure out the moves.

“I don’t even care if I send. This route is so cool, I’m just grateful to get to climb it.” This was my mantra. I really loved this route.

There is a time and a place for working on weaknesses. However, when you put time and energy into training for a trip, it is prudent to let yourself do what you are good at. You’ll surely lose passion if you do not allow yourself to enjoy your favorite styles every now and again.

To me, Court and Spark was a compromise between my weaknesses and my strengths. The lower crux offers some bouldery slab, which is not my strong suit. The upper portion of the route is slightly overhanging, big throw, pocket pulling – which is basically my favorite thing to do. In totality, it makes for an amazing rockclimb.

I think it is the best route I’ve ever gotten to climb. It struck me that this route could be the single bullet point in an argument in which I would try to convince a friend that training to climb 5.12 would be totally worth it. Figuring out the moves was really, really fun.

sinks canyon water slide
My friend Sam and I enjoying the Sinks Canyon Waterslide on a rest day.

Refining the Beta

Before my redpoint burn, I had tied into Court and Spark three times and visited the chains twice. Each time, I refined my beta. A few holds felt better with my back three fingers instead of my front three. I ticked a critical foot for the final move. I found a way to get a no hands rest before moving to the pumpy section. It was coming together.

Then, when I tied in for the fourth time, I fought my way to the chains to redpoint my first 5.12b. It got a little ugly at the top, but send I did.

So with a couple of good sends under my belt and one day left on the trip, I decided to get greedy. It was time to see about a last ditch 5.12.

Tomahawk Slam

Earlier on in the week I saw a guy trying Tomahawk Slam – a notorious “one move wonder” route that is reportedly heinous for the shorter climber. On Mountain Project, the description of this move reads “and no, I don’t know how to do it statically.”

But somehow, this guy I watched was doing it statically with a mysterious pocket that was hard to see from the ground. I braved the awkwardness and sheepishly asked if I could compare my fingers to his. Just as I had suspected, my fingers were a lot smaller. I asked him how big the pocket was, he said he could barely fit two fingers. After doing some quick math, I realized that this notorious crux might play well with my strong, teensy, weensy fingers.

On the last day of the trip, I had confidence as I arrived to the crag. I got on a 5.10 to warm-up then tied into Tomahawk Slam, ready to sort out the beta. I ran through the crux and the sequence a few times, the lowered to the ground, waited fifteen minutes, then tied in again.

I knew that if I stuck the crux, the route would be done. I stabbed my left hand in the tiny pocket, followed by a bigger right hand, then moved up to the clipping jug above the crux. Though things got a little muddy on my way to the anchors, I plunked my way to the last clipping stance.

Tomahawk Slam became my third 5.12 of the trip and the first I’d ever done in one day. I was thrilled.

From Day 1 to 13

So what happened between day one and day thirteen? My fingers didn’t get stronger. My forearms didn’t get bigger. The limestone didn’t get more friction, but something obviously changed. You don’t go from falling off of 10b to sending 12b without some kind of seismic shift in your climbing.

Mindset and Strategy

Since starting to work on my business, I’ve realized the importance of my mindset. And mindset seems like this weird, intangible, unconquerable aspect of our climbing, but it doesn’t have to be.

Mindset work can be really simple. It can be as easy as chanting in your head that you can do something. Each morning on the walk to the crag, I chanted in my head that I could send. I stopped letting the negative voice in my mind run wild and created a new voice that believed in my awesomeness.

This all sounds really cheesy, but I swear to the Loving Goddess of Whatever the F* you believe in that it works. A lot of my weird little morning chants became reality. Try it sometime.

The Training Worked

Though my shift in mindset helped open the redpoint floodgates, the numbers do not lie. This year I have stronger fingers, I can pull more weight, I’ve spent many months of 2020 working on my body tension and doing limit level moves. I trained power endurance for a month leading up to this trip. Physically, I was ready to surpass what I had done before. This definitely helped my performance.

However, I want to emphasize that if you looked at me on the first couple of days of this trip, you would have thought those hours at the gym were a total waste of time. I was falling off of 5.10b at the start of my trip to Lander, but by the end, the work I put in shone through.

24 pitches

This season, it took me 24 trips to the anchors of various rockclimbs to match my previous redpoint grade. At about 16 pitches I started getting my confidence back. You may not need as much time as me to get back into climbing as I do, but you also might need more. In any case, I think this is an interesting metric to keep track of – so keep this in mind when you plan your seasons in the future. I’ve said this before, but plan some time to get back into climbing outdoors, especially if you are newer at it. Perhaps you might even plan on being a little bummed as you get back into the swing of things. Expecting to feel awesome about your climbing all the time is simply not realistic, anyway. If it takes you sometime to transition back outside and you feel a little frustrated, it’s really normal and nothing to be ashamed of.

home wall goodspray
Working limit problems on the home wall. Photo by Tim Spanagel.


My trip to Lander has me hopeful for the rest of 2020. I am invigorated to see some progress and ready to get back to the grindstone. I departed Wyoming excited to bring this confidence to some new, Autumnal objectives in 2020. Onward and upward.

Have you ever salvaged a climbing trip or a season? What helped you turn things around? Drop a comment below! Let’s discuss!

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