Try Again

In climbing, a project is a term used for a certain route that someone is actively working on accomplishing—climbing it from top to bottom. You can work on a project for a day, a few sessions, or years but whether you’re keeping it in your thoughts or actively putting it off, a project can eat away at you until you finally reach that last hold in the best way possible of course. I, like any climber, have had countless projects over time. Some of them took more thought and effort than others and many of them were left unsent. Gym problems come and go with the weeks, but outdoor routes, on natural boulders, are literally etched in stone. 

Over the past few years, I have returned to Lincoln Woods State Park in Rhode Island to work on my projects on the aptly named boulder, Try Again. I was drawn to Try Again simply because the first time I came with a friend he had wanted to show me a specific route he had done weeks before. So it was my first look at outdoor climbing, what I saw as the real deal. That first day I screwed around with my friends and scampered up the few holds that didn’t cut my hands right away. When I returned to “The Woods” as Lincoln is referred to, I came back to this seemingly perfect spot.

Upon further inspection, I saw that the landing was perfectly flat for pads to be placed on the ground (except for one large tree route that is the main concern of those spotting the climber), the rock sloped down into a hill to make for a seamless exit from the top of the boulder, and there were many easy climbs around a corner from the main face. So I worked through the simple problems: Warm Up Face, The Ramp, Pete’s Arete, and Pete’s Problem. (The last one served as a solid project for more than a few trips and was the subject of a darkroom photography assignment last year). Finally, I felt ready to look at the sleek, slightly overhung face which held numerous New England classics.

Loadies Zen was the obvious first look. A V6+ that worked up a series of cracks, leading to a heinous pinch 12 feet up and then a final leap to a deep ledge. On that first day, I fell off every move and succeeded in tearing open half of my fingers. I could not, however, call it a failure for I knew right then that I had my project. Even without completing the moves, I could tell it was my style: crimpy, technical, and slow-moving. 

After many more sessions on Loadies, I was able to piece together the bottom moves, and then the middle ones. Eventually, I was consistently going from the start to the last move but falling on the final fateful jump. I tried the move in isolation (without performing the moves before it in order to save energy while practicing just the jump). I rested, I looked for different ways to do the last move, but it just wouldn’t go. My legs wouldn’t load my weight, my left hand couldn’t pinch the tiny hold I had to move off, and my right hand just didn’t make it over the ledge. I still have yet to send this climb. I moved over and worked Diesel a different V8 that snakes through separate cracks on the boulder but still ends on that same jump and met the same fate. 

Over more than a year, I have fallen on my pads over that tree route countless times. I’ve ripped fingers, felt my feet go numb from the cold, and ripped the lace right off my climbing shoe before I even had a chance to get on the wall. Most days I will venture to other boulders in the park to look at new routes, but I always go by Try Again to get a few burns in on my projects.

This is what’s great about finding a project and climbing all together. The sense of companionship and strength that it brings. To put heart and skin into something as seemingly menial as getting to the top of a rock.

I’ve spent whole days with friends from the gym cheering each other on and switching off attempts. I’ve gone with people who are not at all interested in climbing but just wanted to be outside and help me work on it. My favorite days, however, are when I go up by myself and find the boulder already full. On these days I can meet a whole group of new people also motivated by climbing and by these routes. Some of them are coming from New Hampshire and looking at the park for the first time, some are seasoned vets of the area stopping by to get a quick repeat of the lines that have eluded me for so long. Many of them, though, become my companions for the day as we work together and get to know each other. By the time we are all burnt out, a few may have sent and others will be coming back soon, but we all leave feeling accomplished and fulfilled with our days.

This is what’s great about finding a project and climbing all together. The sense of companionship and strength that it brings. To put heart and skin into something as seemingly menial as getting to the top of a rock.