Doing the Impossible
A couple of weeks ago I did the impossible. I sat down at the bottom of the Trojan Arete, pulled on, got to the top, and walked off the back.
You may not have heard of this climb. It’s a V8 (or 5.13b, according to Ocean’s 11, the best bouldering guidebook ever written). It’s at the Painted Cave area in Santa Barbara, which consists of two boulders straddling a windy road. The problem in question was created in part by demolition equipment widening the road so that trucks could pass. The landing is AKA a road, and the pads must be moved when a car drives through.
All this is to say that the climb is not 5 stars. It doesn’t suck, that’s for sure. But it’s not High Plains Drifter, Easy in an Easy Chair, See Spot Run, Speed of Life, or another boulder problem good enough that you’d heard of it before you visited. It is, however, one of the harder and prouder problems in Santa Barbara, and therefore it was on my bucket list.
I began my climbing life in Santa Barbara, and Painted Cave is an obvious bouldering spot because of its accessibility. The Trojan Arete was one of those climbs that we looked at and figured we might one day be qualified to try. Still, that day seemed forever away. We worked Heavy Traffic (V3) instead.
One day, a few years ago, Daniel Kovner and I were there while our local legend Bernd Zeugswetter calmly ran a lap on the climb. I think we were able to do a combined total of three of the moves. The top didn’t look easy, either, and I put my own send of Trojan Arete even further into the future, somewhere between “yeah right” and “never.”
When we stopped in Santa Barbara this time around, I called up my buddy R Tyler Gross. He came out to Bishop when Daniel Woods was trying Lucid Dreaming, and is one of the finer photographers I’ve encountered. Our first day in SB, he came up with us to Painted Cave and we worked the bottom section of Trojan Arete. I was able to do the bottom half reasonably solidly, but the top was too daunting. Tyler was able to do a few of the moves for the first time. He’ll send it if he decides to project it (wink wink, buddy).
I was feeling a little scared by the climb, but a few days later I wanted to try it again. Tyler met me again and this time set up his flash and camera. I got on a rope, cleaned the top, felt the holds, and figured out a key piece of beta. I took one practice effort to dial in the bottom section, then took my shoes off and prepared for a serious send go.
The climb itself is amazing. It has an obvious sit-start that leads immediately into 6 powerful yet subtle arete moves, right-left-right-left. At about the height where you want to be done climbing, you have to flip from hard, powerful movements to delicate, balancy climbing for another ten feet. The holds on this final section get better and better, thankfully, and the top out is what Isaac Caldiero might call an “easy mantle.” The hardest part might be avoiding grabbing the bolt at the summit.
After setting up all the pads that we have, I pulled on and executed every move perfectly. Several shouts of celebration ensued. Serendipitously, not a single car came by while I climbed the problem. Here’s what it looked like:
We’ve all got these climbs. It doesn’t matter when you started climbing, or where, or with whom. It doesn’t matter if you started in the gym or outside, aid climbing or bouldering, or if your cruxes are mental or physical. The first few times you ever go climbing, you probably sucked and more importantly, you felt like you sucked. Now, you probably warm up on routes that, to you, seemed impossible not too long ago.
There’s that “impossible” word again. I would say that the best moments in climbing are when we flip the script. And as long as you push yourself just a little bit, then the impossible of yesterday becomes the very very possible of today. This incredibly simple concept is reason enough to keep climbing. It’s also, clearly, a lesson with far-reaching implications. The best way to travel 1000 miles is one step at a time. I applaud whatever shoe company began using the slogan “Impossible is Nothing.” Conversely, nothing is impossible. Except faster-than-light travel. And Blue Suede Shoes.