I once heard that the great Albert Einstein described insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. If that’s the case, then I’m definitely insane. I’ve been coming here to this riverside piece of overhung limestone for many weeks now. My goal is to start very low inside the small cave and climb out to the top of the cliff band. The one result of this illogical act of recreation has been failure. I have repeatedly fallen to the sandy ground. Perhaps I should consider myself a rock faller instead of a rock climber. This very simple goal can become so difficult, just begin at the bottom and climb to the top. Yet, I have this strange feeling that today could be different. Just maybe I can hang on long enough to reach the top this time. You have to believe to achieve, right? Maybe so, but I’m probably still crazy. Why do I do this? What could possibly possess a seemingly normal guy like myself to drive to places, near and far, to try to climb a specific piece of rock over and over again?
I first tried climbing as a scout when I was sixteen. My scout leader climbed a bit and insisted on taking a few of us. Of course the idea of rock climbing attracted me. I enjoyed the outdoors and considered myself to be semi-macho. So I went. The first climb wasn’t exactly the easiest for me in my size 11 basketball sneakers, but I somehow managed to scramble to the top while others struggled. This enhanced my semi-macho ego and compelled me to go the next time I was invited. This time was different. The route up the 60 foot cliff had smaller hand and foot-holds. They were further apart, and to top it off, the angle of the rock was a bit steeper. After a few failed attempts my semi-macho ego wasn’t feeling quite so macho. This made me feel especially bad since Andrew, my scout leader, climbed the route effortlessly. I was disappointed but not defeated. I tried it once again and somehow succeeded in climbing through the difficult section that had previously shut me down. Before I even knew it I was at the rope anchors ready to be lowered. The first few tries felt impossible, but I learned from my mistakes and willed my way to the top. I believe the route was rated a difficulty of 5.9. This is quite insignificant to anyone who actually climbs, but the important thing is that I was able push my personal limits, physically and mentally, and succeed. I was psyched!
Inspired by my accomplishment that day, I set out to learn more about this “rock climbing” business. I checked out books from the library and searched on the internet to find any useful information I could. Eventually I bought gear and more importantly, climbing shoes. I went back to that same 5.9 that challenged me before to find that, with climbing shoes, improved technique, and increased confidence in my abilities, it was a cake walk. I was ready to move on to something more difficult, to push my limits again.
I quickly learned that the freedom of bouldering appealed to me more than roped climbing. I could focus more on the difficulty, entertainment, and beauty of individual climbing moves, without the worries of equipment. At first this was done without the safety of a crash pad. Falls onto the hard ground were commonplace, as were bruised heels. Purchasing a crash pad allowed me to try harder than ever before. I didn’t have to worry quite so much about falling. I put nearly all my focus in committing to the desperate moves. Training specifically for climbing allowed me to advance rather quickly through the bouldering ranks. Eventually I had reached a level where I could try popular, very difficult pieces of rock where many climbers would test their strength and skill. This “testpiece” climbing became my new focus. I would travel to various places in order to try just one challenging boulder problem. This became a new source of frustration for me. Many times I felt like I had the ability to complete the sought after boulder problem, but lacked the time to dial in the movements. To really push my limits I needed an inspiring line closer to home, one that I could try for eternity with absolutely no pressure of time.
I had seen videos of a new bouldering crag dubbed the Virgin Cave, somewhere near my home in Hurricane, UT. It was a viciously overhanging cliffband, with unique holds and very athletic movements, a style of climbing that I had grown quite fond of. The problem was that I had no idea where it was located. It could be north, south, east, west, up, down, or anywhere really. This dilemma forced me to turn my attention elsewhere, until I had nearly forgotten the Virgin Cave. Then one day, I was talking about various climbing areas with a friend. “ I really wish that I knew where that Virgin Cave was”, I said.
“The Virgin Cave? Umm…Dude, it’s in Virgin…as in the town.”
“Really! I thought it was somewhere else?”
“Nope, I’m pretty sure it’s in Virgin.”
“Makes sense I guess.”
“Yep it’s down by the river.”
“Wait a second! Virgin is like 5 minutes from my house!”
Needless to say I went to check it out the next day. It wasn’t very difficult to find, down by the river, just like my friend had informed. I was surprised to see that it didn’t look much like the videos I had seen. The previous month had brought record amounts of moisture to the neighboring mountains. This of course had the side effect of record water levels, especially in the Virgin River. A flood had torn through the river channel demolishing everything in its path. Trees were de-rooted, homes were destroyed, and boulder problems were apparently threatened. The entire area was completely reconstructed by the raging rivers. There were garbage in trees, rocks in trees, even trees in trees! As I neared the crag, I was relieved to see that it was intact. The one obstacle to my climbing bliss was that the flood waters had deposited a mountain of sand beneath the low cave, making it unclimbable. I had to get to work.
I quickly hurried home, grabbed a shovel, drove back, and got at it. The next few hours consisted of mad burrowing to clear the landing of a boulder problem called “Six Shooter”. It was an amazing looking line of small edges and large spans straight out the terraced roof. Little by little I moved chunks of the fine-grained sand bank. I pressed forward eagerly, almost as if I were digging for a buried treasure placed there by ancient pirates. Yet my treasure wasn’t below, but above. Insanity! What kind of a crazed person digs down so he can climb up? It didn’t matter if I was insane, this was precisely what I had been searching for. It was beautiful, inspiring and very challenging, but best of all it was right in my own backyard.
So the epic digging project ended and the epic climbing project began. Six Shooter begins deep in the cave. The first six moves are quite difficult, with small holds, and big moves. There is one move in particular that is really hard, a definite crux. At this move your body is completely horizontal. While hanging from fingertips on shallow grooves in the dry stone, you need to take both feet off the rock, hold a wild swing and hang on long enough to put your feet on a new foothold to make the next move. A couple of somewhat easier yet big moves bring you to the last hard jump move. This one isn’t quite so difficult in itself, but after 6 hard moves of horizontal climbing, it feels pretty hard. After sticking the hold, it should be easy sailing to the top of the cliff. I surprised myself on the first day by doing almost all the individual moves. The next day on it was a little more frustrating. I didn’t realize how difficult it was to link from one move to the next. However, I did make a little headway and by the end of day three I could do all the moves. I also managed some nice links. I was ready to give it burns from the start. This is where insanity comes into play once again. The next four sessions on Six Shooter had come to nothing. I guess I made some progress as I was continually falling at that last hard move, over, and over, and over again. I rested and decided to go for it once more. I flowed through the first moves as if I were climbing in zero gravity. I paused right before that last hard move to take in a giant gulp of oxygen and jumped. My hand stuck to the hold as my feet swung out ferociously. I quickly moved my left foot onto a small foothold. This could be it! All my hard work! All the time and effort! It just might pay off. Slip! “NOOOOO!”, I yelled as I plummeted back down toward earth. Failure, once again, failure, all with a tiny slip of my small rubber shoe.
Sometimes, insanity is what it takes for us to follow our dreams and pursue our passions. Perhaps no one will ever understand why I love this silly sport of rock climbing, or why I spend hours trying to summit a boulder using the most difficult sequence. That doesn’t matter though. I’m living my life and enjoying experiences that not many people have the opportunity to experience. Sometimes insanity is the state of mind needed to push through the threshold and accomplish something that you previously thought to be impossible. The next time I went to the Virgin Cave I successfully ascended Six Shooter. I had rehearsed the moves so well that it really was quite effortless. As I reached the top shouts of joy could probably be heard from miles away. Six Shooter might not be the best climb in the world, and it isn’t even close to the hardest. Some people could probably even climb it in a try or two. But, to me it meant victory, even if I am insane.
Extra: A great video documentation of Casey’s ascent of “Six Shooter”.
Author - Casey Webb is a resident of Cedar City, UT. He has been climbing seriously for four years and considers it to be “the ultimate challenge”. It is something he especially loves doing with his beautiful wife of 1 year. He also enjoys mountain biking, hiking, hunting, basketball, slacklining, running, and participating in his church. He is a geology student at Southern Utah University and plans on graduating in the Spring of 2012. You can visit his climbing blog at CedarKids Adventures.