Love: A Subtle Key for Sending

Mike Humphries gets amped on Espresso (5.12d) at Rifle Mountain Park. Photo by Derek Franz.

Mike Humphries gets amped on Espresso (5.12d) at Rifle Mountain Park. Photo by Derek Franz.

Let’s face it. Those of us who enjoy difficult redpoint campaigns are basically married to our projects at any given time. We put in regular hours, we think of the beta while we’re away, and the relationship often begins with a sense of giddy excitement that fades into dull familiarity by the time we finally clip those chains. At that point, we know every curve, every fold in the rock, and have opinions about the features we love, and the ones we try to ignore for the sake of maintaining our arousal until the eventual, predictable send.

It’s often said that when it comes to redpointing, success is just a matter of time, almost an inevitability… as long as you keep trying. It can be very, very hard to keep trying a route if you were never in love with it in the first place.

Think of it like dancing to music you enjoy versus a song that grates your ears at a bad party. In one case, the movement comes naturally. In the other, the dancing probably feels a little forced.

Of course there are projects I liked in the beginning and then became so tired of climbing the same, skin chewing holds that I abandoned them even on the brink of success.

I think 80 percent of my success rate is tied to route selection. That doesn’t mean cherry picking routes that cater to my strengths, necessarily. There has to be something novel about the route, something that stimulates me more than anything else. It has to have the right amount of challenge, and I also have to feel like I can climb most of the route right away without too much trouble.

Why do I love this route over that route? I can’t say for sure, but in a word, it comes down to fun. If I find a way to maintain a positive outlook on a long redpoint campaign – if I look forward to simply being on the route each day – the rest falls into place.

With that in mind, I’ve learned that it’s worthwhile to shop around. I recently spent a couple weekends dogging up a handful of hard, classic 5.13’s to find one that I liked enough to invest the gas money. Of course I liked each route, but none of the first three mega-classic lines grabbed me in a special way. However, since my climbing days are limited this season, I didn’t want to waste too much time picking a project, either.

Now, logic states that the smartest strategy is to methodically work your way up in difficulty. For example, there’s the old mantra that says you should climb at least four 13a’s, three 13b’s and two 13c’s before trying 13d. So far I’ve sent more than thirty 5.13’s, including seven 13c’s, but no 13d. If I have yet to tick 13d, what business do I have in trying one of the most coveted, nail-hard 13d’s in the canyon? Let me explain.

I’ve aspired to climb Simply Read for at least seven years. The route punches out the middle of the steep, towering Project Wall at Rifle Mountain Park. Just leaving the ground entails a V8 boulder problem, followed by another one up high to gain the headwall. Weaving it’s way through grey-streaked roofs of bullet stone, it is eye-catching to say the least. I yearned for the day I might be worthy of such an undertaking, but never so much as touched the holds because I knew that bouldery routes were my weakness.

I still didn’t feel worthy of the route when I reluctantly roped up for it a couple weeks ago. On that particular day, I was planning to try a neighboring route that was said to be easier and similar in nature, The Gay Science (5.13c/d). Alas, the cliff was occupied except for Simply Read, so that’s where I dropped my rope.

Imagine the thrill to discover how possible the route felt! I made it all the way to the anchors and did most of the moves. Suddenly I had no doubts of what I wanted to do more than anything.

Since then, I’ve been on the route six more times with steady progress; I’m climbing consistently and linking many sections. Health and weather permitting, I truly believe I can send before the season ends. Meanwhile, the grade of “13d” is the farthest thing from my mind. I’m enjoying myself and all the rest is coming naturally. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever been THIS psyched on a climbing project ever before – and that is saying a lot for anyone who knows me. I’m certainly enjoying every step of the way on this one. I’m learning a lot and getting stronger in the meantime, too.

Grades – they’re only in our heads. Passion rules at the end of the day. Climb where your heart wants to go!

Derek Franz writes a blog for on the first Monday of every month. Last March, he wrote about the value of strengthening your weaknesses by practicing all forms of climbing. To find more of Derek’s writing, visit

One Response to Love: A Subtle Key for Sending

  1. Great perspective on redpoint projects. I had the same experience this year at the crag when I forgot my beta sheet- which turns out to be the best thing to forget. Wondering what to climb we picked a corner roof line because it looked awesome, and it turned into a project of passion. We didn’t even look at the grade until several days after our first attempt.

    Devin Schmit September 30, 2014 at 7:27 am
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