My Evolving Relationship With Ten Sleep Canyon Climbing

I have mixed emotions about climbing in Ten Sleep Canyon this summer.

What used to make my heart sink in sport-climbing terrain now makes it sing, and even weirder, vice versa. When presented with a super-steep climbing area not so long in the past, I’d quake internally into my very soles, feeling very small and insecure, knowing full well what sort of failure lay in my imminent future. I had neither the skills nor the strength to climb severely overhanging sport climbs. Over the past two or three years, this has gradually shifted, until now I sit here, facing summer No. 12 in Ten Sleep Canyon, and I realize that I’ve undergone a complete 180 – I’ve fallen in love with super-steep sport climbing, and in doing so, I’ve unexpectedly lost the fired-up passion I once had for my local “slab” climbing in Ten Sleep Canyon.

It’s so weird, and I’m trying to be okay with it, but man, is it ever so odd, to sit here faced with the upcoming summer season, the season that used to be the culmination of every year, the part of the year where I felt the most in my element and stoked to perform, and I feel just blank in comparison – like all I want to do right now if I can’t climb steep stuff is train my butt off, not revert to focusing on performing in the technical realm at hand. I can’t even really find the right words to describe the emotions whirling inside me from this conversion, though – I feel a bit empty and sad on one level, and honestly some regret for what I’ve lost, but then, a far bigger part of me is so incredibly psyched and blown away to think that even two years ago, I was still totally out of my element on really steep sport climbs and therefore didn’t like them at all. I’m not sorry for my transformation, but I really never expected that becoming a steep-loving climber would so dramatically and permanently alter my relationship with Ten Sleep Canyon climbing.

Getting back on the projects I have left over from last summer, I feel like I’m supposed to care deeply about them or feel really driven to send and put them to rest, but instead, I feel this curious sense of detachment. I’m just not very invested at all, and perhaps that’s a good thing, really, because if I’m not attached to the outcome, I probably won’t place as much pressure on myself to perform.

But I honestly feel pretty deeply in my core being like, “Who cares if I send these routes?”

I feel that way for a few reasons. First of all, these days, I find myself caring way more about sending routes that showcase my longtime weaknesses rather than my strengths. I’m rebuilding my route pyramid on steep sport climbs, and I find this challenge more rewarding, even though I’m redpointing lesser grades to do so. Secondly, I had absolutely no business getting on either of the routes that I’m trying to climb this summer when I first got on them; they were way too hard for me. At this point, who-knows-how-many-tries-later, I do feel positive in the fact that they are now appropriate choices for my current ability level. I know this because I didn’t really struggle with the moves on either one on the first go up them this year, whereas at the start of last season, this was most certainly not the case – I couldn’t even do all the moves on one of them, and the other was a flail-fest for some time. I’m stronger, and that’s rewarding; it means my training is working, and that’s what I care most about these days in climbing – clear indications that I’m getting stronger, season by season. But, because I’ve tried these routes so many times in other seasons, I feel like I’m simply beating them into submission; so in my mind, that’s why it’s not really a big deal for me to send them at this point (or not, honestly).

It’s not really a negative state of being that I’m in at the moment, though, even with these sorts of off-kilter emotions. I certainly still appreciate the quality of Ten Sleep Canyon climbing when I’m on these climbs; they’re great. And yeah, it was really cool to link huge sections of both of the projects (which used to individually crush me; I would never have gotten on them both on the same day) the other day – a high point on one, and then, my first day back on F’ed in the A, to link from bolt five all the way to the anchors on my first try for the season, with no beta recon, and then to pretty much three-hang it (I checked out some alternate beta on a couple of those hangs before continuing) for my final pitch of the day…that never, ever would’ve happened last year. Still, I know that climbing these routes isn’t the most efficient or effective way to push my climbing game forward. So while I felt happy that they didn’t feel that bad, I also felt and feel anxious to get going on my training program, which has gotten thrown off a bit in the past week or so due to weather and climbing plans with folks arriving and such.

I’m not trying to whine or complain here, so I hope I’m not coming off that way – I just find this sense of apathy about Ten Sleep so strange to discover within myself given what used to be in its place. I know that feeling this way frees me up to put more time into training and less time into summertime climbing/sending than I once would have, and that’s awesome, for sure. I want to train through this summer season better than I ever have; my commitment to improving my weaknesses has definitely grown enormously. That’s what happens when you get returns from training. Entering the season feeling healthy and strong makes me psyched, since this is exactly where a person should be when embarking on a hard training segment. I’ll try to hold onto that psych and let it drive me through the training and climbing season this summer, as I can already feel the autumnal pull of the Red River Gorge’s seductive steepness beckoning to me from four months out.

Truthfully, I never thought this would happen to me, but it did – I converted. I really do feel like I’ve changed religions. I still find it rather amazing and bizarre to admit this, but I now fall fully in the steep camp, preferring ultra-overhanging and continuous sport climbing to the more gently tipped or dead-vert terrain of Ten Sleep. I still love the canyon and it will always have a place in my heart, but I don’t live to climb there anymore. Nope, these days, I live for and train to climb much steeper terrain. I’m striving to discover how far I can take this newfound passion of mine, a passion that has reignited my climbing fire in a way I never would’ve believed was even possible when I first embarked on my journey toward improving my climbing weaknesses.

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One thought on “My Evolving Relationship With Ten Sleep Canyon Climbing”

  1. Reading this… I can only think “Climb with Kevin too long and you’re bound to be transformed, one way or another”. When my partner Topher wrapped up school a few years back, he cut out of town and headed down to Last Chance, where Kevin was working to put up Frantic Oblivion. When Toph first took off, he was sending mid to low 5.11’s. Two weeks with Guy and the Maple Crew, he punched out his first 5.12, and then sent a project at 12c/d. Then they moved up to Datil to crush at the Tower, and on to Utah. Toph eventually came home mutant strong. Great post…. now I need to get back on top of my training… been too lazy these days.

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