James walks through the doorway to the upstairs hangout area of my house dragging his sleeping bag after a day of climbing in Ten Sleep Canyon, ready to watch a movie with the rest of the crew. I look up from the couch with a lazy yawn, tired out from the day’s endeavors, to see his eyes light on the hangboard above the doorway. He drops the bag, grabs the second crimper up, and starts to do a one-arm.
“No, no,” I scold. “Do it on the really small crimp.”
He obediently drops his hand down and feels it, commenting, “It’s kind of greasy.”
“There’s chalk right there,” I point.
Obligingly, he chalks up, cranks the one-arm with ease, and then wanders on into the room to plop down and get comfy. Whatever.
My response is every bit as unimpressed as his, actually. I just expect to see the monkey perform the circus trick.
Thing is, though I’ve only known James since the middle of the summer, I’ve already come to expect him to casually execute the absurdly difficult, in terms of the rock climbing world. He does this regularly with such a visible lack of effort that you can just tell it’s not even hard for him in any relative sense to the majority of us humans. In fact, it’s so common that it’s truly kind of shocking when he doesn’t perform, and almost bizarrely ho-hum when he does.
Here’s what I mean:
Surprisingly, James has just fallen off his latest 5.14 project and been lowered to the ground by his partner, shaking his head in confusion.
James: “Something’s wrong with me. I don’t get it.”
Me: “What’s up?”
James: “It’s my forearms. They HURT.”
Me: “Oh, really, James? How weird. You’re rock climbing, and your forearms got pumped. That’s so weird.”
James: “You don’t understand. This has never happened to me before.”
Me and everyone else at the crag: “BWAHAHAHAHAHA!”
The next day, James crushes the project, and informs me that indeed, this atypical forearm pain was an anomaly for him.
As usual, we walked up to the crags around midday. James basically jugged up to put his draws on a link-up that, when sent, would be Ten Sleep Canyon’s hardest route to date (Master of the Universe, 14d-ish). He did a few climbing moves, okay. But he did NOT warm-up in anyone’s book. Then, he jumped on the route, and even though it was obvious he’d forgotten a few footholds and had to pause a bit to recall his beta, he systematically destroyed it.
Maybe he tried a little bit on this one. I guess he made a couple of noises, which is rather unusual—but hey, it was the hardest of the eight 5.14s he sent in Ten Sleep Canyon this summer. Still, it didn’t look that hard for him, honestly. Maybe just like a pumpy 12a.
Generally speaking, watching James send a route (of any grade) he’s been on before is like watching someone climb a 5.10 warm-up. You find yourself reminding yourself that he’s actually climbing 5.14. Every time. Of course, you can also just get on the routes and see for yourself how hard they really are—how what look like fantastic jugs when James grabs them are actually terrible little bits of nothing, and how sort of big moves are actually gigantic hucks, and so forth.
It will be interesting to see what happens when James finds something that’s genuinely challenging for him and climbs it…a route that takes him longer than four or five days of effort. Maybe when he’s climbing a 5.15, he’ll look like most people do when climbing a 5.13. At the very least, perhaps he’ll toss in a couple more gratuitous grunts, thrutches, and desperate stabs—even just for a little more dramatic effect.
The Litz tick list for summer 2009 in Ten Sleep Canyon: Goldmember (14a), The Great Pile of Pumpkin Puke (14a, FA), F’ed in the A (14b, FA), General Litzenheimer (14c/d, FA), Private Halfenheimer (14a, FA), Galactic Emperor (14a, FA), Master of the Universe (14d, FA), and Porcelain (14a, FA)…plus a whole bunch of 5.13 onsights and second-go’s.
The secret Litz diet plan for sending a 5.14 on almost every climbing day: Hamburgers and potatoes; plus plenty of Nerds, Now ‘n’ Laters, Gatorade, and the occasional Jack Daniels & Coke. Green stuff is bad. So is mayonnaise.
Total amount of training time required for Litz to do a one-arm pull-up the first time, from when he decided he wanted to do one until he actually did one: About an hour. Then it took another 10 whole minutes to do one on a crimper.
-Words and Photos by Alli Rainey