Dave Graham on Moonshine (9a/5.14d), Wild Iris, Wyoming. Photo: Courtesy Dave Graham
Dave Graham sending Moonshine (9a/5.14d), Wild Iris, Wyoming. Photo: Jamie Emerson

I did the route on my fifth try on my second day, it was satisfying to get it done over the weekend, and not to have to make a trip back.

The actual ascent was very unexpected. I woke up feeling destroyed from the previous two days of climbing, all the cuts from the attacking the wall our first day in the Iris hurt real bad, and my legs were destroyed from the crazy hiking we did to a new alpine bouldering zone we checked out in the Wind Rivers. It was about 80 degrees outside; horrible climbing temps for small heinous grips on hard routes. Wild Iris is like a mini Frankenjura: conditions count, the pockets are small and sharp.

We dillydallied around the house, nearly bailed back to Colorado due to the fatigue, but Daniel was syked to try Heart Full of Ghosts, and Jamie was open to anything, so we decided to hit up the crag for a quick sesh before departing on the six-hour drive. After getting coffee, we quested out the Erratic, all the while cursing the scorching sun. As we arrived, it almost got even hotter, so we sat around in shock, and downplayed the significance of climbing hard. As we had little time, there was little time to sit around and complain, as it was around 3pm and we were to leave at 6pm, we began to warm up on a heinous 5.13a by default. A subtle breeze picked up. Clouds began to move in. I looked around, wondering if this could be the storm. I got more syked. Daniel was already syked, immune to the conditions, only more motivated by more wind. He fired a flash burn on the heinous mono rig Heart full of Ghosts, did very well, but timed out on the pockets. He fell, which meant it was soon my turn. Time for Moonshine. I wasn't really ready for it.

Daniel Woods on Genetic Drifter (8c+/5.14c), at Wild Iris. Photo: Dave Graham
Daniel Woods on Genetic Drifter (8c+/5.14c), at Wild Iris. Photo: Dave Graham

I gave a first burn on the rig, climbed well, but overheated near the crux, and slipped off before the hard move. Gutted that I had failed, bummed I didn't execute, I looked at the bright side of the attempt. The bottom felt easier, for some reason I still felt stronger. Maybe I had one good go.

I wondered if the wind would pick up. Checked out the cloudy movement. We talked about it and decided it was getting good. Really good, actually. The storm predicted for tomorrow was moving in. Right at that moment.

Daniel fired his rig, temps dropped even more and clouds moved in, making it darker. I got antsy as the wind blew harder, now was the time if there was to be a time. The window opened.

Suddenly I had a chance, in fact. My excuses from earlier were disappearing. I was tired yes, but motivated, in reality, I had a pretty good shot of sending if I just climbed right, avoided hesitating, and acted like a G.

I most likely had only one more go, if I tried really hard, there would be blood.

So I set off. The wind was blowing and it felt super sticky, which allowed me to save some energy through the gnarly moves that take you up to the business. Compressing and torquing, that's how this route climbs. No chalking, clipping is sketch, you cruise into a faint scoop, and thats where you find the moment of truth.

The hard move revolves around a blank expanse of white stone. There is a mono, a scoop, and a crimp, but no feet. Bj does a gnarly pounce-dyamnic-jump swoop, Daniel does some robot shit. I get into a strange stance, and dragon in hard with just the tip of the toe. It worked. Punting was the only way off at that point. I was halfway through the window, not going to just let it shut. I got pumped at that point, and nervous I would punt. I had to battle out the final resistance crux, but miraculously nothing slipped. Elated, I clipped the chains. I have climbed 9a faster, but this might have been the most fun I'd had sport climbing in a long time. Something was different. Sensations were more intense.

Satisfied, we geared up to roll out. Jamie reminded me of the token sip of moonshine I was to take, the reward for a successful ascent, and guided me to the bottle under the climb, hidden in the rocks. As the rain started to fall, we walked through the majestic fields, quested back all tuckered, found the car. We became Colorado-bound, reminisced about the day, and listened to music.

Wild Iris scenic. Photo: Dave Graham
Wild Iris scenic. Photo: Dave Graham

I have been mostly bouldering these days, so it was super cool to be on a rope again. Its pretty relaxing for me to be on a cliff, boulders are usually hard and scary, and cliffs somehow have a different vibe. I was worried I would feel all weird after such a hiatus from route climbing, I did a bit of hard stuff in Australia, but not nearly enough. I have been trying really hard to push myself more these days in general, in hopes of progressing as a climber, which is something I find hard to do. Staying at the same level is one thing, but improving is entirely different.

Climbing this weekend in the Iris was going to be a test to pass, I was heading up there in hopes of doing better then normal, succeeding instead of failing, seizing the day rather then waiting for the next. Trying as hard as I could, not doing anything half ass. It turned out to be a solid affirmation that hard work pays off, the right perspective counts. Improvement is possible, yet it's just a different path.

I feel like I am somehow getting better as a climber (a bold statement?!). The last years have been hard, I never felt like I was making improvements, but more experiencing constant maintenance. The feeling of a change, in a direction that was forward, was absent for a couple years there.

Jaime Emerson on Rodeo Free Europe (8b+/5.14a), in Wild Iris. Photo: Dave Graham
Jaime Emerson on Rodeo Free Europe (8b+/5.14a), in Wild Iris. Photo: Dave Graham

I find progression hard to perceive. Maybe it's physical, maybe it's mental. Maybe it's real, maybe it's an illusion. Maybe I'm just improving at enjoying the moments. The details, the sensations, the facts, the people you're with, the place, etc; all these things can be very easy to overlook. You can get caught up in the moment in the wrong way. You get caught up in the wrong thing, during the moment.

Moonshine was an interesting experience -- very full circle, albeit short-lived. Respect goes to BJ Tilden for the vision with the first ascent. It's a really nice route, with amazing moves and good stone. I gotta to say thanks to my bros Jamie and Daniel; it wouldn't have been the same trip without their perpetual syke.

I look forward to trying some more hard routes. First, it's time to finish off some long resistance bouldering projects here up in the hood, but then its off to Mt. Clark, and beyond, to try some crazy shit. We'll see how it all works out, but I am feeling positive after this weekend.

Island out.


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