Going It Alone

Going It Alone

Back in the fall of 2008 I spent a great many days venturing out to the local bouldering areas here in Wisconsin on solo missions to what were, for the most part, deserted areas.  Up until this time in my climbing career I had always climbed with other people so I found climbing alone to be both refreshing and somewhat challenging at the same time.  Other than the obvious dangers associated with bouldering alone and the boredom of repeatedly driving 5 hours alone, I’ve always been someone who fed off the energy of others as I climbed.  Finding myself alone in the woods with only my thoughts and some rocks made for a unique and memorable season of climbing.

One of the strangest moments on these solo journeys came when I sent a project I’d been working towards all season.  After reaching the top there was nobody there to tag fists with or ask “how’d it feel”™ or anything like that.  A truly odd yet very rewarding experience, one which I’ll remember for quite some time.  I think this quote from Blochead’s blog after he had a similar experience sums things up nicely:

All alone, not a soul in sight or sound, I cheered and screamed and listened to my voice echo off the limestone walls.

Regardless of grades, of scorecards, of sandbagging or inflating and even regardless of personal blogs like this, the feeling of finishing something you have worked so hard for, and carrying that progress inside yourself is something universal to climbers of all abilities and disciplines. This is what it’s all about.

Fast forward to this fall and, as usual, I haven’t been climbing much due to injury.  I have, however, been slowly getting back into the swing of things, and with the end of the season fast approaching I embarked on a solo mission to Devil’s Lake last week.  Conditions were unbelievable and not surprisingly I didn’t encounter any climbers throughout the entire day I was there.

I spent the morning repeating some of the only sandstone boulders in the park followed by sampling a couple quartzite classics I had somehow never even seen before.  Seriously, how did I not know about these boulders 5 ft. from the trail?  Either way, I made this video of these problems just for you:

In the afternoon I made the trek to the once top-secret area known as The Reserve, an area I hadn’t visited in over 10 years.  Long held as some sort of top-secret area for reasons I can’t quite understand, The Reserve is a small cluster of rocks tucked away in the woods south of Devil’s Lake.  In an otherwise crowded park The Reserve is a great way to find solitude and that’s exactly what I found during my visit there last week.  I also found one of the best boulders I’ve ever seen at the Lake, Starfish (V6), that is a must do.

Starfish.  Do this climb.

My path along the south shore of Devil’s Lake starting from the west bluff, hitting the Reserve and the “Ejaculator” boulder, then heading down to the south shore parking lot

The season in the Wisconsin is definitely winding down, but it looks like there is at least a week of good conditions left to be had.  If you haven’t been bouldering at Devil’s Lake or Governor Dodge what are you waiting for?  Get out there!

What about you?  Do you like climbing alone or do you prefer the company of others as you throw yourself at a project??  Let me know in the comments.

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24 Responses to Going It Alone

  1. Isaac November 17, 2010 at 8:27 am #

    I prefer bouldering with at least a few other people, generally speaking, but everyone has had those amazing days out on the boulders alone. They tend to be some of the best.

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  2. Remo November 17, 2010 at 9:42 am #

    Sweet video Narc! We were on some of those problems yesterday, so good!
    I would say I prefer bouldering with a small group of people. You feed off the groups energy and try harder for the send. Having the extra pads and spotters helps too. Then again, I probably boulder solo more than not. I like this because you can actually cover more area and climb more problems. I’ve sent lots of projects solo, and it’s great, but it’s more rewarding with your friends there.

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    • sweatpants November 17, 2010 at 9:54 am #

      I like climbing with Remo because he always brings a Frisbee!

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      • Narc November 17, 2010 at 10:01 am #

        I like climbing with sweatpants because…oh wait…WE’VE STILL NEVER CLIMBED TOGETHER??? WHY????

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        • sweatpants November 17, 2010 at 10:47 am #

          touche good sir

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        • Steve Schultz November 17, 2010 at 1:15 pm #

          Oh SNAP!!

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          • Narc November 17, 2010 at 1:31 pm #

            Although to be fair it’s mostly my fault that I haven’t climbed with any of you guys nearly as much as I would have liked.

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    • Narc November 17, 2010 at 10:02 am #

      I still can’t believe I’d never seen Slope of D and those problems before last week. Almost shameful really how many times I’ve walked past there without realizing they were there. Quite fun although I sure could have used a spotter…

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  3. rachel November 17, 2010 at 9:59 am #

    brian! awesome post, man! Way to be psyched!!!

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    • Narc November 17, 2010 at 10:01 am #

      SO PSYCHED!

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  4. Egghead November 17, 2010 at 12:11 pm #

    Excellent post Narc, and great video. With regards to your question, I relish private victories and sessions as much as I enjoy the comraderie of a small posse of pad people. I think I need some mix of both. I had a private victory on your (my) project as well, that same year. I was so surprised that it went, that I just sat at the base with a beer for an hour or so afterwards. That time alone with birds and the sunset was one of the most memorable times I’ve ever had climbing. ce

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    • Narc November 18, 2010 at 7:21 am #

      Damn, I wish I would have had some bourbon or something to celebrate. I would have sat there and enjoyed it longer but it was freezing!

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  5. toothbrush November 17, 2010 at 12:18 pm #

    Nice post. My favorite bouldering times are all alone on Turtle Rock for my lunch break. Turtle Rock overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge and entire San Francisco Bay so it really doesn’t get any better than that. The problems there aren’t too shabby as well. At other settings, I prefer an energetic group and the extra pads/spotters!!

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  6. Ben November 17, 2010 at 9:09 pm #

    I’m a fan of lazy bouldering with a small crew in an otherwise empty boulderfield. More than that & it begins to feel like the gym. The only times I’ve gone it alone have been less than stellar. That might be due to the choss piles that I’m stuck with near D.C. though.

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  7. Rhoads November 17, 2010 at 9:44 pm #

    Anyone ever send the Dyno proj to the right of Dada?

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    • Egghead November 18, 2010 at 4:20 pm #

      I don’t think so. Everyone sort of moved on and forgot about it. Why, did you do it? ce

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  8. Dave McAllister November 17, 2010 at 10:27 pm #

    I’ve had the exact same experience Narc, and I wrote about it as well some time ago…

    http://pumpfactoryroad.com/index.php?option=com_wrapper&view=wrapper&Itemid=5

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  9. BLOCHEAD November 18, 2010 at 10:23 am #

    Hey Narc,

    I have been a big fan and daily reader of your site for a long time. It was among the sites I looked to model my blog after. I cannot begin to tell you how proud and thankful I feel that you not only read my blog, but quoted it as well. It has made my week.

    Again, thank you so much, and keep up the great work for the climbing community.

    -BLOCHEAD

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    • Narc November 18, 2010 at 2:02 pm #

      The pleasure is all mine!

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  10. David November 18, 2010 at 2:21 pm #

    It’s nice to mix in solo adventures with group climbs. When climbing alone there is no one to impress, no one to fear and no one to pass blame on but yourself. It’s your victory and it’s your fail … alone.

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  11. th November 18, 2010 at 3:47 pm #

    I love going climbing alone just as much as I love climbing with a group. They are two completely different experiences, each with their own perks. Solo trips tend to be much more cathartic and rewarding in my experience. Your achievements seem to be amplified and personalized by the solitude and peace one finds alone in the woods. However, I went on a solo trip yesterday and ended up injuring my ankle when falling off a project. The mile-long, 15 minute approach was extended into an hour and a half long ordeal that involved much crawling, hobbling, and cursing up the mountainside in descending darkness. Turns out I had sprained my ankle (luckily, as I was worried I might have fractured something), and I’ll be going about 2-3 weeks without climbing… which sucks, but it could be worse. Looking back, there’s not a whole lot I could have done to prevent the injury. The landing under the climb is good and I’d fallen from the same height before and walked away fine. I could have waited until another day to get a spot, but this might not have even helped (though it might have made getting out of there easier). And that’s the downside of climbing alone: you can get into some downright bummer situations.

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    • Narc November 19, 2010 at 6:25 am #

      Bummer about the ankle, hope it heals up quick!

      It’s interesting how when climbing alone you start to learn how far you can push things without taking a bad fall. Of course you can never be 100% certain which is something that definitely crossed my mind last week as I sat alone in the middle of nowhere.

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  12. DreamingGnar November 19, 2010 at 4:46 pm #

    I’ve always enjoyed the chance for solitude. something about being completely self reliant and self sufficient (if only for a short time) has always served as a great measuring stick for myself. You never quite know what you want as when there’s no one around to judge your decisions. climb easy, climb hard, go home. it’s all up to the soloist.

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  13. chris schulte November 20, 2010 at 11:53 am #

    thumbs up.

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