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Index Lower Town Wall trip report, part 2, plus mental training and shoulder health

Sara Lingafelter
Sara Lingafelter
8 min read

To be honest, I have to admit… I’m feeling a little bit adrenaline-d out.

First, on Saturday I had the brilliant idea to go mountain biking solo. Some of you have already heard how that turned out. For those who didn’t, here’s the short version of Sara and a bear mutually scare each other, submitted as a comment to our local mountain biking blog.

You’ve also already heard most of the story from our Index trip, but here’s a little bit more.

It was a kind of big weekend, despite relatively little climbing, and it’s cemented Index as one of the areas that I aspire to be competent enough to tear it up at. I was too busy climbing to take pictures, but hope to spend a lot of time at Index now that I have such warm fuzzies about the place, so will try to get you some eye candy the next time I’m up.

I would be remiss in not linking to the WCC’s Index Town Wall update page. In case you’ve been on Mars, the Lower Town Wall, one of Washington’s most beloved climbing areas, is being sold by the current private property owner. WCC and the Access Fund are working on an acquisition plan. Please, bookmark that page, and keep in touch with the WCC about what you can do to help with this process.

I had two goals for the weekend: (1) to lead a pitch on GM, a classic Index 5.9; and (2) to push myself beyond my comfort zone on gear.

Little did I expect, that GM would be our first stop. After a bit of confusion over who was climbing with whom, I wound up as second to Shawn, with Peter and GR in a two party after us. Shawn lead the first pitch, which I’d fallen on last year on toprope, but it felt fun and was pretty relaxed this time around. When we got to the first belay, Shawn looked expectantly at me, I looked at the pitch above, and I decided, what the hell. Looking up from the belay, I thought I could adequately protect the crux moves to keep myself off the deck. I figured it would be a scary, but relatively safe fall, with one of my favorite belayers on the other end of the rope. So, I tried to think positive thoughts while racking up, and then set off.

The second pitch is very short. It’s basically up a good crack system off the belay, to an arching shallow roof, with placements underneath the roof that can be reached before you start the no-feet friction traverse out the shallow roof, with good hands underneath. The friction is sufficient that with body tension you can work your way out the roof, so it’s more scary looking than it is in reality. Once you get a hand around the edge of the roof, it’s a good jug; then it’s forearm jams between, or reaching back to edges behind the roof and a huge deep flake to the right. I opted for a left forearm jam, thrown in and jammed securely into the crack. With my forearm solidly and securely jammed, my feet smeared on absolutely nothing, I let go of the jug with my right hand and reached for my #4 Camalot to get a piece in above me.

I then realized the err of my racking ways.

My right hand was free; my left arm solidly jammed; and my #4 was on my left side. I could have moved up by grabbing an edge with my right hand to free my left arm, but the security of such a move was uncertain. I decided, instead, to try to “get to” my #4 with my right hand, which turned into quite the production.

I don’t remember making noise, but Peter and GR say I was pretty — um — vocal, as I grunted and stretched, and fingered through the cams racked on my harness. I honestly don’t know how long I was jammed there by my forearm (which was totally bomber — enough so that I have a huge swollen bruise to show for it) but it felt like a LONG time. Shawn was encouraging, and calm, and ultimately helped talk me through my gear biner by biner (since I couldn’t see my back, where the #4 was racked) until I had my fingertips stretched to the right biner for the #4. Even once I had my fingertips on it, I had a hard time getting the biner off my gear loop. Once I did, I quickly placed the piece, clipped the rope, pulled myself up with my forearm jam and my right hand on the inside of the crack, and got my feet up into the crack. I immediately placed a #5 from the solid stance, clipped it, and finished up the pitch at a much calmer pace. I was happy, and excited, to reach the belay and to bring Shawn up. That was my hardest trad lead to date, and the hardest I’ve had to work for a trad pitch, ever. I was thankful to my partners for cheering me on, and their efforts to try to keep me calm and on task.

We left the #4 and #5 on the pitch for GR’s lead. Shawn lead the (hard) 10b pitch on Heart of the Country to the right of the GM route, then the options for the final pitch were a 5.9 finish on GM, or a 11a finish just to the right of it on Heart of the Country. Since I’d left my big gear for our second party, and had loaned them my #3 for their ascent, I didn’t feel I had enough big gear to protect the final 5.9 pitch — it looked to me like I’d have to run it out significantly, over not-gimme climbing. We eyed, and discussed the 11a pitch, which actually looked doable and we had the gear for it, but I decided I didn’t want to get in over my head, when I can come back another time and lead GM ground up as one of my next lead goals. We called it a good warm up, and rapped off, taking a break for Shawn to toprope a pitch he likes, then we headed to the Lower Town Wall proper to see if any of the classic 5.9s were open.

GR got on Princely Ambitions, which he calls “I Wanna Be A Princess,” a super long, super exposed 5.9 at Lower Town Wall. I was geared up to lead it but completely lost my nerve watching him work through the crux, a delicate traverse on small crimps out to the right, with a kind of technical gear placement to then traverse way left again. Traverses aren’t my strongest suit, and I felt like I’d burned through all of my “bold” on the GM lead, so instead of leading, after GR and Peter had cleaned the gear and rapped off, I toproped the wildly traversing Princely Ambitions.

It was all fun and games until I got to the far right hand crimp traverse, and then my fear of a huge pendulum toprope swing got the best of me. I called down to Shawn that I’d had enough, and wanted to bail, and got an appropriately snarky response, basically, to suck it up and rock climb. I took a few deep breaths and then tentatively worked my way right, terrified of the prospect of that huge swinging fall. I’m lucky — given how negative my thinking was — that I was able to pull the moves and didn’t fall. I mantled up and then worked my way back left. The route is a series of mantels one after another — the mantels would be scary on lead; but the traverses were scary on toprope. The best way to go would be to lead the route and then bring up a second with some gear placed to prevent the swinging falls I faced on toprope.

So, note to self, sometimes it’s better to just suck it up and lead, than to try to do something “less scary” by toproping.

After that, we headed back to the Country to get on the first pitch (10d) of Cunning Stunt, a classic, well protected bolted face pitch. Peter did a bold lead on it, and we took turns on toprope laps since it was close to the end of the day and nobody was waiting for it. I look forward to working up the courage to lead it — the cruxes are well protected with bolts nearby, so it would make a great, hard sport project for me.

We didn’t get in a ton of pitches, but we did have a fantastic day. As always, I’m thankful for my climbing partners who stick by me even though I seem to be having a
fear / bold setback this spring. After this weekend, I have two things to work on in earnest: (1) my fear, which seems to have made a strong comeback after a hiatus last winter; and (2) my left shoulder, which has been giving me a little bit of grief the last few months, but which is really sore after my prolonged full weight dead hang of an arm jam on that side on my GM lead.

I’m open to suggestions on both, please!

First, I’m ordering a copy of The Rock Warrior’s Way: Mental Training for Climbers, by Arno Ilgner. I’ve heard mixed reviews of the book, but I’ve already read the “mental training” sections of the other training books I have, and I need to add additional tools to my arsenal.

Second, I’m incredibly lucky to be a climber who currently has the privilege of paying through the nose for health insurance. Since that may not always be the situation, I’m going to put that insurance to good use and try to figure out how to keep my shoulders more healthy. I didn’t injure it climbing — I gave myself a touch of bicep tendinitis (or is it tendonitis?) doing pushups to try to AVOID a climbing injury a few months ago, and since resting and recouping that injury, that shoulder just hasn’t been as strong / pain free / quick to recover as the other. Unfortunately, that has meant no pushups or bench press, although I have been able to keep up with dips to try to keep my shoulders balanced — but I’m afraid the lack of pushups and bench has aggravated my already out-of-balance shoulders to the point where now, after that lengthy dead hang on that shoulder, my rotator cuff is sore. I suspect that all of these factors ultimately will cause, if I don’t do something to reverse course, rotator cuff tendonitis.

I’m resting, icing, Aleve-ing, and am checking around for local medical folks who have experience with climbers, so that I can hopefully figure out how to keep it from getting worse, and strengthen both my shoulders to prevent future injury. My dear family doc just called and gave me a referral to a PT she thinks highly of, so I’ll let you know how it turns out. It’s also feeling better already just with a day’s rest, ice and Aleve, so I’m optimistic that I’ve caught it early enough to not be too serious.

I look forward to your thoughts on mental training, and shoulder health! I’ll keep you posted on both fronts, and I promise, I won’t be going out mountain biking solo again any time soon. Take care and be safe out there!

Trip Reports

Sara Lingafelter

Sara (Grace) Lingafelter takes steps forward and backward toward a right-sized life on a daily basis.