The Juice - Anthony Lapomardo

The Juice, 5.14a. Photo by Anthony Lapomardo

Recently, I sent my project – a sport climb called Big House, 5.14a, at Jailhouse, near Sonora CA.  This has been my dream climb – for at least a few years.  Two years ago, two attempts into the climb, I hurt my shoulder.  This is when my obsession began.

Fast forward through 1 year of physical therapy, strengthening and training in the gym and we’re in late 2013: my sole goal was to attempt this climb.  I had no expectations of sending, but I wanted to prove to myself I was stronger than the move that had hurt me.  Call me crazy, but I think that’s a little bit of what projecting is all about.

Big House is about 90 feet tall, located on a steeper section of the wall with big moves on some decently sized (others not so) holds with ok knee bar rests.  I’ve seen others do this climb, and the movement has always attracted me.   In spite of climbing at Jailhouse for at least 7 or more years, I must admit, I don’t love to knee bar.  I do it; I’m not great at it, and still somehow need them to be pointed out.   If left to my own devices, I will usually  muscle my way through a section rather than gracefully crawl (and now you can see why I hurt my shoulder).   But that’s what attracted me about Big House, it has knee bars but there were also straight up moves that couldn’t be crawled through.

I can't seem to escape the kneebars

Working on my weakness: knee bars. Column of the Giants, CA

So what is projecting and why is it so awful fun?  It’s about the process, about conquering something you couldn’t touch before.

When I talk about projecting and what is commonly found at Jailhouse, I’m referring to the type of climb on which you may not reach the anchors on your first try.  Where you may grab every draw and clip for dear life because there is no way you’re clipping off that tiny hold.  Where progress is measured in weeks or months, not tries.  Where when you finally one hang the route, you could be less than half way to sendage.  Where tenacity is the name of the game and your worst enemy is yourself.  

Projecting, and more knee barring, at the Pipe Dream, Maple Canyon

Projecting, and more knee bars, at the Pipe Dream, Maple Canyon, UT.

For me, the single most challenging thing about projecting is self doubt.  Can I do the moves?  Is it worth investing time on this to see if it’s possible?  Are people going to mock me for flailing my way up this route?  Am I crazy for trying this?  Working through a project is conquering that doubt and proving to myself it’s possible. Does that mean every day is awesome?  No.  Have I learned to embrace the I-got-one-foot-move-higher high point?  Not really.  Will I ever not project?  No.  Because if I didn’t project,  I would never realize what I’m capable of.

When I first tried Big House two years ago, I couldn’t get to the anchors.  It was guarded by a dynamic throw to a bread loaf sloper that I couldn’t seem to stick.  I also couldn’t do a move down lower – a big move off a finger lock (my trad friends are sure to laugh).  The move that hurt my shoulder was a wide left handed stretch under a roof to a two finger pocket, a move I also couldn’t do.  The list goes on, but that’s how it starts.  I liked the look of the climb and I enjoyed the movement I was able to do.  And I was motivated to do the moves I couldn’t.

And that’s how you start a project.  Find something you like.  It doesn’t matter why you like it, or if you can do all the moves; it only matters if at the end of the day, you’re psyched that you gave it your all.

Training Slopers with PG SF Mgr Eliot | Hanging at the first bolt...Red River Gorge, KY

Hanging at the first bolt…Red River Gorge, KY   |   Training on slopers with PG SF Mgr Eliot

And that’s the second thing about projecting.  I’d be lying if I said it was all about the process and not about the send.  I want to send, of course!

So if you’re looking to project a hard grade, choosing a project that suits your body type, your skill set and your interests is important.  If you are like my husband who excels at big compression moves on big slopey holds, he wouldn’t do so well choosing his hardest project on technical micro-crimps.   In the same way that I, at 5’2″, do not find giant compression moves to be my strongest suit. But as many of my climbing friends are, we’re over achievers and on some underlying level, we love to suffer on a climb we can’t do.

And that’s the next part of projecting: preparing yourself to battle.  Struggling up a climb, repeating a move several times to figure out the best beta – it’s hard.  And can be painful.  And frustrating.  So know what you’re going to get into, and set small goals.  For me, my ongoing goal is to keep a positive attitude and always try as hard as I can.   Take pleasure in the small successes, such as the one-foot-move-higher high point.  Be happy that you tried hard.

Projecting isn’t for everyone, and you shouldn’t project every climb you get on.   It’s probably the most frustrating thing I’ve done for fun, but as I’ve learned, fun isn’t always about smiling – sometimes it’s about proving to yourself that you can. 🙂


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Stephanie Ko Pound is the Marketing and Regional Manager for Planet Granite and when not climbing, can be found knitting another cowl.