Being a climber and a photographer, I’ve found an extra appreciation for trying hard and for perseverance, whether it leads to a send or to a fall.
In Rifle, Colorado, it could be the overhanging caves, the slick feet or the cryptic beta that could lead you to overwhelming pump, adrenaline rushes and calculated yet desperate moves. No matter how well you know the rock, it can always throw something unexpected your way—something that can make or break you on the route. Joe Kinder knows Rifle quite well, and has poured heart and soul, blood and sweat, into bolting new routes in the limestone canyon. In the last year, Joe has bolted several routes and link-ups, one of which he named Fat Camp (5.14d). The route is long and overhung, burly and precise.
I’ve watched different climbing films documenting amazing ascents and climbing feats. Meru, various Reel Rock films, Valley Uprising, Uncharted Lines, The Lappnor Project. They capture ascents and breakthroughs that many will never accomplish or record. That’s part of what makes those pieces so inspiring and challenging! Even outside of the realm of climbing, it’s special to watch as someone pushes themselves, physically and mentally, to a new level, setting the bar for the next generation to strive towards.
I hung on the fixed line as Joe began his attempt up Fat Camp. It was his last try of the day. After cruising the first half of the route, he pulled the first lip of the cave and moved into a good knee-bar—a crucial skill in Rifle—and rested. He was looking strong despite it being warm for the early evening. I moved up the line as he rested, moving as quickly as possible to get to my next vantage point. When he began moving again, he only had about forty feet remaining of the route, and as I snapped photos I held my breath—both to stabilize the camera and in an attempt to be the smallest distraction possible. Joe moved through the upper portions of Fat Camp, hitting several small holds with intense precision.
With ten feet left, maybe six or seven moves, Joe lunged for a slick, crimpy sidepull—one that I had watched him stick near the top in isolation multiple times without trouble. As he did so, he relieved the slightest bit of pressure on his toe. His feet flew back while his hands did their best to hold on to the small holds. From my angle, still holding my breath, I could see his eyes widen as he pulled his feet back to the wall, and then his hands finally slipped off.
To say he cursed and was frustrated would be an understatement. He looked up at me and frowned and explained what he thought may have gone wrong. He worked back up to that height, rested for a very short period and finished the route with ease.
As he lowered, I thought about the sweat and blood he had poured into projecting Fat Camp. I realized that on a regular basis I am lucky enough to be a part of that process—the process that climbers of all skill levels go through in order to push to a new level for themselves or the sport. Fat Camp was the most difficult route I’d yet to watch anyone try in person, and the intensity is difficult to capture and bottle even in film or still photos.
I left the next afternoon, not knowing that Joe would go on to send the route he’d bolted later on that same day. But I was there to capture the day he tried hard and fell. I could see the disappointment and hear the frustration in his voice after that attempt. But having been a part of the process, having tried and failed myself, having watched others fail, but then find success in their perseverance, I know that his send must have been sweet.
Ever-learning husband, climber, and photographer, from alabama to colorado to scotland