A Whirlwind Week in Utah!

I was about 13 years old the last time I climbed in Maple Canyon, UT. My family had made the trek down in the middle of summer to check out this geologically wacky climbing area for a week. All I remember was freaking out on lead on a 5.11 in Box Canyon, the flies and the long dirt road. Over a decade later, Tom and I rolled up the canyon. We had left the Wind River Range and booked it straight to Maple, extremely psyched to go sport climbing after our alpine trip.

I had a goal for Maple Canyon that differed from those I had in previous areas on this trip. Instead of sampling a ton of the area classics and enjoying a well-rounded experience of the area, I really wanted to get stuck into a project. A major goal I made for myself for this road trip was to climb 5.14. This has been a dream of mine from a very young age, when I started working routes outside and began to enjoy the progression through grades that reflected my development and improvement as a climber. Maple seemed as good a place as any, with the Pipedream Cave chock full of multiple 5.14s.

On our way to the canyon, I poured over the guidebook, my eyes catching on T-Rex, a 30 bolt long 5.14a that was described as the “King Line of the Cave”. The route was an extension of Millennium, a 5.13d that my former coach, Mike Doyle flashed back in 2003.

I immediately started working Millennium, hoping that it would come rather quickly so I could start linking into the extension. The first few days, I could barely sit up in the morning; my core was so exhausted and sore from climbing on the aggressive overhanging angle of the route. However, I was soon able to link it cleanly to the crux and I started to get psyched! And then… the epic began. I proceeded to fall at the exact same move at the crux over and over and over. I stopped thinking about the extension and started agonizing about Millennium itself. Self-doubt began to seep into my psyche. I started having some fairly embarrassing wobblers. I began to have a serious hate-on for this route. Yet I couldn’t tear myself away. I have a fairly stubborn personality, and when I had already put in so much effort, there was no way I was going to walk away.

Starting up the rather awkward entrance into the roof of Millennium (5.13d)
Photo: Tom Wright

With the Outdoor Retailer trade show looming as my deadline (Tom and I both scored work during the show), I began to experience some heinous anxiety. How could I have put two weeks of effort into one route and leave? My last day before the show arrived. I had dropped Tom off in Salt Lake the day before and came back for one last try, wrangling my friend Jon into belaying me. I felt good, happy, yet as always, a bit anxious. My first two tries went well, yet ended with the same result: pitching off the low percentage move at the crux. I began to lose all hope. Then a voice from the ground piped up, “Why don’t you try it my way?” It was a young gun from Boulder, CO who had made fast work of many of the Pipedream test pieces, including Millennium. I was doubtful, thinking his beta looked far too powerful for me. Yet, as I was literally at the end of my rope, I gave in and tried it. Move my feet two feet to the left. Simple as that. And you know what? The kid was right. Way easier! I kicked myself for succumbing once again to the tunnel vision that projecting can induce.

As I tied in for my final try of the day, I felt exhausted, yet invigorated with a new psyche. Even if I didn’t get it today, I had bullied Tom into agreeing to come back for two days after the show. I still had time, and now I had confidence. With no expectations, I turned my brain off and fired through the moves that I had so completely dialed. The crux came, and the crux went. All the way to the anchors! I hadn’t completed my 5.14, but I had overcome one of the most challenging routes of my climbing careers, both physically and mentally. How could I not feel proud?

Floating on a cloud, I drifted back to Salt Lake for the trade show. I had found some work with Innate, a company out of Vancouver that creates clean designs for active travel. Check out their website. The products they make are incredibly well made! Both Greg and Robyn have been in the climbing/outdoor industry scene forever, and were incredibly fun to hang out with. I met more world-famous climbers and outdoor industry members at that little booth than I have in my life! The main attraction of the show for me this year was the Psicobloc competition. A duel-style competition held on a 50-foot wall over a giant pool at the Utah Olympic Park. From the moment I heard about this Chris Sharma brainchild, I was determined to compete. Unable to snag an invite, I entered into the qualifying round with no expectations. I had to compete with the likes of Emily Harrington, Chelsea Rude, and Megan Martin to gain a top two finish and make it into the final round. I shocked myself when I was actually able to climb quickly and qualify in first place, less than half a second above Megan.

Heading to the top of the wall in qualifiers. The only way off is to jump down!
Photo: Tom Wright

Originally, the organizers had planned on having 16 men and 8 women in finals. When questioned, they quoted time limitations for the final night as the main reason for having fewer women. However, when the qualifying round proved to go quickly, the girls banded together and requested they move all 8 qualifying women to finals to have even numbers. I was so psyched when the organizers agreed. The goal of this event was to have fun. I never once felt any of the normal competitive tension between athletes. We were all in it together. The fear of falling, and the exhilaration of climbing up to 50 feet above a pool of water combined to create an atmosphere of supportiveness amongst the athletes. Most people asked me if I was afraid, and if it hurt. The answer to both was yes! I was terrified at first to fall, but the fear gradually eased off. Yet the bruises are still there! I definitely didn’t have the most graceful water entry.

The finals at the Psicocomp. The crowd was huge!
Photo: Tom Wright

In the end, I finished in fourth place, beating out Sierra Blair-Coyle and Andrea Szekely in the final duel style knockout format. It was a better placement than I could have ever hoped for. I really want to emphasize not only just how incredible it was to compete with such high-level female climbers, but also how professional, supportive and friendly these girls are. Such a blast! I can’t wait to compete again next year!

All the female finalists at the Psicocomp. Congrats to Sasha, Delany and Megan for the strong podium finishes!

Back to Maple Canyon. Why, why, why? Truth be told, I was burnt out on Maple. But I knew I wasn’t coming back for a while, and I wanted to see if I could still pull off an extension to Millennium.  I had tried both extensions, T-Rex and Eulogy, and found Eulogy, a 9-bolt extension to Millennium, to be more my style. Arriving back in Maple, I was exhausted. A week of deep-water soloing and trade showing had left me bruised, battered and sleep-deprived. Needless to say I did not feel hopeful for any progress to be made on Eulogy.

Tyler Willcutt on his way to sending Eulogy, just hours after sending Pipedream (5.14a). Tank!

Hiking up to the cave was hot and slow. My warm-up was laughable. Tom and I were both grumbling about wanted to go back to Canada where we weren’t sweating every second. I walked up to the base of Millennium, not exactly enthused to come back to a route that had caused me so much angst. Yet, there was some magic in the air that day. People were taking down projects left right and center. So despite some grumpy Canadians in the Pipedream, the energy in the Pipedream was high. So I tied in, slipped on the kneepads and putting all negative thoughts out of my mind, I started up.

Heading up the bottom of Millennium, before starting the extension of Eulogy (5.14a)
Photo: Tom Wright
Photo: Tom Wright
Photo: Tom Wright

It is so hard to describe in words what I experienced on Eulogy. Often in rock climbing our mind dominates, overthinking moves, focusing on the end result and inevitably eliminates our ability to perform. Other times, our mind turns off and our physical self takes over, often resulting in making rash movements that hinder our performance. However, when we are able to harness our minds to work together with our bodies, and add in a little magic, wonderful things happen. For me, this wonderful thing was succeeding on my first 5.14a. Yesterday, I completed Eulogy on my first attempt, surrounded my wonderful friends and a cave full of happiness.

Happy after the send!
Photo: Tom Wright

I want to acknowledge a very important individual in Canadian climbing that I guarantee very few people have heard about. Ellen Powick is a Canadian climber who has spent the last 15 years living in Salt Lake City. She is soft-spoken, kind, and humble. She also crushes on rock. I had heard about Ellen a few years ago when she was mentioned in a Gripped article about Canadian women in climbing. It was the first time I had heard of a Canadian woman who had climbed 5.14. I have not heard of any other female Canuck climbing the grade before or since Ellen climbed Pipedream (5.14a) in Maple Canyon some years ago. I was so grateful to meet Ellen a few times while in Utah. I have a huge amount of respect for this woman. She is one of the most beautifully controlled climbers I have had the pleasure to watch, and she is happy to fly under the radar. Mad respect Ellen. You are a true role model for up and coming female climbers. Keep crushing!

What a whirlwind week it was! A perfect ending to our 4 month road trip here in the United States. Now Tom and I are so excited to be heading back to the homeland! We have two more months of rock-climbing in the Canadian Rockies and west coast. Couldn’t be more excited! Keep those adventures coming!

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