Operation Megaproject

Projecting is difficult. Taking on a hard project demands extensive physical strength, stamina and mental fortitude, and of course, projecting involves great risk.

Projecting on a timeline can amplify the difficulties of the process and it certainly heightens the risk of not sending. When visiting a climbing destination it can be scary to launch whole-heartedly into something that pushes one’s limits yet provides no guarantee of success, but it can teach us a lot about ourselves as climbers, our ability to be disciplined and focused, our ability to work under pressure, and most of all our ability to celebrate the process rather than the outcome.

On November 12th of this year, we had just reached the end of six weeks of sport climbing in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge. We had climbed a LOT of volume, both onsighting and redpointing a wide variety of routes, and we’d both completed several small projects. We were satisfied with our time in the Red and ready to move on, but with the help of a few beers we made a last minute decision to take on a BIG project. We were in great “Red Shape” after a month and a half and there were abundant options for hard routes. What did we have to lose?

With the possibility of extending our stay two more weeks, we came up with a plan:  we would each pick a route that was more difficult than anything we’d climbed, and we would get to the anchors of that route by whatever means possible to assess the moves and feasibility. Then we would launch ourselves at the route, devoting every climbing day to the project. Other plans included no beer (this lasted about 7 days), rest day runs (this lasted one day), rest day core and opposition work-outs (we stayed on track pretty well), and eight or more hours of sleep each night (no problem!).  

A typical “madness cave” belay experience

Kim chose the iconic arête route “Kaleidoscope” (5.13c) for her project. Graham chose the long enduro-testpiece “Omaha Beach” (5.14a), touted as one of the best routes of its grade in the country, for his project. It was exciting to push ourselves to try really hard, and to focus on one goal. We celebrated the small successes, but we also encountered mental blocks and challenges that were emotionally draining. On Kim’s route one low percentage dynamic move halted progress for several days in a row, and she had to overcome the mental challenge of skipping the final draw, which made the run-out to the anchors a third of the route’s length. Graham’s difficulties were different. Omaha Beach is 130 feet long and climbs through the Motherlode’s Madness Cave, a huge overhanging horseshoe-shaped cave. Graham excels at routes with distinct hard or bouldery cruxes, making Omaha Beach his anti-style – extremely steep sustained V4-5 endurance climbing. Another challenge with any of the routes in the Madness Cave is the huge whippers that are inevitable when a climber peels off. We used all sorts of techniques to help with boinking back to the wall – jumars, belayer weights, boinking prussic, etc, but each time a climber chooses to boink it is still a significantundertaking. 

Graham climbing out through the steepness on Omaha Beach
Kim pinches her way up the arete of Kaleidoscope
Graham prepares for yet another epic “boink”

In the end, our limited time caught up with us. Kim came away with a send on her final climbing day (talk about cutting it close!) and Graham and Omaha decided they needed a bit of time apart to settle their differences, knowing they could reunite some day in the future. 

Kim on her send of Kaleidoscope, her first 5.13c
Regardless of the outcomes, we learned several important things that we will take into consideration the next time we decide to initiate an Operation Megaproject:
  1. Start with two projects. Keep one as a primary, one as a secondary.
  2. Compartmentalize the route. Break it into boulder problems or sections, then focus on little segments at a time
  3. Learn the beta as quickly as possible. Write it down, draw it, or memorize it, then visualize often
  4. Spend some extra effort learning how to recover as best possible on the rests
  5. Know where the biggest mental difficulties are, and focus extra energy and refinement on those parts so they become the easiest (a hard crux, a dynamic move, a skipped clip, etc)
  6. If you and your partner’s projects are at different crags, climb on opposite days from each other
  7. In the long term schedule, keep time for onsighting/low-key days and ensure there are enough days to get away, regroup, and still come back
  8. Stay positive. Focus on progress, no matter how small, and don’t get dragged down into things that go wrong
  9. Try to prevent a forced timeline – start as EARLY as possible in the trip to take the pressure off
We are happy with the experience and looking forward to applying what we’ve learned to the next time we initiate an Operation Megaproject 🙂


Oh, the woes of projecting

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