Tom Onsights Red Zinger (5.11d)

Tom is always teaching me things. When we first moved to California, Tom taught me that 10-15 pitches of climbing is more than do-able in a day. Having previously taken more than 10 hours to do only 3 pitches, this easy comfort with moving quickly over the rock was something that I hadn't really imagined before. He has undertaken a prolonged crusade to make me more comfortable hopping and dancing across steep boulder-fields and slippery scree slopes, maneuvers that would previously have had me crawling on all fours in tears. This winter he taught me to ski the trees in VT. It's always the same program, “Try this. Be safe. The worst-case scenario isn't that bad. You can do it.” and I learn, slowly, from his example.Red Zinger was today's lesson. It's an intimidating line, steep enough to play to Tom's weaknesses, and several grades harder than anything he'd ever led before. The plan was to use it as a testing ground, and benchmark for improvement, to return to it repeatedly over the next few months until he could successfully climb it in one push. It is a good choice for a project route for many reasons. The approach to the bottom of the climb is relatively short, making for easy access. The protection is good, and the fall clean, so the danger associated with falling is minimal. Plus, it wouldn't be necessary to leave behind gear if you couldn't make it to the top. It would be easy to swing from the anchors at the top of the 5.9 first pitch of Meat Grinder over to Red Zinger and retrieve any gear that you had placed.

I could tell that Tom was nervous about leading the climb. Yet, when it came right down to the climbing – he seemed to float through the crux section. There was one move where he pumped out a little placing and re-placing gear, but to watch you would have thought he was on a 10d instead of 11d.

Now Red Zinger is my project. I top-roped the climb after Tom led it, and took only one fall. Of course, Tom removed most of the gear on his way down in order to spare me the trouble of taking it out while I was climbing, so I expect that it will be much more difficult to lead than it was for me to follow. Perhaps in a few months I'll be able to lead it without falling. Once again, I'm following in Tom's footsteps. I'll try it. I'll place a lot of gear knowing the fall isn't too bad. I can do it.

Now, if only I could summon the courage to try difficult routes onsight, the way Tom did – without knowing in advance that I can do all the moves… Oh well, I guess I'm still learning.