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Dancing with the Devil

by | Apr 12, 2019

The route Lucifer reinforced the essential mantras of hardwork and patience. The accomplishments you’ll be proud of take time and a significant amount of blood, sweat, and tears. The lessons that stood out the most from this challenge for me were managing expectations, throwing out my rituals and habits, and above all having FUN again.

We follow in the footsteps of the folks before us. My stories, my experiences wouldn’t be possible without these people. For Lucifer the names that come to mind are Kenny Barker and Mike Doyle. Kenny bolted the route in 2006 and Mike did the first ascent. Their experiences with the route felt important and valuable to the story I wanted to tell. So I asked them to write about it.

Here is what they had to say-

Kenny Barker said,

“What most people don’t know is that Lucifer was the first route I ever placed bolts in. Quite frankly it was hellish, hence the name. First off, finding and equipping a wall like Purgatory was a dream come true! There were two main events that made equipping Lucifer more interesting than the rest. The first day I placed the anchors in what I felt was a logical ending point. These were easy to place and I remember thinking, “this shits easy!” From there I descended down to where I wanted to place the last bolt, trying every way in the world to stay close to the wall. I had never seen, let alone used, a hook so I had a double rack hanging from my harness hoping to get some gear placements. This ended up being the first time I placed a tri-cam and was pretty happy with myself. First the pink one, then the brown one. As I lowered a bit a heard a pop and immediately felt a bloody hole with my tooth sticking through my lip. Damn thing sucker punched me! Blood gushed for a few minutes while I did everything I could to place that last bolt. Once that bolt was placed I called it a day. The following day I awoke to heavy heavy rains but decided to roll out anyways. After walking down the lode hill and bushwhacking back to the cliff I was soaking wet. Not having a change of clothes I did the next best logical thing, strip! Sure, after being in my sport climbing harness for hours I ended up with some rough chafing but I knew then that Lucifer and the other routes on the wall were gonna be some of the best the RRG had to offer! Those first two days will forever be ingrained in my head. Congrats Dru Mack on sending! I feel inspired to see if my crusty old azz is ready put in the time!”

First Ascensionist Mike Doyle said

“Working and eventually redpointing Lucifer was an interesting experience for me. I was on a two month trip to the RRG and after two weeks I had done most of the hard routes that I had not completed before. I was encouraged by Bill Ramsey to go seek out Kenny Barker and have him show me ‘Lucifer’ (Kenny’s name, not mine). My first day on it I did most of the moves and quickly started making good progress. Then, as most of us have experienced, the fall conditions set in. Somedays were climbable, others were not. I felt like I was constantly checking the forecast and even waited out a week long snow storm just to try and climb it. The best part of the story is that on the day I redpointed Lucifer we had packed up the van and were leaving after climbing no matter what. I went through my normal warm ups; Castle Has Fallen and Dracula, then tried Lucifer twice but failed. I was done. I sat there upset for a bit then this breeze picked up, the sun had just left the cliff and I decided to try once more. I don’t remember much – I know I tried really, really hard – and then I was at the midway jug. I climbed the upper part very slowly and delicately (not many people had been up there) and got to the clipping jug. I looked down at my belayer, smiled a thank you and clipped the anchors. I really didn’t want to rate it 5.14c but I felt like if I rated it 5.14c then some top climbers might come try it. Little did I know a Petzl Roc Trip was already in the works for the next year. I should have rated it 5.14b and seen what happened 🙂 ”

History is important. We learn from the successes and mistakes of the people who showed us the way. Kenny put in a massive amount of work and battled through chafing and blowing tri cams to make this route possible. Mike just kept trying, even when he was tired and about to leave. These stories are inspiring and encourage me to keep chasing, keep dreaming, keep finding and doing more. Thank you Kenny and Mike for your contributions to our community.

My first experience on Lucifer was in 2012. I mean, I wasn’t climbing on the route back then, I was projecting ‘Paradise Lost’ 5.13a. Both routes are at the Purgatory Crag in the Red River Gorge. If you ask Kenny about that time, he will tell you stories of the raps I wrote about ‘Paradise Lost’. I even sent him a few of them…

In 2014 I spent a couple weeks out there belaying my friend Kai Lightner as he tried Lucifer. He battled through cold fingers to finally sent the route! It was my hardest bluepoint (belay) to date. This was one of my earliest memories of difficult climbing and what it takes to accomplish hard routes. This was eye opening and inspiring. I decided then that this was a route I wanted to do.

Skip ahead to the fall of 2018, I was riding high after my redpoint of the iconic route ‘Pure Imagination’ 5.14c. (read about here) 

After two days, I was making huge links and felt that the send was imminent. But then those two days turned to two weeks. My progress halted, and I was even falling lower on the route. I was being tactical by climbing one day on, one day off. I was eating well, I was doing the right things but the send wasn’t happening.

Boom. Backslide.

I got REALLY frustrated with this route, and you know what. Good. I’m glad I was impatient and discouraged by the process. It meant something to me, I was invested and cared about completing it. I was making high points on the route, falling with fingers slow motion sliding off the jug ledge. Being stymied by the route only felt like an extension of what was going on in my non-climbing life. I wanted the success of sending to cheer me up from the shit I was experiencing. I’m privileged to be upset by the ‘troubles’ in my life, but I still warrant myself to feel my feelings.

For example, near the end of November the weather took a turn and the highs were in the 20s. Grey and black clouds filled the sky, the forecast as well as the mood was gloomy. I challenged myself to go for a hike, see something new and have a different experience. I was driving out to Auxier Ridge, one of the most renowned hikes in the Red and also a place I had never been. Cruising out with music blasting, I texted a friend saying I was in my feels and just felt like running. He encouraged me to turn my phone off and check out. I agreed, typing out a last message before airplane mode. I looked up and realized I was driving too fast and not paying attention. The road was windy, a turn was approaching. Boom. My car was in a ditch, the back left tire three feet off the ground. My heart was racing, but I was okay. I was fine. Just what I needed I thought, I was already sad and pissy and now I’m stuck in a ditch.

My close friend Pete came and pulled me out, as he left he said “Enjoy the hike.” Before that moment I was just going to go home and chill. But I’m happy he encouraged me to do what I came for. I went for the hike in the freezing cold, I felt solitude and loneliness. Contrasting feelings but I also found myself smiling at the snow covered lookouts. It was beautiful, I was outside, I felt grateful.

Me putting my car in a ditch really has nothing to do with Lucifer, but it is a funny story and a great example of why you should focus on the present, especially when driving! Life can be hard and frustrating, but there is always beautiful places to see. Pushing your limits in your climbing, or in anything that you wanna be good at, has ups and downs. Other things happen in your life that get in the way of your goals. I was sad and angry at the things happening, and lost love for what I was doing. Lucifer became a thorn in my side, I didn’t enjoy showing up to try the route.

Time goes on. Feelings change. We get better.

I left the Red and headed to Bishop and Hueco for the winter. My first time in both places, the possibilities were endless. Climbing relentlessly till my elbows were pissed, my body hurt but my mind just wanted to keep climbing.

I climbed my hardest boulder with ‘Crown Of Aragorn’ v13 after 5 days of effort.

I found peace in the Sierra’s and solitude in the desert. I saw new places. I sat and watched stillness; I stared at the landscapes out of the passenger seat of the car. I was in awe.

When I returned to Kentucky for the 2019 spring season I knew things would be different. I enjoyed returning to the route. I spent a couple days remembering my beta as well as perfecting the sections that I formally questioned. Quicky I was falling high. Back in the battle zone, would my mind feel crazy like the previous fall or would I settle in and feel comfortable? I showed up, time and time again and felt confident but without expectation. YO that’s KEY. Expectations will kill you. Nothing is deserved, everything is earned.

I climb full time right now, so I’ve gotten to know what works for me, I have my habits and structures. With a route this hard and fingery, I would almost never climb on it two days in a row. But sometimes, things are mental, sometimes you try harder when you’re tired. Sometimes changing up the program can help rid you of expectations and hopes.

So I went second day on, feeling sore from the day before. BUT WHATEVER. I just needed to show up and try.

It worked. I sent Lucifer on my first try of the day.

All the countless effort, failure and frustration accumulated to this moment. I felt proud of the fight. I felt like I earned it.

Nothing is deserved, everything is earned.

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