How I Sent my First 12d

How I Sent my First 12d

Well folks, I sent my first 5.12d. It was undertaking, but was strangely the most pleasant projecting process I have ever had – albeit the longest. Which in the grand scheme of things was not that long, coming in at eight sessions between October 18 and November 17. Compare that with the several hundred days that Ondra spent on Silence. Or the seven years that Tommy Caldwell spent on the Dawn Wall, or the countless hours and days Sabrina Chapman spent on Titan, a 5.14a. Eight sessions is practically a cake walk, though it surely didn’t feel like it at times.

But this story of taking my 2019 Redpoint of 5.12a up to 5.12d in 2020, starts long before October 18. Getting here took months of consistency, planning, and plowing through a variety of setbacks. So let’s take it back to December 2019, where this part of my climbing journey began.

Where Big Goals are Born

With a twinkle in my eye and a skip in my step, I walked up to Crux Conditioning in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I was attending the Power Company’s Empowered event, a three day intensive aimed at helping the self-coached climber get educated and crush their goals. It was there that I gained the audacity to dream big and some critical coach evaluations to help me get there.

At that event, I set the goal of climbing 5.13 in 2020. I left with an outline of my training for the whole year, armed with stoke and an infernal motivation – the following January, I got to work.

Roll with the Punches

For a few months, I chipped away at my weaknesses. I barreled through pinchy problems. I relentlessly pursued powerful moves. I left the endurance alone and worked hard boulders.

Then came the wrenches in my carefully laid out plans. Elbow tendinitis. A pandemic closing down the gyms. Spring climbing trips cancelled.* Finally when I moved back to Ohio in May, I got to climb again. I spent four weeks training in a gym before going on a successful trip to Lander, Wyoming. I was able to bump my redpoint by one letter and put down a couple more 5.12as as well.

tomahawk slam wild iris climbing lauren abernathy
Me on the send go of Tomahawk Slam, 5.12a. The first 5.12 I ever sent in two tries.

After Wyoming came another training block. Then at the height of preparation for my trip to Rumney, New Hampshire, a finger injury cropped up. Eight weeks of rehab later, the pain was gone and I finally felt like my old self.

From there I plowed on down to the Red River Gorge, determined to keep my 2020 dreams alive. My first day in the Gorge I get on what would become my season long project: Jesus Wept, 5.12d.

5.13a might not have been in the cards in 2020, but damnit I could at least get close.

*I would like to mention that I was very privileged throughout the whole pandemic. I do not say this to complain, more to outline a few obstacles that I had to navigate around to keep moving the needle forward. My own pandemic anxiety could only be sated by training in our apartment, so that’s how I coped. If you didn’t – that’s totally fine. We all deal with global catastrophes differently – you do you, my friend.  

The One

 Throughout the rehab process in New Hampshire, I watched beta videos of Jesus Wept. Almost daily. Though I underestimated the difficulty of the bottom boulder, I fell in love with the aesthetics of the pockets on the head wall. While some like to choose adventurous, little-done routes, the idea of doing a mega-classic route was inspiring to me.

The first day I pulled onto the route, all of the moves felt very hard. I thrashed around bolt two, did not even figure out how to do the low crux on the first burn. I had to pull on the draw to get the bolt three clipped. The next section after was not easy either. The headwall crux also felt hard. But I loved it.

The route truly had it all. A big powerful dyno crux down low that challenged me, and a flowing pocket sequence at the top that I enjoyed immensely. It was ninety-five feet of glory and I was ready to dig in.

I knew that sending was possible, but I also could very easily believe in an alternate reality where I spent all season on it and never sent. Putting all of my eggs in one basket was scary, but any worthy objective should scare you a little.

How I look when I’m really, really pumped and clipping at the same time.

The Recipe for Continuous Motivation

After one day on the route, I was hooked. I knew this was going to be the hardest project I had ever tackled. I would have to really believe in myself and devise a way to not get discouraged.

With the help of Karly (projectdirectcoaching.com), I had mini goals for the project every time I went to session it.

No matter how small, I celebrated wins along the way – like actually celebrated. On the hikes out I would reflect on the session, saying things like “I learned a better way to do this move. Awesome!” or “That’s the first time I have ever made that link between those bolts, what a win!” Every session I made sure to identify a small victory to keep me excited. It was proof to myself that I was chipping away at the larger goal.

Low Points

My favorite example of this was the session prior to my send. For whatever reason, I simply could not hit the bottom crux at bolt two, at all that day. I cried in frustration. Kicked my feet, made myself lie down for a while, and ate some food. Then, with the help of Karly, I moved on to a new session goal: bag a new low point.

I pulled back on, knowing that I was probably not going to hit the dyno. And when I didn’t, I simply pulled on the draw, skipped that move and proceeded to link bolt two to the anchors. It was a huge confidence boost. After that I thought “wow, the next time I hit that dyno from the bottom, I’m going to send.”

Above is a failure reel I made on Instagram. I spent most of my time on the route working on the crux at bolt 2.

After I made that gigantic link from bolt two to the chains, I bought some celebratory ice cream and I was really excited. It was a huge step. I could have left the session disappointed that I did not send, but instead I left with the excitement that I was one step closer to the redpoint.

** a low point is a term used regarding sport or bouldering projects. In contrast to a high point, which is the highest point you get on a project from the ground, a low point is the lowest point that you start a route in which you still get to the anchors.

Micro Beta

Contrary to what many have trouble with on this route (being extremely pumped and falling at the top pocket sequence), I had different problems.

The hardest part for me was undoubtedly the bottom boulder crux. Alternate beta be damned, after four sessions spent mainly investigating the possibilities of the bottom boulder crux, I decided on what I would do. A one pad two finger pocket on my right, a crimp dish on my left, and a feet-cutting chuck to the next hold was the way to do it.

Jump and pray. Photo by Tim Spanagel.

Though my accuracy with this move was about 30% of the time, after much attempting different ways of doing this crux, this was the way it would be.

Before my send, I only stuck this move from the ground once. But the day of, I found the last piece of beta that I needed to make this move happen every time. The adjustment was comically small.

I changed where I was aiming for on the hold by about three inches. Then I started hitting it every time. And then I laughed. A three inch change of gaze was the difference between sending and not sending. I rested for fifteen minutes, tied back in and the rest was history.

Why am I telling you about all of this anyway?

Now, I don’t tell this story to brag. I am telling it so you can rid yourself of the garbage that might have popped into your head the last time you dared to dream big with your climbing goals.  I have been told that I am “not naturally gifted at climbing.” I did not start climbing when I was young. I used to be so afraid of heights that I cried when I was on a top rope. So if I can send 12d, you probably can too.

So let me summarize in a neat, tidy list some of the lessons that you can extract from this story.

Takeaways

  • To hell with route pyramids. If I had followed the route pyramid, I would not have touched this route this season. I probably would have spent the season trying frantically to rack up four 12cs for whatever arbitrary reason. Instead, I dug into a project that inspired me and skipped 12c altogether. Route pyramids are a great guideline, mind you, feel free to exercise your freedom every now and again. You might surprise yourself.
  • Make sure you love it and it challenges you. If you are going to dig deep on a project, make sure you genuinely enjoy it, are inspired by it, and it is going to teach you something. If it does all of those things, then you picked a great project.
  • Brace for struggle and celebrate small wins. Suffering is a part of sending. Be prepared to struggle, but have a plan. If you can greet failure throughout the process with curiosity, you will learn a lot more. Conversely, do not hold back when it comes to celebrating small wins. Keeping motivation up throughout a long process is important, so take time to be proud of your progress.
  • Mini goals. Have an objective for each session and set mini goals. Even if you do not meet them every session, you will probably progress more effectively if you have a focus for each session.
  • Beta. Be inquisitive and open-minded. I did not have my beta for the whole route completely decided until about session six of eight. You might find that once you start making larger links, your beta needs to change. You will likely be refining details along the way. If you have a hard time remembering these little details, make sure to record them somehow with a beta map or some notes.
  • Learning is its own reward. Lastly, even if the weather turns shitty, or you get invited to a wedding, or your car breaks down, and you don’t get the chance to finish your project this season, remember that it will be around next year. If if you don’t send, be proud of whatever progress you made.

Oh yeah. Here’s the send video.

Have questions about any of this? Want to chat more about projecting tactics?
Drop a comment below, I’d love to hear from you!

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