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Evan on the project

The project

—-Evan Belknap

For the last six weeks, my friend John and I have been waking up early, usually twice a week, to drive down to Socorro to “work on the project.” The project is a sixty-foot tall sport climb in the Box Recreation Area, just outside of Socorro, called “Insider Trading.” It’s a beautiful rock climb with very small holds and big, burly moves between them, up a steep orange face of rhyolite. The game is to climb the route, from bottom to top, without falling. This is often easier said than done most times; we keep falling—stopping with a lurch as the rope goes taut.

This particular climb has been hard for us—John is going on three winter seasons of attempts, over ten days and dozens of attempts, and I’ve given at least six days and 13-14 tries with no success. It has stirred up some madness in us. When we are not actively failing to climb the thing, we are either thinking about it, training for it, dreaming about it, and otherwise torturing our significant others by obsessing over this arbitrary line up a distant chunk of rock.

On the hour drive south from Albuquerque, we discuss how everything has to be perfect: the temperature must be either forty degrees and sunny, or fifty degrees and cloudy—just warm enough that your fingers and toes don’t go numb but cold enough that your fingers don’t sweat off the tiny edges. We have to be in peak condition physically, having eaten well, imbibed little, and gone to bed early on the days before an attempt. We have to have the moves so dialed that our bodies can move through the sequences of body and hand motions without thinking, and without getting lost. Before a try, we have to breathe slowly, try to relax our heartbeat, and when all that is in place, in perfect Zen mode, we have to get really lucky.

We presume that with continued effort, there will eventually be this one perfect ascent for each of us—where we pass by each difficult move with power and precision and float upward like a balloon caught on the wind, effortless masters of gravity.

But alas, as close as we are, we keep falling.

Last week, John had his last go before flying away to New Zealand with his wife and new baby for the holidays. He fell towards the top and was disappointed—curse words and a flying rubber shoe—but a tangible weight seemed lifted off his shoulders. Later, on Facebook, he wrote the following:

“Nothing will change if I don’t get this climb. I’ll get a minute of elation at the top, a high five from my belay partner, and hype from my friends… Is it worth the sacrifice and the pain? All I know is that if I don’t climb I’d be harder to live with; I’d be much more frustrated being docile than I am now throwing myself at the climb. I’d be a shitty Dad. And I’d be sad. I’m more psyched than ever to rest up, train hard, and get back to it in the New Year.”

A few days ago, I had my last try for the year. With John gone, it’s hard to keep the psych alive, to continue throwing myself at this thing like an ultimate fighter needing a KO in the last round, and continuing to get beat. There is no audience, no sponsors, no monetary reward.

Some friends and I went out early and the temperatures were perfect (cold). I felt good and the little holds felt sticky. I danced up through the first crux, climbing out of a cave and onto the blank face above. I skirted over to the crux crimp on the left and swung my right foot up as high as my shoulder. I rocked over on my foot and stretched as high as I could for a chalky eighth-of-an-inch-wide rail and then bumped to the only decent hold on the route for a quick shake of my oxygen-starved forearms. I set up for the next crux, a big move to a terrible sharp edge, hit it, set my feet high and lunged for a finger-lock slot. I missed, fell ten feet and, with the familiar lurch of the rope tightening, was done for the day.

Finger-tips raw, and me mentally and physically exhausted, I knew my season was done as well.

I thought about how rare it is that you hear stories of people failing. When people put a lot of intention into something, they tend to get what they want. As climbers, John and I live for that split second of glory that comes with finally succeeding on something that once seemed impossible—we daydream about clipping the chains at the top of the climb, giving a whoop, lowering down to the ground, and heading home to celebrate with pizza and beers. That little bit of celebration makes all the pain and failure a little sweeter, easier to bear. But while triumph is sweet—and it will have to wait until next fall—it’s unimportant compared to the failure.

Failure brings up a million questions, whereas success marks the end of something. The evolution of one’s progress on a certain journey comes to a halt, and there is nothing more to be learned. Usually this is fine for climbers, because there is always another rock climb, one that is just a little harder, to move on to. But the concept is interesting to me: by our failure, we have let a string of evolution continue. We have nothing as simple as a triumph, but rather a pockmark to rue upon for a year. Directly because of our failure, I imagine we will try harder and get stronger than we would have otherwise. Insider Trading lives on; it’s mythical now, like a dragon that stole our village’s queen.

Forest service hosts collaborative forest restoration workshop

The Southwestern Region of the US Forest Service is hosting the Collaborative Forest Restoration Program (CFRP) 2017 Annual Workshop on January 23-24, in Santa Fe. The workshop will be held in the Jemez Rooms of the Santa Fe Community College, 6401 Richards Avenue. The workshop is open to the public, and there is no charge for attending.

To register for the workshop, call 1-505-428-1000 or go to

The CFRP Annual Workshop brings together CFRP grant recipients, their partners, and other stakeholders to share their experiences and discuss accomplishments, challenges, and strategies to overcome barriers to the implementation of collaborative forest restoration projects.

For more information on the Collaborative Forest Restoration Program Annual Workshop, contact Walter Dunn at 842-3425 or Amanda Montoya at 842-3176.

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