Pushing the limits proves to be in the essence of the human spirit. Last week, team climber Daniel Woods triumphed over the most challenging mental and physical challenge of his career by sending “The Process”, an earth-shattering possible V16. In the wake of his accomplishment, Woods takes a deep dive into what made this seemingly impossible climb a reality.
The Bishop Mega Project
Bishop is the land of highball bouldering. The Grandma and Grandpa Peabody boulders host some of the taller, more difficult lines in the Buttermilks. In 2014, I had my eyes set on a project located on the right side of the Grandpa Peabody boulder. This line climbs out the longest/steepest part of the overhang. There were just enough features to make it possible.
Origin of the line
Dan Beall from San Diego, CA was the first person to envision the line. Both Dan and Kevin Jorgeson rapped down to investigate the upper headwall and see if it would go. Matt Birch climbed the first half of the roof calling it “Social Distortion” (v13). This line ended on an obvious patina flake in the middle of the roof. The remaining 3 moves to the lip and upper headwall were still a mystery, creating the Bishop Mega Project. Many top climbers including Chris Sharma, Tommy Caldwell, Matt Birch, Kevin jorgeson, Carlo Traversi, and Dan Beall spent days and seasons testing out the upper moves and trying to link the last two sections together. Carlo and Dan were able to climb from the flake to the lip, proposing a grade of v14. They also connected the upper headwall saying it felt to be v10. The mega project was truly born now. Everything went, and the dots just had to be connected.
Breakdown of the climb
The Bishop Mega Project ascends a 20-foot overhang starting out at 60 degrees for the first half and finishing at 72 degrees (Dan measured the angles). From the lip you climb a 10-foot slightly overhanging to vertical bulge that deposits you to a no hands rest. The final 20-foot friction slab leads you to the top. I like to break the climb down into 3 sections.
Section 1: The line starts on 2 opposing quarter pad patina side pulls. The next 5 moves require robotic tension between very small and hard to get into edges. The crimps are not comfortable and hard to get right. The feet are limited, small, and glassy. This section clocks in at the lower v13 range.
Section 2: This is the crux of the roof. From the patina flake, you make a large move out left to a right facing quarter pad slot. This move is hard to be accurate with. From the slot I bring my right foot up next to my right hand, isolate every muscle, and reach up right hand to a quarter pad vertical side pull that is flat and unpleasant to grab. The final move is the most committing and difficult move of the whole problem. I set up with the left hand gaston and right hand side pull, put my left foot where my right foot is, and jump backward while catching the full pad incut ear with my left hand. Once the ear hold is caught, my feet swing out horizontally while my hands and shoulders engage to withstand the force. This move feels like a tornado is blowing you away and your hanging on with your hands for dear life. You do this move at the 20-foot mark and it clocks in at around v12 just in itself. These 3 moves add up to be in the lower v14 range
Section 3: The final headwall is the mental/red point crux of the boulder. The climbing is not as steep, but the holds are noticeably smaller and friction dependent. In total there are 6 moves of climbing that add up to v10. The final 3 moves are the crux at around 25 feet. I take a left hand pinch that has a crystal just large enough for my index finger to bite into. The rest of the fingers settle onto the friction of the wall. My thumb is squeezing hard into a quarter pad edge next to the crystal. I can then compress my index finger and thumb together and make a hold. Once I have this I stand up tall and reach with my right hand to a fingernail size razor crimp that lies just above the bulge. This edge bites fiercely into my skin and allows me to bring my left foot up and execute the final left hand iron cross move to a full pad rail at the 30 foot mark. At the rail I build my right and left feet up onto two smears, reach with my right hand to another quarter pad edge, then mantel up onto the edge. Here I am at a no hands position and all that remains is the 20 foot 5.9 friction slab to the top.
In order to climb a line of this difficulty and height, a lot of factors and logistics come into play. The temperature outside has to be just right in order to hang onto these nonexistent holds. If the temperature were too hot, my fingers would sweat and slip off of the edges. This would cut up my skin, forcing me to rest. If the temperature were too cold my fingers would numb out and make it impossible to feel the friction of the rock. The perfect temperature for me is 42 degrees with a slight breeze to keep the air dry and the fingers sticky. Since the project is south facing, it bakes in the sun all day. It is rare to get a cold enough day in the desert to try when it is sunny out, so Dan and I resorted to night sessions. We could have sessioned it at dusk, but our window was shorter to do so. We waited for the sun to set then the dew point to pass and for the rock to cool down. To make this thing safe 25 crash pads were needed. Dan created a blueprint of how the pads were to be arranged. Multiple friends helped us shuttle the pads up to the boulder and lay them out perfectly while we warmed up. We had 3 lanterns, 2 god beams, and multiple headlamps to light up the Grandpa Peabody boulder. It was amazing to see such a magnificent boulder glow beneath the stars. We had an 8ft ladder to work the 2nd section of the line. This helped us dial in the last move dyno to the lip. Every night there was a process to get ready for the evening session.
The first couple of nights were spent figuring out the moves and being reacquainted with them. I focused mainly on the last move, since this was my crux. After a few trial goes, I was able to dial it in. I then climbed it from the flake to the lip, then from the start to the last move. I bailed on this move but felt psyched about the quick progress. The line seemed within my grasp, but I knew the real crux lay ahead. I still had to do the dyno then commit to the final headwall. The next session I warmed up and felt good. I did the final dyno a couple times, and then decided to give a go from the ground. First try I felt good, but could not commit to the dyno. Second try was the same and now my head was getting the better of me. I knew I was fully capable of climbing the line, but my head was not ready to flip that kill switch. I walked around the boulder and just chilled. Thousands of “what if” thoughts rushed through my head and I did my best to block these out. Finally, I told myself that I would commit to the dyno and choose from there to go to the top or not. I walked around the corner and geared up for another go. I felt psyched but still uneasy. I began climbing and arrived to the dyno fairly quick. Everything felt perfect and I just threw myself at the lip and held on for the ride. The adrenaline immediately kicked in and my mind started to wander. Should I commit and just do it or drop? I was confused as to what sounded more appealing. Just having this thought was already a negative indicator for going hard in the paint. I started up the headwall anyway and arrived to the crux of the v10. I had the left hand friction pinch and was rocked over my right leg and ready to commit. For some reason I just froze. I could not take my eye off of the thin razor just up and right, but knew if something happened on this move then I would pay the price. I chose flight instead of fight and took the 25ft fall into a sea of pads. A feeling of shock overtook my body and in a way I felt like I sent it since there was just one more move left. Another feeling of failure slowly crept in and I went from feeling happy to aggravated. I let fear get the better of me and that is what makes this line so taunting. I knew the crux for me had nothing to do with being fit enough, but facing fear and channeling it into a positive emotion instead of one that is negative. Since the very first time I saw this line I was scared. I would tell myself that if this section was 5 feet off of the ground, it would not be an issue. Add fear into the equation and that is where the difficulty is brought out. My head would have to be at peace to climb this line. I planned to be present in every section and not think about the send or consequences. If I was meant to get hurt, then that is something I cannot control. It is better to not think of getting hurt after committing to the no fall zone. Once I put trust in myself that I could climb this line, it would be completed. I took the next day off and went back on a rope in the dark to rehearse the final headwall. I climbed the moves with both numb and sweaty fingers and was convinced that I could do it despite the temperature. I engrained the moves into my system and imagined doing them rope less. Though I was on a rope, I entered a safe zone that gave me a breakthrough in which I needed. I now knew that the next day would be the day.
The next day I woke up feeling at peace. I knew that we were going to try again in the evening and was psyched. The last week had consisted of late nights and long days of doing nothing and just waiting for the moment in which this beast would go down. The mental and physical process started to put a toll on my body and mind. I knew that I could only withstand it for a bit longer before I had to bail and come back. This gave me even more motivation to put all of my chips on the table and go for it. That night there were multiple people that showed up to watch. Dan and I warmed up, the videographers got into place, and our session began. Dan is really close to sending this line as well. He had been working it for a few years and had done every hard crimp line in Bishop. He kept falling on the final jump move and could start at the jump and take it to the top. I could tell that the fear aspect was not an issue for him. Dan cooled off and gave his first go. He made it to the final jump but could not stick it. I knew I had only a few goes. I approached the starting holds and set off. The rock did not feel as good compared to the other night, but my psyche took over. I felt more confident on the moves and was not thinking about the consequences. I was finally present with the line. I made it to the dyno and stuck the lip. My head did not race, but immediately went into executing the final section. I started up the headwall and came to the same place as before. I did not hesitate this time and stuck the right hand razor. My fingers were numb and I sat there for a couple seconds to re adjust and feel some sort of bite. This was not working so I took it as is, brought my left foot onto a higher foothold and committed to the last iron cross move. I stuck this move and felt safe. My hands were still numb, but I was able to regain back some circulation for the final mantle. Once I arrived in the no hands my survival instincts fully kicked in. At this point I was committed and was forced to go to the top or get seriously injured. I breathed slowly in and out through my nose to lower my heart rate and began the quest to the summit. All of my senses were firing in unison. I could feel the stillness of the air around me. I heard my toe rubber grind into each crystallized smear every step that I took. I could smell the rock and feel its energy. I was attached and not letting go. I stood on top of the Grandpa Peabody boulder beneath the stars and could faintly see the lantern light glowing down below. All of my serotonin was released and I felt on cloud 9. I learned how to be present in the face of fear and accept it. Fear was not my enemy but my aid. This line tested many of my attitudes and took me on a crazy ride. Non-judging, patience, beginners mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance, and letting go all appeared while projecting this line. I became present with these attitudes and took on the challenge and became a better person because of it. After I got down off of the boulder, Dan gave a couple more tries. He got close but ended up splitting both index fingertips. We then popped some bottles and had a celebration under the Grandpa Peabody.
After completing the mega project, Dan mentioned to me that he had wanted to name it The Process. This was his vision to start with and he put in a tremendous amount of effort to make this thing possible. Not to mention he was cool enough to open it up to the climbing community and not red tag it. The Process seemed fitting due to the mental and physical process we went through each session before it finally went down. To grade something like this is hard. Media loves big numbers and to see a progression with numbers. This line means so much more to me than just a number. I know and lived the mental/physical struggle this beast presented me and it is the hardest obstacle I have dealt with in my life thus far. The Process does not contain the hardest set of moves that I have ever done, but the full package really packs a punch. Linking v13 to v14 to v10 with scare factor involved is not easy. This line is also the epitome of my style (and Dans) and still took 2 winter seasons, 15 days, and a years worth of mental torture to send. I have learned a lot during the last decade of my bouldering career and have repeated/established many problems in the v13-15 range. I have also climbed a good amount of highballs. There are still many lines that I have left to try and repeat and a lot of them are not in my style. I do not believe in labeling one line as being the benchmark of that grade in bouldering. There are too many styles in climbing to have one represent that grade. An overhanging crimp line is going to feel different than a compression line and require different strengths. The way I would train for these two styles is different so I do not even compare. I take the style for what it is and compare it to other lines I have climbed in the past. I have trained the last decade on a 60 degree roof and am known for my crimping ability in roofs. A lot of my FAs involve isolated tension on finger intensive holds. I do not consider myself an expert at technical climbing or compression climbing. I have a lot to learn in these two realms. I would never claim to establish even v14 compression climbing due to my lack of experience. That being said, The Process is the hardest physical/mental challenge within my style of climbing that I have experienced thus far. I know there is harder out there then this because I have seen it. This line allowed me to break into a new realm within my climbing and open my eyes to what is possible. The only other line that I can compare this to in my style is Hypnotized Minds. I feel this line to be just on the cusp of that next level. The thing it just does not have is the mental factor and that is what separates The Process from the rest. I feel confident after all these years of climbing, that I have reached a v16 level within my style, and that is all that matters to me.
From Daniel Woods’ blog at neverstopexploring.com
Feature image photo credit: David Clifford Photography