Breaking that Mental Barrier, April 25 2016 - Mark Rafferty

This past week I was fortunate enough to meet up with a good friend of mine Forrest Chong in South Dakota for a few days. I met Forrest the first night I was in Yosemite. I actually met up with Dakota for the first time and told me to come hangout with his friends at “The Couch”. For those who have spent time in the Valley you know what I’m talking about. Once Dakota, his friend Bree and I head up there I see Forrest as well as many others just chilling out watching the stars glow over the valley. It was pitch black out and no one could see anything. After we all got introduced I just fell into place and hangout and watched the stars with these guys. The following days after I came to be good friends with Forrest as well with everyone there.

A few months ago before I ever moved to Bozeman I got a Facebook message from Forrest saying that he is going to be coming through the Black Hills and wants to meet up and see what all my fuse was about how the Black Hills are so badass. Going back home to Rapid City is always nice to be in an area I love so much. However being back can also be a huge pain in the ass at times. Reason being that I feel like I have an obligation to meet and greet all my friends in town. So when Forrest asked for me to meet up with him in the Wrinkled Rock parking lot at noon there was a very high chance of me being late.

Sidetone: To all my good friends out there who know how bad I am at keeping my word on time. I’m getting better, you’ll see…

Pulling into the parking lot with my brother and two high school seniors, we pick up Forrest and head off to the Needles. I was shocked at first when Forrest told me he had never trad climbed before. Seeing him in Yosemite I just assumed he was one. Being that he was knew to trad climbing was actually perfect for me because then I can work my way up to get my head game strong and trad skills back to where they were before the accident.

For those who are not familiar with the Needles and the style they have be aware that they are balls to the walls runout. The area was developed by many who shared the same vision of keeping the area “natural” Meaning only ground up bolting and no power drills. This was both good and bad for the area in my opinion because for this bolting tactic it forced you top place bolts where you are able to free a single hand. Making is easier for other people climbing the route a safe place to clip. However because hand drilling took about 30-45 minutes per bolt, no one wanted to spend that much time establishing. So why not run out (in most cases) the easy sections of rock so minimize the process.

Anyways showing this style of trad climbing to Forrest I felt was a great way to learn. That way when we is faced with the situation where there is no protection and is forced to run it out, it wont feel as unnatural. The following days came to be amazing but also terrifying for me as well. Especially on the Conn Diagonal. This route was stated in Climbing Magazine as “The most terrifying 5.7 in the World.” Due to the exposure and a lot of cut feet moves. When I was leading this route I couldn’t help but play the worst case scenarios over and over in my head. Once I reached the end of the first pitch all that went away. It felt so goo to overcome that mental barrier.

After four days of straight climbing with our fingertips peeling down to their final layers, literally. Forrest lead his first couple trad routes, bumped his PR to a 5.12+, and got his taste of some of our sharp crystal boulders. I have a feeling he will be back to send his project boulders someday. All in all it made for a great birthday weekend!