The Art of Eliminates

“I don’t paint or do any other forms of art,” said Andrew Spencer. “Climbing is my art.” Then he proceeded to show me his list of eliminates* on the boulder. It was on the same boulder I’d been climbing on for upwards of 20 years. He’d been climbing on it a year and every line he pointed out was new to me. It’s like the boulder was alive with new energy.

Moves involved pinching on crimps I’d previously overlooked, compression sequences that never appeared before, and deadpointing to holds I never thought to grab in that way. One sequence’s final hold was so non-descript that when grabbing it I hardly noticed anything there but a poof of chalk.

For the next few hours he pointed out sequences, sent them and I attempted to follow. The few times I came down from the top of the boulder it was to an outstretched fist pump.  He was supportive and happy to share his creations.

Turtle Rock in Tiburon, like others in this coastal part of California, is no more than a small outcropping, very much unlike the long cracks and striking features found in, say, Boulder, Colorado. When small rocks are all you get then you make the best of what you have.

Take Bay Area legendary climber Scott Frye, for example. He cut his teeth in the 70s on the small cluster of rocks called Indian Rock in Berkeley and has been climbing there ever since. Recently, when we bouldered on a man-made retaining wall, he used only his thumbs to grab holds, and he used his feet exclusively on the dimples between obvious holds.

During that bouldering session with Scott he shared the story of his first trip to boulder in Yosemite after he’d been climbing on Trash Can Rock in Berkeley, which he visited day after day. There, at an arena reeking of garbage, he created art by piecing together lines filled with interesting and creative movement. It was just like Andrew had done at Turtle Rock. Frye applied his strengths to Yosemite’s Thriller (V10) in a matter of a few tries over a few days.

There’s no doubt Scott and Andrew are strong. Like double V-digit strong. And no doubt climbing these eliminates have helped improve their skill set.  It’s their hold-between–the-holds mentality and the ability to pick an obscure goal – at the top of their limit – and follow through until reaching the end that has taken them to that next level.

That day after bouldering with Spencer I had sore muscles in my back and sides I never knew I had. My tips were bruised and battered.

Andrew and I plan to go bouldering again next week, but next time to Mickey’s Beach. I’ve been there several times before, but I know climbing there with him will make it feel like my first time. I’m looking forward to it.

Climbing eliminates with Andrew and Scott make it feel as though many of my previous bouldering sessions have been a waste of time. Sure, I’ve spent countless hours in a meditative state, flowing through sequences which has its own rewards. But climbing hard (for me) isn’t about that. It’s about subtlety, power, positive thinking, and most importantly, creativity.

*eliminates: “A bouldering move or series of moves in which either certain holds are placed ‘off bounds’ or other artificial restrictions are imposed.”

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