Sending in The Age of Corona - Phil Wortmann

Sending in The Age of Corona - Phil Wortmann

"Training pushed my tendons and joints as far as they could go. I slimmed up as much as I could handle, but there are only so many calories you can cut. Liposuction is too expensive for this teacher’s salary, and a google search told me I needed both kidneys."


Uncertainty is nothing new. It has always lurked up ahead of us, threatening to spoil our plans and dash our hopes, like the random rage of a toddler in a grocery store.

However, disruptions are a necessary agent of change, whether on a personal or societal level.  Like everyone else, I had big plans and lofty goals regarding the summer of 2020 and then, well yeah. You know that story. For most of the Spring I burrowed into my dark garage to train while my three year old son did everything possible to distract me. In hindsight, it was a great way to escape all the mass anxiety. Never has there been a better time to escape the happenings of the world and focus on personal growth.

When I was finally able to emerge, I found I was barely able to hang my way up a light 5.12, but I didn’t let it drag me down. Every week I punished myself in the garage, then every Sunday I went out to a crag and got my butt kicked. 

Alpine projects are different in a lot of ways. First, the number of days you can work the rig are numbered. One veteran climber noted my project was “monumental”. I don’t know about that, and only time will tell. It is a 45 meter, thin crack splitting a north facing buttress at 13,000 feet. There’s one decent rest and “plenty of opportunities to blow it”. It’s alpine. Lightning storms materialize out of nowhere. Graupel, hail, and violent storms are common. Even when it’s 95 degrees in Colorado Springs, puffy pants and belay jackets are needed. On a cold day last year, I was really close to sending, but then I strained an A2 pulley. That ended my fourth season on the route. Restraint and caution are good when you are fighting the weather, fatigue, and altitude. Like Tony Soprano says, “well, whaddya gonna do?”

This long term project became an obsession. It was at least two or three letter grades harder than my hardest previous redpoint. Midnight mental rehearsals rolled on repeat. Gear was pared down to a critical few pieces. Too much protection and the drag of the rope would pull me off the attenuate crimps. Too sparing with the placements and the long falls on micro cams and small wires became truly horrifying.

Training pushed my tendons and joints as far as they could go. I slimmed up as much as I could handle, but there are only so many calories you can cut. Liposuction is too expensive for this teacher’s salary, and a google search told me I needed both kidneys. I ordered the tightest, edgiest, climbing shoes and saved them for send day. The Spectra Rock Hoody and Volo pants were the lightest clothes I could wear and still be warm enough in the bone-chilling alpine. I even got my hair cut the day before to trim the ounces. Silly, right? Definitely. 

After five years of toproping the project, it was time to tie in and start working it from the sharp end. It ended up being only Scott and I that day, which, In the end, I was thankful for. He had been there with me for the previous two years, working his own project and patiently belaying me on mine. We had a brief talk at the base, which helped ease the jitters. I realized that I was just there to climb and do what I do.

I flew through the first crux, a thin 5.11+ crack best managed with a harrowing runout to save energy for what came next. Above was the real test, entering a world of pain--a series of painful tips locks and sharp crystals protected by pins and small wires. At the second pin my voice told me, “grab the draw and hang, this is too hard…” For some reason I kept going. I launched into the crux, a series of  quarters glued to the arete while smearing on tiny crystals that, without chalk, are virtually invisible. I fumbled my beta midway but somehow hung on through the next three pieces. 

I always believed that I only had to make it through the crux to get the route done. I knew that I would never let myself fail on the final 30 foot section of .12b if I had the crux behind me. Turns out I was right. 

Clipping the chains was like an out of body experience. I truly felt as if the action was not happening by me, but through me. 

But alas, the joys of goal attainment are short lived. I rode high for a few days until the gluttonous dive into pizza, ice cream, and beer made me feel lost and aimless. 

A couple weeks ago I was driving up towards the Peak with my family and spotted a big rock standing in the foothills above town. I recalled hearing it had a mythical overhanging wide crack that was yet to be sent. Maybe it’s time to take a look at it.


Samsara 5.13a, 45 meters. Pikes Peak, Colorado

Samsara: the cycle of death and rebirth to which life in the material world is bound.



Starting up Samsara. PC: Scott Turpin


The first crux, a 5.12a finger crack to get things started 

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.