Rob And Rob
Besides sharing the same first name Rob Robinson and myself both share a passion for climbing that has driven, shaped, and defined our lives. I spent a day with Rob at his home crag ( The Tennessee Wall ) climbing routes that he had been the first one to ascend many years ago. This posting will tell the story of my Easter Weekend in 2013, It will not be a short one and will include pictures, an interview with Rob, and a perspective into my controversial world of ” just fucking going for it “.
The weekend started with me making plans to climb with Charlotte, NC local Joe Disciullo. Joe is a very experienced traditional climber with many years under his belt. We have been friends for a few years but have not really got out and climbed much together. I was very excited to hang out with Joe for 3 days, climb, eat, drink, and tell stories. I informed Joe that we would be meeting up with Chattanooga’s Rob Robinson writer of The Tennessee Wall guide book, first ascent connoisseur, and veteran climber. Joe was just as excited as I was and despite the half ass forecast we piled into his custom Honda Element with built in apartment and left for Chattanooga at 7 P.M. Thursday night. We stopped along the way in Asheville, NC for dinner and a beer. We ate at my favorite seafood spot in the city ” The Lobster Trap “, however the grilled fish and greens I chased with a local India Pale Ale left something to be desired. The French Broad Chocolate Lounge was just the ticket! Joe had never been and the line was short so it was a must do to cure my lustful sweet tooth. We were inside for only a few moments when Joe decided to go for a walk to scope out all the goodies. He leaves my side for 60 seconds, that’s it 60 seconds before I look over and see some girl feeding him chocolate cake and smiling…
I immediately question, what I am doing wrong? and I had to ask myself ” Is there a girl that could come up and feed me some chocolate? “. Much to my dislike there was no women, girl, or hell, anybody to feed me any type of chocolate. It turned out that Joe ran into some of his friends that were on there way to The Red River Gorge for the long weekend. So we sat had some espresso, chocolate, and conversation. This quickly reminded me that we were suppose to be on the road to Chattanooga, not sitting and gaining weight the night before I attempt to throw myself at overhanging sandstone walls. We quickly saddled up and parted ways with one of NC’s most desirable cities. Joe and I spent the rest of the drive that night talking about climbing, women, life, and all the other stuff that guys talk about on long car rides together. It was 2 A.M. Friday morning when we arrived at my buddy Eddie’s house in chattie, needless to say it was right to bed and lights out.
Joe and I awoke around 7 in the A.M. , scored some coffee and made our way out to the paradise area ( left side of the waterfall ). This is a less traveled area to say the least, it was my first time on this side of the cliff and I was blown away. There are so many quality routes on this side and so much room for growth it almost made me pack what few possessions I have up in a bag and move to Chattanooga. I had my eye on 3 5.12s in the area, however, 2 of them were soaked… We warmed up on some dry moderates in the area and I found myself under ” Pocket Pussy ” 5.12a. I have climbed my share and then some when it comes to committing routes so I was really not that intimidated looking at this rig from the deck. I could see that the first piece of pro would be 15 maybe 20 feet off the ground, and I was fine with that so I racked up tied into my new rope and off I went.. I fell from the first hold. It crumbled right in my hand, it was about that time I noticed that the start of the climb was covered in a fine dust and most of the holds could be broken away… So I spotted some pockets that looked ” solid-ish ” and tried again. This time making my way higher and higher through 5.10+ unknown, rock crumbling, feet breaking underneath me, commital ass trad climbing… This is one of those times I ask myself ” Rob, what the hell are you doing? “
I was to the point where down climbing would just piss me off and there is no way I would remember what holds will crumble and what ones will not on the way down, so I had to make a decision. I was not facing a death ground fall, it would most likely have been a hit the ground the best I can and hope no bones break from about 20 feet kinda fall. I figured what the hell and attacked the next few moves as calm, concise, and deliberate as I know how. This lead me to matching on a dirty slope with a long maybe non static reach to an unknown hold… At this point we are all in, so I said to my spotter/belayer ” Watch me ” ( this part of my life is called going for it ) awe yeah! A four finger, pad deep crimper and bomber horizontal for a #1. I quickly plugged some pro, listened to Joe and Eddie start to breathe again and made my way to an overlap with some old ass knotted fixed sling. This is where I believed the crux to be and I hung and extended a sling, shook out, and got ready to get savage. I moved through the next section with a few long pulls, rounded holds, and a good lock off, this brought me to a great rest and great gear. If anybody out there has ever done this line feel free to comment! I think I went the right way from here. I left a large hueco feature to a slight left traverse under a roof. This brought me to a decent hold with no pro options, my last piece 10 feet under me and 10 feet to my right. Also I was facing the single hardest move on the route before pro would be an option again so needless to say it was all about airtime if you blow this one. Its a long lock off to an under pull in a roof ( stout for the grade feeling ). Maybe the route went to the right i’m not sure but regardless this was some bad ass rock climbing. A thin face section after this move leads you to a jug laced overhang taking you to a set of bolt anchors. If you have never done this thing and ever have a chance don’t miss it if you are at the grade!
Day 2 ( Enter Rob Robinson )
Joe and I met up with Rob Robinson and Micheal O’Donnell along with some other local Chattanooga climbers. This was the first time I have met Rob in person and from the second I shook his hand could only feel positive energy. We hiked up the T Wall trail together and started to share stories together. I could not help but think of how many times Rob has hiked up that trail through so many different parts of his life. This is a feeling I get from hiking into Moore’s Wall, NC every time. I cant help but think about the memories I have made on the cliff line, the boulders, the people I have climbed with, the people I will always remember climbing ( R.I.P. Eric Metcalf ), tripping over my feet under a broken ass headlamp on summer nights tired from long days of climbing, and what was going on in my life through out the years of knowing that trail. So I can only imagine what Rob remembers walking up the gateway to his piece of the pie.
We arrived at the cliff line and decided to warm up. As we flaked out and tied in I think Rob and I instantly found common ground. We both have been know to push a few limits here and there, however, we both understand the risk and how to take them. The risk we don’t take are the ones that can be avoided. So it was awesome when we both went through a tripe check safety inspection of my figure 8, belay device, and every other interface between myself, Rob, and the rope. We both laughed and shared some words about it, and we both agree that when you are pushing in the face of danger the last thing you want to be thinking about is if you tied in right or made sure the rope was coming out the correct side of the Gri Gri. These are the mistakes that will bite you in the ass, and in climbing a second chance is rare so I make sure I stay as safe as I can. Rob belayed me on a great line Called ” Centerfold ” that would have been a great warm up had I not pumped out from bringing a stupid undersized rack and playing with gear up high trying to make something work. I straight fell off the warm up taking a decent whip. I felt like a total Nut-Sack. After one hanging our warm up ( WTF? ) Rob said ” I would have placed twice as much gear up that thing! “. I thought I might have been a little sparse here and there so now i’m like thinking great ” I look like total gumby right now “. I’m so used to project style trad that sport climbing over gear has become the norm for me.
Rob tied in and climbed up the corner system to an overhang with such a controlled and precise series of moves that all I could do was be impressed. After we cleaned our ” Warm up ” Rob pointed out a 5.12 line up a brilliant tall gently overhanging flame orange face. I was in awe the moment I saw this thing. He told me its one of the finest lines and never gets done. It was called ” Lord Of The Dance ” And Rob told me that the crux is cryptic and he has watched it shut 5.13 climbers down without a problem. I was so star stuck at how good the line looked I said ” lets do it ” and just decided to give it my all. Joe had just lead a great 5.10 right next to it and was game to shoot some photos. So I quickly tied in, did our safety check and started hanging draws. I quickly found myself in the ” Dance section ” of the climb. I tried this thing a few different ways and just kept getting shut down. Rob was telling me where the hold was he used and I still have no idea how the hell he got to it, I just kept getting shut down and further from the holds. I decided to mix some of his beta with some of mine that I knew would prey on some of my strengths. I figured out a sequence skipping a few holds and making a large dead point to a big hold. After sticking it I realized that the set up moves for the dead point were hard! they were thin, insecure, and about 5 to 6 moves deep to set up for a hard move.
I quickly made my way up the climb to a beautiful sustained 5.11 grade face section with some amazing thin lock off moves. I was able to make quick work of this section and that brought me to some long pulls in the steep to a move I had to hang on for like 15 minutes to figure it out. I was not sure where to go, what holds to use, there were no feet, and everything felt hard. Finally I found a hard lock off move to another dead point that would be a buzz killer of a redpoint crux right at the top. I got my try hard on and stuck the move, clipped the anchors, and said to myself ”hell yes!” as I lowered off… I think everybody was siked that I finished this line. I’m not a good onsight climber at all, however, once I do a sequence I have it, so I told Rob i’m going to try and send this thing. I think he was thrilled to hear the motivation to attack this rarely repeated classic. So having done the moves on this line and feeling how serious some of them are I could not believe Rob was going to try it. I mean a few of the holds on here are tendon breakers if you are not working out on a hangboard regularly. I watched Mr. Robinson impress me move after move on this climb. He really shined through in the face section showing what years of experience can do to a person. I was simply motivated and inspired, that’s really all I could feel. Rob is 52 years old and one of the most down to earth, positive, and inspiration people I have ever met. Him and I talked after he lowered about his years of training for climbing and techniques he used to build power. Joe got pictures of the whole event going down while some guy next to us whipped and ripped a piece. Ripper pieces eewwww…
Rob decided to take a break and I had my new friend Micheal O’Donnell give me a catch on my next burn on the ” Lord Of The Dance “. I focused all of my energy to my center and decided if I left the ground it was with that ” just fucking going for it ” mind set that I would incorporate to every challenge this climb had to throw at me. I moved to the first crux and went right through the thin insecure moves leading me to a palm away sloper right hand and thin crip left hand. I put a little slack in my arms, took a deep breath, and blasted off for the deadpoint only to stick it like a champ. I took a few deep breaths, shook my arms, chalked up and moved right to the face section. Crimped and pimped my way up the perfect orange face with confidence and rested on a jug at a clip. I knew it was all going to come down to this dead point move above me and if I was anything less than 100 percent committed that move would spit me right off. I got my breathe to its lowest, deepest, most controlled state, felt the move inside of me before I tried it, and pictured myself sticking it. I moved from my jug through a series of pulls to set up for the move. I focused every bit on my power and commitment into that move as I smeared, and pulled. I let out a slight grunt as I sunk the semi incut crimp with all four fingers and locked onto it. I pulled myself up and over my feet only to climb more calm and concise than ever. This brought me to clipping the anchor and my redpoint send of ” Lord Of The Dance ” 5.12c with Rob Robinson. This will always be a special memory to me, thanks Rob…
- Looking skyward after sticking a deadpoint move on my redpoint send of ” Lord Of The Dance “
Rob is a constant source of motivation, knowledge, and inspiration, the gift of mother earths Tennessee Wall will always be special to him. We can learn so much from such a connection with nature, and ones self. Below is written word from Rob himself that I have found to be inspiration in its purest form. I could not agree with his words more. If you have not seen his guidebook it’s a must have, his account of the first free ascent of Celestial Mechanics is a do die for read.
1. How long have you been climbing?
Since 1975. From that time on I climbed full-time for 12 years without a break. And if I wasn’t climbing…I was in the gym. If I wasn’t in the gym…I was climbing. That routine was dramatically altered when I went to work for Chouinard Equipment in Ventura, California for two years–at which time my climbing was relegated to weekend outing to the Needles, Joshua Tree and occasionally Yosemite Valley. It was very hard to adapt to this reduced regimen of climbing. While on vacation from my job I found myself back in Chattanooga…climbing again at the Tennessee Wall. I decided to quit my job so I could start climbing again full time. I have climbed off and on at the Wall ever since, and still live 20 minutes from the parking lot.
2. What is one of your favorite memory’s you have from climbing?
That’s almost impossible to answer since I have a lifetime’s worth of incredible climbing memories. Among them though I could include the first time I saw the Tennessee Wall from the opposite side of the canyon. It was like waking up from an incredible dream only to discover the dream is real.
3. What is the scariest route you have ever done at The Tennessee Wall?
One I never finished, but that almost finished me. I was on sight free soloing a nondescript face that morphed into insecure 5.10 and which I was unable to comfortably down climb. I decided to try and traverse across the wall to a ledge to escape and lost control of my head space. Just as I was about to reach the ledge I almost shook off the holds. It was the last time I ever free soloed.
4. If you had any advice for the newer generation of trad climber what would it be?
Don’t pay any attention to what anyone else is doing. Find your own vision and follow it. Look at every climb as another opportunity for you to continue to refine and perfect your art. Focus on foot work … strive to make every foot placement deliberate and precise. Learn to climb on all sides of your shoes, front and back.
Don’t waste your time being a numbers chaser. Climb something because you see it as beautiful and not just because it is hard. Turn a blind eye to competition … it’s not what the essence of climbing is all about. Don’t approach the rock as something to conquer but instead something you are trying to harmonize with. Always triple check your and your partner’s safety systems … knots, anchors, harness etc.
Respect the wilderness.
5. Closing Comments?
Climbing has always been, for me, a quest to find a sense of harmony and balance between myself and whatever it is I’m climbing, and by extension, nature. I’m always searching for … a “perfection of energy”. A metaphor might be the sensation of holding a tuning fork in one’s hand and then striking it. An example of this type experience would be my free ascent of Celestial Mechanics which I recount in the Climber’s Guide to the Tennessee Wall.
Live the Dream
Thank you to Joe Disciullo, Mike O’Donnell, Eddie Brackett, and Rob Robinson for helping make this happen.