Michael O’Rourke: Doing Black Lung V13

The last month or so I’ve been in and out of climbing due to sickness, moving, and bad weather putting a damper on my mood. I started the month off with strep throat which usually hits me at least once a year. I got my prescription and started to feel better. A few days later I was anxious to get outside anywhere and began scoping out the weather.
Colorado was looking snowy and wet but the forecast for Joe’s valley was 35 and sunny for a weekend.
Perfect… Or so I thought. I knew it was going to be a short trip so I just had one climb in mind.. The infamous Black Lung. I have been trying this problem ever since my first trip to Joe’s Valley 2 years ago, and have always longed to do it. So I immediately pack up my car and headed out solo to the Valley. Upon waking up in my car that morning in New Joe’s, my expectations of good weather shatter, it’s completely overcast and mist/light snow all around. Unable to see 50 yards ahead of me I retreat to the life-saving Food Ranch for some donuts to get my psych up for the day. After eating and waiting for the weather to hopefully change, I head back into the cloud that is engulfing all of Joe’s, up to the Resident Evil boulder.
I do a quick warmup, or at least try to in the 20 degree weather and begin attempting the Lung. After about 20-30 tries my shoulders start getting sore and my right index finger took a beating from the start hold, so I gave in letting it best me one more time. I then proceed to try Blackout with my not-so-great skin and needless to say that doesn’t go over so well. Being bested by these boulders again is a blow to the morale, not because I couldn’t send them, but because I feel like I had made no progression on them whatsoever.
With spirits low I team up with my friend Alex Manikowski and his crew and went to a local pizza place in the next town over. We order the biggest pizza possible: 38 inch diameter I think. FREAKIN MASSIVE – they need 3 people just to carry the pie to us, and we have a team of 5 to try and take it down. We give it a valiant effort, but alas it ends in defeat, although this loss could not have boosted my spirits higher. With a belly full of delicious pizza I return to my campsite and hibernate in my car for the night.
The next morning I meet up with those guys at a problem called Jigsaw in Right Fork to hopefully do my first problem of the trip, but again I’m thwarted, and even worse I had actually gotten worse on it. Feeling like this trip was total bust with some even worse weather on the way I felt it was time to go home. I figured I might as well go put in a final sesh in on the Lung before I begin the long trek back to Boulder.
I drive up to the boulder and haul my first set of gear up to the problem to find my friend Nick Milburn working on it. I toss my pad down and run back to the car to grab my camera and more gear and run back up to the problem. I figured all this running was a good warm up because it was too cold to warm up on easier problems because the rock is so cold my fingers wouldn’t be able to get warm. I begin trying the problem once more and have noticed people have been more consistent sticking the first move with a funky 3 finger stack as opposed to this down facing crimp, so I ask Nick to explain the correct finger placement for the stack and found that this was the way for me. As soon as I stuck the first move I noticed that the was the way for me as well. With this new beta I had the drive to battle it out with this problem. Then I pull on for maybe the 10th try of the day and stick the first move, then the second and all of a sudden I find myself at the lip almost in disbelief because it had always seemed so impossible to me.
All I had to do was pull the lip… I didn’t think it would be that tricky. I feel around for anything above the lip.. NOTHING suddenly my fingers start to freeze up and I’ve got some pump coming because I’ve been up there for a couple minutes now trying to figure this out on the fly. I can’t feel my tips anymore and I really didn’t want to get hurt so I jumped off from the lip…
I knew I could get up there again now it was just a matter of figuring out this rather deceiving topout. I study it and realize that I would need to get a high foot and rock over. Next go fall on the first move. Then… I connect the moves to the top again and with a more stable mind I get my foot up and press up into the good ole beached whale. Doing the final push up from the whale felt surreal as I start screaming obscenities from the top of the boulder into the vacant valley, I had done it.
Finally the Black Lung epic is over, after 2 years and 5 days of work I emerge victorious. It meant so much to me because I remember looking at it for the first time and thinking that this thing is impossible, but slowly year after year got stronger, made progress and culminated with a send. It was a great experience and was fun to see my progress as a climber since my first trip to Joes.
Now I begin training for competitions coming up in the next few months. BRING IT ON