“The Ribcage, V3. A classic and popular short problem. Sit start in a small cave on the corner of the boulder with your hands on your choice of a bunch of chalked holds. Move up and left to slopers out the lip of the roof and press out the mantle.”*
The Ribcage is an easy problem to find yourself working at Little Rock City, just outside Chattanooga, Tennessee. It’s a short problem with a clean landing, a moderate grade, and is super classic. On my last southern bouldering trip, I found myself unable to complete it despite making every move easily, with the exception of the crux mantle. In hindsight, I blamed my failure on the lack of pads (we only brought one) and the fact that I am nearly twice Ashley’s size (not great when falling off of a problem). The truth is I wasn’t strong enough to complete the problem or used to the awkward mantles that seem to define bouldering in that part of the country.
Heading south this season, I was fully prepared to send The Ribcage and move on to try The Sternum, The Ribcage’s more difficult sister problem. Walking up to The Ribcage this year, I felt confident that I would make quick work of it, despite my past difficulties. After all, I had climbed more this year than previous seasons and was feeling strong. Also, I had some successes on what I would define as test piece problems earlier in the week at Horse Pens 40. Lastly, looking up at The Ribcage it seems so simple: the problem is no more than five moves, and the crux is barely four feet off the ground. I could clearly see myself sending it in my mind’s eye: just move out of the roof, grab the slopers, and press it out. Not hard at all; really, just a warm-up for The Sternum.
Walking up to The Ribcage for the first time, I was psyched: the holds were chalked up, the rain we had expected ended up holding off, and, most importantly, the temperature was just right, providing maximum friction. I grabbed the starting holds, made the first move out of the roof, and thought…”this is hard.” In my head, the first moves were an after thought, just something to get past before encountering the real difficulties of the problem. I was wrong. After a little goading, Ashley gave in and consented to give the problem a try; eventually she could do the entire problem except for the starting move, as she found it was just a bit too long of a move for her to make.
I kept falling from The Ribcage. I had been so sure of sending it as a warm-up, but it quickly became a real question mark whether I would be able to check off as complete in the guidebook or not. Furthermore, no climb has ever worn me out physically as much as The Ribcage did. Locking off on two slopers with one foot heel hooking on nothing and one foot dangling in space left my arms fried after each attempt. The more attempts I made at The Ribcage, the more I was depleted psychically and the further I drifted from sending. After each failure, I would stare at the problem wondering how five feet of stone had managed to defeat me so thoroughly. Each failure would force me to shake the lactic acid from my biceps, and stretch against a tree in hopes of mustering up the strength for one more try.
Finally, after a minimum of ten “last tries”–and thanks to some beta gained from watching Ashley work on The Ribcage’s final moves–I was able to send. Above the roof and on positive holds, I paused to reflect on just how hard I found the climbing and how exhausted I was. What was amazing was that I was psychically spent from climbing a maximum of five feet! After completing The Ribcage, my original plan of working The Sternum was vanquished immediately; in fact, the idea of doing any more climbing for the day became a dream. I was ready to head out of the woods and enjoy a celebratory beer, enjoy my success, and be grateful that I no longer had to deal with The Ribcage.
*From Stone Fort Bouldering, by Andy Wellman