Pure Imagination is a special route. It was bolted back in the day by Kenny Barker and known as the Honeycomb Project. Jonathan Siegrist came to the Red River Gorge in the fall of 2010, climbing the first ascent and gave it the name it has sported since. News of his send spread around Miguel’s quickly—it was the biggest thing to happen all fall.
At that time, I was a 16 year old kid, living just two hours away from the Red. I was obsessed with climbing. I was motivated beyond measure, often annoying and always dirty. But in my wildest dreams, I never thought Pure Imagination would be something attainable for me.
Through the years I’ve sent harder and harder routes in the Red, with a massive breakthrough coming when I sent Southern Smoke (5.14c). This was a massive project for me, taking a full year of effort and countless tries. I learned so much from projecting just one route, but afterwards I decided I needed to fill out my base. I wanted to do more climbs, hoping I would learn small things from each one. Through the next two years I climbed a ton of other hard routes in the Red, including some of my own first ascents and link ups.
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Two years ago, I left my job as a head route setter to pursue my goals as a climber. It was sink or swim: Could I make a career out of my passion or would I retreat back to the stability of a 40-hour-per0week job? Since then I’ve traveled to incredible places like Spain; Rocklands, South Africa; and destinations in the United States like Utah and Colorado, honing my skills and continually trying to become a better climber.
Going hard for the last couple years has left a toll though. I’ve battled multiple injuries and sometimes just hit a wall of fatigue. That happened at the end of this past summer of 2018; after a poor performance at Psicocomp I was left feeling drained and exhausted, physically and mentally.
I needed a break.
Most climbers take breaks when they are forced to, not just on a whim. It’s scary. What if I get weaker or what if it takes me forever to get back in shape? These worries had kept me from ever taking more than a week off of climbing in the preceding six years. But this time I took three whole weeks off.
I booked a week-long trip to Florida to help a friend move, sink my toes in sand and reset. We saw the Everglades, went skydiving and went on a deep-sea-fishing, total bro trip.
When I returned a bit further north, everything felt better. My fingers, my muscles, my mind—everything was rejuvenated. I quickly got back to training, and set to work repeating some of my favorite routes, which has always been a good way for me to rebuild fitness.
Around the first week of October I began trying Pure Imagination. The bottom boulder problem had been a big hurdle for me in the past. There are a number of different methods for climbing it, but most rely on a heinously sharp crimp. I wanted to find a different way, so I worked a different sequence and found a more powerful way. Nonetheless, I could climb it more consistently with this new beta.
From there, continuous climbing leads you to a redpoint crux near the top. I fell there three times. On the third time falling so high on the route, I yelled down to my buddy Jordan Garvey (you might’ve read his recent basketball article) that I was going to sit there and dial that section to make sure the movement was ingrained and I was confident in each subtle position.
I took a rest day, and the following day I sent it. I had to repeat it for myself: I sent Pure Imagination. I fought tooth and nail for the redpoint crux, barely clinging on as my body shrugged from the wall. I clipped the chains with a scream of overwhelming joy.
Southern Smoke, the last 5.14c I did, took me a year of effort. Pure Imagination is a harder route, yet only took me three weeks to climb. I was a good enough climber to send Smoke just with my tenacity and drive. I climbed Pure as a more well-rounded and more prepared athlete.
This route means a lot to me and it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I’ve also realized I have the potential for so much more. And that is a damn good feeling.