April of 2017, I came up with the idea of doing a Sufferfest, inspired by that of Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright where basically we come up with a big climbing challenge and throw ourselves at it. Taking reference from 24 Hour Horseshoe Hell, and the fact it was UIUC's 150th anniversary, our challenge was for a team to complete 150 climbs in Jackson over a weekend. People were on board with this idea, and several people expressed interest. I made it my responsibility to ensure this event got off the ground.
Fast forward a semester, we got several teams interested. The weather was not cooperative, people's schedules got busy, many bailed and things fell through. We postponed it another semester and again after planning for several weekends, we got rained out time after time (though a team of Mina, Dylan Walsh, Logan and Khory did attempt it but got rained out on their second day, solid attempt nonetheless).
Eventually we were left with literally the last weekend of school during finals week. Everyone else had given up on this, and honestly I felt really defeated. But a brave/foolish three warriors took up the call of the challenge. And so a team of four was born; Mihail-Iceman-Krumov, Logan-Dangercan-Dodd, Eric-Eric-Connelly and myself, Shao-Sketchyman-Hao. It was finals week, the weather was looking like trash yet again, and our window was looking slim. But I said fuck it, let's do this cause I needed to get this stone off my chest and finish what I started. With barely 5 hours sleep and a take-home final yet to be completed, we left on Saturday morning for Jackson with our objective; 150 climbs among the four of us, within 24 hours.
We stopped by Arby's for lunch and our last proper restroom break. Mihail packed on the calories with the double fisted Gyros, while I dealt with my slight panic attack of realizing I left my approach shoes on the side of the road in Urbana. But it was too late to turn back, so I could only pray that my $2 flip flops from a Mexican grocery store from Potrero Chico would protect my feet from the battering that was approaching. It is also worth mentioning that most of the drive down was learning more about Logan and acknowledging that we know so little about the man himself (like how he's a master morel mushroom hunter).
2pm, we arrived at Jackson main lot, geared up, started the timer and headed for Railroad Rock. Conditions were looking poor; there was no rain, but humidity was high, and there was a ton of groundwater seeping into the canyon from the past days of thunderstorms. Free standing boulders were still wet, and many walls were soaked. But we powered on nonetheless. Mihail and Eric started with a bang on Wild at Heart (5.11a), while Logan and I took it easy with Electrocutioner (5.8).
Two down at Railroad and we headed for Beaver Wall and Jimmy's. Knocked out most of the easy stuff there and slowly we raised the count, and a highlight for me was finally sending Spiders from Mars (5.10b). We also had a quick dinner there, which was where I realized unlike my other teammates, who came ready for this 24 hour ordeal with caffeine pills and energy drinks and real food, I was severely under prepared, with my god awful plan for food prep being 5 granola bars and a box of 12 butter croissants from Walmart. I should be a nutritionist.
As we clocked about 10 climbs each, the sun began to set and thus began our night climbing saga. I was pretty proud of sending Flinging Hog (5.10d) in the dark, but I was unsurprisingly going to be one-upped by Eric-FlashYourProject-Connelly later on. By about 10pm, we each bagged 13 climbs, a third our way through the objective.
We moved to Battle Axe Tower after, where we all got on The Sophomore (5.9) that was still dripping and that sucked. But honestly none of that mattered cause we got to see Eric do Viking Blood (5.12c) in the dark with only one take. How? Cause he's Eric. Why? Cause he's Eric.
The Gallery was up next, and honestly up to this point, the whole thing has felt pretty manageable so far. It felt like just another day in Jackson, having a good old time with friends out, climbing way past dark and having a blast. That crisp cool air that set in as we passed midnight, the light from the climbers' headlamps barely illuminating the crag, the starry sky barely visible behind the foliage of the forest. What a perfect scene. We felt great, and at about 10 hours in for 15 climbs, our pace was on schedule. It was going pretty well.
Haha if only
The Gallery for me was the turning point. I pumped myself out with the string of bulgy 5.10 climbs in that area; Group Therapy, Psychotherapy, Earthbound Misfits, Cut Throat, The Walrus, and that shitty 5.9 climb that I still dislike at the left end. By the end of the Gallery, my stoke tank was drained. I had a bunch of takes and a few whippers, I only sent one climb there, my skin was shredded from the grippy sandstone and flaking and pulling through probably half a mile of rope by then. I was hungry but I didn't want to eat another fucking butter croissant at 3am. I was sick of slapping slopers and pulling myself over those god damn bulges , I was tired of trying to look for footholds in the dark.
Boy the fun was just beginning.
We took a quick break at the main falls (which was raging, never seen so much water flow before) before arriving at Spleef's Peak. It was 3am and we were 21 climbs in. Our plan was to do Spleef's in the dark cause they were relatively easy climbs on slab which would give us time to recover from the pumpfest at the Gallery.
But honestly Spleef's broke me. The fatigue, the lack of light, my toes screaming from so much smearing and edging, my aching shoulders and dried fingertips, the increasing humidity, all of that accumulated and I basically fell on every climb at Spleef's, even the ones I onsighted in my very first year of climbing back as a freshman. I was just so frustrated and tired and in a whole lot of discomfort. And this is probably where my Sufferfest really began.
At about 5.30am, we only just finished our 4 climbs each at Spleef's. The sun began to rise and we tucked our headlamps away. We proceeded to Lovely Tower where I barely managed to send the notorious Fine Nine (5.9) which was soaked along the right side, so the final bolt was extra spicy and quite a challenge. Who Let the Snakes Out (5.10b) was also wet but we made it work, though back cleaning that was a pain.
With 27 climbs in, we were about 10 climbs away from our goal. But at this stage we were all feeling it (maybe except Mihail). We barely pulled through two easy 5.9s at Rainy Day Roof, and at that point Eric kinda just crashed and so Logan and I went ahead to Hidden Peaks while he caught some shuteye.
While Logan took his morning dump, Mihail got on the runout Monument (5.9) and I did Stubborn Swede (5.8). When it came to Logan to do Stubborn Swede, he was struggling. Mind you this is the guy who sets the 12s at the ARC and I have never seen him fight so hard pulling on jugs. Eric made the call that he felt it was too unsafe for him to continue climbing, and judging by the state we were in, it was clear that the rest of us were on the same page. The risk of us getting injured at this juncture was relatively high and so we bailed in the end. On the way out we met a couple of familiar faces and eventually clocked back in at 20 hours since the start. We proceeded to Marion for lunch of which I only remember about 3 minutes of a car ride. Given how exhausted we all were, Mihail did the smart thing to catch some sleep (on the grass in a Cracker Barrel parking lot) before heroically driving us all the way back home.
I always tell people - You never have a bad day in Jackson. I think this still stands: Sufferfest was not a bad day at all. Would I ever do this again? No. Was it a painful experience? Yes. Incredibly exhausting? For sure. But at the end of the day, I still had a kick ass time full of Type II fun with a bunch of great friends who were mad enough to join me on this, raising money for a cause we believe in, and pushing ourselves to the limit because we relish in the suffering. We gave it our all, and we left Jackson with stronger friendships, a whole lot of pain, and one heck of a story to tell.
I'd call that a pretty good day.
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