At the beginning of October my luck started to change, and I went from barely getting out to frequently climbing outside more than I did at the gym. Most of this has been at Northwest Branch, since I can easily get there for a good hour and a half before I pick my daughter up from daycare. I was especially excited to find the Foam Pit area accessible due to low water, and took the chance to get back on the ultra-slick Joes to Pros slab that Taimur and I climbed a few years ago.
Just for comparison, here's how the same spot looked a couple weeks ago. Glad I got it while I could!
I ended up walking up to the Easter Egg boulder to warm up on Speed of Life, which I've always enjoyed for the delicate movement required. The thing is, I've never quite been happy using the standard start, with the heel hook already in place. To get my heel up there, I need to have a left hand up on a high hold for balance, then I basically feel like I'm climbing down into the start holds. The rest of it is still balancey and fun, but it always seemed way easier then the V7/8 grade usually given.
Today I decided to try it without the heel in place, from a true sit start, something I'd never had any luck with in the past. I tried toeing into a little chip about a foot down from the heel hook, intending to rock up on it hard enough to set a right toe hook that would let me get the left heel in place. As soon as I rocked up, I realized that enough weight was off my left hand that I could just try going for the slopers. After about an hour and several close attempts, I decided to try a foot about four inches higher than what I had been using, sticking the sloper right away, and easily finishing from there. While I intended to switch into the heel hook before matching the slopers, the toe actually felt good enough that I never used the heel at all.
Climbing it this way felt harder than the heel-hook version for sure, but I still don't know that I'd call it an 8. Maybe hard 6 or easy 7? Normally I wouldn't even bother with numbers, but I've decided it's time to finally finish the Northwest Branch guide that I posted an incomplete version of several years ago, and am trying to get some of the grades firmed up. More on that later though.
Hope everyone else is getting out there while the weather is good!