I recently had an opportunity to catch up with talented competition climber, Delaney Miller, who this past spring ventured on her first ever outdoor climbing expedition to the island of Corsica with Ben Rueck.
With the goal to claim a rare ascent of a challenging and weather-exposed route called Delicatessen (5-pitches, 5.14a), Delaney stepped far out of her comfort zone of climbing on plastic to gain a new and oftentimes testing experience high off the deck.
You recently embarked on your first multi-pitch trip ever, where you went to Corsica with seasoned expedition climber, Ben Rueck to tackle a 5-pitch .14a called Delicatessen. What compelled you to switch gears from competition climbing to go for this type of experience?
I honestly was feeling very burnt out, because I’ve been climbing for 10 years now, and competing for all 10 of them.
Also, I’ve never been on a major outdoor trip, in fact, I’ve never been on an outdoor trip for more than a week! And after going to college, having to be my own coach, and dealing with a lot of life changes, I was just really stressed out. Competition for once in my life wasn’t helping, so I needed to step away from that and try something new.
And then the opportunity presented itself perfectly. I knew I wanted to go on an outdoor trip for the month of March, and so I wandering around at the Winter OR Show asking people what their plans were. Then when I got to Ben [Rueck], he said he was going on a trip, during the exact time I was looking to travel, and that he needed a partner …
I really didn’t even think about it; I was like, “Yep okay, that sounds good to me!” And he says, “We’re going to Corsica,” and I’m like, “That sounds good to me!”
Meanwhile I’m over there secretly Googling where the heck Corsica is located because I had no idea!
Prior to your trip, we discussed what’s in your pack. How’d your gear supply fare for this trip and the adverse conditions?
Gear-wise we were okay. The ropes that Ben brought were amazing. I couldn’t believe how well the static line he brought held up throughout the month because that rock was really sharp. My skin was bleeding the entire trip. So it’s pretty amazing that we didn’t have any issues with ropes. Even Ben agreed that it was the sharpest rock he’d ever climbed on.
For my own part, I wish that I had brought some stiffer shoes. I’m used to climbing on limestone if I climb outside at all, and on limestone, it doesn’t really matter; soft shoes are fine. But I realized pretty quickly on the trip that stiff rubber is what you need on granite. And that was definitely something I wasn’t so aware of.
Related: What’s In Your Pack — Delaney Miller and Ben Rueck
We also should have packed warmer clothes. We weren’t expecting it to be so cold or so windy. It hailed on us one day and all we had were these light fleece jackets and very light wind shells. I was not psyched. I was pretty frozen for most of the trip.
I’m smiling through the pain. Today will be rest day number two because the weather is bad and because this shit hurts! Who knew granite could be so unforgiving?! Photo @etteloc @jeffrueppel @benrueck @adidasterrex #livewithoutlimits • • • @scarpana @piseworld @frictionlabs @climbonproducts @healthyskoop
What kind of strategies did you use to stay warm on the wall? Would you wait out the conditions or did you just decide to climb through it?
It was mostly deciding to climb through it. And we didn’t really have any other option because we were limited on time, and it was a 2,000-foot ascent over the course of 1.5 miles just to get up to the wall, with mostly scrambling. So by the time we’d finally make it up to the wall, we did not want to waste a day by turning back around.
Plus, some of the filming we were doing with a 360-degree camera would take the entire day, so if we were going to be up there we wanted to use that day to the fullest.
Many unknowns are ahead of me on this route. One thing is certain: it’s the most incredible and stunning piece of rock I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience. Photo @jeffrueppel @benrueck @etteloc @adidasterrex #livewithoutlimits • • • @scarpana @piseworld @frictionlabs @climbonproducts @healthyskoop
What surprised you most about this style of climbing?
The first pitch of the route was 5.14a, and in the past, I’ve climbed 5.14a before within a few days of trying and I’ve done that a few times. But this 14a took me the entire month of working it, and I didn’t even think I would get it honestly.
It was so powerful and I do think I had so much difficulty with it because it was granite. I didn’t understand that you needed to move quickly on it, there’s not necessarily a precise place to put your foot. Sometimes there is, but sometimes you just smear on the wall and move … and I didn’t get that. I was like, “Where do I put my foot?!”
There was one day that I got so mad because I couldn’t tick a foot placement because there wasn’t one, so then I drew a giant box on the wall. Ben was like, “Next time, maybe just a tick mark!”
Was fear an element for you at all in this expedition?
The third day was the day we wanted to get the entire line fixed, so we decided that whatever it takes, we’d get the static line to the top.
We were swinging leads to start, and then by the time Ben reached me at the top of the third pitch, I don’t think I had ever been so cold in my life.
I was shaking and he could feel my shivers through his end of the rope and he was really concerned, thinking we might need to go down.
Being stubborn, I wanted to keep going and get the next pitch fixed as well, so I suggested that I keep leading so at least I could warm up and wouldn’t have to stand anymore.
Then, I started up the fourth pitch, which goes around a huge cave, around a corner, and then traverses up and to the left. When I got around the corner, the wind was whipping so hard that Ben couldn’t hear me at all and I couldn’t hear him. I went up another four bolts, looked 20 feet up and right where I saw a set of chains, which it turns out were rappel anchors for getting down off another route. Then I looked 30 feet to my left and saw a bolt, and I had no clue where the route was supposed to go. No one had been on this for years probably, so of course, there were no chalk marks.
I was so cold and didn’t know what to do, but I ended up going left, which was really scary for me because I’ve never been on a runout that big before. The rock was covered in moss and lichen, and while that part of the route wasn’t hard, it was still technical and so dirty that I was just terrified. And also, I thought that I was going the wrong way. So that for me was a moment where I was like,
What am I doing up here?!
Luckily, I didn’t fall.
Tell us about the first pitch, which I understand as being the crux. How did you physically and mentally overcome this challenging start?
The entire trip I was dedicated to giving it my best each go. But, there was a certain point where I finally allowed myself to break down and accept the fact that I probably wasn’t going to send.
That was the moment when I turned to Ben and said,
Hey look. I don’t think I can do any of these pitches. I’m going to have to be your support. I’ve given it the best I can and we’re running out of time.
He understood, but was waiting for me to accept the situation on my own terms. We decided that we were going to go for the push with him leading all of the pitches and that I’d follow, belay, and be a cheerleader to the best of my ability.
Then—to my own surprise—I ended up sending on the day that he was going for the push, which was cool because I think he needed that extra psych as well. It gave the day an extra bit of excitement.
Pitch one of Delicatessen was the hardest thing I’ve ever climbed. My gym-climbing background and my limited limestone experience did not serve me well on the technical granite. I’ve never felt so utterly confused, frustrated, and desperate. Funny, because I finally got the route when I’d just about given up. It was a very real lesson in letting my ego go and instead climbing with the curiosity I had once known as a beginner. @adidasterrex #livewithoutlimits //photo @etteloc • • • #climbing #corsica #multipitch @jeffrueppel @benrueck @scarpana @piseworld @frictionlabs @climbonproducts @healthyskoop
Being new to this style, did you make any mistakes … any mishaps?
I dropped the GriGri … the one thing you’re not supposed to drop!
Basically what happened was that I had allowed myself to get to the point where I should have gone down and I didn’t. Thank God I dropped a GriGri and nothing worse, or nobody worse.
I was really tired, hungry, thirsty, and just going through the motions, and then it slipped out of my hand while I was standing on a slab, and I literally watched it bounce down the slab and off the edge of the wall 500 feet. I didn’t even realize what was happening until many seconds later, like way too many seconds later. So then my photographer, who was standing next to me, was like, “Dude, you need to go down.”
One technical learning curve I encountered was jugging. I have an entirely new respect for it … It’s hard! Way harder than expected …
That moment when you’re jugging up and you pretend to look at holds for the billionth time… but really you’re biceps just couldn’t be more pumped ??#juggingishard #realdeal #livewithoutlimits @adidasterrex photo @jeffrueppel • • • #climbing #corsica @scarpana @piseworld @frictionlabs @climbonproducts @healthyskoop @bouldersclimb
What aspects of your climbing technique and/or background in competitions helped you most on this route?
I didn’t send the first pitch until I finally accepted the consequences of sending or not sending. Before that, I told myself I had to send it, but then I finally ended up getting it when I realized,
it’s gonna be okay no matter what. I’m here, I’m fine, I’m doing my best and I’m going to enjoy the rock climb.
That was when I finally succeeded and it’s actually how I approach every competition; the idea of just having fun and acknowledging that it doesn’t matter what happens. It was cool to see that the mentality is the same no matter where you are.
What advice would you give to other gym and/or comp climbers interested in venturing into more technical terrain?
I would tell them to be respectful of the environment and the situation.
Me dropping the GriGri and allowing myself to get to that point is a good example of what not to do. That doesn’t really happen in the gym, because if you get too tired you can just go home.
But outside, there are many more factors; like having to lower-off, hike down 2,000 feet, and help others get down safely. Things outside are not as simple, so you have to be aware of where you’re at mentally and physically, as well as the conditions.
Goodbye multi pitch shenanigans!! I’ve had the time of my life trying to figure out big walling, but returning to single pitches here in Spain will be a nice break. Photo @etteloc // @benrueck @jeffrueppel #livewithoutlimits @adidasterrex • • • @scarpana @piseworld @frictionlabs @climbonproducts @healthyskoop
What were the greatest lessons you learned from the whole experience?
I realized that outdoor climbing and comp climbing share much of the same mentality. Before this trip, I thought that going outside wouldn’t help me at all and that if I wanted to compete well I needed to train on plastic. But now, I don’t think that’s always true.
The other thing that this trip gave me was motivation and drive again. I’m excited to get back into shape, train, and compete. And I don’t think that would have happened without this trip. It was good for me to walk away from competition for a while and balance out my goals. I’m psyched again!
What does this mean for your future as a competition climber? Will you be balancing this newfound style with comps or shifting your focus?
I am still very stoked on competition climbing, but I am definitely going to try and balance it out more with trips like this. I know now that whenever I don’t want to compete anymore, there are tons of big walls out there waiting for me.
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