Ryan Palo Just Does It

posted by dpm on 05/20/2012

Ryan Palo is just like you...except stronger and a better climber. That's what I like about Mr. Palo. You could consider him the average 'working Joe.' He holds a 9 to 5 job and most wouldn't consider him a 'pro climber' though he does climb at a pro level. He trains his ass off to climb the hard routes he does and most of them happen at his home crag of Smith Rock, Oregon. Just yesterday, Ryan become the first non-pro climber to send America's first 5.14c: Just Do It. It's not his first hard send at the crag. In fact, he's now sent most of the hardest ones like: To Bolt or Not to Be (5.14a), the second ascent of Shoot 'em Up (5.14b), and the first ascent of Sure Shot (5.14b). Since he's not a pro, he doesn't have a secretary screening his calls so I caught him off guard and asked him a few questions.

After the send of Just Do It (5.14c). Photo: Facebook


DPM: What's up Ryan? Nice job on your route!

Ryan: Thanks man, where are you?

DPM: I'm in Rifle, Colorado.

Ryan: Ugh, I'm so jealous. I'd love to be there right now.

DPM: Really? You just sent my dream route, why would you want to be in Rifle?

Ryan: My fingers are killing me.

DPM: (laughs) OK, down to business. Tell me about Just Do It. Where is this rig?

Ryan: It's on the Monkey face on the backside of Smith Rock State Park in Oregon. The route takes the bee-line up the east face, straight to the top of it.

DPM: Is it called the Monkey Face cause you have to climb it like a monkey?

Ryan: (laughs) Yeah, it definitely requires gorilla tactics. It also looks like the head of a monkey from both sides even from 3 miles away. Really, it looks more like a penis with a purple head in my opinion. I would have called it the Penis Head but that wouldn't look good on trail maps and it would be a harder sell for the tourists.

It's a really popular tourist spot in the back of the park that is right by a loop trail that goes over Misery Ridge and then along the Crooked River back to the parking lot. The best part about projecting this route was watching all the tourists fall down the steep hill. You sit on this big perch and can clearly see all the hikers eat it and slide down. It's super fun and makes it hard to be depressed about not sending your project when all day long you're watching people that can't even walk down a steep slope.

There is nothing phallic about the Monkey Face. Photo: Ryan Palo

DPM: Don't fifth graders warm up on 5.14c these days? Why is this a big deal?

Ryan: Well for me, I learned to climb at Smith and did my first grade of every route there: 5.9, 5.10, 5.14... When I first started climbing, I'd look up at the draws swinging in the air and the routes just looked so unbelievable and impossible. When I see these routes at my home crag... I see them in a different way and have a lot of respect for them. It's not just my perception though. There is so much historical significance behind this route. It was the first 5.14c in America, put up by Frenchman JB Tribout way back in 1992.

DPM: So, in the past 20 years, who's done this rig? ...JB Tribout, Marc LeMenestrel, Chris Sharma, Sonnie Trotter, Ethan Pringle, Enzo Oddo, and Jonathan Siegrist, right?

Ryan: Yeah, maybe one more Euro though, I'm not sure. They are all ridiculously good climbers though. I got a highpoint on the 20-year anniversary of the route too.  I almost sent that day, but I spent another month one-hanging it and taking 50-foot falls from the top.

DPM: 8th ascent? Wow, this really isn't a big deal. I've never heard of any of those guys, but let me ask you this...Could you beat JB and Marc at a game of English scrabble?

Ryan: Yes.

DPM: Do you have a better singing voice than Sharma?

Ryan: I sing myself to sleep at night.

DPM: Could you beat Ethan Pringle in a Greco-Roman wrestling match?

Ryan: Definitely, if we were oiled up.

DPM: Could you beat Sonnie Trotter at starving yourself?

Ryan: That I could definitely do. I got super unhealthy and lost ten pounds after my injury last fall. I hadn't  trained at all but was pissing on stuff in the gym this spring. Then I realized I'd lost like 10 pounds.

DPM: Keep your answers shorter please...Could you beat Enzo at a game of one on one B-ball?

Ryan: Hell yeah, I'd be dunking over that little dude.  

DPM: Could you take Jonathan Siegrist in a dance off?

Ryan: I just watched "Footloose" again. I'd say it's likely.

DPM: Well, it sounds like locals rule and you're the best. You are the first local to send the route. Where do you live and what do you do?

Ryan: I live in Bend, Oregon. So I'm not really local, but close enough. I work accounting at a local tech firm.

Just Do It ascends the center of the clean bi-colored face. It is a 45-meter mega pitch with the hardest climbing at the top. Photo: Ryan Palo

DPM: Why did you move to Bend and Smith Rock?

Ryan: I moved here for my ex girlfriend. I had actually sworn this place off and given away my Smith Rock guidebook because of the potential for finger injuries and all the scary 5.12's.

DPM: Is it true that Smith Rock is the 'finger injury capitol of America.' Have you suffered some finger injuries or any others?

Ryan: Smith is definitely the 'finger injury capitol of America. I've had two collateral injuries on both ring fingers. I pulled the flexor out of insertion in my left middle finger which is a huge detriment because every route here has at least one huge mono left-hand crank. And I screwed up my knee running down the South Sister. (A nearby mountain)

DPM: Well, I guess I have to ask you about the route? Can you give us a breakdown without using the annoying term mono-doigt?

Ryan: What the hell is a mono-doigt?

DPM: It means 'one-finger' in French. I guess you weren't going to use that term anyway.

Way up on Just Do It. Screen image: Ryan Palo

Ryan: The route breaks down into two parts. The first section in the white rock is a low angle 5.13d. Just the first six bolts could be considered a 5.13c  then there are some deadpoints to small edges and pockets. It's really off balance and technical. Then you toss out of a shallow two finger pocket to a slopey edge with no feet. There's a good shake there, almost full recovery.

DPM: I'm guessing that's the spot where Sharma famously took his shirt off and threw it to the ground before sending the route? Did you do the same?

Ryan: On the send go, I actually did take my shirt off and I even put my beenie back on, just like Sharma.

DPM: Why'd you put the beenie back on?

Ryan: My arms were hot but my head was cold...After the rest, it goes into a 5.12+ section where the rock color changes to purple. Then it gets ruckus with big leaps on slopey holds. There is probably a six move V9 on half pad edges as it gets steeper. After that you get a crappy shake cause it wears out the hand you need for the final crux. You have a good hand but bad feet. Then there's a really hard traverse with blind moves into the final boulder sequence. Again, it's off balance and there is no way to clip. It's a game of millimeters where even a slight error will spit you off. I thought To Bolt or Not To Be (5.14a) had no room for error but it had a lot more wiggle room than Just Do It. I had to stay so tucked into the wall that I even cut my chin on a bolt hanger when falling on the last moves. I had to take the draws off cause they were hitting me in the face. Going to the last bolt, I was taking 50-footers and clearing the purple rock, landing way down in the white stone. I took that fall at least 7 times in a row, one hanging the route each time.

In the crux section of Just Do It. Screen Image: Ryan Palo

DPM: What did the send go feel like? Sometimes you'll work something forever and then when you do it, it feels easy. Was that the case?

Ryan: Definitely not. The time I sent, I did everything absolutely perfectly and it took everything I had. I had nothing left to give. It felt ridiculously hard.

DPM: How long have you been working the route?

Ryan: I first got on it a year ago to see what it would be like. I knew I wasn't ready at the time. I did a few other routes to develop the skill for it. This spring I was going back there about every third day through April and May. I was expending all sorts of belaying capitol because there's nothing really to do out there for most of my partners.

DPM: Who are some of your favorite belayers?

Ryan: Kirk Bjorling, Kyle Roseborrough, Logan Carr, Grant Ortman...They were all going out there with me on perfect condition days and sacrificing their own projects for me. I couldn't have a better crew of friends and partners. Kirk has a super involved project that he bolted on the Picnic Lunch wall but instead of going there he'd come and belay me.  

(Ed's note: Kirk was my main climbing partner when he lived at the New River Gorge and sacrificed at least 70 perfect condition days to belay me on one of my projects. He finally got sick of it and moved to Bend. Ironic?)

You can tell by the look on his face that belaying, for Kirk, is dead serious business. Photo: Ryan Palo

DPM: What's the story behind the 'Just Did It' T-shirt?

Ryan: I came really close three weeks ago falling on the last move. I just didn't grab the hold in the perfect way and was out of there. My friend Kyle knew I was close and printed out the T-shirt. I really can't say enough about how much support I had in this project. Kyle went back there so many days and I had no idea that he was toting around that shirt for three weeks, hiding it in his pack. After the send, I lowered to the ground and he presented me with it. It was so cool.

DPM: I remember after you got the first ascent of Sure Shot (5.14b) last fall that I intentionally closed with "Ryan plans to attack the monkey with full fury in the spring and we’ll likely be bringing you news of a proud ascent of the iconic Just Do It (5.14c)." Was the public pressure helpful?

Ryan: Publicly calling me out definitely put pressure on me. It wasn't just you either. I was getting it from every angle: my parents, boss, coworkers... Everyone was asking me all the time, "How are you doing on the project?" Everyone assumed it was a foregone conclusion but no one realized how close I was to not doing it. If I hadn't done it yesterday, it might not have happened at all. I would have been too tired today, the weather is changing and getting warmer rapidly, each attempt was flaring up all my nagging injuries. My fingers are already wrecked and pulling on monos and tiny pockets wasn't helping. My knee is wrecked and just hiking back there was impossible some days. If I hadn't done it this spring... I don't know if my body would have been able to handle another training cycle through the summer. It's really hard to maintain peak performance for a route like this. And even if I'd been able to maintain, the fall days are short and it's not the best time to climb on the Monkey. I would have been a year out from more serious efforts.  

DPM: Well, I'd like to put some more pressure on. What's next? I heard there's some sick, partially bolted lines to the left and right of Just Do It. You've got a drill, right? Is it on?

Ryan: Yeah, I want to bolt the thing to the left. It actually might not be as hard as JDI but these things have a way of turning out harder than you expect sometimes. I also want to do the East Face (5.13d).

DPM: That's the trad route right? Do you even know how to place gear?

Ryan: Yeah! I used to trad climb a lot. I climbed a bunch of 5.12's and even a 5.13. I can certainly apply sport tactics to a trad pitch. And the route is just so stunning. It's 5.12c to the color change and then it gets hard. It's mostly face climbing with gear.

DPM: I heard that the same day you sent, some guy from Montana sent Scarface (5.14a). What's he all about?

Ryan: Oh Peder? I was belaying him a couple days before. He was looking really good on it. He climbed it so well and fell turning the lip. He did send the same day. Peder is a great climber and a super nice guy.

(Ed's note: Peder and Jess Groseth are an awesome couple from Bozeman, Montana. They recently quit their jobs, bought a van, and are currently on an extended road trip through America. Peder's been killing it with recent ascents of Scarfaceand Badman(both Smith Rock 5.14a's) among others. If you enjoy following the blogs of some of America's best traveling climbers, add this one to the list: http://www.pederandjess.blogspot.com/ )

Peder Groseth on Scarface (5.14a) Photo: BoulderingMontana.com. They also did a nice interview with Peder that you can read here.

DPM: Final question: It's 2012 which means that there is certainly a video of your ascent. Are you holding out?

Ryan: Of course there is video and it's turning out really great. My friend Greg Garretson and I are putting it together and hopefully it will showcase the beauty and historic significance of the route. I'll keep you posted on it.

Ryan Palo keeps an excellent blog called the Ryan Paleo Diet. Check it out.

Ryan is sponsored by Metolius and La Sportiva.