Long-term projects. I would hazard a guess that every climber has at least one. I have a lot. They're the climbs that you dream about. That page in the guidebook you just have to look at. The dream. The goal to train for.
My list is much longer than you'd ever want to read (and the relative importances of different projects are nowhere near the same), but at the moment there are three that capture my desire and imagination much more than any others...
Sunshine Dihedral, 5.11d, Smith Rock. I first saw this route right after I'd onsighted it's neighbor, Moonshine Dihedral, 5.9, which was my hardest onsight (trad or sport) at the time. A beautiful, perfect, soaring dihedral with a tips and fingers crack that is ideally suited to my smaller fingers. Delicate and technical stemming, one of my favorite types of climb because the movements feel so natural to me and even the unusual body positions seem to flow so easily. I have only touched the bottom of the route, but I'd like to train enough to give it an onsight go (maybe if we get out to Smith this next June) because such a beautiful route deserves it.
Coyne Crack, 5.12, Indian Creek. I've never been to Indian Creek, but I dream about it all the time. This route, to me, exemplifies the reasons behind my desire for IC. Vertical, perfect splitter. A difficult start with a section of mandatory off-finger jams (for any hand-size) leads to red camalots forever (which just happens to be my perfect hand jam size). The idea of the route is so motivating - a sequence of some of the most challenging size jams right off the ground followed by the sweetest reward of running up perfect jams. What makes it more exciting is that I have no idea how my abilities stack up against the route, how hard that beginning section will be, whether or not I will get pumped from all those hand jams up higher. But the chance to go to IC (in March!!) is a dream - so much straightforward jamming, so many different routes to try, skills to test and improve. Crack climbing heaven :-D
And last, but certainly not least, the crown jewel of my dream routes,
Equinox, 5.12+, Joshua Tree. I first stumbled upon this route online and immediately fell in love. Such a steep, perfect crack is really unusual for J-Tree and I knew I had to see it, to feel it, even though it was (and still is) far above my ability to lead. The location is incredible. After driving several miles out Geology Tour road, you walk out into the desert towards one of those big jumbled piles of rocks so particular to J-Tree. The excitement builds as you approach the formation, because you can't see the route until you are quite close. But then you round the curve of the base and there it is - a clean, beautiful crack curving gently up the vertical face of the largest granite block, perched on the top of the pile. I couldn't believe it could be so perfect, that the setting could be so fitting to the beauty of the crack. And then there's the crack itself. It starts with a crazy move pulling onto an ear-shaped flake, then some nice finger jamming (green alien, which is perfect fingers for me, but my fingers are small...) with less than awesome feet (the trend of non-stellar feet continues most of the way up the route because the face is a little slick for smearing and the crack a little small to really be effective jamming your toes in). And then you get into the fun part. As the crack widens to yellow aliens, you pull through a dead-vertical/slightly overhanging section and the crack continues to widen. That's when it gets really hard - grey aliens, somewhat offset, and left-leaning. This size is the hardest I have ever encountered for me personally because it's not quite ring locks or thin hands, but that nasty size in between where nothing feels secure (luckily the two times I've tried it I was on TR so I haven't had to take the whip... yet...). This crux is followed by an increasingly easier traverse left as footholds (!!!) appear when you hand-traverse the crack to the top. Although it has so far proven incredibly difficult for me, I can't help but be motivated and inspired by this route. It is so pure and so beautiful, the ultimate project. (By the way, if you are reading this and happen to be someone short with small fingers who has send Equinox, I'd love some advice for the hard part.)
So those are my dream projects. I think it's really important to have routes that inspire and motivate me. I can often be too much of an aesthetically motivated climber for my own good (although I've been sending harder at the Riverside Quarry, which isn't exactly picturesque), struggling with routes that don't get my heart beating faster. But I find that when I have my goal routes, it's easier to motivate on other climbs that I would otherwise struggle with motivation because I can see them as a stepping stone towards the ultimate goal. That off-size crack in the gym? That's training for Jaws (Mt. Woodson, hopefully not too burned up). And Jaws, well campusing that is training for Equinox.
In related news, this weekend Luke and I are going to try to onsight one of our other long-term projects, Levitation 29, III 5.11, in Red Rocks, so wish us luck!