Saturday, 8 October 2016

Summer Lovin'

In August 2010 I climbed my first 7a - Rubicon, at water-cum-jolly. This felt truly remarkable to me. It was my first redpoint: I'd been climbing 9 months, at Westway, and my climbing was characterised by my ability not to let go. In that length of time, I'd developed very little bicep or shoulder strength and heaven knows I hadn't started with any.

So little, in fact, that I had to top the route out upside-down (anyone who knows the route knows that it tops out onto a flat ledge in spite of being a sport route).

Romping (lurching, unstably) through the jugs on Rubicon, water-cum-jolly (7a)

That was a summer of firsts, for me. I was doing an internship during my first year of university with Rolls Royce in Derby, and I had the good fortune of meeting someone there my own age who wanted to climb, every night. That summer I did my first redpoint, my first 7a, my first limestone trad, my first E1, my first ripping of gear (a peanut popped, followed by the one below), my first decking onto a ledge... you get the picture. Above all, I learned to climb outdoors. I will always remember it as the best education in climbing I have ever had, and though I started out indoors, the peak lime feels like home.

That summer, I watched a friend climb The Sissy, an innocuous-looking route two to the left of Rubicon. The sissy was 8a, yet appeared to have only about 5 metres of hard climbing. It was inspiring! This guy was strong, really strong, and I just thought... wow, imagine that! Imagine climbing that grade.

One of the amazing things about climbing is that you get to be inspired by people that you can realistically aspire to live up to. People who aren't professional climbers but still excel. People who work full time jobs, who have full time lives.

Predator is at Malham, and there are a couple of people who have climbed predator that I'm not ashamed to admit I greatly admire. I had trained all winter after climbing Supercool and I hoped I was strong enough to make the grade. After an assessment with Lattice Training, it transpired that compared with everybody else climbing 8b I was pretty weak.

But never mind, I was fit: so I got stuck in. After a hot May and a hotter June, it transpired that not only was I weak, but I was getting rather cross. Climbing at Malham had become futile and so I moved back to the Peak, which was only slightly damp and allowed me to climb after work (and pretend every evening was the weekend). A surprisingly short battle with Ouijaboard (Cheedale Cornice, 8a) of which the crux may well be clipping boosted my confidence, and then I managed to finally commit to trying Ben's Roof which, having tried it once a year for two years with little progress (who knew once a year wasn't enough?) also yielded quickly. I even climbed Comedy in a weekend, at Kilnsey (7c) which is hard if you're below a certain height, and felt more like 8a than 7c.

Reach for the crimp in Ben's Roof, Raven Tor (7C)

But no, I wanted Predator, and I agonised over this desire. Alistair and I returned to it in September whereupon he did it near the start of the month. I have to confess that while I was both impressed by his climbing, and very proud of him, the bad part of me was also a little jealous. We'd tried the route together because I'd wanted to, and at first he was just humoring me. However, that is the occupational hazard of having a climbing partner who is better than you.

The following two weeks were hot, so I returned to the Sissy, which I'd tried in May and where I got to the point where I was falling off the last move (of the hard bit), and would perhaps have got it done had I not had 6 redpoints within the space of 3 hours and ripped through my index fingertip. I went back to training for the rest of the month, full of regret... I'd not achieved either route, and although I was happy with Ouijaboard, I'd only done it to belay Alistair on a route he wanted to do. It was good for me, but not a goal I'd set.

Redpointing is amazing because even though the route can be at your limit, you don't actually have to have perfect conditions to pull it off. Training, and muscle-memory, do their job. The day I climbed the Predator I had taken a Wednesday off, and had been on the route the previous weekend whilst feeling rubbish with a cold. I was still feeling sub-par on the route and my arms were shakier than usual. I set off, finding it much harder going than usual, under the protection of a cloud, which miraculously disappeared leaving the crux in the baking sun just as I got to the pre-crux rest. In desperation, I rested as long as possible, with the dialogue between Alistair and myself being something like:

Ali: "There's a cloud coming, don't worry"
Me: "How far away is it?"
Ali: "It's coming"
Me: "Is it here yet?"
Ali: "Er... it went the other way".

I set of on the hot crux thinking "Get ready, you're going to take the ride again". And yet somehow, I struggled through the crux and threw myself at the final move at the crux. And incredibly, I stuck the move. Clipping the post-crux quick-draw, all I could think was "I'm not doing this again".

But Predator isn't over until it's over. I battled through the final moves to the sketchy, smeary traverse leftwards that isn't afraid to spit people off it and found myself in the rest before the last few moves. I knew there was one more, pretty dropable move and I was terrified. I prattled away to Alistair's reassurances like a nervous parrot, before finally plucking the courage up to finish the route and clip the chains.

Afterwards, I was happy. Super happy, but almost too surprised to believe I'd done the route. I'd convinced myself that I wasn't strong enough and I'd actually come to terms with the fact that I wasn't likely to climb the route. I had only a couple of free weekends left to try it and after that I was going to Font for a week, so I really had very little time left. Having reached that mental conclusion, I had to convince myself that I'd done it.

This weekend, freed of the shackles of Malham, I went to try The Sissy once more. In cooler conditions, I put the clips in and climbed it first redpoint. I was ecstatic! It summed up my best week of climbing - my best summer of climbing - ever. The sissy might not be as hard, but it's a classic, and it's been there in the background the whole time I've been climbing, just looking untouchable. Though we train hard all year, it often seems that we reap the reward only once or twice a year and that has pretty powerful consequences from a psychological point of view.
Victory shot! (The Sissy, Water-cum-Jolly)

Having struggled with a shoulder injury and a broken leg for the middle few years of my climbing it feels amazing to be gaining confidence in climbing once again, and I feel very grateful that things have come so far from there. Once I've got over myself, I'll go back to training at the wall and remember that, this being Sheffield, I'm still rubbish. But for now, for once, I'm going to drink to Alistair, Climbing, and Lattice Training.

*This, I think, means there is something wrong with me as I have yet to find anyone else who even likes the route. If you do, please get in touch and I'll make a support group.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Nous sommes allés à Fontainebleau

Last week I went to Font. During my week there, I came to three main conclusions:
  1. I was truly blown away by the sheer volume of problems, high quality rock and the beauty of the place.
  2. For the first time, I was able to accept my own failure in a climbing situation and not be sorry about it.
  3. For the first time in my climbing experiences, I failed at something with no good excuse, and wasn't that angry.
Regarding (1), there is very little to add... I imagine a large proportion of climbers from the UK have been to font and I have to say, that for somewhere that had been hyped-up by so many friends for so long, it still managed to absolutely blow me away. 

I couldn't believe my eyes. It was the second week of February, it was sunny most days and a balmy 8-12 degrees, and as someone who hates climbing when cold, I found the whole experience surprisingly enjoyable! I found Font is particularly well endowed with comfortable rocks and sunny patches to sit in when the sun shines, and this combined with French cheese and baguettes and a jet boil made for some very nice days out.

With the good forecast and the excellent conditions, and significantly stronger than the last time I bouldered on sandstone (at St Bees, incidentally) I was very keen to try the rock out and to get on a problem I'd got my eye on: La Mouche, a crimpy affair at Franchard Cuisinière  [https://bleau.info/cretesud/509.html]. And so it was, on the second day of our trip, that I found myself at the base of an amenably small boulder with some tasty crimps.

The first session went well: I could do all the moves and got very close to sticking what felt like it would be the redpoint crux. I don't honestly know why I didn't stick it that day, but it just didn't happen. It was hard enough that falling off after that move was quite plausible, but I was also confident that I could stay on. It was a hard session and I wore my fingertips worryingly thin. After that, I went to watch Alistair and Joel do some more problems and wore them thinner still trying something incredibly reachy with about three moves (I just wanted to prove that I wasn't too short) and Le Mur Cordier [https://bleau.info/cuisiniere/474.html]. Remarkably I overcame the fear of standing on the foot holds on Le Mur to do it, and topped it out with a toe hook because by this point it was too dark to see the footholds but you could still see the silhouette.

The next day, exhausted by an overnight drive and a couple of days' bouldering, we rested. This was followed by a day of rain and so it happened that I had a double rest day. I was happy that this would maybe give my thin tips a chance to grow a bit (ha!).

The second session on La Mouche took place on the Wednesday of our trip. I felt confident, I knew the moves, and I hoped I'd see improvement. However, things did not go as planned. Within about four goes, I'd worn a hole in a crucial fingertip. Angry and frustrated, I ranted and cried to Alistair about how I really wanted to do the problem.

As I said earlier, I've never really failed at a project without a good excuse. That's not to say that the excuses in the past have been the reason that I failed, but they could plausibly have been. I've always set projects dangerously close to my limit, at always got away with it. My first 7a was Rubicon, and I climbed it the morning I moved from Derby (from a summer job) back to Bristol.  I tried a 7c route at Kalymnos in summer 2012. It was my absolute physical limit, and I was recovering from a shoulder injury, and it was August, sweaty and hot. In the event, I did it the morning we left.

Those things I've failed, I've often had a good reason: I tried The Ashes in summer 2013, but never did it because that September I broke my leg. I tried Power Plant a couple of years ago as a first 8a but if you're short there's a move low down that is considerably harder than the official crux. Who knows if that's actually why either of those didn't get done, but the point is that no-one likes to fail. I know many, many climbers that hate to give up. And letting go is not something I've ever mastered.

This problem was a boulder rather than a route, but other than that it was no different. After going through a second tip I was getting no closer to doing the problem. The tape was not proving very compatible with the small crimps as I just couldn't get that much friction (or really feel them). I shouted, I ranted, I raged, but to no avail. I put everything I had into it, and after several hours of trying I was making it way further than I should have been through sheer will...

But it wasn't enough.

Just wanting something badly enough isn't enough. Being strong enough isn't necessarily enough. I am sure, as sure as I can be, that I was strong enough to do that problem. I'm sure I was fit enough and I'm sure I was tall enough. I tried hard enough. But something didn't work.

I generally consider myself to have good movement skills for the level I climb at, and I am undoubtedly weak for the sport grade I climb, but in this situation I think where I was failing was that I simply wasn't good enough at solving the problem. It took probably thirty more goes and blowing a third tip and a considerable amount of failed taping to finally stop. I was scared to fail. I was scared of how I'd feel if I gave up- if I could get that mad and upset just trying, how was I going to feel once I'd given up?

Alistair suggested a that as a get-out I could take a rest day and try it on our final climbing day. There are times I've taken that last unlikely chance and it's paid off, but in this instance I knew without a doubt that I wasn't going to get the problem that way. I had to decide whether to carry on stubbornly beating myself up over it and try the problem on Friday, or whether to move on. For the first time, I decided to let go.

And after all the angst? It wasn't so bad. I've always been afraid that if I accepted defeat, that if I stopped beating myself up over failures, then I'd lose the drive to succeed. That I wouldn't be the motivated person that I am. That I'd be nothing.

Yes, I failed. Nope, I had no excuse. But I found that I didn't hate myself after all. I actually felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I went and climbed easy circuit problems with my remaining fingertips and somehow I ditched the post-redpoint-failure blues even though I tried unsuccessfully to climb a number of other things that were hard-ish for me.

I'd like to think that this epiphany will have some effect on me but I've no doubt that I'll be spotted stropping at climbing walls, on boulder problems and sport routes across the land. However, it's nice to realise even once that I've gained something in spite of not finishing it and that that doesn't make me a worse climber than before I'd tried La Mouche.