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.

No comments:

Post a Comment