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.