Saturday afternoon, after a session with two of my fantastic regular young clients, I stood under the mushroom in the Beacon, mouth gawping, barely able to comprehend what I’d just done. The context made complete sense and it wasn’t as if I didn’t believe myself but the surprise was hard to quell. I simply don’t climb V9 on the second attempt, certainly not a compression problem on slopers, definitely not one that Dave Noden had been fighting with. And yet, as I took the accolades and looked around for confirmation that I’d done something impressive as people wandered off to try their own climbs, it slowly dawned on me that I am, without exaggeration, in the best form of my entire climbing career.
The list of climbs managed within 24 hours on Friday and Saturday, on a purely personal level, remains hard to comprehend. While safe in the knowledge that to you, the reader, it will likely be the most dry and dull assortment of letters and numbers and has no bearing on anything in your own life, said list is as follows: a 7b project completed with relative ease; another 7b+ project finished off and it’s 7c sit start on the second attempt; and a 7b flash all at the Indy on Friday night; then at the Beacon, two V7 flashes and another on the second attempt; a V8 on the second try; and the coup de grace of that glorious and brutal V9 also on the second go; plus various other climbs of V6/6c+ and below thrown in for good measure. Ignoring the ‘lower’ grade problems (V6 or lower) that gives 71 V-points in a very short amount of time. On a normal month, a successful session would constitute a fraction of that. And this is effectively in a single day. What’s more, on both occasions, I could’ve easily done more.
These are, of course, indoor boulder problems and despite the fact that the world has changed and for many, indoor climbing is now a means to itself and not simply the stepping stone of training or wet weather alternative that it was when I started some twenty years ago, my world view remains that indoor climbs don’t really count. However, to dismiss these climbs would also be to ignore my most recent climbing achievement: only my second ever V10/7c+ on rock last weekend.
Parisella’s Cave will, to any North Wales boulderer, always play a part. They may not like it, they may always try and find somewhere else to climb but sooner or later, often periodically, they’ll be there. And to anyone that has spent a prolonged time in this corner of the world, they will likely have either a set of climbs that get repeated or an ongoing project there.
For me, that project line was Rock Atrocity Wobbly Block start V10/7c+. The story goes that back in 2014, I was determined to try the original start and put a lot of time giving it a concerted effort. Back then, it was right at my physical limit and despite having the sequence dialed, each visit gave me three tries, after which I’d be too tired.
One day, there with Andy Marshall, my first try saw me accepting the fact that my feet would have to cut loose and failing, frustrated again; Rock Atrocity does go straight through the middle of a roof after all. Andy stepped up, did most of the problem but crucially, his feet stayed on every move. With a little arrogance,I remember thinking my footwork was better than his and I sent on the next attempt, feet sticking to the roof like glue.
Buoyed and with one attempt left in me, I tried the Wobbly Block version, a grade harder. After all, I had nothing to lose. With excellent beta from Andy, I pretty much completed it, with a got scrape on the floor on the first move and a poor match on the last hold meaning it didn’t really count. I planned to go back a week later, got injured the following weekend and never went back with the same determination.
Fast forward nine years and I had lost count of the number of times I’d been back on the lower start. However none of these efforts involved anywhere near enough effort (as regular readers may have picked up on). This project remained the climb that I jumped on whenever I happened to find myself there and every one of these sessions mainly involved me finding the nuances to the beta again. As such, I’d never stood a chance.
A lot has happened in those intervening years: I’ve climbed 7c+ at Sheep Pen; I’ve become a coach and studied climbing movement; I’ve had two children; etc. And I’m not quite sure why but recently, I’ve felt a drive to finally finish off this long standing project.
Just before Christmas, I was at the cave and was close. There was a foot sequence I couldn’t remember/figure out but it was pretty much there. Then in the New Year, brother in law James got in touch, asking if I wanted a cave session. It was on.
Some friendly and much stronger climbers there that day helped me remember my foot sequence from before and I tried a few times from the floor. Suddenly, I found myself on the finishing moves, James just as surprised as I was. The only problem was I hadn’t refined the final couple of moves and completely powered out, collapsed from the final match, agonisingly close.
I was about to start comparing my diary and the weather forecast for the coming week, having now fixed the issue with a definite foot sequence for the last move when I felt I should try again. Honing the sequence in my mind and getting closer to flow state – as mentioned in my last post – I stepped on. And it wasn’t even perfect, I made a couple of mistakes. But I felt superhuman, felt so strong, like I could’ve showboated if I’d chosen (although clearly, that would’ve landed me in the Arrogance section of the DCBA Scale so I didn’t). Just as with the stand start all those years ago, I cruised through the moves. Rock Atrocity Wobbly Block start V10/7c+ finally complete.
The Inevitable Question
In the same way that I would do a week later at the Beacon, I stood not quite believing what I’d achieved. Our sport is quite frankly a ridiculous one, although no worse than others like gymnastics or weightlifting. We set the parameters of our challenge that have no bearing on the rest of our lives. And then we give our all to achieve these pointless tasks.
For those of us driven enough to find challenges that push our limits, it leads to the inevitable question any time we succeed: now what?
It almost seems a shame that we can’t live in the moment longer, bask in our own glory for a while before contemplating the next step. Perhaps it is the burden of the driven, or perhaps it is me being too full of myself. Either way, five minutes after matching the last holds on Atrocity my mind had already drifted to Sway On.
It makes sense really. Goal: 8a has consumed my attention for pretty much the entire four years since its conception. And Rock Atrocity is certainly a good marker along the way; I was even considering its stepping-stone nature on that visit just before Christmas. So while it is a shame that I haven’t taken longer to focus on my success, it does bode well for the next stage.
It seems that whether I sent this or not, I was always going to be comparing the diary with the forecast.