Could This Be The New Standard?

At long last, i’ve done it: The Pinch 7a+ at Sheep Pen. It was the latest in an ever-increasing list of ascents since my return from foreign shores – a trip that seems to have got everything to click into place.

In July alone, i managed around eight or nine days with an outdoor climbing session, as well as at least six indoor training sessions. While this doesn’t sound like much, you must consider that the weather has been typical for a British summer (relentless drizzle) and i was recovering from a knee injury, meaning no climbing involving legs for two weeks.

To get a tick like The Pinch at the end of this is the icing on the cake. But what is probably more impressive is what else went down during that session.

On a glorious evening, myself and Ryan made the wandering trek up the gully to the plateau. He’d done my project before but was still keen to repeat it and so, after a quick warm up on Toe Dragon 6c, a problem that had eluded Ryan for a very long time now completed, we headed over to the Pinch Block. After being so agonisingly close last time, i wasn’t going to leave this without a fight.

Thankfully, it went fairly quickly, with a subtle change of beta on the starting hand holds. It left us plenty of evening to head into the Main Block and, at the request of my friend, we put the pads under Gnasher 7a. It’s a weird problem: a thrutch into a crozzly pocket that will rip your hands to shreds if you don’t have the precision. Rye didn’t but i did and it fell within about three attempts.

By the time i nailed it, Ryan had decided that he wasn’t interested in ripping skin from his fingers and sacked it off. Instead, in what felt like an audacious move to say the least, we shuffled the pads left and underneath Jerry’s Problem 7c+. It felt like a daft idea but looked like a great line and deserved a bit of attention.

Astoundingly, the first move was incredibly close to relenting and while the second move cannot easily be done in isolation, a similar one can and that went too. The top out doesn’t seem to offer much resistance compared to the rest of the route and suddenly, instead of itching to get back for a 7a+ it’s a 7c+ that’s grabbed my attention…

Could this be the next step up in my climbing career? With three 7c climbs behind me, as well as two 7b+ and ten at 7b, perhaps i’ve moved up the ladder a touch? A recent session at Indy would help to give this credence (where anything less than 7c that i threw myself at seemed to give in rapidly). After all, there are only so many “strong days” that you can have in a row before you have to start thinking you’ve simply become stronger.

The rest of the session convinced me. Owen Hayward, the local activist who seems to have a knack of discovering not just lines but entire crags, had been busy at work at Sheep Pen. Working hard, he’s doubled the amount of lines now there (and created topos for it too) giving a host of new things for us locals to throw ourselves at. So we went for a look.

We didn’t look at everything. In fact, we only looked at one new block, with a couple of lines, thought it looked awesome and dragged the pads over. Diggingest Dog 7a+ looked sweet so i chalked up and got on.

I’ve flashed three 7a+ climbs before and all were soft (or i somehow did them wrong). This felt solid, and after success on that first go, i couldn’t repeat it, struggling to find that initial sequence for my feet. Ryan couldn’t manage it either, strangely making me feel slightly more smug. And this was at the end of the session.

I’m still not convinced i’ve made it to the next level yet; i think a V10 is needed to convince me properly. With Jerry’s Problem fitting the bill so well, it may not be long before i can deny it any longer.


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