So far this winter I’ve struggled and struggled. My two projects have seen sessions of no success and to be honest I’ve been feeling a bit frustrated. It’s not like the training isn’t going well – my fingers (and specific training goals) are the best they’ve ever been and I regularly PB, but it’s still not quite enough for success on the given line. I guess, I’ve got to be patient. The best thing to do when this happens though, is to get out and do something – something that will give you a bit of a buzz and feel like progress. That’s right isn’t it?
I decided I wanted to see how my projects and finger strength compared to something on the hard grit circuit and thus see if progress from last year really was being made. The Zone, E9 6c at Curbar kind of fitted the bill. Nice wall climbing, fairly challenging sport grade (not the usual gritstone 7a+ frightener) and bold enough to thrill. This route was put up by British climbing legend John Arran and one I remember the first ascent of it well, back in the day.
Photo: Gnarly bugger and inveterate soloist. John Arran
This weekend, I finally bit the bullet and called up Pete Whittaker and told him I’d man up if he promised to hold my ropes and carry me to my car if it went pear shaped. As usual he was totally psyched for it – I already felt stronger just listening to the enthusiasm on the phone! It’s way easier to commit to routes like this when you’ve got a good mate who’s going to bring the right vibe to the crag on the day and who knows even less about skyhooks than me.
The first half of the route is a highball boulder problem up to a series of flatty edges where you can arrange some skyhooks. This highball V3 takes a little of the edge off the nerves to start and settles you into a rhythm, which you then immediately break by spending 10 minutes trying to place the hooks. In fact I got totally pumped putting them in place and the ensuing down climb of a few moves was desperate in this state – a big reminder that I’ve not done any AeroCap for about 3 months!
Photo: the 2 poorest hooks – my mind needed them though.
After taking a few hours of resting, faffing, waiting for the holds to stop being warm and procrastinating I finally went for the lead. I’d moaned for the previous 2 hours about how the crux hold wasn’t cool enough, but somehow I felt that I’d probably sketch it out if I really needed. Climbing the bottom section felt reassuringly solid the next time and arriving at the hooks for a shake out, I bolstered my confidence by only eye-balling the good group of skyhooks. I couldn’t face even a glance at the bad ones as I knew they were there only to make me feel less scared.
Photo: the good grouping of hooks – surely these are ok?
Moving onto the top sequence of the route I kept thinking about the mental tricks that I learnt on Century Crack last year. The moves glanced by so sutbly that even when I got the crux hold and it felt terrible I didn’t think much of it. Adjust thumb, sit on right foot, bump right hand up a touch (go further than you think), throw for pebbly-boss…. OH SHIT….. that was nearly off. In someways I felt like I’d actually fallen off the route, but there I was feeling gripped on the last hard move. Pete was telling me I was looking smooth (good liar) and all I had to do was crimp it up. Index finger on, crimp that finger first, adjust hip left a little, feel toes inside boot, move foot across, share feet….. ah. Ok all over.
Photo (Mike Hutton): bottom V3 highball – great problem in its own right. Luverly.
Topping out on the route was such a disappointing feeling though. I’ve never done a headpoint before where I only did it to progress my headspace. I’d always done them in previous years because I wanted the route so badly. This time, I’d taken my obsessive approach to training and self-progression to a headpoint and it didn’t work. Trying dangerous routes in this style for me has to be about how much I want the experience, not just as a tool for progression. A real lesson learnt this weekend. In the end I just ended up thinking about what I really wanted; to do those other projects!!
Many thanks to Mike Hutton for the photos…