This is part 2 of a blog post that I started last night – if you haven’t got a clue what’s going on, then click on this link!
Continued from yesterday…………
I think it was Seb Grieve that immortalised the gritstoner’s mantra, “It’s all in the mind” when he climbed the E9 6c Meshuga at Black Rocks. The self professed weakling of The Foundry had surely captured something important here – even Pete when I met him, had the words inscribed on a rucksack he used to bring to the crag. As I’ve climbed more and more over the years and more with climbers like Pete, I’ve come to realise how true that is. We’re not talking big french numbers on these routes, but we are talking big Blockbuster bills when it comes to smashing yourself up and lying around the house for a month.
Nathan Lee soloing the third ascent of Order of the Phoenix. No mistakes. (P Whittaker)
So what does a middle-aged (yup I think I’m going to call myself that now) man do when he wakes up in the night thinking about dying? I play a game. A game of the mind. I need to trick myself into not going into autopilot on the route, because at the moment my mind wants to think about the ominous nature of this route and what would happen if I fell off. My rational head is completely happy with the situation, but this is often the part that we switch off when we go for big leads. So how am I going to trick myself? I hatch a plan to stay focused on the surroundings all the way up the route, to allow myself to be disturbed, to notice the sounds around me, to see holds that I won’t use and to think about each sequence as it happens. No auto-pilot this time.
Some thoughts from Sam Whittaker on his methods of mind control when making the first ascent of Appointment with Death. Interesting stuff. (Footage and interview care of Katherine Schirrmacher)
Tying on for the lead at the base of the crag, I stay completely relaxed and jokey, almost as if I’m not going to make an effort. I climb the first section of the route in my trainers to the ledge and place a couple of cams. I also place a bouldering mat on the ledge as I seemed to have fallen off the first move so many times on top rope that I kind of suspect it will happen again. As I lace my climbing shoes I chat to a photographer and sing a bit of the new Pink song.
“We’re not broken, just bent. We can learn to love again…”
Man, that’s such a good song. I have to keep my voice down though or my mates will think I’m soft. Humming away to myself, feeling the breeze I pull onto the start of the route. First move passes very quickly and I’m onto the rockover that I always fall off. Hmmmm… it’s gone in a second. This is going too well. Shit, I’m doing what I normally do. I’m letting autopilot take over. Ok, what’s happening? Ah yes, someone’s talking to me. I’ll answer them. For a moment, I pull out of the dark cloud of subconscious action to remind myself of my strategy. As I pull into the next sequence though, I drift back again. Mono on pebble, move foot, adjust to two fingers, roll over to sloper. That’s not right. No, that’s definitely not right. What the fuck is going on, why does that hold feel so bad? I can feel my anxiety rising as my doubts about falling off race towards a reality. Ok, just flick the hand a little, that always works. Alan Cassidy does it all the time and he climbs 8c. Nope, that hold still feels pants. Look down to find footholds to reverse. Ah, crap. Those aren’t that close. At this point I roll out of autopilot again and glance up to the top of the crag to see someone looking over the edge looking concerned.
I’ve only cocked up on headpoint routes a couple of times over the years and it’s a strange feeling when it all starts to spin out of control. You almost feel indignant that the route has turned round to bite you. On top rope you were such good friends, hanging out, thinking about various sequences and how many options you have when you feel soooo relaxed. The sharp end is different though – it’s that quiet black dog that always sits in the corner of the pub looking unloved. It’ll put a hole in your hand if you misread its silence for docility. In that last second before parting company with the pebbles I finally force myself to look downwards to view my outcome. Dear God, yes. It doesn’t look too far. I jump.
Back on the ledge, feeling pissed off and relieved at the same time, I review my climbing. I’d over-estimated my ability to control my mind and vowed that my next effort would be more a mixture between conscious and subconscious action. I take just a few moments of time, before setting off for a second attempt. This time, I feel the balance. I can rationalise when I want to and likewise switch off when necessary. Even at the crux, I’m all four points of contact on pebbles – what a ridiculous proposition – but I’m happy with it. The route flows reasonably and I top out taking a certain joy in shouting,
“I’m alive, I’m alive!”
As I said in my previous post, I don’t want to step on Nathan and Pete’s toes when it comes to their ascents, but I would like to say a couple of things;
Nathan: I’ve watch a lot of headpoint ascents over the years by various climbers, but his performance on Order of the Phoenix was quite something. Totally business-like. I couldn’t believe that someone could dish out E8 climbing in just a couple of minutes, with no fuss, no mistakes and no ego. Brilliant. I can’t wait to see what he gets up to this coming year.
Here’s a video of him repeating my route Nah’han at the Gardoms.
Pete: The prow project (direct on Appointment with Fear) that he’s just succeeded on climbing has got to be one of the all time greatest gritstone leads. The line is totally outrageous, the climbing is high in the 8’s and there are no rests. You’ve gotta be a beast for this one. I was massively inspired watching his performance. Thanks Pete!
Everything from the day was captured by the Hotaches film crew and Mike Hutton on the stills. I’m sure if you keep up to date with what they do, you’ll see some nice pics and video footage shortly!