The Saturday that’s just passed has got to be one of my all time best days out on grit. Ever since the day when me, Pete Whittaker and Nige Kershaw went to Millstone and did something like 10 E6-E8s between us (mostly flashed or onsighted), I’ve been wondering when it would be surpassed. I think yesterday finally did that.
Often when you go out with friends at the crag, one or maybe two of you come away something really ballsy in the bag. It’s just the way it works out. One of you mops up the collective pysche and cashes in, whilst the others are often happy to support and wait their turn some other day. When myself, Pete and Nathan Lee headed up to Wimberry we all had projects that we vaguely hoped we might climb that day, but it all depended on time, temperatures, sequences and luck. By the end of the day though, the planets had aligned and somehow all three of us had succeeded. It’s strange looking back on the day now and it seems with retrospect that as each person succeeded, that made the next person even more motivated and committed. It was like a tsunami of positive gritstone force was rushing up the Wimberry slopes to push gravity the other way.
Walking back down to the car park in the evening, the collective haul was the 3rd ascent (solo) of Order of the Phoenix by Nathan, the 2nd ascent of Appointment with Death by me and the 1st ascent of the Wimberry Prow project by Pete. Bloody hell, that boy can climb! I don’t really want to steal their own respective stories which I’m sure they’re keen to share, so I’ll recall a few thoughts of my own from repeating Appointment with Death.
I was first introduced to Sam Whittaker’s route (AwD) on the HXS film that someone bought me for Christmas one year. I think I was climbing about E1 at the time and was utterly horrified as I watched this nutter claw his way up Wimberry using tiny gritstone pebbles for his hands and feet. It seemed inconceivable that someone could do that in a position of such danger. I could barely hold onto big crimps on a gently leaning wall, so that piece of footage lodged firmly in my mind.
Fast-forwarding 10 years I have just completed a winter of unusual training methods. Mono-boarding has become the replacement for evening TV sessions, hours of crack campussing have hardened my index fingers’ skin & I discovered some important mental tricks. Combined, those factors meant that pebbles were now my friends, my skin no longer hurt and I knew how to disassociate effectively. That said, I was still the relative weakling that all my friends know me as, but there were small forces on my side now!
After a couple of sessions on the route working the moves, I realised that the lead was inevitable, but success was not. Something really bothered me about the route and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. The night before going up to Wimberry, I had the most terrible night’s sleep. I woke up twice drenched in sweat thinking about the route. I switched on my phone and googled some images of Sam Whittaker on the route. Typing the search terms into the entry box, I realised the problem. Sam had pulled a totally brilliant trick on the mind – the obsessive nature of a climber will always lead them to mull the route name over and over again in their head. In doing that the climber also unwittingly takes on the subtle reference to what might happen if it all goes wrong. It had slipped in there, so slyly I’d hardly noticed it. My problem was that for the first time in my life I was thinking about dying on a route!
In the early hours of the morning I had to switch my brain back into the realms of reality. I wasn’t going to die on the route – not by a long way. Sure, if it went really badly wrong I might break a leg but that’d only be if I was unlucky. Objectively the route had to be no worse than many other gritstone frightners. It was tricks of the mind. Or was it weakness of the mind?
Part 2; continued to tomorrow. (Or this post will get very long!)