One of the big aims for 2013 was to improve my finger crack abilities – the usual methods of systematic analysis of what was needed were applied. I needed better Front-2 strength, more strength in my pinkie in the “drag position” and really good shoulder power endurance amongst other things. Once I (and Pete) had this worked out, we set about training really hard. That’s the easy bit, right?!
What we realised was that it’s all very well to do the training to increase performance, but how do you know you’re actually improving? Does a Front-2 deadhang set on an 18mm edge lay down on rock? Would a pinkie mono on a beastmaker really make every crack move a rest?
Question 1: Yes!
Question 2: Not really and ended up injuring me.
So what I did, was make a list of finger crack routes in Europe that I wanted to do during 2013 as a way of measuring my gains. I could try a number of real routes on real rock to see how it was going. I booked some trips to Italy and I reminded myself of some UK crack projects. Whilst the Italian cracks went well (8a-8b felt ok), it was the UK lines that were probably the hardest, move for move. It’s all very well pulling off 8a+’s on cracks, but it’s not exactly pushing the envelop is it?
There’s two obvious finger crack projects that I know of in the UK. One is at Dinas Rock in Wales and the other is the infamous finger crack right of Ramshaw Crack. With a couple of sessions over the years on the latter, I have always found the moves totally out of my league. It’s not really route climbing. It’s crack campussing! Three simple, very hard, very painful moves. I guess it’s the epitome of crack power. Climb that and you’ve got the power reserves to climb 9a on crack.
Anyway, back to the other project. Dinas Rock. It’s been a line that I’ve actually dabbled on for over 2 years now (or is it 3?!) and it’s somewhere in the same league and style as Anna Kournikova. Short, very steep, in your face all the way, and even less rests than its Italian sister. It climbs a 3 bolt old sport route to some chains and then continues through an 80 degree finger roof crack on small nuts. The sequence of climbing is absolutely awesome and I was so psyched when I worked out how to put everything together. Every move seems to “wrong hand” you, so half of the difficulty is puzzling out the way to move upwards.
This year I put some serious effort in trying to climb this line. I was sure that it would be great preparation for Cobra Crack and would also allow me to measure if my strength and power was increasing. Over 4 weekends this summer I relearnt the sequence and started to have redpoints. Each time though, I got shut down on one move. I could do it in isolation, but it was just too close to my strength limit to do when I’d got very slightly pumped. I resigned myself to only trying the route when the conditions were perfect (condensation can be terrible at Dinas) and started making isolated trips to Dinas, trying not to think about the 4hr drive each way. As I got closer to the route, I got more and more motivated and sleeping in the carpark after arriving at 1am the previous night seemed worth the chance of climbing route. In one desperate moment, I even went to try the route on the way to the airport to go to Canada! All was to no avail though, and I ended up going to try Cobra without having completed my “training goal”
Returning from Canada having done Cobra, I knew I was on seriously limited time. I guessed at around 4 weeks of possibly friendly conditions before the rain arrived. I found a couple of days free after returning from the E.O.F.T in Germany and went back for what I thought would be the formality of finishing off the route (I mean, it can’t be harder than Cobra can it?!). On day two I climbed through the crux and found myself at the last hard move. It was so strange… I’d not really worked out how it would feel to get there. How hard would I have to try? Did I need to go static when pumped? Did I really have to shake my foot out, or could I ignore the numbness?
FUUUUUUUUCK…… I fumbled the hold. I was off.
Strangely back at the ground I felt an unexpected feeling. I was psyched out of my mind. Despite the fact that ultimately I’d failed, I found the enjoyment of the climbing so satisfying. I chuckled to myself that I could find such a great piece of climbing on a small limestone roof hidden away in the Welsh valleys. For once, I wasn’t disappointed with a lack of result. I was inspired by the process.
As I sit here writing this, I know that realistically the season is over. Dinas Crack won’t be mine this season, but I gave it everything I could. I slept at the base, I spent nights in the car park in my cold van and I gave up days at work just for the slim chance the conditions might be good. This whole process has reminded me how much I love climbing and why I’m prepared to sacrafice so much for it.