Monday, 8 July 2013

Getting the giggles and that Christmas Eve feeling - the build up to 8c at 16

While getting my first 8b in Gorges du Loup over a year ago, I experienced a whole new part of climbing which I loved, the art of redpointing. Although the route only took me two sessions, I definitely felt I was starting to experience real redpointing. A few months later in Ceuse, I climbed another 8b in two sessions as well as a few more 8s. I knew I could climb harder. I really wanted to get on something harder - I wanted to redpoint 8c.

Once back from Ceuse, I had a few days in Yorkshire. I had a quick play on Bat Route at Malham and remember getting spanked. Most of it was wet, but even the dry moves felt desperate. It was a big step up! Then, due to the competition season last year, I didn't get out much after that, but it was still in my head; climbing something so hard it gets 8c. It wasn't really the grade; I just wanted to climb something that felt really, really hard. 

So for this Easter, I booked flights out to France. I was psyched to get back on Hot Chilli X, a Gorges du Loup 8c I tried briefly last time I was there. I started climbing and training a lot more, I didn't want any excuses!

Easter came, but the route was wet. The whole crag was soaking wet. I was disappointed, but maybe relieved I didn't have to find out if I was good enough to climb this route. I escaped from the pressure. 

I ended up doing a few 8bs and some other 8s. I ended up consolidating, which isn't a bad thing, but it's not what I wanted to do. I got back from France and was a little demotivated. I had a few days out on rock but I didn't focus. Then I decided - right: I want to do something before the summer holidays started. I needed a goal. I wanted to climb 8c before I was 17 at the end of July. Again, it wasn’t just about the numbers, but about focusing on a goal and getting it done.

A few weeks ago I decided to try Bat Route, knowing that Gorges du Loup was wet. At least I knew the route a bit, so I went up to Malham three Sundays ago to start working it out. Bat Route takes an amazing line up the middle of the catwalk, through the roof, and to the top on good holds separated by good rests. It's a relatively 'Euro-style’ route, having good holds and not a desperate filthy crux. The route starts up the classic 7b Seventh Aardvark. Then there is a good rest before the crux, which is an amazing typical Malham sequence with snatches on poor undercuts through the roof, before getting to a huge resting jug and a no hands knee bar rest (if your legs will fit, I’m too small). Then there are two relatively easy sections separated by a rest; then you get to an undercut one bolt from easy ground. The rest is good enough to recover a bit but if you stay too long you start to think, and your mind messes you up before the final few moves on thin crimps and poor feet.

So, my first session on the route I thought 'wow, 8c is properly hard'. I knew this and it's what I wanted and expected. I became obsessed from that first go. Up each go, I couldn't wait for the next and I could hardly rest a minute before having another go. That night I thought ‘right, I'm going to do this and that on the route tomorrow’ and set myself goals.  One of these was to go from the end of the 7b to the top out. I almost managed it, but I still felt a long way off the whole route.

But I was loving this business of redpointing a properly hard route. It's amazing how much that starting 7b can add, even with a good rest. I stayed psyched. 8c isn't meant to be easy. I was enjoying myself. I hadn't had so much fun in ages, falling over and over again on the same few crux moves. I loved it!

The next day I was back for more. Third day on, and skin and power were low. I decided to rest until the evening. It also meant the route would be in shade, as the crag only really becomes cool enough to climb, and in the shade, at 5pm. I went up the route, at the start feeling good. But I didn't do the crux and struggled on the final crimpy section. I decided to redpoint anyway. Fell at the crux. Right, that's it, I can’t keep falling here, and there must be another way. 

I remembered being told something about a heel hook and I worked it out; the crux was no longer the problem. Now I just needed to link the whole thing together, which I knew was the biggest challenge. It still felt hard but became real, a type of hard I wanted: not falling at the same move every go.  I only got a few redpoint attempts in before I had to leave and go back to school.

But I’d made big progress and I was psyched. I got home and didn't stop thinking about the route and planning my next trip. Thinking about it now, I wasn't even close on that first trip, but I knew I could get it done if the improvements kept on coming. I left my draws in the route so I'd have to get back up there and last Monday (June 30), I got the train up and arrived at the crag just as it came in the shade. I just planned to have a few goes up and get the moves in my head. Well I hadn't really forgotten the sequence that had constantly been in my head for the last few days; if I can climb it hundreds of times an hour in my head I must be able to do it?

Well, my first go up on the route and I climbed it bolt to bolt without falling once. On my last trip I'd made sure I had the top dialled because I wanted to make use of every go I’d had. I got past the crux but that didn’t seem to be much of a problem anymore, as the crux, the new way, felt good. This was probably my favourite go on Bat Route; it was that moment I'd been searching for, the thing I love about redpoint: that giggly moment when you realise that you’re going to do the route. I had a few goes that evening, a couple falling in the middle section which I never thought I'd drop.I’d made it past the crux and I was loving it. I'd never enjoyed climbing so much, every go I was getting more and more tired and at the end of the evening I got to the final few moves a couple of times. Wow, I'm going to do this, I'm going to do Bat Route. I had no pressure. I felt like I had all the time in the world. I was content, just enjoying the process.

I didn't sleep much Monday night. I had that 'Christmas Eve feeling'. I couldn’t wait to be back on that top wall, elbows back and slapping from hold to hold. I was going to wake up and climb Bat Route. I tried to keep it as normal as possible: same warm up, same breakfast.

First go up went well, but I pulled a bolt out. Sorry. I don't know why, but I thought that meant I wasn't going to do the route. I felt really disappointed. Wait, who am I kidding: the run out is safe and missing that clip might save me that bit of energy that I needed to climb the last few moves. It’s on, it’s on.

Then I was on redpoint. I couldn't wait any more - this is what I'd been waiting for since Easter last year. I'd never been so relaxed. I climbed to the crux, looked upwards. Listen, I'm on a jug now and there's another one four moves away, come on! I climbed like this all the way to the top, climbing between the rests until I was at the final good hold. It felt different to the other attempts: I was just as tired, everything was the same, but when I looked up at the final jug undercut, I realised I'm only that far off Bat Route, I'm that far from 8c, come on!

I was smiling. I didn't stay on the rest as long as I should. I could have recovered more. But I wanted it; I wanted it now, to be up on those crimps. I left the rest and did it, got past those moves I had fallen off before, hit the final jug undercut, let out a scream - all that tension that had built up on those final moves was released. I climbed slowly to the top, being careful with my feet. I didn't want to drop it here. I took my time getting to the top. I wanted to stay on the route as long as I could.

I clipped the chain and there was a disappointing feeling that it was over; disappointed that it wasn't as hard as you first thought, because you’d done it; disappointed I wasn't going to get another go; a split second of contentment before thinking about the next route. It wasn't clipping the belay I enjoyed; it was the whole thing, the whole process of working the moves out and feeling the progress. But I'd done it, Bat Route: my first 8c while I was 16 and when I should have been in biology lessons. It didn't, it doesn't, feel real; it doesn't feel like I've climbed 8c in Britain! I took my draws out and had a quick play on Rainshadow and caught the bus back to Skipton and then the train back home. It was only then when it sunk in and I let out a smile. Not a complete one. I wasn’t content. I want more!

Overall the route took me five sessions and about 14 goes spread over a week (plus the spanking last year). Thanks to the guys who belayed and filmed me. (The film is sped up – it goes quickly through the 7b start - and it’s cut because I spent so much time on rests and enjoying the climb that it took over 12 minutes, and you don’t want to be watching all that.) I can’t wait to get on something harder, but for now I want to focus on the rest of the competitions in the summer and the world championships in Canada in August. If I’m the youngest Brit to climb 8c, that’s cool, but what was cooler was the journey to get there. That’s what I liked. That’s what I want more of.

Not far now...

Going through the roof

Big move coming...

Thanks for reading and thanks to Lyon, Sportiva, Beal and Petzl for their support.

Big thanks too to Daniel Heath for the belaying and Andy Morris for filming me. Thanks guys.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

CHILLED - and winning! Hope I've found the formula

The last comp is always the winter British Youth Open. I’d won this in Sunderland last year, and the summer one at Ratho.

I couldn't wait for this event at Awesome Walls in Liverpool, as the 2009 Youth Open here was one of my first leading comps and I have fond memories of this wall.  In ’09 I came sixth and in ’10 third. I wanted to continue doing well in this comp ;-).

After a long drive up on Friday we got to the hotel and after a good sleep for once we headed down to the wall. I walked in to be as inspired/nervous as I was three years ago at the steepness and size of the wall. Routes looked amazing, I was psyched!

Route one took a smearing corner up the right hand side of the comp wall. No problems. Topped. Climbing for fun, and what a difference it makes!! It was about 7a+. Quite a few other people topped this.

The next route was much harder, orange up the middle of the comp wall. I was climbing midway through the group. Most people fell off a hard move off an undercut half way up. I slapped up, missing the intermediate that caught people out. I had stuck it. Bump low hand in. I screamed (don’t do that a lot!), made a move to a good hold and CHILLED! A few seconds later I was at the top, quite a fight! This route was given 8a and it felt solid at the grade. I qualified in first place. Sweet.

Since the start of the day there were rumours of how hard, the purple on the comp wall was: 8a, 8a+, 8b or 9a. Whatever grade it was, it was our final. I was psyched.

After a long wait in isolation I went out for observation. I had spotted the rest and cruxes. Everything went according to plan and I made a big move off an undercut. I caught the next good hold. By the sound of the crowd I knew I had won. I didn't care! I wanted to finish the route everyone had been talking about and worrying about, and I did! First place in the Youth Open for the third time running, and climbing for fun. Result!

The route was given 8a+/b. I was pleased to onsight it! Got a ‘well done’ e-mail from Steve McC, who set it. Ian said 'What if you could climb like that in Euros, because you can!', which really made me think. Molly also managed to flash the route after the comp and put a good effort in on the orange, sick!

Well done to all the climbers! There was some amazing climbing and the new team was selected. Rebecca Kinghorn is one to watch!

Bouldering open was the next day and I injured myself. Came 9th. Did something to my neck and haven’t climbed since, three weeks plus off. Itching to get back. But over the last few months I’ve learnt loads about my head, just how to be psyched, being relaxed, being confident in my ability and trusting myself to be good enough to fight hard. 

Bring on next year, if I get selected ;-)!

Three more comps, a Euro goal realised, and my head more sorted

Three more comps helped me sort my comp head.

At the European championships in Gemozac, France, I was quietly confident I could make the final. On my first route I was up 2nd. It looked about 7c+/8a. I only managed to about half way up before I pumped out. I had been over gripping from the floor, nerves!

Relax for the next route. It suits me - low percentage tech route - but the same thing happened. Although I felt like I got some flow back just before I fell, I tried to lock a move and should have been more dynamic. It felt like I had given up and let go, a feeling I used to get a lot in comps but had got rid of. I came 20th. The next day I did the speed for fun and came 20th out of 22.

I decided to go to the Welsh championships after Gemozac to try and sort my head out for comps. Great event, but less pressure, so how would I react and what would I learn? I arrived to find everyone who made the Youth A podium at the BLCC was there – me, Connor and Luke. I was psyched.

The comp was in a different format to usual, having three qualifiers, a semi and a final. Me and Connor were the only ones to top the qualifiers and went into the semi in joint first. I went out first and topped the route, climbing with a relaxed style which made me enjoy the climbing. No-one else topped. I went into the final in first place. In isolation I could tell from the crowd that people had come close to topping the route. I knew what I had to do and did it. I had won without a fall. The comp really helped teach me how to relax and I was excited to use this new frame of mind in Kranj, the final round of the Europeans.

After a good warm up in Kranj’s weird corridor boulder wall, and watching the older group go up our route first, I was ready for my first climb, which took the left hand line of very steep wall in a sports hall.

The route had an easy start, which led to a powerful crux. I did the first two crux moves easy. Drilled my foot. Made a dynamic move to the next hold. The quick draw got in the way. Whacked it with my hand. I fell. I was a little disappointed, but felt much more relaxed than most recent comps. I was joint 15th on this route. We went back to the hotel and eight hours later I was back beneath the wall ready to climb my next route. This route seemed to have a series of mini cruxes. I found myself at the rest before the top composing myself to tackle the volumes above. I made the hard slab move. Yes. Next move. Feet cut loose. Back on. Come on, I think to myself. I slapped into the hold but beneath me my foot popped and I was off, pumped!

I had a decent fight on this route, which I have not had for a while in a comp due to being too nervous to get into full fight mode. Finished 16th. Well done to Molly who came 2nd.

So it was the end of my first year of Euros in Youth A. I had two goals – a top 15 ranking and a final, and I made the first one, finishing ranked 15th, and 14th in the world because of a different scoring system. Good. But I didn’t make a final. A 12th, 13th, two 16ths and a 19th, so never out of the top 20, but not a final.

But over these three comps I realised I needed to relax, and I did enough to have a good fight at Kranj.

Realising I need to sort my head for comps!

For this year’s BLCCs, I really wanted to improve on my other disappointing results in this comp. I didn’t, but I learnt a lesson about my head that helped later in the year.

I qualified for the Youth A final in joint first. But in the final, after missing a clip, I struggled to reach down and clip. My foot ripped off. I felt very disappointed as I felt like I had been climbing really well before the comp.

The next day it was my first go in seniors. The first route was an endurance 7c. I climbed it so easily, only to fall because off a lack of commitment on last 'pop' move. On the next route I was up first. It was a tetchy 8a. I managed to get to the last lip, beating some people who topped out the other route. But the whole comp, for me, came down to the last move on the first route. I finished 9th, outside the final.

Afterwards I tried the seniors’ final route and managed to get very high, to the same place as Dave Barrans, who came 3rd. Though this doesn't mean anything, it showed me what I could do when I sort out my head and relax.

Again, I killed the disappointment by getting outside in the Peak with Will Smith. I tried to head point Life Assurance but my head messed with me and, when trying to down climb, my foot ripped and I took the fall the fall you’re not meant to take! The next day, back on Mecca it was too wet to go for red points, but I made some good progress on the moves. 

Good fitness from climbing outdoors, but disappointment indoors at worlds

After my trip to Kilnsey, it was time to look ahead to the world championships in Singapore at the end of August. The weather got bad which gave me time to train indoors. I felt fit and strong; my trip to Céüse had increased my fitness a lot.

We flew out to Singapore on the Saturday before the comp on the Wednesday. The comp and our hotel was on a holiday island called Sentosa and the wall was on the amazing sandy beach. Before the comp we just had one session at a really cool little wall where most of the teams had been training.

For my first route, I was nervous. I fell off with a deep left foot flag under my right leg, which limited my reach to the next hold. I still came 26th on this route. Psyched - I can still make the semis, which is top 25!

The next route looked like it suited me. I was climbing later on in the day so got to stay in bed for a bit which helps recovery from jet lag. I made a few trips down to the wall to get some beta for the route, but made sure I stayed cool and hydrated in my hotel room.

I made my final trip down to the wall, got warmed up, then the rain started. The wall was soaked in minutes. Climbing was delayed and no one thought it would carry on that day. But the routes were dried with towels and I was back at the wall warmed up ready to go.

The route suited me perfectly - good positive holds and flicks moves. Start went well. I got to one of the harder looking moves, did it. Heel up. Couldn't get it to stick. I panicked and flicked for the next old.  Almost caught it but I was off.

Overall I finished in 38th. I was pretty disappointed. I was hoping for the top 20 to improve on my 25th result last year.

Consolation back home was a trip to Peak limestone with Jim Pope. I decided to try Mecca (8b+) and managed all the moves but the crux, and did some big links. Good effort to Pope who did his first 8a.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Three more Yorkshire 8s and first 8a flash

After Imst (see below) I had one rest day where I went to watch some of the Olympics in the stadium. It was really cool to see people do other sports for once.

I then headed up to Kilnsey with Tom Bonnert. We got there with a little time to climb before it got dark, and within an hour of arriving at the crag I had finished off The Bulge (8a) and had a play on some harder things, I was psyched!

Day two, and a go on Bat Route (8c). I did the majority of the moves that were dry that day. I really understand now that to attempt this grade in Britain you need the beta and I didn’t have any. I can also see why Adam Ondra onsighting it was just so cool. But it was very hot and wet so we went back to Kilnsey.

I got on Grooved Arête, a 15-metre 8a+ (some say 8b) on the right hand side of the crag. It is said to be a harder version of Raindogs, being mostly power endurance. It sounded good! After working the moves I had a few redpoints that night but was tired from working Bat Route. The next day I got frustratingly close but decided to leave it. Tried the following day but it was my fourth day on and I could feel it.

Tom had to go home but I met Ian Dunn and after a rest day (watching climbing at the crag) I was back and did the route first redpoint of the day; easy after a rest day ;-).

Dead Calm is a newish 8a at Kilnsey on the right of North Buttress. A lot of people were trying this so I tried to get as much beta as possible over three days of watching people on it and try for my first 8a flash. After climbing the lower section (WYSIWYG 7b) I shook out at the good rest then got to the second last clip, clipped it and composed myself for the top crux. It was weird to be up here and looking at the holds after three days of getting beta - I knew exactly what to do and then I was at the top, my first 8a flash!  Thanks for all the beta from everyone on the route and to Ian and Tom who made it a good trip!

Video (should have been wearing brighter colours!) of Grooved Arête

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Psyched now for the Worlds after Top 20 at Imst

After Ratho I managed to fit in one session at Westway before the next European round at Imst. It felt good to be back at Westway after so long away and I was psyched to do a Liam 8a+ there.

Early flight next day, a long wait at Munich for the rest of the team and crazy storms on the drive through the amazing Tirol to Imst. Next day after that, the rest day, was spent on the Alpine Coaster, a 3,500m long roller coaster on which you control the speed. I learnt how to kill the brakes with my feet. Cool.

Later that evening we found out our start positions. I was 8th first round and 30th second, which meant, I reckoned, a seven-hour gap between climbs. I had this before in Linz, where it was also very hot. I’d learnt how to prepare - stay cool, drink lots and relax. I was so psyched that I woke up feeling very tired due to not getting enough good sleep. Comps in Austria are always really well run and Imst being no exception the comp started exactly on time. All the routes were on the big outdoor wall leaving the huge indoor lead wall for warming up, which is one of my favourite things about Imst.

After watching the seven climbers before me there were some interesting results. I was up. After sketching my way up the bottom slab I climbed pretty fast up to what seemed to be the crux section. Really cool moves on small but positive holds! My style! I got past the big move and then to a complicated foot sequence where your body is horizontal. I got my feet sorted and just before I pulled up to the next resting jug my feet ripped off the wall! I was a little annoyed but psyched as I felt I had climbed well on the route until that point. I came 23rd on that route. Need to do better in the second round.

My second route was shared with the Junior category (apart from one changed hold) and I went after Jonny W, so I got lots of beta from the two Jonnys and Luke. The route began up one of the long slabby sections of the Imst wall with a jump start. I was pretty nervous for this but allowed myself to be as I knew once I caught the jump I would be relaxed for the rest of the route. The route had some big moves on poor holds until it turned into the roof where there was some funky 3D climbing. I got up to the roof and a few moves in I decided to try a different sequence and missed the hold that had been added for my category. I slapped to a volume, almost held it, and was then flying through the air.

I was happy about how I climbed on this route. I was 15th, so an improvement on the first round. (I noticed that I had been scored lower than I thought so after a word with the judge I was moved up to the correct score.) I had finished 19th overall.

Imst is a very popular comp and often has some interesting results,  so I was not to annoyed and got psyched now about the Worlds at the end of August!

Overall the team did well with Luke, William and Alex making the finals and others very close!

Time to get back out on rock.