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.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Buster - I found your blog via the UKC thread and just wanted to say congratulations on a really impressive tick! Very interesting to hear your thoughts on the redpointing process and all that that entails. I'm also amazed you were already climbing at 8b without doing anything similar! Well done again.



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