Thursday, 17 May 2012

"The only real failure in life is the failure to try." Anon

Like every aspiring hard climber I am constantly trying to evaluate my performance to try to work out how to climb better and where best to concentrate my training. I am, however, coming to the conclusion that the main reason why I don’t get up a climb is because I don’t get on it in the first place. That’s not to say I would get up any climb I choose to get on just that I tend to pre-empt failure by avoiding the route altogether. Why I don’t get on a route seems to be due to a combination of reasons: fear of falling, fear of failing, a reluctance to put myself in a position where I’ll have to try hard (otherwise known as laziness) but mainly because I forget that I really like climbing.

Recent outings have been prime examples of this. Last week we headed down to Swanage, to the mega-steep Lean Machine Area. Alexis lead Surge Control first whilst I belayed cowering from the huge waves funnelling in to the base of the crag. I set off to second it with cold hands and without a warm up, unsurprisingly it wasn’t long before the flash-pump-of-doom and numb fingers saw me sitting on the rope feeling generally sorry for myself. The rational view of this would be that I fell off because my fingers and muscles were cold and I was trying to climb the 6b crux of a pumpy E5. The view that I took, however, was that climbing was hard, painful and unpleasant and that there was no point in me getting on Lean Machine as I would just fail and hate myself forever. As you can tell I wasn’t in a happy place!

Luckily I had time for my arms to recover, I managed to encourage myself to get on the route and from there it was alright. Compared to seconding Surge Control it was a walk in the park: lots of holds and gear and an entirely bearable level of pump. The crux as always was the decision-making part before getting on the route, moral of the story: I really enjoy climbing and if in doubt should get on and lead something.

Yesterday, with the memory of Lean Machine in the front of my mind, we went to Cheddar to get on Kephalonia. As three star, three pitch E5s go it was amazing, cold and shady but amazing. Alexis led the first pitch – it was his birthday after all – and I seconded it cold, without a warm up and fell off with numb fingers and toes and flash pump in my arms (déjà vu anyone?). Despite the lessons learned from last week’s adventure when I got to the belay and looked at the intimidating second pitch I handed the lead back to Alexis citing flash pump, cold fingers and the fact that the first pitch felt really hard.
The other Kephalonia
As I sat on the belay listening to the plaintive cries of goat kids and the unnecessary noise of boy-racers echoing around the gorge I berated myself for not leading ‘my’ pitch. By the time I got to the second belay I was annoyed enough with myself to make the decision to lead the last pitch without thinking twice. We sorted out the gear and I set off, as usual as soon as I stepped off the belay I felt relaxed, happy and unhassled by a rope above me. The pitch started easily and then culminated in a wonderful series of layback moves above 60 or 70 metres of exposure. It was a delight and leading a pitch made the whole route a far more enjoyable experience.

From now on I solemnly vow to ignore the pessimistic voice of failure and get on lead on stuff that I find hard whether I believe I can climb it or not.

Monday, 7 May 2012


The unlikely (and unstable) looking fins of rock that make up Lower Sharpnose Point jut out into a wonderfully calm Atlantic Ocean. A light breeze blows along the faces drying out the last of the sea grease and the sun pokes his head out from behind the clouds creating a tranquil atmosphere at a normally intimidating crag. When we arrive there are already a few other parties climbing and, though I enjoy the solitude of a quiet crag, the crowd of regular Devon climbers only add to the convivial atmosphere.

Crispin on Last Laugh
Pete and his band of ‘seasoned’ rock athletes heckle and sandbag each other whilst ticking off hard routes with ease whilst Crispin, Dave, Justin, Nick and I get on routes that have long been on our respective tick lists and for once we all succeed. Between the five of us we tally up 17 E points and 20 stars and not a single fall leading or seconding which means either we all had an awesome day or we really weren't trying hard enough.

While Dave and Crispin finish warming up on The Smile Nick sets off up Lunakhod, a bridging masterpiece on the North side of the central fin which offers the climber a surprising view through the metre wide fin. Although it is slightly disturbing to be able to see daylight through the cliff you are climbing; the rock (and the abseil tat) held so I really can’t complain. My lead next and we head round to the South side stopping on our way to congratulate Crispin on his first E2 onsight of the testing Last Laugh.

I decide to get on Pacemaker after falling off seconding it a year ago and, as is expected of one of the best climbs in the West Country, it is amazing. The route wanders up the sheer face giving 25m of technical climbing on a gently steepening wall with enough gear to keep me happy and a rising pump to keep me moving.
Me on Pacemaker
Back on the ground it was Justin's turn to lead and my turn to skip around the boulder-strewn beach staring excitedly at the rock like an over-eager Spaniel with a rock fetish. I mentally added to my tick list Break on Through and Fay (occupied by Justin and Dave respectively), Sunscape, Dry Stone Wall and Finesse. I giggled at Coronary Country and tried to imagine leading it, I picked out the line of Culm to Mother on the North side and shuddered at the look of the rusty pegs then turned and watched the tide as it quietly snuck towards me.

Nick smiling on The Smile
When Justin and Nick had finished on Break on Through we hurried back to the North fin with minutes to spare before the tide came in and guaranteed wet feet for anyone left behind. Justin, Crispin and Dave walked out with the bags and I belayed Nick on The Smile as the busy crag quickly emptied. The last of Pete’s merry band followed up Misery Goat and Out of the Blue and the ab rope snaked silently up the cliff pulled up by unseen hands to leave me on my own at the base crag gazing out at the soul-searchingly beautiful view. Without a sound it began to rain giving the boulders around me an increasingly bad case of measles and turning the light grey pebbles a matt black. The call to climb came and I set off across the face leaving Sharpnose in peace for another day.