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.