Sticking With It

‘Its easy to be close, but it takes mental fortitude to clip the chains’ – Gavin Ellis

Climbing is unique in a way, you can always go back for another go, the rock will always be there, its always up for a fight, so long as you are. Whereas in other sports much more is fixed, you have to be ready there and then, if you fuck up then you can be left lamenting that screw up for the rest of your life, after all, you’ll never get a chance to compete in that race ever again. Redpointing, though, is a different kettle of fish, once you’ve done the moves then its possible, success will come given enough time. Its a question of how much time and effort you are willing (and able) to put in. Time is not unlimited though: the plane won’t wait for you, the season will end at some point because the Earth doesn’t give a crap if you’ve just fallen off the last move of some random piece of rock, so keeps spinning regardless, and when the window of success is small, which it often is as something gets closer to your limit, other factors begin to play a more significant role; stress, mental state, conditions, and physical condition all have to come into place at the right time to be able to succeed when something is truly at your limit. If you don’t stick with it, and be patient, then you’ll never get through that window.

The impressive right hand side of Ventanas and Pata Negra

I’ve been trying a route here in Rodellar, called Pata Negra, which I’ve had to stick with over the last month. The climbing on it is pretty cool: heel hooks left right and center, a knee here and there, a couple cut looses which always look cool and save lots of energy, even a bat hang if you’re front calves are up to the challenge but your forearms aren’t. It can be split into two main sections, separated by a massive rest. The first section is actually a few sections separated by bad rests, and boils down to 3 moves revolving around a lovely lump of sika – not quite the same as Northumberland. The second section also comes down to 3 moves, but on edges around the lip of the roof, a lovely proposition after 25m of almost roof.

At first progress came fast. There were significant gains each session, I made bigger and bigger links quite quickly, till I eventually managed to scream my way past the first crux before falling 3 moves from easy ground, my confidence grew with that progress. 8c isn’t that hard after all, I mean, its been onsighted. As Steve Mcclure says, an improvement curve can be plotted against time, slowly leveling off until eventually becoming flat, with success crossing that curve at some point – ideally just before the curve flattens out. In my ignorance I thought that maybe the curve would continue to rise steeply and that success would be assured in a matter of days. With that in mind I came down from that attempt happy as fucking Larry. Oh, how I was wrong.

I got a serious case of man flu. It rained, the route got wet. I fell left, right and center, but not very high. I fell in the middle a few times. Foot slips, frustration, excuses, and a bit of grunting eventually got me back up to those 3 moves at the top a few more times, but it felt like a long way off. 8c is hard. I thought about the route all the time, almost to the exclusion of everything else, it became the sole source of motivation for me, nothing else mattered, I just wanted to do it. I wasn’t going to give up now.

Then came the day when it all fell into place. It was perfect conditions: a properly good breeze, fairly cold but not so cold that you numb out. There was a good group of people at the crag, all motivated and trying hard, I even saw a strong Spaniard do Pata Negra quite easily – nothing like a bit of humbling to make you try hard. I felt good too, and that’s good for your confidence, even if its not essential to be in top physical condition. It was like it was meant to be: I cruised through the first crux, even had a second to think to myself, ‘I don’t need to scream’, I did anyway, and rested up really well too. Found myself at the final 3 moves; one down, next ones easyish, one more to go, to a jug as well. I hesitated though, my elbows were already up, and once your chicken winged, you’re fucked. Bollocks.

I was worried that I’d missed the window of opportunity because I felt like I’d gotten worse – the first crux felt shit hard all of a sudden. I managed to fall again 3 moves from easy ground, but felt no where near doing them. I was on the verge of sacking it off, doing some easier stuff and maybe coming back to it. My trip was drawing to a close, I could probably count the number of really good go’s I had left on both hands, the weather changed too – the lovely cold I’d been treated with was replaced by hot humidity with a light breeze at best. On top of that rain was forecast on the horizon. I could feel the window closing, if it hadn’t already snapped shut. I was worried that I would end up coming home empty handed and would spend the next two months lamenting my failure. This may have just postponed success, I’d like to hope that I would be capable of doing it upon my return here, however a part of me was worried that if I failed to do it this trip then I would develop a mental block, potentially halting future progression in climbing, and that I would actually return worse than I am now. I feel like I have just gotten lucky with my form this trip, it could have so easily gone the other way, but somehow I have managed to get fit here. This is time that separates the men from the boys, if you really dig in then you will probably get it done, but its so easy to give up, to go for some quick ticks to satisfy your ego, even though you’ll know, deep down, that you got second best.

Photo: Jonas Wiklund

Photo: Jonas Wiklund

After a bit of rest; where I regularly switched between nervous anxiety, calm acceptance, and demonic focus, and with some magic belaying by Micha I managed to get it done. I’ve been keeping a daily log which I guess is a bit diaryesque so I’ll include a bit of what I wrote here:

            Its shocking how much one route can mean to you once you’ve invested time and effort into it; that effort and emotion builds and builds till it threatens to overwhelm you. You develop a relationship with it, personify the objective to help your mind cope, to somehow justify the investment, to make the fight easier. The process of trying it becomes an integral part of your life – in the time I’ve been trying it nothing else really matters, you get tunnel vision, long term thinking is thrown out the window, everything you do, you do for the route, as if in preparation for the fight. It becomes your motivation, your partner, and the very thing which frustrates you the most, threatening to drive you insane. 

           Then, simply by clipping an arbitrary piece of metal placed in an arbitrary position by someone I’ve never met, I am lifted of this weight which has been hanging over me, the red mist lifts and I can see again with a clarity greater than before. As quick as that, all the effort I put in is wiped clean as the process is completed, I can move on. I am equally surprised by the sense of freedom and weightlessness as I am by the speed with which I can move on – this morning nothing mattered but Pata Negra, and now that its behind me I am striving to find something to fill the gap. All the stress, doubt, fear and frustration has been washed away in a wave of satisfaction. It was worth it. Somehow.
Photo: Jonas Wiklund

Photo: Jonas Wiklund

I was going insane. It took a lot out of me, but I learnt a lot from it, not just about redpointing but also about myself. Perhaps I’m not entirely lacking some true British grit, that brutal determination with which we are so often characterized. It was my first (or second) time getting really stuck into a proper redpoint project, I’ve found it can be the most frustrating and stressful style of climbing but its also the most rewarding, not necessarily because it is a means to climb something at your limit, but because you can really test your metal. Its a chance to really see what you are made of; when you have to try really bloody hard many times, only to be shut down, it takes something more than the will to succeed to actually succeed. It takes the will to work, the ability to take failure in your stride. That’s something I know I used to be able to do, but I was worried that I’d lost that maniacal devotion – its reassuring to know, without a doubt, that I still have some fight left in me.

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  1. Road Trip Round Up | Ben Davison Climbing - June 23, 2013

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