Its been a while since I was last in the Zillertal, but it was exactly as I’d left it back in 2008, soaking wet and with pouring rain! In 2008 I was on the Petzl Rock Trip, know locally to the visiting climbers as the soaking wet trip as we struggled with soaking crags and wet feet.
This year felt familiar. Leaving a boiling Britain with a week of forecast sun and arriving to Austria’s worst floods was painful. Our first day was spent dodging rain and blowing on frozen fingers. My coldest day since February at Malham!
But of course it came good, after all it’s Europe. The sun was just playing with us, and after a day of steaming the crags came good.
Monkey Island is a fun cliff, different to the soaring technical walls of Bergstation, it’s more of a short limestone bicep blaster! Great for a load of routes and sheltered from the (now) blazing sunshine. Its steep! Like really steep. Pack your arms! After four 8a’s (3 x O/S and another flashed) I was pretty pleased, I was wondering where I was at with my climbing having actually only climbed one route since November – and that’s not exaggerating, a single route, apart from 60 warm- ups on Consenting adults (7a) at Malham! At least the one route was a hard one, but it’s not much use for keeping sharp for movement. But overall I didn’t notice much difference; like riding a bike maybe? Maybe not.
Zillertal ended up being amazing. Huge variation of climbing. Granite sport can feel strange, you know you’ve done something truly unique but its hard to know why – I think its because you have to think more, you can’t just launch into a sequence, options are limited; movement requires a plan! Its mind intensive – and that leads to a unique feeling of achievement. And once you clip the belay turn around and take a look at where you are!!
“Red-pointing is easy because you can just have another go – where is the challenge in that”?
True, by definition redpointing allows another go, it’s hardly comparable to a competition event with one attempt only at a time and place out of your control, or even to an onsight out on a cliff of your choice. But redpointing is an altogether different challenge. In some cases the outcome is a foregone conclusion, success will come given time, but the climber is perhaps not seeking his own cutting edge but more to experience the feeling of ascending something that feels difficult. Ultimately, on each attempt, the climber will try equally as hard, each effort given 100% whether it is a second attempt after a near miss onsight or a ten day mission. So it could be said that a climber is always operating at exactly the same level, whether it be a 7a onsight, a 7b second go, or 7c after 4 days; each ‘effort’ taxes them to their limits.
The challenge in redpointing comes when other factors start to weigh heavily; it becomes no longer a foregone conclusion. As a route becomes more and more difficult, relatively, it requires more and more learning and thus more time investment. Time is not unlimited! For a 2 or 3 day effort it could spread to 4 or 5 without too much stress, but when it’s already 20… can it stretch to 30? Possibly, but maybe not. Conditions, injury, and all of the rest of our lives may mean that we have a window which isn’t always open!
With Overshadow I felt like I’d pushed my window to the limit. It was mentally straining, I was travelling to Malham 3 days a week, 12 hour days each time, my family was fed up, my body was breaking and I’d dropped work for months to give myself every chance falling into debt and losing opportunities. Day after day of poor conditions thwarted me. It was hard to keep trying – but it paid off.
This year on Batman it was similar, except for the conditions, they played ball for me month on month. The race was my ability verses the length of the season. An improvement curve can be plotted verses time, rising sharply at first and gradually flattening out to eventually become horizontal. A successful ascent crosses this curve at some point, unless it really is too hard. The question is where does it cross? With Batman I knew there was an intersection, but it was deep into the time axis where there is little margin for error. It weighed on me as I met the intersection but things didn’t quite fall into place, success was denied! From there I could count the number of potential days left this season on half of one hand. They had to count, for those last chances everything had to be right.
True, it could roll over into next season; “you can always have another go”. But can you? Where will you be next season? For some of us there is a hill coming up….or maybe we’ve already past it?
I’ve just come back from the Lakes camping, a perfect weather family trip that could not be missed. But I wonder, if I’d still been denied would I have gone? Probably not; sacrificing a whole long weekend for perhaps a single shot. A self imposed prisonment maybe in the eyes of some. But I’m free of it now, surprised by the weight now it’s shed. Colour fills my vision with a 180 degree field of view, previously focused only on a central point. I can breathe again. Somehow it’s worth it. Somehow.
Choosing a name is always tricky. My latest project was a route out of and then back into the classic Malham 8c ‘Batroute’. But since I’ve spent a good deal of my time on various routes at Malham, including this one, hanging upside down by my toes perhaps the name of ‘Batman’ should have come straight away.
But grading is harder. Not so important for me to put a number on it as I have nothing left to prove, except that I’m not totally over the hill, but perhaps that’s only to myself! I’ll never make superstar status now, I’ll never manage 9b+; anything below that is old hat in terms of big news. So it doesn’t matter what ‘9’ it is; 9a, 9a+ or 9b is just off the pace. However, it’s not a bad thing to put some kind of marker on a route. It’s up to the first ascensionist to at least have a stab; in a way it’s their duty. Years ago I graded NorthStar 9a/+. Ondra repeated it and said that ‘for him it was 9a, but for someone of my height it would be definitely 9a+’. Not sure what grade that makes that route – but it shows one can never get things exactly right. This latest project I feel is similarly in the middle. 9a/+. It took longer than I expected and might make it into 9a+. I’d like to be more definite, but right now I’m not sure where I am with my climbing, having been injured most of last year and unsure as to whether I’m really on form, or actually pretty out of shape! But one thing is for sure, last year, due to injury, I was sure it was game over for hard climbing, so wherever I am with my climbing right now – it’s in a pretty good place!
Also I’d like to apologise for using the term “Alzheimer’s flash”, its one of those crag comments that I accidentally put on my Blog. It’s easy to forget you aren’t just writing to your mates, which is kind of how I use this Blog, and that people all over could read it and even just extract entire comments at will…..
“It’s all down to motivation”; Ben Moon’s wise words from the TV series Pennine rock. Motivation is the most important strength, but it’s hard to measure, and isn’t always where you’d expect to find it. Success is a great motivator, success in the form of ‘to become successful’, not as in ‘having already succeeded’. The potential of success is what really drives us forward, pushing us to raise our game and make it happen. During actual redpoints there could be many failures, but these must be used as a stepping stone. That is the difficulty, to see these mini failures as steps to the ultimate prize. That is the joy of redpointing, you can try again.
But sometimes trying again isn’t that simple, there is way more too it. Life stands in the way. There are many cases of success being snatched from the jaws of victory. If a route is at your limit it’s just that – at your limit. To hit the belay requires more than just another go; it requires everything to be in place: conditions, well rested, on form. And that’s before we even consider the challenges of simply being there, planning around work and family.
But these challenges are the motivators. As I clipped the belay and soaked up the view I could already feel my motivation moving on to the next. I’m not driven by what I’ve done, but by what I want to do. This project felt at my limit, but simply because I’ve done it means there must be potential for harder…. My Easy easy project beckoned.
But for that day I was already looking for the next route. An ‘Alzheimer’s’ flash* of Unjustified (8b+/c) felt almost as satisfying. In a different way though; I was beginning to wonder if I’d actually forgotten how to climb, and this ascent felt amazing.
‘Alzheimer’s’ flash* = route done before a while ago where the moves have been all but forgotten. Particularly relevant for the over 40’s, and even more so for the over 60’s,with all redpoints achieving this status as at that age all the moves will have been forgotten in the space of an hour anyway.
Redpointing. It’s all about the journey. It’s only a game. It might only be a game, but are we just playing with it, or is it playing with us? If it’s only a game then it doesn’t matter who wins or loses. It’s just about the taking part.
I was thinking that, until it got close.
Then it was more than a game.
If I list the 10 most important events of my entire life, probably 4 will be redpoint ascents! This is no game!
I returned to Malham on a bad forecast carrying a deflated ambition from the last rather close call. I’d done it but I hadn’t. Would I ever have the drive to push through again, and was the window closed anyway? At least the bad forecast was bad in a different way, blazing sun, and I picked out my line through the glare, seepage lines dotting the way signalling impossibility. But closer inspection showed the power of the sun as dampness tracked back up the wall. The window cracked open again, but today the gap would be marginal, the rock hot to the touch, it would gradually cool in the shade, and then the dampness would return in the evening. When to try? I waited like a pro, and then threw myself in at a calculated moment.
Conditions surprised me, warm, but no humidity; a marked change to previous cold days. Warm fingers found new texture, previously hard and wooden, now conforming to the intricacies of the holds. Suddenly I was there, the final few moves. Concentrating 100% I took on the complex sequence and held it together. The final moves up Batroute took me by surprise, pumpy and technical I closely watched my petrol gage through a third eye; dropping fast it would hit red as I hit the finishing jug. More haste less speed. There was no margin for error.
I topped the route with nothing to spare, my physical ability dropping at exactly the same rate as the difficulty of the moves, even down to the final UK 4a mantle. Then safety. Turning back the view hit me, the beautiful Yorkshire Dales stretching out into a sun soaked spring evening. I had a bit of a moment and let it sink in. It’s only a game. But I’m glad I won
“Climbing is about the process. Take a long look at your definition of success; is it only about rattling a chain? If you can afford to let a few get away then it’s likely that your climbing will be a richer and more rounded experience.”
Did I really write this? I read it in my article in CLIMB 99 recently, so I guess I did. Final success is only part of the journey, but to be fair, it’s fairly important. On my most recent project I’m all over it, it’s within reach, I don’t want to let this one get away, and yet I feel like I’m losing my grasp..
Slowly I’ve been inching higher, and then suddenly glory came into view with a high point within a few moves of easy ground. I rested up and hit the crag good to go. But poor conditions were against me with drizzle blowing in. Twice I hit the final holds, twice I pinged off, damp with moisture! Gutted.
Rain poured and the grapevine warned of a soaking crag, but I returned anyway; my line was still dry, just! Conditions were poor but I wanted it badly. Well rested my ascent was perfect, and suddenly I was set for the final lunge. It went in a dream like fashion as only it can on that perfect final redpoint effort; I hit the hold. I’d done it. I’d already started celebrating. Just a reach to the finishing jug and it was all over. The jug was in my hand…
But it wasn’t, my fingers tickled it but something was pulling me down, pulling hard. I pulled against it, but the force wouldn’t give. Confused I looked down. My heart skipped a beat as I computed the situation; somehow the karabiner of the final quickdraw that I don’t clip on lead had buried itself within my fig 8 knot, reversing back into hard moves I couldn’t free it, and with the draw mallioned in I couldn’t uncip it. Panicking I tried to figure a quick fix but there was none to be had, and then suddenly I was sat on the quickdraw, a 100% reverse in my feelings from total euphoria to utter disappointment. Screaming my frustrations like a child I tried to calm down, suddenly embarrassed, but the disappointment surrounded me. I couldn’t shake it. How could this happen?
Next go I didn’t get so far, conditions had become humid, third go was the same. Despondent I left the crag, another two days wait looming. Time dragged. The evening before I tried to relax as I listened to the rain against the windows. Then I got the text “crag soaking, no point going up for a while”……..
Picture – Keith Sharples
It feels like the window is closing now. Yesterday at Malham it was too hot to even be there, never mind climb! Conditions got better later, but not great, and nothing like what we have been spoilt with for a few months now. I broke a foothold off my project too.
But the project has changed! The Easy Easy is too hard for now, up Raindogs, the Rainshadow crux and then the 8c+ new climbing section before the 8a of Batroute finish. I won’t do it before I run out of time, but I knew that before I even started. So I opted for a cop out project, starting up Batroute instead. It works just as well as a route in its own right, getting me high every time allowing good training on the upper project wall. Rather than about 8c+ into the new climbing which is what the Easy project throws (to where it leaves Rainshadow), its only 8b, making for a 9a/+ overall link. It’s not the gold medal I’d like, but a silver would do! Maybe a cop out, but a temporary goal with a relevant training benefit.
But anyway, even Cop Out project is running away from me. Hard work this redpointing lark
La Dura Dura (hard hard) is truly amazing. I had a look at it a while back (from the ground) while Chris was working it. There was no point doing more than looking. A taste of the future and inspiration for us all. The fact that Chris got this is really motivating, achieving what he thought was out of his depth.
I’m out of my depth on a much easier project (The Easy Easy Project). Slow progress. Progression on sport routes tends to follow a flattening curve, and in the ideal world you’ll hit on success just before the curve gets totally flat, thus pushing yourself close to the limit but not finding the route hovers just above your flat-lined performance for eternity. I’m not sure where I’m at on the Easy Easy project but progression seems to be slowing down at a rate that won’t hit my target. Sunday didn’t yield any progression at all, and Tuesday I was broken from Sunday! At least I learnt something; a single days rest is not enough! 10 days in this year now, that’s a lot, but still room for improvement, still motivation to explore further. No point trying from the floor anymore now, I’m aiming for the link from Raindogs belay to top of the crag, probably 9a+ as a link, at least 9a. If I can get that then its ON. Sometimes targets need to be slimmed down, the end goal too big and far away and depressingly hard to motivate for.
With all these training venues opening up, myself and Gaz Parry checked out a new building that is being converted into a training centre. Close to the city centre (a big city too!), and also close to an established climbing wall, this will be a major addition!!
Joe Cook Redpointing Bat Route
Zero degrees, cloudy and a biting wind didn’t inspire as we bundled into the car clad in duvets and hats, But 2 hours later it was T-shirt and shorts and glorious sunshine. Yet again Malham Cove comes up trumps. It must have been the nicest place in the UK on Thursday. Perfectly orientated to catch all of the sun and be sheltered from all of the wind being there feels like you have cheated the winter!
Joe Cook redpointed Bat Route, must have been his 4th effort of the day – now that’s tenacity for a route that long. The rest of us floundered. Starting to clock up the days on this project now, think I am into day 8 this year. But a high point, from the ground to within 9 hand moves. That’s after around 55 hand moves, and a million foot moves; probably hard 9a to that point. Nine moves sounds close to glory, but adding up to maybe font 7c+, or worse, then its not! Especially as the last few moves are desperate. But what a route. Still not committed to it yet, but as Rab said to me, what else would I be doing anyway…….