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Successful search for sun

29 Oct 2012

It’s amazing what some sun can do for you.  Right now I don’t seem to be too bothered by the cold, grim drizzle outside.  Our recent holiday to Italy was exactly what we hoped it would be; sun, sea, a bit of climbing but mainly relaxation.  We weren’t happy buying Ryan Air (you always vow you’ll never fly with them again but you do) tickets but they did take us to Milan and the journey to Varazze (half way between Genova and Finale – classic sport climbing area) on the coast was a quick 3 hours.

20 minutes inland from Varazze is an ever growing bouldering area.  Ex world champ Christian Core is developing new problems and areas all the time.  None of the individual areas are particularly extensive, so it’s all quite spread out but the rock is really excellent.  It was the combo of sea and bouldering that attracted us: a real holiday is what we needed where climbing took a back seat for once.

Varazze Cava traverse

Traverse at 'Cava' - about 6c

In theory I was psyched, but in practice I was rather ‘slow off the mark’.  This holiday I’ve discovered I’m not very good at bouldering on my own.  Nic’s got a bad finger so I was left to my own devices.  I seemed to need to company.  I’m sure I didn’t used to be like this. 

Nebulosa Varazze

My project for the trip, Nebulosa 7b+

To be honest it all felt like I was forcing things a bit.  Playing in the sand with Vanessa or sitting in a sunny piazza with a cold glass of prosecco was every bit as good as pulling on small holds... or better even.  So that’s mostly what we did.  Giving in and not bothering to do any physical exercise is ok sometimes – even if I did return with spots from too much boozing rather than a nice bronzed glow.  Vanessa got chicken pox in the middle of it all so that took up some of our time and a lot of my poor Italian trying to figure what it was in the local pharmacies.  It's varicella in italian if anyone is interested.

Chicken pox

My drawing, Vanessa added the chicken pox

Varazze beach "Yes it is warm enough to go in"

One way or another I did leave the ground for a few moves, if not very high.  This area is great for traverses!  Here’s a picture of a traverse I DIDn’t do.  That is supposed to mean I virtually did but didn’t do this problem Nebulosa 7b+.  I got as far as the jug in this picture but didn’t get to the next one because of a combo of Vanessa wanting to hold onto my chalk bag, damp rock and me not working the last move properly.

Nebulosa Varzazze

If you want to find out more about this area click here http://www.infoboulder.com/varazze.php?mod=home

One thing this holiday did do was get me psyched for bouldering again.  It was nearer 25 degrees than 20 and my recent routes hadn’t prepared me for this kind of climbing.  On the first day I saw this incredible 7c and couldn’t do a single move, but I wanted to.  If nothing else it gives me fuel for the winter training ahead – to try and gain some of my previous strength...

Commit to the process

04 Oct 2012

Finally, after some effort, that being as much mental as physical, I climbed Call of Nature 8a at Raven Tor yesterday, the hardest route I’ve done since having Vanessa.  Satisfaction levels are high.

I set myself this arbitrary goal (climbing 8a) as some kind of benchmark I wanted to reach, to prove to myself that I could climb somewhere near where I was before having Vanessa.  I climbed 7c+ in May and really, does one grade difference change your life?  Probably not, but it does feel good.  8a is after all a magic number.

Call of Nature Raven Tor 

Just after the crux on the actual redpoint.  Photo Tim Glasby (thanks Tim)

Back in April I first tried it and made fast progress working the route, and on day 3 I felt I was ready to redpoint.  I wasn’t actually, as the crux sequence I had worked out wasn’t very realistic.  So on day 4 I was convinced the time was right, but my head stopped working.  My brain seized up.  And then of course it started to rain. May and June went by very damply with wet rock and humid greasy conditions. One cool day appeared midsummer and I jumped back on it.  But there seemed no end to the rain, life got in the way and I stopped climbing for pretty much a month – a strategy to save myself for the Autumn.  So here I am.  It’s still raining of course but humidity is much less and hence conditions much better.

Once again I made rapid progress and thought that I was ready to redpoint.  This time I was, but again my head needed time to catch up.  I seemed to have completely forgotten how to get into the right headspace for redpointing at your limit – it’s been 3 years.  Over a period of 2 visits I fell really high each time, virtually where you’ve done it but my skin was so bad I was only able to have one good attempt each day. Despite this I knew my fitness was coming back.  Then last week I had a disappointing time on the route – I was falling really low down.  I was almost ready to throw in the towel and leave it till next year.

During the course of trying this route on and off, I have doubted myself, read self help books on getting the right mental state for success, struggled for climbing partners, fought with bad skin (the crux is rather mean), relearned how to warm up (sounds crazy but the easiest route at Raven Tor is 7b – not a warm up for me) and forgotten how hard you have to try.  At times it felt like this was the hardest I’ve ever had to try for any climb.  Because on top of all this I could only climb outside once each week – so each time it felt like the pressure was on.  And the mountain of ‘getting back to where I was’ has at times loomed very large.  Why on earth do I put myself through all this?  Good question.  Answer: I can’t help it.

Last week, despairing somewhat and looking for answers, I asked everyone at the crag how they approached redpointing.  “What do you think about before you leave the ground?” I asked.  Ryan was on Make it Funky 8c “Nothing”.  Great, no help to me with my racing mind – you are clearly very good at redpointing Ryan – and he is.  Neil on Kabah (8c+) told me he ensures he’s done really big links (he has a good point there) so he’s really confident.  Knowledge and skill were in abundance.  But my belay partner Rupert (on Evolution 8c+) seemed to feel he didn’t really have all the answers – he’s just insanely strong.  Arran on a more human grade of 7c+ gave me the best tip “climb and see what you can learn from each attempt, trust the process, don’t focus on the outcome”.  He talked a lot of sense.

And then something clicked.  To be honest I’ve never been very good at redpointing and have just taken the banging the head against a brick wall approach.  When I reflect on some of my past sieges, I realise I’ve been in a rush from the start, keenly wanting to get to ‘redpoint stage’ asap and ‘do’ the route.  But then you focus on the outcome and miss the finer details such as where to clip from, are your sequences as efficient as they could be etc.  And hence the redpoint section of the process turns into an epic.

Yesterday I approached the route with the best headspace I’ve ever had for a redpoint.  You could say the pressure was on (I’m going on holiday on Sunday and who knows whether the crag will stay dry in November...) but I didn’t feel it.  I convinced myself that if I fell I still had something more to learn from the route and if it had to be next year, so be it.

It seemed that I didn’t have anything more to learn.  I was finally ready and the ascent was as smooth as I could have hoped for.  In the words of Irene Cara “what a feeling”!!