Trip Numbers (because that's what people want to see!)
- 8a+ - 1st redpoint
- 8a - 1st redpoint
- 7c+ - flash
- 20+ routes 7a and above (most onsight, the rest I'd done on previous trips)
- Numerous other routes 6c+ and below.
- Left for another day: One 8a, one 8b, one 8b+
Overall, the most recent trip was great fun. My own evolution as a climber continues.
And then there's the route that involved me sticking my neck out.
The Early Days & Climbing for the Love of Climbing
Back on my very first climbing trip abroad we visited Siurana and Montserrat (whoever it was that thought it would be a good idea to go to Siurana, I owe you one for what it introduced me - sports climbing). You can't really miss the big bulging prow that is the beginning of the Sector El Pati - it's aesthetic and impressive for all the right reasons. And it scared the crap out of me! I couldn't even fathom at the time people climbing these things coming from the little micro-micro-bubble of my university club (which is a micro bubble inside the Irish scene itself). I left having sampled 6a's and 6b's (and learning how to truly fight on an onsight with my attempt at a classic 6b+, Extremodurro, which spit me off near the top but sucked me into the idea of really trying).
Of course, at the time I wasn't ready (technically, physically, mentally) and over the years I evolved. My technique continued to develop with lots of dedicated focus and applied practice, my experience increased and of course, I got stronger. But even with my developed experience, I've never really gotten to the point of envisioning myself trying routes of this level - my perspective is skewed by the level I've started from (climbers starting out since my time obviously start from a higher level, or are surrounded by people of higher level which instills motivation and promotes them to go to higher levels than what I reached - we all build off what's gone before but should never be held back by it!**).
Additionally, back then and still to this day, I climb purely for the sheer love of movement on rock. Interesting movement, having a laugh, traveling, seeing new places were and still are as much a part of my love of climbing. That pleasure from figuring out interesting moves, standing in beautiful locations - they all remind me that it's not all about the hardest routes.***
Risk and going outside the comfort zone
Over the years I've drifted away from harder trad. I didn't find the risk acceptable after seeing too many accidents. As a personality, I'm also relatively risk-averse if it doesn't seem rational (even if I partake in climbing, and have partaken in scuba diving of which I had a couple of very serious near misses).
In sport climbing, for whatever reason, I shied away from putting myself on a route that was really going to test me (partly as I wasn't willing to sacrifice the time while away visiting a destination where there were so many other amazing routes to do and with limited time to go and develop a hard project back home in Ireland), partly for risk of failing and partly because I didn't know of anyone to introduce me to them. But to develop you need to progressively expand horizons so I'm to the point now where trying something like this now is essential to help me develop more. Al Sarhan deserves a lot of credit for one trip to Gorge Du Tarn in around 2005 or 6 and his boundless enthusiasm in introducing to to harder routes.......
7c/8a became a reality sometime around 2006 and I tried my first 8b route back in 2007 on the back of big year-long trip. My good friend Rachel (who is from Salt Lake City and surrounded by numerous 5.14/8b+ climbers) coaxed me into trying one in Thailand - at the time, I wasn't physically capable of the route, after coming off the back of a snowboarding period in New Zealand. Then soon after on a short weekend trip to Siurana, a Canadian guy mentored me into trying L'Mens, the 8b+ up at Monstant. I did all the moves first go bar one, taking me only 3-4 attempts to figure them out. But I never came back - the stars never aligned to return.
Since then, the only other one has been 'L'ami do tout la Monde', 8b, at Ceuse in France; and trying the moves on one in Margalef a couple of years ago (it was wet this trip so I never got to try it again). Those times I was coming off lots of stressful periods, commuting back and forth every second weekend between the UK and Ireland (note to all - if you know anyone in a relationship in this situation, send them lots of positive vibes as it's very very tough!). So, while I got both routes down to a couple of rests, again I wasn't fully 'there' for it. Going full circle to that first 6b+ at Siurana, I wasn't really trying in the sense I tried that route.
I'd hoped to try one in The Red last year but decided I didn't want to waste a trip in a new location just attempting one route. There were too many other quality lines to go at and explore and climbing is most important to me just going climbing on new routes in amazing locations.
So in February, I finally got to play on Kalea Borroka. This one hasn't been for want of trying, I've actually tried queueing for this one before (it says a lot about Siurana that there can be a 5+-person queue on an 8b+) and I've also walked away after watching two individuals having tantrums after falling off it - not the most enjoyable situation. In short, I'm having to take some risks by putting myself out there to try this route - I might not be able to do it - but using recently written posts as examples (I may have written those comments up only recently but have been aware of them for a long time), it'll help me develop my own story as a climber and keep it fresh.
As has been the case on all the other routes (with the exception of L'ami du Tout la monde), all moves went pretty quickly (although I did have to come down without reaching the chains the first time as was trying the crazy-sequence method for the upper crux*).
How I've prepared so far
Not Making Chains
As mentioned, I didn't get to the chains the first time so had to lower down early. Recognizing that not getting to the chains was o.k - I'd prepared that this might be an eventuality and that it was part of the process so I didn't mind. In the end, it turned out it was a mix of two things: a terrible sequence, and very slippy conditions. The second time, all the holds had much more friction.
Breaking it Down
Learning from all the other foreign top climbers I've spoken to (most insightful was Enzo Otto who described his plan for 'Biographie' 9a+ where he was going through the process over a whole summer of attempting longer and longer links on the route - he roughly knew the week or so that he was going to send it), I wasn't rushing to make redpoint (i.e. one-go attempts) on it immediately. Over the two days I tried it, and four attempts, I only at most climbed three bolts in one continuous sequence. All I was doing was optimizing sequences, memorizing, and looking for little tricks or bits of improvements I could make - be it either a position to shake out in, to learning how to relax in a position, to clipping positions, to better footholds, to better pacing. Breaking it down into sections is key (taking a comparison to the guys who I guided onto the 7c at the wall - I got them to go bolt to bolt on their first experience).
The Next Step...
Work my ass off progressively! I'm not one for spending tons of time on a route - to be honest, I'm just not into it just so I can get a tick as many others seem to be (although I'm coming around to a bit of that mindset as I run out of routes to do in certain sectors) - I'd like to do them relatively quickly and not spend 30-40 attempts. Which means getting strong enough that I can do the full route fast. Going off my recent benchmarks of getting 8a+ down to doing in one redpoint, I definitely need more gains but they're within reach.
Winter 2014 awaits!!!!!!
"What I tell young people is if you identify your goals, and have the willpower to overcome difficulties—there will always be certain difficulties—and you find the right people to help you, you will be successful." - Reinhold Messner
*By the time I get to go back and try the route, I suspect another Irish climber will have completed the route which will be super-cool to see. The only note is that by aiming to get this route done, I wonder whether they'll have missed out on all the other amazing climbing that Siurana has to offer.....
**I try to spend a bunch of my time now climbing with those starting out. Not to stay top of the pile, but to show them a level and that is possible and help give them guidance.
***While in Siurana this trip, I also got the opportunity to try 'Migranya Profunda', an 8b. To be honest, I wasn't inspired - I would have been trying to climb it purely for the grade as I personally didn't find the movement so interesting/enjoyable - and thus walked away from it. The aesthetics and fun of the climb is as much a part of it as the difficulty!