Decompression and Failure
The hardest thing about a climbing holiday is coming home again, then coming down from it all. I love getting back through my front door, love seeing Our Lass and The Boy, but within 30 minutes I've got to worry about whether the boiler properly works and what the dog is up to when it is out of my sight- invariably it is eating a valuable plant.
This last Wales trip was a massive success. Obviously, the main event was Sam and Rob's chopper (helicopter, not the 1970s bike) rescue from Lliwedd, see previous blog, but from a personal climbing point of view: I've got some achievements, and a lot of them aren't what you would expect.
For a while, I've been working on my mental outlook. I've taken on the idea that it is absolutely essential to fail in order to get better at climbing, Dave MacLeod makes this point very well in Nine Out of Ten Climbers Make the Same Mistakes. He also notes that successful athletes love the grind, love being tired, love the pain.
Me being me, I have started to look for failure in what I do, and revelling in it. Surely if I can fail a lot and love it I will be a successful athlete.
The key climb being Taken Over By Department C. I have hit this one for four redpoint sessions now, this is how it went.
On the limit of what is physically possible for me I get two clips up and bottle the third. I decide that I haven't the strength and stamina, especially crimp-strength and -stamina in my fingers to do the route. I moan that I am not ready. I dog up the moves in true redpoint fashion but 'save' the last move, as a 'treat'.
I make the third clip, then peel off the pumpy rail at the top, having failed to make the fourth clip. Lee and Garry flash it easily. I get sad that I can't do it. On the plus side, I get much better at the sequence I need on the thin moves up to the rail, and prove to myself that four months periodised training have not been wasted
I struggle with my mental state and psych level, in between goes I meditate to create a mental state appropriate to succeeding on the climb. The second go I do gleefully, the third with detachment. Some of it works, but I am still very patchy and inconsistent. I am better on the sequence on the wall, but rarely repeat it, and usually can't remember at least one key move. I fumble a few critical clips, panic and grab a quickdraw.
Another group of climbers race us to the cluster of climbs. They are quite talky, and normally this would put me off a lot. However, for some reason this increases my detachment from it all, and - bearing in mind I have been climbing well all week - I get on it.
I fumble and fluff the fourth clip and I am off. Next go,I make the fourth clip at the rail, then go too far left and get pumped out on a poor rest.
Then I go again, and make the fourth clip, get the rest with my heel in a good spot. I don't camp out but get moving again, do a cool move. Not much of a rest, I take what I can and get moving again.
I am into the last sequence. You know, the one I am 'saving' as a 'treat'. In my head is the guidebook description warning me it is a committing final move. I see something possible but implausible, bit pumped, and rock up with a Hail Mary slap.... .
Off I fucking well pop.
Treat my arse, I dog up, and suss the moves properly. The moves are so simple. All I needed to do was step my feet up slightly to 'good' ledges probably about 8mm wide, which is a picnic spot on slate. Then I could have taken my time finding the nice hold, and floated, with elegance to clip, safety and victory.
I am not going to be getting addicted to failure. But genuinely, it is giving me a set of lessons. Just staying cool, sorting out my feet and taking a little bit more time would have meant sending the route. If I had, just once, dogged up and climbed the top sequence, I would have known how to do it. More importantly, I would have had the confidence to do it calmly, and I would have known how close I was to success.
When I was fluffing those clips on bolt 3 and 4, I felt like it was all impossible. In reality I was very close, much closer than I thought to succeeding. If I had only known that, could I have got the redpoint on session 3 and 4? Probably.
But don't get me wrong. I loved the experience. These stinging lessons will stick more than easily flashing something within my grade. And reappointing this route is making me a much better climber, away from being able to do the odd good move, and towards a consistent, focussed application of the talent I have. Or lack of talent I have. Either.