Wednesday, 14 March 2012

In Praise of Waiting.

He waits. It's what he does.
I'll tell you what - tick followed tock followed tick followed tock followed tick.
Ahab says I don't care who you are, here's to your dream.
The old sailors returned to the bar, 'here's to you, Ahab!'
And the fat drummer hit the beat with all his heart.
Here's to waiting.

Another weekend at The Cuttings. It's not a very trendy crag, it's probably not even a very good crag, but I love it. It's almost always in condition, it's easy access, you can relax at the bottom and it's easy to spend time there. A lot of time. Notorious for it's sub-7a, and particularly sub-6a sandbags, it has a brilliant selection of 7's. All the routes there seem to take people ages - while Portland's west coast has lovely crimpy shelly rock, where there are always holds and you can always keep crimping upwards on progressively smaller and smaller shells, clawing your way up fossils and coral - The Cuttings doesn't let you get away with any of that - what there is, is what there is. All the routes seem to be technical, bouldery, and more often than not, hard for the grade - and they all seem to take ages to do. It's brilliant. It's like being at school - it's not about doing the most aesthetic routes, it's about applying yourself working out the technical tricks, getting stronger, and learning how to climb. You work your way through the 6's, then you get on the 7's, starting with the ones you can do and swearing and getting frustrated at the ones you can't. One by one, you tick them off - and you start to wonder what the climbing is like on the big lines that you have been staring up at for years.

This weekend was about Hall of Mirrors. To my mind it is the best line of all the big Cuttings routes - the line of the crag really. It follows a steep prow which turns into an inset square-cut pillar in the crag, with two hanging grooves on either side - the route goes easily up to under the roof, where you shake out on a jug, to make difficult moves to get a foot on the jug on the lip, at which point it all goes a bit freestyle - I've never seen any two people do it quite the same way - but you end up having to make a brilliant sequence of funky palming, bridging, heel-hooking, fridge-hugging moves and eventually wobbling your way up on a big pinchy sidepull and shit smears to get into a precarious knee-scum/knock-kneed bridge in the groove, at which point it should be in the bag provided you don't shake yourself off the holds (which, given how core-y and full-body the moves thus far seem to be, is far from an impossibility)

I spent a few days, maybe 5 or 6, back on it in 2010 - I got quite close to doing it, but I wasn't strong enough to do it the strong way and needed to use a bit of a whack sequence involving getting my heel on at around shoulder height, and using that to flick up into the undercuts. I was trying to make a super strenuous clip mid-crux, which always screwed me up for going into the smearing up the groove. It was faffy, and strenuous, and the prospect of skipping the clip was utterly terrifying (I alternated between convincing myself that it would be ok, and it really wouldn't be that bad, to being stood looking down from the next clip at the end of the runout thinking - that last clip is MILES away, there's no fucking WAY I'm skipping this clip). I got quite close to doing it, but could never really link it (I couldn't get enough back at the rest, and the moves to get stood on the jug were perhaps a bit too close to my limit, and the whole time the prospect of having to skip the clip was hanging over me...) Eventually, the thing that broke the impasse was we went to Turkey, where I did my first 7c (which, number-chaser that I am, seemed to take the urgency out of doing it), and then it was a while before we got back to the crag - at which point I felt I'd lost fitness, etc. etc. etc. Then over last summer I had an incredibly frustrating time grappling with Sign of the Vulcan and generally feeling not up to the challenge of the bigger route looming over me.

Anyway. This year was going to be different. First go up it a couple of weekends ago, it all felt a bit hard - disappointingly so, as hard (harder?) than  I remembered. But slowly it came together. Bits and pieces of remembered micro-beta, an amazing moment when I realised I had got strong enough to unlock a stronger, but much faster, sequence to get stood on the jug - eventually I was linking it from the ground into the crux. The clip was the last real mental barrier - a couple of goes on it on Saturday established if I could get into the groove I could make the clip at waist height, not strenuously clipping mid-crux as I was trying to do in 2010 - and actually with 2 more years spent gibbering and girly squealing (aka. 'falling practice') I could manage to make myself resist clipping until I got bridged in the groove, at which point I could flag under and make the crux clip at waist height.

A couple of false starts, and then I was suddenly finding myself on redpoint - hugging the fridge, gurning and trying to get a heel on - and then making the moves up into the groove, shaking my way into the knock-kneed bridge, my hands cramping furiously - flagging under and being totally sure I was going to drop it while clipping - but somehow managing to both clip and stay on - and then trying to hold it together - repeating the mantra of 'don't fuck it up, don't fuck it up, don't fuck it up' all the way to the jugs on the pigeon ledge. 

Finishing a project is kind of an ambivalent feeling. It feels awesome to have done it, obviously, but Hall of Mirrors had been such a big part of my identity as a climber - sure, I only spent around 10 days on it, which is basically fuck all in the world of big projects. And I didn't think about it remotely close to *all* the time -  I hardly thought about doing it at all in 2011, for example. But looking back, the idea of one day doing Hall of Mirrors seems to have partly defined me as a climber for what seems like an age, in a way that having done Hall of Mirrors never will. It's been a companion in a way - something to give meaning to endlessly trogging round laps of the boulder wall; picturing myself on the crux with the clip below my feet always enough to get a cheap buzz of fear and clammy palms. I feel thrilled to have done it, and glad to be free of it - but there's emptiness there as well.

Keen to keep the momentum going, and with a spare day at The Cuttings in hand, I spent Sunday flailing on Under Duress, a new 7c+ put up by Bob Hickish around a year ago. I remember when I started climbing on Portland, when I was on 5's and 6's - I would look up at the seemingly blank sheets of rock in the 7's and thought, 'my god that must just be impossibly thin'. Of course, as it turns out, most of the 7s I've tried are not like that at all, they are covered in holds, you just can't see them from below. But Under Duress pretty much feels like I imagined Portland 7s would - the crux seems to involve really long powerful reaches and big spans off desperately, desperately thin crimps, and it feels disappointingly hard. The Cuttings was absolutely roasting, which won't have been helping, for sure - but I suspect I could really do with a bit more strength in reserve for holding and moving off those minging flowstone quarter-pad crimps.

One part of my mind has written the route off for the time being - there are other routes I could try with my current level of strength and fitness; the cold crisp winter season on the East coast seems to be drawing to a close; and I can't wait to year's Malham campaign started. 

But over the last few days since Sunday, another part of my mind is already busy churning out thoughts, isolated and disorganised, but with a discernible theme... Perhaps with a bit more time on the fingerboard... (the other day I managed to tick another project - deadhanging, fully crimped, both pairs of crimps on the Moon board) perhaps if I were to add some weight to that or maybe drop it down to half crimps... maybe if I spent a bit more time on the esoteric looking selection of fingerboards at the biscuit factory (one of which ('Karma') has some appropriately grim edges...) maybe try to project offset pull ups on that, or the small campus rungs...

The early spring season seems to be drawing to a close, but it's always going to be there - and I have no doubt we'll be back...

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