Thursday, 21 June 2012

Fighting Torque

Some time in the night, you are woken up by the seductively comforting patter of rain on the roof of the van - the sound that signifies to your dreaming consciousness: 'it's ok. You don't have to get up. You don't have to get up, stretch the aches and wince at the niggling pains, force down breakfast against the sick-making fear that today you need to try, again, as hard as you possibly can. It's ok - you don't need to do it today. You can just lie here, zip up the cosy sleeping bag a big more, and go back to sleep, and then lazily get up and go to the cafe.'

Some hours later, staring at the rain as it runs down the window of the van. In a way, the rain's probably our friend, in that it at least makes us rest as much as we probably should. And I'm certainly catching up on my reading., which we have come to utterly depend on, (having come to the conclusion that the Norwegian met office are vastly, vastly better at predicting weather than the Brits) says it will stop at 3. The wind looks pretty strong, practically gale force. Should dry the crag off nicely, but my god it's going to be grim.

The route's wired now. The first, and most fun, creative part of the process - just trying the route, exploring the moves, seeing what will work and what won't - is behind me. I've carefully crafted a distillation of those few days - of persuading friends to try it, meeting new friends, excitedly sharing beta, minutely examining the rock for non-existent holds I might have missed, of relaxing in the sun with lunch and no particular pressure, no expectations, waiting for my route to come into the shade  - into a complex, intricate sequence, basically ten hand moves. It doesn't sound a lot but between those hand moves are desperate, tenuous foot stabs onto coin-edged size smears of flowstone and subtle shifts in body shape that either unlock the next move or make any further progress frustratingly impossible. But it starts to flow - it'll work.
No pressure - happy days. Setting up for the throw into the undercut.

Then comes the usual, hollow in the pit of the stomach feeling, where you start to believe that you can do it. The first stage of the redpoint process - making yourself believe that you can do it. I find this stage the hardest - the moves are really hard, I need to pull pretty much as hard as I can just to do them off the rope. How can I string them together? But somehow, after enough goes, they start to flow. I have a tentative redpoint go just to see how far I'll get before I fall off - I surprise myself by getting past the first crux (a desperately hard to co-ordinate pinch on the arete, then a drop knee out right to pull myself under the hold, and then a flick into undercuts above my head), gritting my teeth and making myself get my feet up and clip, and then be up into the crimping on broken flowstone, before my forearms fill with lead and I just can't make another move. Move 7 - pretty good. So then comes the dawning, slightly horrific, realisation that the following run out - the hardest moves of the sequence - getting my foot up above the clip and trying to ignore the next clip staring me in the face while I making the next sequence of slaps across broken flowstone, gurn wildly while I try to lock off and heave spasmodically to get my foot up, then push with enough tension to catapault me off if my foot blows, and hold the torque long enough to snatch the jug - I'm going to fall off it, a lot, before I tick the route - but I somehow need to make myself do it, because that redpoint go means I can do the route.

Latching the undercut
I have a theory that there are three crucial psychological stages to redpointing a route. Believing you can do it, believing you will do it, and believing you are going to do it. Getting from first base to second base means I need to somehow convince myself that I can make myself do the second half of the crux on redpoint, knowing each time that the overwhelmingly likely outcome is taking the ride. Our good old friend fear-of-falling. I spend a few days doing the link with the clip in, knowing that I can physically do the sequence, but blowing it each time on redpoint at move 8 as I hesitate slightly, anticipating the fall, and then either leave it too late to start the move, or start the move but fail to stick it, or not even try to stick it but just stop trying to catch it and start preparing for falling instead. I spend another day going back to working it, after a lot of fuss and gibbering managing to make myself do the second half of the crux without the clip in, and taking the worst-case-scenario lob from the jug. As per usual, the fall is totally anticlimactic. I man up a bit and do the second half of the crux without the clip in twice in a row, in an effort to show myself just who is boss around here. 
Move 8 - the crossover.

The next day of redpointing gets me closer each time - I am having to fight harder and harder for each extra move, and then half-move, of progress. I hold the cross over to the crimp but can't move. Then I hold the cross over to the crimp and start the rock up. Next go I hold the cross-over, start the rock up, and get my fingers on the sprag before peeling off. Which leaves me at the third stage, making myself believe each time I psyche up for a redpoint that I'm going to do it. This go. This time it will all be different. So I'm sat in a van, watching the rain. Waking up each morning with the sinking realisation that today I'm going to have to try harder than I've ever tried before. Fear-of-how-hard-you-are-going-to-have-to-try is a really distinct type of fear - it's not the crippling, paralysing, rabbit-in-headlights-I-can't-let-go-but-can't-make-another-move fear of falling, or even the sick-to-the-pit-of-your-stomach fear of failure that comes with putting too much pressure on yourself - it feels more like the heavy weariness before you go into an exam, when you know how hard you are going to have to try, and for how long, and you just desperately want to rest, to sleep, to be somewhere else.
Slap, gurn, graunch, flail wildly

We walk in to the crag, struggling through gale force winds, but at least it's not actually raining. We huddle at the bottom of the crag in down jackets and debate going back to the van, drink more coffee in the warm, or whether to go for a cafe breakfast. But we know that today is probably the last best day of weather before we have to go back to London. Too much sun forecast Saturday morning, then rain starting Saturday afternoon and all the way through Sunday. It is pretty much now or never. I go through the now familiar warm up routine; do the polished awkward horror The Sod (5+) up the corner, clip up Mindmeld (7a+) on the way down, top rope up that. I try to ignore falling off Mindmeld repeatedly and the fact that they both feel utterly nails, as not being a very constructive thing to think.

First redpoint, I fall out of the move into the undercuts. I'm not really getting enough back at the rest, my forearms are still carrying a bit of pump from the start. Despite the wind, the conditions feel amazing. Next go I fall off the cross-over, hand not quite set on the thumb catch. I really need to believe it's going to be different. That it can be different - despite having tried as hard as I can for days worth of attempts, that I have not yet exceeded my physical limit and can still squeeze another three moves out. I take myself off to listen to psyche up music and try to visualise myself climbing the thing. To digress for a moment, since I went to the Dave Mac Long Hope lecture, I've been fascinated by how good he is at really pulling it out of the bag when it counts. It's surprising how often you get the route on the last day of a trip, on the last go of the day... as it starts to rain. The remarkable thing about Dave Mac is he seems to be able to use this effect more or less at will, to his advantage. Perhaps it will work. I put pressure on myself - come on, it needs to be this go - at best you can manage 3 goes in a day. This is it for the weather - it's now or never.

Suitably psyched up, I tie in. Next go up feels mediocre. I work my heels really hard in the rest to try to take a bit more pressure off my arms. Try to psyche up to fight, as hard as I can, one last time. The move up into the undercuts is easy, but getting my feet up feels desperate - I try to ignore the accumulated jabs of pains and shooting niggles in my wrist and shoulders as I get my feet up, trying to dig with tired toes into the rail, willing myself to stand up into it. Come on. Then something changes - the flash that goes through your head on successful redpoints. This time I'm going to do it. The next moves feel really, really easy. I catch the crossover, and the flowstone, so often slick or greasy, feels stickier than ever. Before I can really consciously process it, my body has rocked over, grabbed and latched the thumb sprag, and then the hardest move of the route for me - graunching my right foot on - somehow I feel higher and more solid on the sprag and the deep lock, and I watch myself pick my foot up and place it in control into the backstep, coil, and press out to the jug.
Eyeballing the fingerjug, the last hard move...
It's weird - the art of redpointing is making extremely difficult climbing feel really, really easy in the moment that you do it. It's an amazing moment and an amazing feeling, and is why I love redpointing as a discipline - but once you are back on the ground, after the elation fades, it is an enormous anti climax. Narrative archetypes demand that it is a climactic struggle, a fight to the death. Instead I have to check that I have actually climbed it and not suffered some bizarre lapse of consciousness. 

Then the sneaking sense that, really, I've let myself off the hook. I made a bargain that that last go, I would fight as hard as I could - and I didn't. It felt a bit too easy. I could perhaps try a little bit harder - fight for a little bit longer, if I really had to. Hmm. Pass the guidebook...