There are times that I like to be pushed others not so.  Climbing is one of those sports that sometimes you need that extra push from someone else to try something.  That little extra push can get you over that piece of fear that is holding you back.  At the same time, when you are climbing with people that you don’t normally climb with, that extra push can be more readily accepted.  All too often it’s easy to just sit back and say no; just because you are scared and that you know that the people with you aren’t going to make you do it.  Climbing with someone else that is obviously far better than you, but is saying “nah, you can do that” gives you that little extra bit of confidence just to get you over that last bit of fear that is holding you back.   I struggle all too often with that fear when climbing on lead.   I’m not a great climber, not all of it comes natural to me.  Outside I still find it hard to read some of the routes and yes, self preservation does get the better or me at  times.  Between moves, there is a mental fight to push the fear away and concentrate on what I’m doing, where my feet are, what is coming next, where am I going etc.  When you are climbing well, these come easy to you; it’s almost like you are not even in your own body.  When you are fighting the fight it’s hard to continue; the flight reflex can be too strong at times.

This past weekend I was pushed and I pushed past the fear that sometimes holds me back.  It was good, it still feels good and I’m glad I did it.  The being pushed meant I got myself on a new level of climbing and did three things that I’d previously not done before.

We went to crag that we’d previously visited, Narrabeen Slabs.  It’s somewhere that we’ve climbed several times before with interesting moves and nice slab climbing.  We got there to find five cars parked by the entrance.  It seemed that everyone and their dog wanted to be climbing on the slabs.   With the easy walk in (unusual for crags), most of the people climbing were spread out and there are plenty of climbs to do.  We started on Manic.   The guide describes this as “An excellent climb with interesting moves. Follow the right-arcing line. 4 FH to double RB lower off. Originally graded 19, but a few people have suggested that it’s a bit easier than that”.  It’s a climb I’ve done a few times and also a climb I’ve freaked out on too.  Gaby went up first and then came down, handed me the rope and it was my turn.   Lou was my belayer.  Lou is 5 foot 5 maybe and must only weigh about 40 kg.  She is tiny. I’ve also never climbed with her, so I have no idea about whether she will catch me etc.  When you climb with people on a regular basis, you get to trust them…you trust them with your life.  Someone new, well that complete trust isn’t quite there yet.

Before I start we kinda joke about tying her in somewhere.   .  That way if I was to fall I wasn’t going to pull her half way up the slab with me.  Looking back, it’s probably not a good idea to talk about falling before we start.  So I approach the rock.  At the same time Locke turns up.   Again, someone we’ve never climbed with.  We talk for a minute with introductions and I turn back to the rock.  Manic looks blank.  I can’t see the holds, I can’t remember the sequence to start this… oh crap.  That’s the first 10 seconds of the climb in my head.  I haven’t even got off the ground yet.  Deep breath, count to 10…one…two…three…calm.  Left hand, right hand crimp, left foot, right foot, left hand, right hand, right foot, left hand, right hand clip the draw, grab the rope, clip the rope in the draw, move up onto the ledge.  Just like that it all came back.  It seems so simple now, but at the time it’s not.  The next move is the one that usually freaks me out.  It’s a high step through onto a ledge which feels awkward.  This time, no problem straight through.  I was feeling good now and just took the climb slowly just going move to move.  Before I knew it I was at the anchors and on the way down again.  Good start to the day.

Everyone else went up and then down without issue.  Next climb.  “Into the Void” a 19.  “Start: At highest part of wall, below big jug (3m right of Frantic) Boulder to jug, balancy slab past 3 BRs.”  I’ve never climbed this one before and I don’t really have an idea as to what to expect when I do.  I can see the start looks fine and then the middle looks a bit balancy and the end appears tricky.  I’m handed the rope again – “I’ve never lead a 19 before” I kinda wimp.  You’ll be fine comes the replies.  Still not 100% sure, but the first two clips look easy so I’m going to be safe from there.  So I start.  Gaby is finishing “Iron Chef” and the rope kinda appears in front of me.  I get to the 1st bolt and joke that it feels like a top rope as I can see a rope in front of me.  All is going well, I’m seeing moves, I’m seeing the rock, I’m seeing the holds and I’m 2 moves from the anchors.  Then I’m stuck.  I’m holding a poisition out to the left, I can see a crimp on the right and larger foot hold to the right.  How do I get to there?  I can’t see how to do that.

The rope goes taught.  I’m now secure.  Oh well there goes the 19 flash.  Right let’s work this out.  What follows is several attempts, about 4 falls ranging from a meter to a few more.

“You see that ledge”, “this one?” the one by my waist, “yeah that.  You need to get your foot on that and rock on and stretch then there is a crimp on your right and you’re there”.  Why is it that advise is so easy from the ground and not the case when you are on the pointy end of the rope?   “Er…really?” How am I supposed to do that?  I give it another 5 or so attempts and give up.  So close, just not close enough.

The others go up and down.  I watch them through that move.  They all do it differently.  Great.  I ask to leave it as top rope and try again.  As before it’s easy to that point.  Another few attempts, then suddenly I’m in the right position.  My foot is on that ledge.  I rock on, moving all my weight on my left foot and standup.  Shit, the hold is still too far away.  Stand up more, still too far…onto tip toes and stretch…stretch fingers stretch.  Then it’s there a nice hold to crip on, and I’m up.  Gah why couldn’t I have done that before.  Still, that’s the hardest lead I’ve attempted. I’m chuffed with that so far.

Down I come; someone else goes up and cleans it.  Right Next climb.  Frantic – 15meters long, grade 21.  “Athletic start. Head up past BR and 3 FHs, then step right and back to fourth FH. Over two bulges to double RB lower off.”.  The rope is handed to me again.  “Er…I’ve never lead a 21” (in fact I’ve only every climbed one 21 clean before this on top rope and that had lots of swearing in it).

Locke then pushes me.  “It looks easy up to there, that’s a bit thin, but they have gone crazy with the bolts, you’re well protected”.  I’m not convinced.  I look to Lou and they get the feeling that I’m not a 100% sure on this.  So Lou climbs it.  I see a delicate part in the middle and then an awkward part at the top.  Lou makes the whole thing look easy.  Another push from Locke “So…you’re well protected.” Mental stare push towards me….”okay”.  Shit did I just say okay, this is a 21, but the start does look easy and that second clip is fine.  The third looks run out and that’s the delicate part.  That must be the crux?  So I’m tying in and off I go.  It’s easy to the second clip.  Then comes the delicate part.  I’m looking at it and it looks tiny and scary.  I can see a crystal that I need to use for a foot hold and that’s it.  Panic starts…this looks a lot smaller than I thought.

“Go right”

What?  eh?  The call just pulled me out of the panic.  Back to focus on the climb ah there’s the hold oh and that one.  Okay let’s move that way; the crystal get your foot on that; oh that hold is good, there’s the clip I’m at the third clip.  Now this is delicate again.  Quick pull the rope up. Gah not enough.  Bite the rope.  I can taste the chalky sweat. And clip the rope in.  “Come On” I cry that’s the third clip.  The next one is an easy reach too.  So I clip that.  Then I run out of holds.  Where have they gone?  There is big undercling, but the footholds all out of the right, how?  Maybe if I move this way…oh crap and fall.

A short fall, but a fall none the less.  Hmm… well it’s a 21 I think.  I try again.  Same thing.  I’m at this bulge with an undercling, footholds to the right and I have no idea how to do this.  Eventually I kinda get a foot hold in place and reach up to the break where I can see the holds…I’m still six inches too short.  CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP.  If I can grab that hold I can clip the anchors.  This is so frustrating and another fall happens.  I’m getting tired now and my feet hurt.  I give up.  I’m happy with what I’ve done so far.  This is the hardest I’ve climbed on lead and I was six inches short from getting it.  I’m stoked with myself now. To be honest I can leave it here.  I’ve been pushed today and it’s gone well.
But there is one more push to come.  Locke talks about the “overhanging climbs” and there is this “easy” 18.  “I’ve never done an overhanging one outside”, “Ah this one one will scare you, be great for your first one”…”Sounds…great, I’ll give it a go”.  At this point I’ve not even seen the climb.  We move down to it.  It’s called “C” – “A big, excellent and easy roof – one for the masses! Steeply past BR and 2 FHs to roof. Great positions out roof past FH to chain lower off in break.”.    It starts vertical, then moves out and right at maybe 30 degs from vertical and keeps going, then it’s a flat roof.  It’s a jug haul all the way (large big holds).  It doesn’t look too bad.  Looks a lot of fun in fact.  So I start it.  First clip, easy.  Second easy, third, I’m getting pumped like a really pumped.  My arms are burning, my shoulders are burning, Third clip in.  Now I’m on the roof.  Left hand sucks, this hold is crap, can’t get any more weight into into it.  Everything aches and burns now.  I feel like I can’t close my left hand any more, I try to move my right and fall.  Hah!  This is insane!  So pumped with so little moves.  I give it another 10 attempts and call it quits.

Still that’s an experience I’ve not done before and not something that I would normally do.   I’m happy a good day climbing; lots of things learnt and limits pushed.  It’s been a while since I’ve done that or got to that stage.  It felt good, would have been better to complete them all, but I don’t think I would have learnt as much.  A certain Eric Hörst said one of his podcasts along the lines of “Go and climb something really hard and fall off it all day; you’ll learn more on that day than a day where you climb everything you can”.  I didn’t really know what he meant by this until Saturday, and yes it’s true.  Being pushed and pushing yourself to your limits teaches you more than just doing something that you know you can.

Phew long post, but I want to finish with this clip that features video from The Sharp End. It features Steph Davis and Dean Potter. It’s free soloing, not something that I plan to do, but as Step puts it “Fear is the Danger”; one fall and your dead.  It’s this mental fight that I wish I could get better at and something that I need to aspire to.  In the meantime, I’ll just look up to these guys and their ability to do what they do.


~ by monkeypushovertree on August 24, 2009.

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