So here I am, tucked in under an orange roof, trying to recover from being an idiot. Back clipped the last draw on the steepest bit, fiddled with it, took it off put it back on – but hey I’m still on. Fairly pumped but still on and feeling strong. Feet, feet, feet, yes left here, right over there on the dish, backside in for the poor sloper, rock up, got the crimps, where does this bloody left foot go? This will have to do, nah here, drop a bit, right hip in and the Gallowgate throw. Shoooot. Fingers brush the air by the jug but all of me is heading down, through the crisp blue Catalan air. No, no, no, I had it, how did I miss, what am I doing here?
Three years ago I retired from a great job, working with lots of superb people. My children had grown up and flown the nest and were making their way in the world. My wife was on board with the idea of me retiring so I could travel and climb. So after spending most of my adult life as a worker who climbed, I became a climber. I was sixty two years old with the resources and the time to train, travel and climb. The opportunity of a lifetime.
For the last three years I have travelled and climbed and loved it; great places, great trips, great people. I applied myself to learning how to get stronger, how to build endurance and how to improve my technical ability. I did training for coaching courses to improve my knowledge and understanding of “climbing”.
In October 2015 I came back from a yet another great trip to Siurana as a junior member of “team awld”, the cream of Northumberland, some of the best climbers of their generation. We climbed lots of routes as is usual for these trips, trying to flash each route then moving on. Over the last three years I had completed thirty similar trips in Europe, on sighting / flashing hundreds of great routes and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Then I thought, can I change the game? Can I maximise my strengths and go on a trip where redpointing routes at my current limit was the focus? It sounded very risky, I could go away and fail to do any routes, no ticks, no prizes.
I needed an achievable goal and had loved Bruixes wall at Terradets since I first set eyes on it, many years ago. The goal was therefore easy, climb up the centre of this beautiful wall on Energia Positiva 7c+, with a heartbreaking move at the top. Worst nightmare for Mr Static midget – a big pop
Finding the right person to climb with was essential. I needed calm, positive support, and someone who understood the process through and through. Steve Crowe was out in Catalonia for a long trip with the missus, Karin Magog, but she was coming home early to work. I had climbed many times before with Steve and knew he was the person I needed so I agreed to meet up with him for a couple of weeks at Bruixes in December 2015. The race was on, I had just 46 days to prepare.
Training can be a lonely activity, fraught with uncertainty and pitfalls, and I knew I would get more out of it if I could build a team to get me ready. I enlisted lots of folks for belaying / training support. This included access to bouldering at Durham Climbing Centre and the awesome circuit board at Eden Rock in Carlisle. Then I sat down, had a think and wrote a training plan. At this point I was very unsure if the plan was the right one to get me ready. I had also learned that doing the plan is far more important than writing the plan. The backup and support for this came from Neil Gresham, I was very impressed with the way he had trained to do his new route, Freakshow, at Kilnsey. Going from looking like it would never happen at the end of 2014 to it certainly looking like it would get done in the spring of 2015 , to sending it. I sent Neil my plan and he gave me some fairly robust but well informed feedback and then we knocked it into better shape between us. I was particularly impressed with the nutritional aspects that Neil recommended that I integrated with the plan. I recalled that Lucy Creamer had an excellent trip to Bruixes a couple of years ago and contacted her via her website. She provided comprehensive advice and information, which you can read on her website, lucycreamer.com. Lucy also kept in contact providing great support through her knowledge and enthusiasm.
So with the team in place I set off to do the plan, sharing progress with Neil and Steve throughout the process. Neil’s role was to feedback on the progress reports providing support and suggesting tweaks as we went along. Steve kept a watch on how things were going so that he knew the state of play as we hit the crag. He and Karin also gave me excellent suggestions of routes to use to achieve my fitness objectives. This arrangement worked very well and was a significant factor in me following through on the agreed plan 100%. We had ups and downs on the way. My yoga commitment led me to develop positional vertigo which caused me to feel sick and dizzy if I moved my head. This did not stop me training though and my GP was brilliant, sorting it out in one session – flipping genius! The control this partnership gave me over the training meant I did what was planned rather than what I fancied. This was a key factor in training very hard but not getting injured. Not wandering off and doing random bouldering with the boys at the wall, not just trying some new finger ripping exercise, simply doing what we planned.
By the time I left for Spain I knew I was much stronger and fitter than when I started the process and I was totally psyched to get stuck into the redpointing process. By now the route was simply an element in the process, getting on it and learning how to climb it was what motivated me. Steve was great at managing the pace, talking me through the tactics, getting the food and hydration right, advising when to rest and when to go, having the last go of the day to build fitness on the route and keeping me calm and positive. So the route came together quickly. I made big links on day two and thought it in the bag. Went backwards day three, falling off easier sections because I was thinking about clipping the chain instead of placing the feet. Got frustrated next day dropping the last move every go. Then on my rest day I thought I’d have a potter just to warm up the body and found myself looking at the long pop after a very smooth trip up….. Missed it. Took half an hour rest, cruised back up, eyeballed the jug, stuck one on – just managing to catch the very edge. I crimped hard and moved on up. Success!! I clipped the belay, asked for loads of slack jumped off and enjoyed the ride down.
Elation lasts a few seconds. I was dead chuffed, Steve and team Australia were suitably congratulatory. I was empty, desperate to get back into the process, seeking out a new project. Got one, Bon Viatge 8a, sorted out all the moves but too few days and too little left in the tank to finish the process ……. . but I’ll be back
Building a team to support climbing at one’s limit
Feedback and testing plans and ideas
Support through the training period
Physical technical nutritional and mental issues
Being part of a team
Pros and cons of being old
Harder to build strength
But possible to get closer to your maximum potential
Need to rest more to realise gains
Breaking poor technical habits and engrams
Time to research, talking reading and observing
Time to train
Time to travel and climb
Possibly good extended networks to meet and climb with different climbers
The process of working routes around your personal limit
Recognising that a redpointing / upper limit trip is different to an on sighting trip
Process begins with honest appraisal of strengths and weaknesses
Training is part of the process
Having a training plan is essential
Doing what is in the plan is 100x more important
Having the right people on the ground is essential
Good travelling companion
Good tactician, listener and communicator
Process ahead of prize