I got on it, and nearly came away crying. I couldn’t believe how hard my fingers had to crimp, they could hold me, but I was scared by the stamina needed. I could get my feet on, and then, just, I started trundling up for the top.
I made the first clip, then the second.
The third: I put the quickdraw in. Still low, I felt like I couldn’t pull the rope through, I couldn’t trust my left hand to stay on the thinnest of thin crimps for long enough.
I didn’t pull the rope through, instead I dropped onto the rope, choosing to fall. I need more leader falls anyway, but this didn’t feel like victory. I should have had the nuts to clip.
‘I’m not ready. I need more mileage, I’m not fit enough, I’m not strong enough. I’m not ready.’
I was in full on bleat mode. Lee, who I owe a lot to, wouldn’t have it and got me up a route next door: slightly lower grade, but still better than I’d climbed before.
‘That’s alright, it should take a few goes for the grade.’
Then I spent the next four months training. I got my cardio up, I worked my poor fucking fingers. I had an un-fun but strangely satisfying time watching my mates enjoying working the new sets on the wall, while I cruised on easy -piss easy- circuits for warm ups that lasted over an hour. I drank less tea, we got a dog and I started running. I fucking hated running at first. I fucking hate running still.
Back on the slate last weekend and we went straight down there. Abbing down the levels and nervily skipping over long drops. The day was beautiful, the psyche was high. We had woken up to a dusting of snow over the quarries, and the rest of the pass. It was strange because the slate always looks monochrome, but isn’t, with plum purples and apple yellows in it like a starling’s wing. Now the effect was even more pronounced, with pinks and pale blues in the dusting of snow.
Warmed up and onto the project. Here we go, and I clip one, two, then - fuck yes- three draws. I have had the bottle to pull the rope through and clip it. I get to a good crimp and try and smear up the wall, try and just do pull-ups, ignore the feet totally and frenzy up. No! Blown it and off dangling. My forearms are pumped hard like well-done steak.
The next try, I do a lot better. Loads better, I keep trundling: the crimps are small, but I don’t camp out on anything. Keep going from hard crimps on tiny feet to more hard crimps on tiny feet that just happen to be higher up the wall. Third clip again, then overstretch for the good holds, off again.
Third time up, and I fluff the first few moves, I stay on, but it has cost me precious energy. Off after third clip.
Lee says ‘Try and remember what you have already done. Remember the sequence, remember where the good hand holds are. Technical ability is just remembering what you have already done, and doing it again.’
I have a long, long rest, let all those little chemical fuels get back into my fingers and tendons. Let all the waste products, soots and fumes leak back out into my bloodstream and on to my liver. Anywhere but my fingers and forearms.
I watch Lee and Garry have a go at it. They both do the work, both top out. I know they are better climbers - there’s the evidence! I don’t mind, but I feel negative. I feel sad that I can’t do it too.
I have another go, I know its the last one. Off I go, and this time I get high, past third clip. Onto the good crimp, then the jug! bomber. Reach out left another jug! bomber, but a stretch.
But its unfamiliar. I forget my feet, I paste my feet on something shit, not considered enough. I open-crimp the shelf because I have to move left for the clip. But my forearms are pumped and are solid. I can’t think to place my feet, and I know I haven’t enough to clip the rope into the next draw.
I accept the fall: its a dinger. Me, Lee and Garry look at each other and laugh and grin, me a bit more upside down than is ideal.
‘I know its progress, I know its better. I just need a win though,’ I say.
‘You’re winning being out here,’ says Lee who will not have it.
The day is done, and I walk up through Watford Gap right fucked off. But in the next few hours and days I cheer right up. I DID make progress! My fingers ARE strong enough! I know the sequence better, and I reckon I can get better at it.
Red-pointing is not like on-sighting something within your grade. Red-pointing means lots and lots of failure before you succeed. This will make me a better climber.
Here’s to failure!
- Peter Goulding
‘Climber in a Flat Land.’