Monday, 16 July 2012

Birds on the brain

We've been late getting down to Blacknor this year. I keep putting it off - it's too muddy, the weather's baltic, it's mostly onsighting and I'm focussing on redpointing - but finally we have got down there and I remember the things I love about the place. The clear blue skies, endless sun and rock and sea, the gorgeous sunsets over the horizon on the late summer evenings, the grippy shelly rock where there are no holds and everything's not-quite-a-hold - but most of all the peregrines. Pleasingly, they seem to be thriving at the moment and appear to have hatched another nest of chicks.

I remember we spent one entire season, pretty much, at Blacknor, from April through to October. What I remember most strongly about that summer isn't the routes I did, although they seemed very important at the time, but watching Blacknor's resident Peregrines hatching chicks - as climbers, particularly climbers with a bit of a Portland obsession, we spend a lot of time on the same bit of crag over several months of the summer, so we are in something of an ideal position to watch the entire process. At first, the parents were pretty hostile and very cautious - one of them usually guarding the next, then every now and then you would catch a rare glimpse of a Peregrine coming in to land on the next with food for hungry peregrine chicks. You wouldn't ever see them, but you could hear the frenzied cheeping as they flew back into the next.

Then suddenly the chicks were learning to fly - the parents seemed to chill right out, and it was like a squadron of peregrines playing and tumbling through the air. It was as if suddenly they could relax, and they became almost extrovert, noisily broadcasting their presence and terrorising pigeons and seagulls alike.

It feels a real privelage to have a front row seat to the whole drama. It's amazing watching a peregrine pursuing a pigeon at high speed below you through the maze of boulders down on the beach, or grappling with other birds as they tumble through the sky, only breaking off into a dive just before they hit the boulders. Sometimes they hover so close to the cliff tops, you are only a few arms lengths away from them as you hang from the belay.

Since that summer I've felt really fond of Peregrines in general and the Blacknor peregrines in particular. It's good to see them again. Here are some pictures of peregrines.

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...

Friday, 27 April 2012

When long term goals stop being quite so long term...

Kalymnos -  I want to (but have not yet got round to) post specifically about it, but suffice it to say for now that it was utterly awesome and I have come away totally, totally psyched.

Since getting back, I've been reflecting a bit on the process of setting goals. When I first went to Kaly in 2008, I had just started to enjoy sport climbing as a thing in its own right and not just something to do when the weather was too grim to do trad. Kaly was the turning point - you know, the first time you stand in the limestone cathedral of the Grande Grotta and goggle slack-jawed at tufa jockeys knee-barring their way across the vast roof, THIS is what sport climbing is about, and THIS is why it's not just trad climbing with bolts in. I did my first 7s on that trip - in the Grande Grotte, although admittedly not the jaw dropping gravity defying ones - and pretty much there and then decided that I wanted to focus on sport climbing.

Setting long term goals, proper lifetime BHAGs, is great - you can just let your imagination run totally wild. As is usual for most climbers who discover they can redpoint, do 7a and get carried away, my goal was to climb 8a, which at the time felt totally pie in the sky and I felt ridiculous writing it down. I had no idea how hard 8a actually was or how to go about achieving it, but after reading all of the climbing self-help literature I could get my hands on, I came up with something that looked a bit like this:

Actually the first version was on the back of an envelope and is lost to the mists of time, this one has been a bit tarted up and is from 2010.

Sadly one of the disillusioning things that you learn along the way, is that diminishing returns is a total bastard - 7a to 7b happened relatively quickly, then I trained really hard and did 7b+, I trained as hard as I could for a year and got to 7c, then plateaued out for another year. Things appear to have picked up since, although probably not in a statistically significant, p<0.05 sense, but I did at least manage to get up a 7c+ in Kaly - and though Kaly is famous for holiday grades,  I am at least comparing like-for-like with 2008.

(yep, formerly the easiest 8a in the world, and quite possibly still very soft at 7c+)

Long term goals all get a bit scary, though, when you actually come quite close to achieving what you set out to do and the pressure starts mounting up. Every step of the journey feels harder than the last, and the last step feels hardest of all, if not actually impossible. You train yourself to always think about goals in terms of breaking them down into intermediate goals - but at some point if it's not going to actually become Zeno's paradox, you need to say enough is enough - I am ready as I'll ever be.

If it ever stops raining...

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...

Monday, 20 February 2012

At Last

I am already tied in, the rope already rigged through a screwgate on the 2nd, in an effort to gain a bit more margin for ground clearance if I drop it clipping the 3rd (which I know, from one alarming attempt, is far from being an impossibility.) I wiggle my toes into the end of my shoes and crank the laces as tight as I can, absorbing myself in the comforting sensation of the familiar ritual, knowing that I will need all the support and precision my shoes can give me to stand on the route's footholds. 

I try to slow my breathing as I chalk up, rubbing one, then two, then three layers of chalk into my fingers, dusting the excess off on my jeans each time, knowing the route offers no opportunity to chalk up once I have pulled off the ground. Exhale sharply.

I step off the ground, moving as quickly and crisply as I can. Left hand on bevelled triangle, right onto jug rail, match it, step up onto the starting ledge. Left foot goes high into the crack, twist my knee down and cam it into position in the sentry box. I reach my left hand through into the undercut jug, holding my balance in with the knee bar, as I shuffle my right foot blindly until I feel the positive knobble through my toes. Exhale. Drop the knee bar out and hold the swing, allowing my body to come back under my left hand as I reach up and grab the crimp at full extension. The moves get harder now and there is no more time, no room in my mind for anything other than climbing movement, everything else fades out and I allow the familiar sequence of movement - tried, rehearsed, re-examined, tweaked, refined, drilled, visualised, over and over - to fill my awareness. I crunch my core tight and hop my feet up, left onto the jug rail and right into the poor sloping dish, twisting it to make the rubber bite. I press my right hand into the fingertip undercut, lock my core gut wrenchingly tight to keep my right foot on the bad smear as I step up with my left foot. Hold the tension, hold it, right foot stabs out right onto the edge in the groove. This time, my foot hits the tiny chalk dab first time and I dig my toes as hard as I can, bracing and standing up on the undercut. Exhale. Left hand up to the quarter pad flowstone crimp, feeling the sharp edge bite into the skin of my tips, I allow my core to swing out from the rock slightly while I step my right foot high, then twist as close into the rock as I can, reaching my left foot out to provide stabilising torque. Exhale. I cannot drop it, not now, not when I feel so close, I cannot bear to have to come back  to do this all over again. I have been at this point so many times, but this time I know I can do the moves, and I move my right hand onto the projecting flange, taking care to press the length of my thumb into the left hand side of it, crimping my tips onto the single pad right hand edge. I swap feet, stabbing my right out onto a poor, but adequate smear on a bulge. I take a moment, exhale, allow myself to sink back onto a straight arm. Always, I don't know how, but at this decisive moment, I know from some subtle kinaesthetic sense whether I will stick the next move, and this time I feel good. I feel like I have all the time in the world, to reach up into the sign of the vulcan, clawing my left hand into the split pocket, my first two fingers stabbing and chiselling the right hand pocket and my ring finger open on the left hand pocket, my thumb closing round into a pinch - it sticks. Exhale. I need to remember to deviate from my sequence here, and consciously, the moves feeling clunky and unfamiliar despite being slightly easier, I place the inside edge of my right foot on a good edge, and rock up to the matchbox. I take a moment to gather momentum from my hips, and immediately flick my right hand into the side-pull jug. It feels solid, in control, easy. Exhale. 

I can't drop it here, not now, although I know I have, months ago. I take a moment, only a moment, to relax, awkwardly swap feet blindly, and brace my right foot on the tiny projecting rib, bringing my left foot up onto the sharp cut out edge. I drop my knees together, trying to press outward into the narrow stance as much as I can, my right hand in the jug feeling much less secure than it did a moment ago, and I try to stabilise my body, fighting the barn door. Exhale. Standing up, with the screwgate at my feet, this is the first time the rope has entered my awareness - from this position, I can afford to fall, just - with a good belayer, stopping short of the ground. I clip the rope into the extended clip at my waist, then pull rope through again to clip at my shoulder, the awkward double clip being the price paid for the security in pulling the rope up. Exhale. My arms are starting to cramp now, although in real time it has probably taken only twenty or thirty seconds to reach this point, in my subjective frame of reference it feels curiously both like an instant existing outside regular time, and like half a lifetime. I grab the sharp broken crimp with my left hand, swap feet awkwardly on the sharp cut out, and bring my right hand up into the side pull, as high as I can reach. I step my left foot into the vulcan pocket, right onto the matchbox. Exhale. I use momentum to deadpoint my left hand into the sharp undercut crimp, my core is tired now but I take a moment to  brace it as hard as I can, and I step my right foot through onto the good smear. Almost forgetting the sequence, I am flustered now, I remember to bring my left heel onto the sharp crimp, and relax slightly. The end is in sight. I slap my right hand up to the good sloper, and standing up off the good heel, move my left hand to the poor side pull sloper. The top of the pillar is within reach. Exhale. I bump my left hand again onto the top of the pillar, and shuffle it down into the jug. I let out a whoop and clip the extender. 

As the lower off itself is not in reach from this position, I go for the extended finish, on easy ground now. I bring my feet up onto poor crimps and slopers, slap right, my forearms burning and my hands starting to fail on the poor slopers. I stumble, bring my left foot up onto a good shelf, but the body position's wrong - desperately freestyling, I bump my left foot a bit further left, and I can slap my left hand for the top - in agonising slow motion, I think I have dropped it - and then I hold it, just, and can slap for the sloping jug with my right. Exhale. I try to clip, but my right arm's dead - I spent too long clipping off that damn jug - my movement becomes frantic now, as I try to take first my left hand off, then my right, to be able to clip - in desparation, I shuffle my feet along, clawing at the mud and pebbles above the top of the route, trying and failing to find something incut - then almost before I have seen it, before I can consciously think about doing it, I have moved my right foot onto a good hold and pressed into a knee bar. I can drop down onto a straight arm, solidly pumped, but stable, sheepishly pulling up rope to clip the lower off.

'What on earth was that?' shouts Hazel, but she is laughing, and I am laughing, and grinning. At last.

I started Sign of the Vulcan as a project last spring, because at the time it seemed like a good idea to get on something that would test my bouldering limit on a route. Between May and February I have spent 10 days on it, and perhaps 40+ redpoints. Although this is fairly small scale as far as redpoint projects go, it is the longest I have personally spent on something that I have successfully ticked. At some point over the summer it started to go from being a regular project into becoming bogged down in the psychological version of a massive grinding impasse of trenches, mud and razor wire, and all I could do was give up or keep feeding redpoint attempts into the meat grinder. I was trying to do too much, wanting to do 8a and final exams at basically the same time, and this route was putting up so much resistance - on about day 6 I managed to get through the crux only to fall off 3 moves from the top on relatively easy ground. I sacked it off in about August as I was finding the whole process too stressful - then got back on it in December, once exams were out of the way and cold conditions had arrived.

I got really close to doing it, then I got a parter on it who boulders very well - who immediately spotted an easier way of doing what was, for me, the RP crux - and at this point I had got the rest of the boulder problem so totally wired that with a combination of the new beta and the added psych I was able to do it next go, although it was a close run thing with a desperate flail at the top. I was going to argue that my old sequence felt at least as hard as, say, Chiselling The Dragon (7c at Malham) which is the only other route I have done in this style at this approximate difficulty, but given the new sequence I have absolutely no idea how hard I think it is, although 7b+ sounds about right.

I have very mixed feelings but lots to take away from the experience - pay attention to conditions, don't even bother trying cuttings routes at your limit in the summer, the benefits of having partners willing to try your routes and help you out of sequence blind spots - but first and foremost, don't be afraid to go back to the drawing board if you keep falling again and again in the same place. If something feels unreasonably hard for the grade then quite possibly you are doing it wrong. I am gutted to have invested so much time and effort in a duff sequence - actually I feel quite tempted to continue trying to finish what was my original sequence to get closure, although that would be a slightly weird and obsessive thing to do. I anticipate lots more time spent at the Cuttings (Hall of Mirrors awaits...) so we shall see.