Thursday 6 November 2014

End of the Affair E8 6c


Since I am back writing, I suppose I should cover the most recent, and perhaps most 'significant' ascent of my climbing career so far.

On Monday 3rd Nov 2014, I succeeded in climbing The End of the Affair.

If you were to read UKC you might find the article on Team America's visit in 2008 where they took down many of the hardest lines on the grit. In it, you would find the route described:

Considered one of the easier E8's in the UK, End of the Affair was first climbed in 1986 by grit visionary Johnny Dawes. It has had many headpoint repeats and is reportedly around the F7b mark when top-roped. Leading this fearsome-smear-fest of an arete is very different to your average F7b bolt route though; tenuous smears, reachy, balancy moves and a bone breaking fall all add up to make a classic gritstone frightener.

 Which all sounds quite thrilling.

In November of 2012, I took a training class with Neil Gresham at the Westway Centre in London, where I told him my aim of climbing the Triple 8's (8a, 8A and E8) at some point in my life. At the time, I was climbing the odd 7C boulder, and feeling a bit beaten whenever I tied into a rope.
Cedar Spine 7C, Rocklands
I knew his background in trad climbing in the peak, so I asked him at the end, which E8 I should consider doing, and he replied - "If you reckon your headgame is alright then you should hop on End of the could do all the moves right now". With that in mind, I left the centre and didn't climb any trad until last week.

I've always thought my headgame has been pretty good. I can almost always force myself to go for a move above a boulder fall. In 2012 I did this numerous times in Rocklands, where I found a bit of a taste for highball boulder aretes. Cedar Spine, Zanzibar, and less arete-y and more highball-y Creaking Heights and Pinotage.

Anyway, back to the story at hand.

A couple of weeks ago I got back in contact with one of my old partners at Craggy, who moved up to Sheffield last year to start working Rope Access. Kyle and msyelf have had a very productive rivalry, with each of us pushing the other to perform one more, and one better for several years on routes, boulders and in competition. I can say without a doubt that he has been a large pushing force in my climbing for a while now.

When I got in touch, Kyle suggested that given the slightly improving conditions, that he wanted to throw a rope down End of the Affair at Curbar, but that owing to the difficult nature of the climbing, and the seriousness of the belay, he wasn't having much luck finding anyone to join him.
Calling back memories of Neil Gresham at Westway - I accepted. After all, the worst I could do would be to find out how the moves felt.

When we got out to the crag we soon found out that conditions were far from perfect, with windspeeds almost enough to push us off the biggest handholds and stances on the route...For a balancey technical route, this was not the best thing possible. However, we overcame our initial concerns and after a couple of hours of shivering, shouting into the wind, and beta wrangling, we had both completed all the moves on the climb, and put together some half decent links. Obviously, given the conditions, we were quite happy about this, but also aware that the moves could feel *very* different without the wind.

After a few days off, we went back to the climb on the 29th of October in slightly calmer conditions.
When we got to the climb we found a send team of Andre Hedger and Sam Hamer just setting up for a toprope attempt. The rain the previous night had washed the holds clean, but some were still a little damp, and Andre didn't know the sequence, so I talked it through with him until he had it straight and got to the top.
When he came down, both myself and Kyle had another burn on the route, working out the sequence again, linking in from the bottom a couple of times, and trying to figure out the beta for the precarious top move. I was using some smeary static beta, which felt very droppable. Kyle however, was favouring some airy dyno beta to skip out on some sketchy foot movements, and in fairness, once I tried it, it did save a lot of time.

When we had both finished, Kyle was starting to consider the lead, I was certain that I was going to wait for another day and better conditions. Andre had first dibs however, and despite only trying it for the first time that day, he tied on for the lead.

What happened next made for some pretty engaging viewing.

After watching this first hand, Kyle decided that he wasn't too keen on the idea of going for the lead, and we started to pack up our gear.

From then on, the route weighed pretty heavily in my thoughts.
I knew it was possible, and I had seen the fall from the top.
I just didn't know which way I was going to do the final move.

The weather looked good for the following Monday, so we made plans and headed back out to meet just before midday. I think we looked a bit silly walking in with all our pads, bags, ropes, coats and camera gear, but when needs must...

When we got to the base of the route, we decided that it would be best if we took it in turns to warm up and go for the lead, rather than both try, and risk cooling down on belay before the lead. Since I had gone first on all the previous sessions, I got to tie in first again.
As I set off on toprope, I tried to warm my hands up against the wind. End of the Affair is a short route, and most of the holds are pretty good, but not being able to feel them is a sure fire way to feel insecure. I did the route clean from the ground with Kyle's dyno beta, but felt pretty sketchy doing it, so before I came back down to the ground, I decided that it would be worthwhile trying out the other static beta again, which had felt so tough on the previous session.

When I came back to the ground, I had more questions than I left it with. The static beta had felt so good that I wasn't sure which to use now.
Dyno or Static?
Dyno or Static?
I had seen Andre fluff the static before, and I had never fallen off using the dyno...but it was a dyno...on a smeary dangerous a sloping hand hold.

I sat and contemplated for a while before pulling the rope and tying on for the lead. I knew that I needed to have my plan sorted before I found myself up there and the best place for that was the ground.

I tied in, put my helmet on, clipped the gear, still talking it over in my head exactly what I should do before turning to Kyle. He smiled up from his belay stance with a wicked grin and asked what I was planning. With a thin lipped shrug, I guessed that static would be best...

I took a deep breath, cleared my thoughts and stepped off the starting ledge. A few seconds later I was at the crux, I had climbed the bottom so fast and efficiently that it seemed to have barely happened. My mind made a quick check of how well I was keeping the fear out, and my right leg gave a slight wobble. At this point, I was standing on a half decent smear, but I knew that if the same happened on the next foothold, I would probably be facing a rapid descent to the ground. I kicked this thought quickly, and told my leg to stop wobbling. Grabbing the poor left hand sloper, and even poorer right hand crimp line, I pulled up, frogging the arete to get my foot on the flat gritstone smear. I was in the zone, and knew I was going to succeed. Locking hard, I reached out and placed my hand on the penultimate hold.
Breathing a sigh of relief, I moved my feet onto the slab and reached up for the final jug, teetering on the smears.

I topped out in beautiful sunshine, feeling calm and elated.

My first hard trad route done,
the first of the triple 8's in the bag,
and some solid evidence of a return to climbing form.

After I was done climbing, Kyle came up and congratulated me at the top with a handshake. He knew what he had to do now. We threw the rope back over the top, and repeated the exercise.

All I'll say is that my heart was beating far faster on his ascent than it was on mine...

Kyle's blog is HERE, so if you would like to read his side of the story, then please click through.

Sunday 2 November 2014

Starting Up

Here we are again, me not writing for a while, and you losing interest because of it.

I apologise.

I'm a terrible person, yadda yadda.

So much has happened in the last few months, that as time has gone by, it has seemed more and more overwhelming to catch people up on what has been going on. However, I feel that this has gone on a little too long, and it is really about time for me to start writing again.

I'll start this post by outlining some of the major plotpoints of the last few months.

  • I quit my job
  • I was offered a job in Fontainebleau with Maisonbleau
  • I was let down by that offer and had to come home
  • I found myself a girlfriend
  • I moved in with her in Nottingham
  • I now work at the Climbing Depot in Nottingham
  • I'm having a great time!
What follows is likely to contain a small portion of catharsis, a slump, and some redemption. I'm not sure where I am on the curve of life right now, but it has definitely started to take an upward turn. 

Without further ado, I will begin... 

Here we are at the Depot Halloween competition
Now that I am back working at a climbing wall, I am so much happier than I was working at the school. It's only now that I am out of that environment, and back doing something that I love - day in, day out- that I realise what a horrible idea it was to take the job in the first place. 

As a conduit for climbing trips, it was absolutely top class, I had money and loads of time, and I even had a facility on campus for daily training if I desired! However, all the climbing in the world couldn't stop me peeling apart at the edges while working at Cranleigh. It would get to the point where I was dreading turning up to my room in the morning, where I would sit - feeling completely ostracised from both the common room, and the students - while also finding myself unable to talk to the other technicians on even a remotely level basis.

I wont labour the subject, but after 2.5 years working a dead end job, with people I couldn't relate to, I was wrecked. I was waking up in the morning to drive into work, to arrive barely on time. I'd sit for hours, numb, staring at a screen, waiting for some form of human contact. 
Don't get me wrong, some people thrive in this environment, and it shows in the grades and the commitment to achievement at the school, but it was a complete non-starter for myself. By the end of my time there, I was driving home in the evenings in a total wreck, deeply unhappy for myself, and starting to consider seeing a therapist.

At Easter, I decided that enough, was enough. I couldn't keep going. I signed off a week before the holiday and packed up a van to go and live in Ceuse with my good friend Joseph Schenk. My plan while I was out there, was to try and clear my head, and make at least some sort of a plan for the future. 

Back in October, I had spoken to Neil Hart at Maisonbleau about doing some gite management for him while he focussed on his wider filming projects. And so it was, that I dropped him another line and found out that he was still interested in hiring someone for the role. To cut a long story short, after a series of letdowns, and the complete disorganisation on the part of Neil to sort out a meeting time, I had to head home without talking, and find myself another job. 

Fortunately, when I came back, there was a job posting for part time work in The Depot - Nottingham. Since I was already spending a lot of time driving up and down the country to see Abigail, the job seemed like an ideal opportunity to tick a bunch of my personal boxes - not least, making it easier to see her. As it turns out, I got the job, and we ended up moving in together at the start of July!

I'm very happy here.

After around a year of being down, and generally unhappy with my share in life, I find myself enjoying the prospect of going to work, of coming home in the evenings, and of living in such close proximity to such a wealth of climbing as can be found in the Peak, and being able to enjoy that with Abi.

After a spell of injuries (still not over) I finally feel that I am getting back to somewhere near my peak... I hadn't realised just how much I had lost over the previous months, but the change from when I started working at the centre, to now, is just monumental. Over just a few months I went from trying hard and falling off of V6/7, to routinely flashing them, and only having a couple of problems left to do in the centre.

All this has culminated in a new look at some of my goals that I set a while back. Depression has a way of making you lose sight of what you wanted, and making you forget about goals and targets. Now that I am back on a somewhat level sea again, I can get back to my year goal of Triple 8's.

It might not happen this *year*, but I hope that it might happen this *season*.

As you may, or may not, know - the Triple 8's goal is to complete an 8A boulder, an 8a sport route, and an E8 trad route.

I'll say no more, except that I am close to one, and that I made this video the other day...