Monday, 2 December 2013

Bouldering and pseudo-existential journeys

This week we have another article from Ged Mac-Daddy (daddy of the hanger in Liverpool). This time he tells a tail of trips and projects..............

‘…There is no effort with error and shortcoming…’

Theodore Roosevelt

Climbing stories often dip into the existential.  After 563 attempts to pull onto the problem, I finally hit the pocket, in the fleeting blackness between success or failure, I saw the divine, self-actualised and finally realised the true essence of what it means to try…”  I almost walked this path.  Almost.

For months I’ve been building up to this trip; didn’t drink beer, drank more water, wore a weight vest when climbing and turned down a bacon sandwich.  I determined to try and focus my energies into climbing just a few hard boulders, I was going to climb 8a.  Yesterday, half way through my trip, I decided that I had failed.  The decision was a painful exercise in pop-psychology that I nearly turned into a dithering article, replete with pseudo existentialisms.

I was gearing up to talk about torment, of being stood at a cross-road of identity.  There were two Ged’s; Actual Ged liked high volume, flashing hardish problems and never stayed too long under one boulder.  The Ged I fancied becoming, was patient enough to project, to try and really push himself to discover his ‘true’ ability. The holiday was about ‘the project,’ my vehicle for an inward journey to the Mecca of 8a.

So a week in, virtually no boulders climbed, demoralised, feeling stronger than ever but unable to get my body climbing in harmony, I was torn.  It was maybe possible I could drag an 8a down to my level which hardly felt gracious, or I could re-engage with climbing some blocs and raise my game a bit and return a better climber on another trip.  The crossroad was which choice represented greater weakness?  My old safe ways of lots of climbing or press on with the project of near certain failure? Both felt like a cop out.  Down this road lay the bad article. The exploration of ego driven choices, why I chose 8a, the tired rhetoric of, “it’s not about the grades, man…..”

Let’s not be shy here, it is kinda about the grades isn’t it? Tell me you are not pleased when you do something harder than before or get annoyed like my proper paddy today when I got my ass fully kicked by a beautiful 7a+.  7a+ is well within my grade, a high chance of the flash.  That’s why I had a tantrum when it kept me mercilessly on the ground. 
The 7a+: the scene of my tantrum

I chose 8a because I wanted to climb a new grade.  I was basically chasing the grade, pure and simple. The chase, the blindness, allowed me to mislead myself and ignore what I already knew, what was going on around me and insult people who project well.

Three of the climbers I am with are professional.  Shauna Coxsey (bouldered V13, British Bouldering Champion, Adidas athlete), Alex Johnson (bouldered V12, 2 x world champion, 5 x USA champ, North Face athlete) and Chris Webb Parson, (bouldered V15 and over 200 V11 or above graded problems, Edelrid athlete).  Quite the team to be climbing with and quite the people to be learning from once I pulled my head out of my ‘journey arse.’
Alex despatching: Teamwork 8a, after sub 30 mins of effort. Two days it took me to do The second move in isolation and totally ruin my skin.

The only shocking thing I learnt was that I had the capacity to ignore what I already knew in the hope I could sneak past the grade guards and get away with the 8a jewel.  All of the pros were climbing their projects quickly; resting well between goes, not getting angry, being very curious, experimenting with new beta and quitting before they were trashed, with a view to return fresh.  They were happy to say, nah, don’t like this one and move on.  I watched 8a go down in a few tries followed by 7c+ not getting climbed and people moving on.  I was falling off one move, over and over, trying again and again, getting tired, annoyed, bruised and torn skin.  I was having the least fun, doing the least amount of climbing and getting shut down hard.  Only I was on an inward journey to understand ‘the project’, everyone else was just climbing boulders. 

There is no path traveller; the way must be forged as you walk. 

Antonio Machado

What was I thinking?  That embarking on some self-indulgent inward journey to test out my capacity for patience was somehow going to let me past the gates of 8a?  That there was no specific skill set that those good at projecting possessed?  How arrogant I am!  Did I really think that with the grand total of one 7c+ under my belt that I was prepared for the dizzy heights of 8a?  I have taught the virtues of a good pyramid on which to build your peaks on, illustrated the madness of trying to leap desperately through grades to inexperienced climbers only to find I had rationalised trying to do just that under the guise of a ‘journey.’    I have played myself for a fool, moreover I had done it publicly and justified it with blinkered thinking.
Good climbers climb lots.  Revelatory stuff.  They try hard.  They try things they cannot do.  They sometimes get annoyed when they fail and are often self-critical, they aspire to be better, train and draw a line under things that are not paying out quickly.  Something I used to do.  Like a circular home coming movie, I went away to find something new and discovered that what I was searching for was what I had left behind; climbing.  I will climb an 8a, just not yet.  Why I want to climb one doesn’t need justifying any more than the desire to climb in the first place, but at least I’ve stopped ‘journeying’ and started climbing again. 

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