My trip to Oliana had been booked at least 6 months in advance; I had managed to get 24 days off work so I wanted to try something that would really test me both physically and mentally. As we all do, I put a lot of time into trying to make sure I was in the best possible shape: training, eating well, sleeping lots, turning down days on the grit to slog round the circuit board etc. It was my one trip of the year and I had to make the most of it. As much as I tried to ignore it, it is hard not to feel the pressure when you have saved up most of your annual leave for one trip and have been training all winter this in mind.
The routes at Oliana are big: 50m of cliff, 50m of pump! No amount of Climbing Works circuit boarding can prepare you for the incredibly harsh build up of lactic acid, it is a pump that I have never been able to replicate in any indoor training facility. It really hurts but it is always one hell of a good battle. I love seeing how many more moves you can actually bust out when you think all hope is lost; if you really dig deep you can always do one more move.
To cut a long story short, it did not go to plan. The lead up to the trip was far from ideal, and without going into details, I arrived in Oliana feeling pretty physically and mentally under prepared. I tried to force the psyche but I started to feel that awful redpoint dread after just two sessions on my potential project. Simply the thought of the mental effort this route was going to require was putting me off already. My heart wasn’t in it this trip and, after fighting the usual feelings of guilt, failure and disappointment, I decided to be kind to myself.
I have never been one for deep and thoughtful reflections about my climbing, as it was always just ‘going climbing’ for me. However, it is almost impossible not to reflect on your character and personal climbing after an intense redpoint battle, which I had just experience the Autumn before when I climbed Mecca (8b+). The amount of pressure redpointing brings is unbelievable; sometimes years, months, weeks or days of preparation for two minutes of elation when you clip the chains. Swiftly followed by thoughts of “I can climb harder than this”. It is a funny thing we choose to spend our spare time doing. As if life doesn’t already have enough pressures, we then decide to use our down time, when ‘normal’ people take this time to relax from work and life, and put ourselves through a mental and physical battle that means we turn up to work after our holiday even more tired than when we left! Yet we keep coming back for more no matter how hard it kicks us down.
After some days of considering whether to continue redpointing, I realised that all I really wanted was to have a holiday with no pressure, to hang out with my friends, and most of all laugh! Luckily I had the perfect people with me to make this achievable. I did a lot of it as well! It felt good to laugh at myself; to laugh at getting powered out on bouldery 7c+s; pumped out of my mind on sustained 8a+s; laughing at how high my elbows were, how I fell off the “cruxy 5b” top section and the big whippers after missing clips. After all climbing is supposed to be fun.
A big part of my holiday was how much satisfaction I got from seeing my friends achieve some of their biggest climbing goals; it was amazing to ride on their wave of elation. We were loud, enthusiastic and probably pretty annoying at the crag. We screamed the crag down with encouragement and did a lot of running and congratulatory jumping on people. It was amazing to share those few minutes of intense excitement with people. Taking satisfaction in other peoples success has to be one of the simplest pleasures in life.
There has always been more to climbing than the numbers, nobody ever starts climbing for the grades! I have a very vivid memory of saying to my Mum that I would be happy climbing E1s forever simply because they were so enjoyable! But, as ever, our goals and lives change and the last year or two my sport climbing has been skewed to focus more on numbers as this is a good way to push yourself and see progress. When the focus is on this you learn a lot about your drive, personality and what you actually want! Yes it is wonderful to clip the chains of hard and testing project, but looking back at my last year the best memories have come from adventures and experiences with friends, the climbing is almost a secondary part, it is just the glue that brings us together.
After returning from Spain I read an interview with Stephanie Bodet where she said, “I understood that the real failure was to no longer take pleasure in climbing these routes that I loved.” This struck a cord with me. It summed up in one simple sentence exactly how I felt. I may not have achieved everything I wanted but instead I did what made me happy; there are very few trips I can remember where I have almost cried with laughter everyday. Life can’t be that bad hey!