As I reflected two years ago, I started climbing when I was ten or eleven years old, and became swiftly hooked. A weekly kids’ club at a local wall meant that after 6 years of casual climbing, I was at a 7a indoor top rope level, and after college, in the summer before university, I hit 6c+ outdoor leads on a Sport Climbing Course with Plas Y Brenin.
Then something went wrong. For some reason, despite the successful summer, once I started climbing indoors with the climbing club something unclicked in my head and all of a sudden, I wasn’t quite climbing my best. For the time being I enjoyed the social life, and didn’t worry myself too much about my ever decreasing grade. After a bit of head shaking, I got myself back up to that 6c by the following June, though with a great deal of frustration and confusion.
That summer ended with a knee injury, and left me on crutches for a few weeks not quite sure what I’d done to it during a 20mile hike along the South Downs. Climbing hurt, so I stuck to short and easy routes. In the October of 2012 I discovered rowing – it was both a blessing and a curse, as you can see from my enthusiasm in a piece I wrote before my injury. I’d found a sport I thrived at, but it resulted in aggravating a back problem I didn’t know I had, and am still enduring today.
My 6c slipped back down, and I was dejected. Despite still being able to work the moves on 7a climbs on the coast whilst on top rope, when leading indoors or out I found myself freezing on the easiest of moves, something in my head shouting at me to stop, and my whole body refusing to go forward. I’ve never been a technical climber, and getting me on techy routes was bound to cause a mental block, but I’d never faced anything quite like this before.
This last year has been a big turning point for me in my climbing life, mainly because my other half is a complete climbing and mountain nut, so we’re forever out on the crags or at the wall. I’ve climbed in Spain and France, and find myself longing to return to my 7a pinnacle. Therefore, in 2014 I’ve set myself a goal. To redpoint 7a outdoors again by the end of the year.
For those who know nothing about the world of climbing (of which I’m sure there are many of you!) to ‘redpoint’ a route means to work the moves several times beforehand, and then finally making a clean ascent. This differs from an ‘on sight’ in which the climber gets to the top on lead (clipping the rope as you climb rather than having it anchored at the top) without falling or resting on the rope. On sight is always better, redpoint is easier and increases confidence.
For the first time in my climbing career, I’m actually training. I have a spreadsheet (of course), and am giving myself a specific series of climbs to do each time I have a session – a pyramid of grades resulting in 18 climbs of increasing and decreasing difficulty. It’s all about mileage, and reminding my head of what my body can already do. Only one day a week will my sessions be structured, but this is aided by four extra sessions of just climbing what I fancy – getting time on the wall, trying things that are against my style, and pushing through these mental blocks. I’m already seeing results, and can feel my body moving in a way I never told it to previously, but it’s going to be a long hard road.
I’d encourage anyone who has reached an accolade in the past but slipped away from it – get back on the horse. It’s the most demoralising, frustrating, and saddening thing when you realise you’re no longer as good as you were; but it’s so important to shake it away, and aim even further. I still moan and complain that my peak was five years ago – but I’m still young, and inspire myself with stories of climbers who only started when they were in their 20s and are now at the top of their game. With some hard graft and constant reminding of your goal, all there is left to do is to get on with it, and rediscover your potential. Watch this space.