My week at work passed incredibly slowly with frustration increasing every time I looked out the window to find a clear crisp January day. The weather forecast showed that Saturday (my first day off) might be great conditions but if I knew anything, it’s not to trust a British forecast. Time felt like it was running away from me. I had 6 days from finishing work before leaving for a week in France, and then 3 days on my return before going back to work and then off to China! The worry that I might not get to complete the route crept slowly but surely into my thoughts so I focused everything, hopefully on to Saturday.
On the finishing jugs of The Groove E10 7b
The HotAches crew came down from Scotland and David Simmonite (my photographer) cancelled a trip to Spain so he could be there, no pressure, eh? My friend Keith was unavailable to belay which was a bit of a blow but I need not have worried as Dave managed to rope in Graham Hoey. Graham has been hugely influential and has played a major part in the development of Peak, and British climbing. He is hugely experienced in both climbing and belaying hard routes so I felt in safe hands.
Saturday dawned snowy, cold and clear.
On arriving at the crag, late as usual, everyone else was there waiting for me. Everyone seemed in high spirits and there was a light, happy atmosphere. The conditions were great which meant it should be possible to climb the route with the sun shining, rather than having to wait until just before dusk and the Media Makers were very happy about the rare chance to shoot a hard route in nice light. I quickly went to work setting up and abbed-in to find the top half of the route rather wet!
The snow that had fallen the night before had begun to melt and was running down through the cracks and breaks. We had to clean all the snow and soak up the puddles from the top of the crag before crossing our fingers and letting the sun and wind go to work. I started to warm up and amazingly by the time I felt ready to climb, the route was dry. Conditions felt great and I even managed to “static” the crux dyno on one or two attempts giving me a huge confidence boost. The time had come to have a few final top-ropes and give Graham chance to practice with the belay setup. I made it up the bottom Groove and decided pushed on to practice the top arête As I pulled into the top crux, everything felt wrong and I struggled to stay on the rock having to make a desperate slap for the finishing jug. My confidence took a big knock. Whilst hard, the upper arête is considerably easier than the lower groove and falling here on the lead would not only mean a lot of air time but would also waste all the mental and physical effort of leading the desperately hard and dangerous lower groove. It would be a major kick in the balls.
To make matters worse, I had cut my left middle finger whilst climbing on the upper arête and a bright red droplet of blood was forming on my skin. The cut was quite small so I filled it full of superglue and hoped for the best. It was decision time. Earlier I had felt great on the lower groove and was sure that today was the day but my performance on the upper arête and my cut finger were weighing heavily on my mind. Perhaps my struggle on the upper arête had been due to some silly mistake, or a bad body position and I was worrying unnecessarily? I couldn’t afford to get back on to practice the top arête as I would damage my finger too much and have no chance to lead the route. I knew I always climb better and feel stronger on the lead and so everything would be ok, wouldn’t it? But I couldn’t wait around too long, as my fingers and body would get too cold and I wouldn’t be able to warm up again. I made my decision, cleaned my boots, made sure everything was prepared, hugged my Emily and tied on.
For me, leading a hard route is a strange but now quite familiar experience that I find hard to explain. My nerves all of a sudden disappear and all becomes very calm. I feel stronger, all the holds feel bigger and I very much enjoy the route. Whilst climbing a hard section, nothing else exists, but then once I am on easier ground I begin to hear things again and take in my surroundings. The bottom Groove went very well and I stuck the dyno to the mid height breaks with whoops of joy from my friends. I was made up and wanted to shout as well but couldn’t help thinking “don’t celebrate too soon, its not over yet” After spending a few min composing my self and placing gear, I chalked my hands a final time and headed up the final arête. I was very worried about messing it up but forcefully told my self all was going to be cool, to stop being stupid and cruise to the top. The arête felt fantastic. Each move was slow and controlled and as a wrapped my fingers around the finishing jug I felt great. I let out a cry of happiness and everyone cheered, it was in the bag. As I climbed the last 20ft to the top of the crag I had chance to think quietly to my self about what I had just achieved.
The Groove is probably the most aesthetic piece of rock I have ever seen and is something I have gazed up at for almost as long as I have been climbing. This fantastic feature has been tried by many of the leading climbers of their day over the last 20 odd years with most declaring it impossible or one for the next generation. It has been a fairly major part of my life since first trying it over 4 years ago and I feel it has been a real journey. As I have improved, it has been interesting to watch how my style on the route has changed and evolved from a series of uncomfortable slaps to a flowing sequence. I feel both proud and privileged to have been able to climb such an outstanding route. I will miss spending time working towards the uncertain and having something so inspiring to focus on but I can’t say I'm not happy to have it in the bag.
As I packed up and walked back to the car I felt elated and I wanted to share my happiness with all my friends. We returned to Manchester and headed out for a celebratory meal at a nice Italian restaurant. The food was great and I had a lovely time but made sure I was back in bed at a reasonable hour so I would be ready for Ilkley the following day. No rest for the wicked…