Saturday, 26 July 2008

Where do I start...

I am sat in Exeter at Emily’s Dads house, drinking tea, having just eaten the most amazing bacon, sausage and egg sandwich. It is all rather surreal, and seems just like any normal day, but occasionally I get a shot of pain from my heels that remind me of the day’s earlier goings on.

My alarm woke Emily and I at 4.15 and we rolled out of our sleeping bags to force down a bowl of oats and raisins, drenched in sour soya milk. Yes, this really is living the dream. Daylight slowly appeared on the horizon as we finished packing the car and headed to the crag. Even at this early hour, the temperature was more than pleasant; I silently hoped that it would not get too much warmer.

Conditions near the top of the wall felt reasonable as I made my final practice attempts and it felt like today could be the day. I racked all my gear in the order I would place it and made my way to the base of the wall to practice the bold start one last time.

The holds felt very greasy and after practicing it a few times my head was in a mess and I started to feel sick when I imagined being on the lead. I tried to convince myself that there was a chance of walking away from a fall, but deep down I knew the truth, even If I didn’t want to accept it.

I wandered off along the beach to try to order my thoughts and instantly felt a little better. I decided to have one final practice then make my decision. All went well, the climbing felt hard, but I managed to switch off my rational brain and calmly keep moving up. As I lowered to the floor, I knew it was on.

I began to slowly prepare myself, probably trying to delay the inevitable, but suddenly realised the tide had crept in to almost half way and if I didn’t start soon, there was a chance Emily may get very wet feet! My earlier worries were replaced with a sudden urgency; I stopped being scared and got on with the job.

The climbing was terrifying, possibly the most harrowing experience of my life. I don’t really want to get drawn into grades for specific sections of the route, but in hindsight, I feel those 15 meters are amongst the hardest I have done, so make of that what you will.

The deadly part was over, but there still remained almost 30m of hard, sustained climbing to go and whilst safer than the start, it relies on tiny gear in soft rock and so the chance of monster falls is pretty high. I slowly made my way up the wall but the higher I got, the worse the conditions became until I was having a real struggle to stay attached to the wall.

I arrived at the beginning of the crux section of the upper wall. The next 15 moves is the most sustained section on the whole route. There is a little bit of gear, but it is difficult to place at the best of times and would be almost impossible in today’s conditions. I decided my best chance was to run it out to the next good hold, hoping that by not placing the gear, I may just be able to make it through. The gear that I hope will catch me if my gamble fails is a Wild Country Zero 3, the smallest cam in the world that is rated for passive protection. Fingers crossed.

I went for it and gave it everything I had. Each move felt desperate with my hands and feet feeling like they would slip at any minute. I arrived at the crux of the section and stretched out my left hand for a flat crimp. My pinky slipped off and fingers opened up, I fought with all my might to hold on. I re-formed the crimp and placed my foot on a high 1mm edge, locked off my left arm and found the distant finger-lock with my right. It hurt, but I didn’t care, as long as it was jammed I wouldn’t fall, which would give me precious more seconds on the wall. I made a strenuous blind foot sequence and moved my left hand to a reasonable gaston but I know I need it in my right hand. With two moves to go to the good hold, the end is in sight but at the same time seems an eternity away.

I need to swap hands and so move my left hand to a poor intermediate. It is a constant battle against all the things that are pulling me earthwards but I won’t give up. I throw my body inwards to generate positive momentum to counteract the negative that I know will happen as soon as I release my right hand. My body moves outwards as my fingers find the hold. I tighten up all my muscles and let out a grunt as my body stops for a split second...

The split second is over, my fingers grease off the hold and I am airborne, I scream.

The fall goes on and on. All I am aware of is I am still screaming, I stop... still falling... and scream some more. Finally the rope takes me and I am back in the world. I quickly check myself and I am not dead, the gear held. 50+ ft onto a Zero 3, not too shabby. Then the disappointment kicks in and I hang my head in self pity. Lower me...


Lee said...

Wow, that was heart in mouth reading James. Wishing you all the best with the journey.

Fiend said...

Good effort, good tale, good that little damage was done. Conditions nationwide had been pretty bollox.

Oh and good luck with the next attempt...

Anonymous said...

Man that sounds like a proper experience! Unlucky with the effort, hope you get it next time.

A rival for Rhapsody and Echo Wall?