Friday, 8 February 2008

The Groove E10 7b

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…


I finished work on the 21st and headed back to Manchester for a day of R&R. The forecast was set to be good for the next week or so and I was keen to get back on The Groove. The HotAches crew turned up late Monday night and on Tuesday morning, we all jammed into a car and headed to Cratcliffe. The Conditions were pretty good, very cold but a little damp from the day before. The day went fairly well, I managed to link the crux section a few times and towards the end of the session, toproped the whole route, in one, with no falls. The moves and rock were feeling good and sticky but unfortunately, I cut my finger on the upper part of the route leaving no chance for a lead attempt. We filmed a few practice falls and gear tests with myself and a bag of rocks. Once again, my feet touch the floor before the rope came tight, and I started to realise the seriousness of what lay ahead.

I took a rest day on Wednesday to give my finger chance to heal and to do some DIY. HotAches came around to film some interviews with my girlfriend and I before very kindly taking us out for a great curry, just the kind of fuel you need for climbing a hard route.

All the plans started to fall into place. On arriving at the crag on Thursday, HotAches and David Simmonite, my photographer, were already at the crag. We were joined shortly after by my friend Keith who had agreed to belay. Having the right belayer for a hard route is incredibly important. You need to be confident and relaxed about each other’s ability, I knew that Keith would do everything he could to keep me safe and this gave me one less thing to worry about. I set up a toprope and started to work the moves. My finger was carefully taped to protect my cut but I was still worried about damaging it again. It felt really warm, the sun was beating down onto the wall and I was finding it hard to do the moves. I worked out a slightly different sequence that was more powerful and involved a bigger dyno but allowed me to miss out a very slopey hold.

I climbed the crux section a few times and decided that today was the day to go for the lead. After a few practice falls for Keith to get used to the belay setup and my style on the route I decided to rest and let the sun sink lower in the sky. The temperature dropped and I got back on for my final few goes. Something was wrong, I kept falling off the last move, and my feet felt really insecure and kept skidding off the marginal smears. I couldn’t understand why things seemed so different and I put it down to nerves. I decided to have one last try on a rope, with all my effort, to decide weather I should attempt to lead the route or call it a day. I fell off the last move, with my fingers in the break, getting the ropes wrapped round my legs and flipping me upside down.

My heart sank, I was sure that I would have been able to do it. I made my way to the top and stripped my rope. My friends all assumed that it was over for the day and comforted me with kind words. I was quiet whilst walking back to the bottom but inside had already decided to lead the route. I told everyone how I was feeling and started to prepare, it was starting to go dark as I squeaked my boots clean. Something didn’t feel right and on closer inspection I found a large hole, right on the crucial bit of my left shoe. That explained everything, why all of a sudden I had started to fall earlier; I had ripped a hole in my shoe whilst practicing the moves. When you have a hole in your rubber, all of the integrity of the sole disappears and your feet feel like they are rolling off the rock. I was so psyched to lead the rout that I was still thinking about leading it until the rational, clear headed voice of my friends brought me back to reality.

I have to go to work for 1 week tomorrow. The rock and route will still be there, I will be back

Just when you think you understand grit...

Wow, 10 days since my last blog and England is starting to flood, seriously! We have had so much rain it is starting to become funny, in a “going out of my mind” kind of way. I cant even remember what I have done until a few days ago, it is all just blurring into a boring, soggy haze.

Finally, the weather was forecast to be good for the 15th and so I made plans to head back to Cratcliffe. Surprise, surprise, it was pouring when I woke up in Manchester but after a quick call to my Mum, I found out Matlock (nr Cratcliffe) was dry with blue skies. I left a sodden Manchester with hope for a good day but with every mile of wet roads that passed my hope faded. Cratcliffe looked grim, huge seepage lines were visible from the road and the air was warm and humid. A walked in hoping for a miracle but on arriving at the Groove, I found the rock green and scrittly. I decided not to try the groove section so not to regress on my last session but to ab the line and try the upper arête (looks about E6 6c) as well as finalise what gear I need for the crucial low protection. Conditions were horrendous and no amount of chalk or brushing seemed to have any effect on the slime. I tried in vain to climb the top arête but only succeeded in bashing my knee as my foot flew of a high smear. Down I went to work out the gear and found it a lot trickier to place than I thought it would be. Eventually I worked out the best combination, two ropes, some sliders and a ¼ and ½ wire, not bombproof but good enough, especially for micro wires. I was ready to pack up but decided to give the lower groove one try just to see if I could manage the easier moves in the bad conditions and was amazed to find myself quickly at the last move. I couldn’t understand it, all the holds felt poor, but I just sempt to be sticking to the rock. I chalked and brushed the holds and tried again, falling again on the last move. I became very psyched at the thought of climbing the whole crux section in one for the first time, then it started to drizzle! I tried my best to keep the holds dry and had a few more close attempts. My finger felt raw from the crucial pebble, one last try before I sacked it off. I brushed and chalked the holds, abed to the start and pulled on. The satisfaction of latching the last hold for the first time was great, even though I wasn’t on the lead. I worked my way up the rest of the wall and stripped my gear.

I really don’t understand what happened today, Grit is a strange, mysterious rock and just when you think you are beginning to understand it, something crazy happens and messes it all up. I am pretty confident that I can do the route. The long range forecast is good for next week and I have a film company coming down to document what happens, but if England is its usual mixed up self, it will probably piss it down all week… - JP