Saturday, 23 April 2011

Point Blank

Keith had previously revelled about his experience on an E5 called “Out of my Mind”, that last year he had tried and backed off from after getting out of his mind with fear and pump. The tide was in, “Ghost Train” looked even wetter than before, and so warm up routes were in short supply – time to get a little out there...

The first challenge of the day was to access the belay stance, involving a timed dash across a wave washed platform. At times the waves were mellow, barely covering your feet, but then all of a sudden a huge mass of white water would roll in, and roll out again as a giant frothing waterfall – scary. Once crossed, we racked up, flaked the rope and set off. The sun was shining intensely on the wall, glistening off the shiny limestone making things difficult see. Thankfully, I had sunglasses, unluckily Keith did not, and by the time I has slowly wobbled my way to the top he was complaining of sunstroke – poor baby!

I had forgotten how slow Trad climbing was, and by the time we had finished the warm up, it was already time for lunch and a lie-down in the sun. Today was not as windy as yesterday, which made relaxing all the more pleasant, but worried me slightly in regards to conditions on the route. Luckily, the west wall of the ford is in the shade for most of the day, and so by the time we lowered into place, the rock was pretty cold – no excuses... time to roll...

After extending the peg on “From a Distance” I surveyed the line of holds leading diagonally left and began to asses my options. When the rock in this cliff is free from chalk, its exceptionally difficult to see even a few holds ahead of you, and so on-sighting here comes down to staying calm, thinking quickly, and a good helping of luck. The first section went pretty well, with only a brief pause to find the best crozzle to crimp in an otherwise slopey hold. After a few more moves on better edges, a long reach lead to a very good one-hand slot and a bomber no.0 friend, which allowed a short rest and chance to plan the moves through the impending run-out.

After a few minutes, I admitted to myself that I did not have a clue! All I could see were the double barrel pockets 6m above, and as my only other option involved staying where I was for an indefinite period of time, I decided on pushing upwards, a little blind but full of hope. After a lot of feeling around and a few awkward moments, I found enough small edges and slopers to reach the twin pockets. Whilst good enough to relax a little, they were not jugs, nor did they take any easy gear, and so onwards I pressed until the sanctuary of the top break finally came – perhaps 10m from the last friend.

Point Blank Photo Shoot - Lucy Ham

Even more so than being happy with my fitness level, I am happy with my head and how it responds to being far above protection. I was worried about the getting the shakes, which makes for a fast and heavy pump, usually quickly followed by a fall, but luckily it has not been the case. The gear here tends to be very solid, and once I have the correct piece placed, I treat it exactly the same as a bolt. There is no worry that it might come out, the only concern is the climbing, and not falling simply to avoid failing.

Developing my sport fitness has changed my climbing more than I would have ever imagined. Apart from the obvious act of no longer falling off after doing more than 5 hard moves, I am approaching climbing in a different way to before. After a frustrating plateau period, climbing has become exciting again, as I can now see a path to where I want to be. The path is not going to be easy, in fact it is full of rocks and very steep, but it is a path none the less.

When I viewed life wearing the blinkers of a UK Trad climber, on-sighting E8 was something I considered as almost godly, but now I realise it is far, far away from what is possible even at this current time, let alone in the future. Sure, there are many E8’s that I wouldn’t dream of attempting in this manner, climbs that whilst perhaps technically easy, are so insecure in a deadly place, that I personally can’t justify. However, there are just as many E8’s and above that are well protected but physically hard, that become possible once ones physical level surpasses a certain point. You just have to be able to hold on...

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