Whilst it might have seemed to many people that I had dropped off the face of the earth (and I would probably include some of my sponsors, friends and family in those people), I was simply taking a step away from what I knew, and wondering how differently things would appear from another viewpoint.
I knew that things would change, they had to - the trouble was I just didn’t know quite how. I wanted to better myself by training my weaknesses, but knew that since my strengths lay in trad, that is where I should eventually point my focus. In the beginning, time seemed plentiful and I did not concern myself with the finer details of the future, but as weeks turned into months, months into years, I began to wonder what exactly this future would hold…
Then one day, not unlike many others, news reached me of Tim Emmett making the first ascent of “Muy Caliente”, Pembroke’s and Wales’ first E10, and all became clear. I’m not really sure why the idea first came to me, as it was so far above what I had achieved before, so far above what anyone had achieved before, that it should have struck me as ridiculous and been dismissed immediately. But there it was, planted firmly amongst my brain cells, and it began to grow - the idea to attempt to “flash” E10.
I knew I needed to develop many parts of my climbing, not only the obvious ingredient of my fitness, but also things like my mental approach, sequential memory, reactions under pressure etc. Things started slowly and became more structured as the time grew near. It never felt too intense as I was never 100% focused on the goal, which may sound a little blasé, but was something I decided early on because of how improbable the goal was. The chance of failure was so high for many reasons, and as with all flashes, you only ever get one shot! The main goal, I told myself, was to go and climb the route. This would be a big enough achievement, being one of only a few confirmed E10’s and far away from my previously preferred style – anything else would be a big bonus. After all the hard work was finished and all the planning had been made, all that remained was to try.
Before throwing myself in at the deep end, I decided to sharpen my trad skills with a few days of classic cragging. “Ghost Train” (E6), “Hysteria” (E5), “Out of my Mind” (E5), and “From a Distance” (E7) were all ticked and I felt good – time to try something a little harder.
The first of the E8’s to fall on-sight was “Point Blank” (E8), a long and sustained wall climb with good spaced gear and big air potential. The climbing is around Fr8a and so would normally be a fairly comfortable on-sight, but the lack of chalk and confusing nature of the rock made for an exciting time on the top wall.
Point Blank - David Simmonite
Next up was something at the other end of the spectrum, a bold E8 slab on the sandstone of Carreg y Barcud. I flashed “Daddy Cool” (E8) after cleaning the route from my ab line, which I was especially happy with due to the nature of the climb. The climbing is easy, but falling is not an option, and despite the danger I stayed cool and composed, making my 3rd E8 without pre-practice.
Daddy Cool - David Simmonite
“From Dusk Till Dawn” (E8) looked amazing! A beautiful flowy wall of Pink and White Limestone, climbed via fun looking moves with bomber protection. Unfortunately, the bottom 2/3 (Terminal Twilight) was wet, but fortunately, there were enough good holds to make it possible, and after a little fight I got stuck into the main event. The moves were as good as expected, and I flashed the route with a big smile on my face.
Climbing “From Dusk Till Dawn” introduced me to my current favourite route in Pembroke, the project wall that would soon become “Do you know where your children are?” (E9). This smooth white wall would lead from the start of The Black Lagoon, directly into From Dusk Till Dawn via a series of hard reachy moves of exceptional quality. From a good thread at 12m the climbing gets hard and you run it out to an old rusty peg. Thread this with a nut, tell yourself it is solid, and commit to the remaining hard moves (crux) to join the pockets of Dusk Till Dawn, which after the moves below come as a pleasant relief.
I felt fit, I was climbing well, and felt completely happy climbing far above my gear – it was time to get serious. The first stage of the process involved watching my friends climbing on the route and trying to remember as much information as possible.
They told me about the handholds, the footholds, how each move felt, and where they thought I might find hard. I tried to process all their advice, re-arrange it into an understandable order and make it second nature. Once I began climbing, any pause to try to remember a move would cost me valuable energy, any hesitation on a slappy move might break my rhythm, and any incorrect hold might make me fall, making all the hard work go to waste.
I woke up feeling nervous, the first time in a long time. I warmed up feeling nervous, ate lunch feeling nervous and abed in feeling nervous. It wasn’t so much the danger that was getting to me but the fear of failing, blowing my one chance at the thing I have invested so much in. On-sighting and flashing are different to every day climbing as there is only ever one chance. One shot, one opportunity, if you mess up you mess up forever. Say the conditions are bad, the rock is greasy, a hold is wet, your too tired from the route before, your skin is sore, mentally tired... the list goes on, lots of things to think about!
Or is there?
One thing I keep hearing, and keep saying, is when you are truly climbing well, your mind is empty. Almost as if you are temporarily existing on a different plane, you stop thinking and begin to flow. Thinking about not thinking is an obvious contradiction, and so to help me out I called on a little mind and motivation control, some pounding Breakbeats for my ears. I don’t usually climb listening to music, but regularly use it to help with motivation during training and figured it was worth a try. I pressed play, entered a different world, and started moving up.
The lower wall flowed just like I hoped it would, a hard section of moves with small holds and bad feet did not faze me and I arrived at better holds knowing that I could rest a little before making the moves to place the gear. It’s strange to be in such a dangerous place and not even think about the danger; 9m above the gear and 19m above the floor are not comfy numbers, these are the times when you need to be your most relaxed and do what is necessary to make yourself safe.
The nut was unobvious and a little awkward to place. Even when seated well it just didn’t look right and I placed and replaced it several times. When finally I was happy, I made the next awkward sequence to clip the thread and place the cam, and carried on directly towards the final boulder. This is where it all came down to; this is where I had been focused on all along.
Muy Caliente - David Simmonite
The bottom section was generally simple and secure climbing, if you were strong and stated calm things would most likely be ok. But the top, the top was a different story. Technical, balancey climbing on awkward holds was not what I wanted to deal with after all the mental and physical effort below.
I was happy to find the two rest holds comfortable, allowing me to recover and focus on the section above. Things felt good and I was happy, but as I looked down at the future footholds, worry started to grow inside me and I began to feel heavy. The handholds were becoming greasy, recovery had stopped, I forced myself to move.
The left foot was small. I perched on it, reached the left sidepull, and was surprised by how small it was. I tried to take it like Caroline had told me, but couldn’t find the position and decided to push on regardless. The next foot was almost non-existent, but stuck with a little faith allowing me to move my left foot up to a small edge. Here is where my planned sequence failed, I couldn’t find the body position so decided to “feel” instead.
I lifted my right foot to a very bunched position and suddenly realised I was in reaching distance of the finishing hold. I almost couldn’t believe it and excitedly started moving my right hand towards the incut edge, surprised at how solid I felt. As my fingers came close to the hold my body position shifted and I began to tip away, I quickly reached out for the hold, catching the very edge with my fingertips as my left hand exploded off the sidepull. A tiny moment where I half believed I had caught the hold came and went. That empty feeling in my belly told me I was falling. I screamed and swore. The dream was dead.
I felt the little Daemon growing inside of me. I didn’t sleep well, and was distant to say the least during the next morning. My mind was full again of thoughts... What if I had rested longer, why didn’t I take the sidepull correctly, and what if I had slapped faster? Whilst useful from an analytical point of view, these thoughts did nothing to change the fact that the flash had failed. I needed to take the positive things and move forwards, learn from my experience and plan my next attempt. Which is where things get complicated again, as I found the idea of getting back on the lead quite frightening.
I thought about taking a few days of rest to give my mind and body time to relax, but with every hour that passed the little Daemon grew, and I was well aware that he could grow to be quite a size by the time I returned. I needed to get it out of the way, I knew I could do it, I just needed to be even more focused than before. The new knowledge gained would be useful, but it was of the utmost importance not to be blasé. The route would feel hard and needed respect, I expected this and was prepared to give.
My music went on, a different mix from Yesterday, Krafty Kuts – Fresh Kuts volume 2. The first 10m passed as expected, the threads were clipped, I rested, next stop the top…
The run-out was fine, and I arrived at the gear pretty fresh. Conditions were not great, but I compensated by climbing faster, moving quickly from hold to hold, not allowing the grease to build up. The rest holds before the crux were soon in my hands. I would have moved almost straight away but I needed to stay for a few minutes to allow a numb finger to regain feeling. I looked at the holds, looked at the feet, but this time felt light instead of heavy and committed to the moves with fresh enthusiasm.
I took the sidepull as Caroline had suggested, this time my fingers found the correct place and my thumb pinched the vital spot. My feet worked in the same way as before, and in no time at all I was back at the final move. This time there was no hesitation, my body locked in position, my hand reached up to the edge, it was finished!