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Monday, 13 May 2013


This is long, I am sorry...

The Background
A couple of years ago myself and Andy Crome got embroiled in doing a direct start to Massala Martyr, what was an 8a+ at Kilnsey (possibly pushing 8b now due to hold breakage). We worked out the boulder problem start, which was excellent, and then Andy in typical fashion beat me to the chains and got the first ascent of Smarter Martyr (8b). At the time we had discussed other options in the area, Andy had his ideas for things to do, and I had mine.

My ideas numbered four:

1) I wanted to do Smarter Martyr, sadly I couldn't quite get it and the weather turned, Kilnsey season got away from me. Last year Kilnsey season hardly got up and running, so neither did I.

2) There was a route to the right called Warlord Direct (E6) which finishes up an E2 (Warlord) but which can also be finished at a thread which signals the end of the hard climbing, and lower from this point. I was starting to feel the urge to return to trad after a long boulder/sport focus and this seemed like the ground up option to go for, which I promptly did in a few goes last year.

3) Then above the thread, where Warlord scuttles off right to the safety and amenability of a groove/corner feature, there was a bulging leaning face. It's the continuation of the face that Massala Martyr/Smarter Martyr climbs, only it looks a bit blanker. A very obvious challenge. But, I wanted to do it trad. This would become Exodus (sorry if that's spoiled the surprise for anyone).

4) Finally there is an obvious direct finish to be done to Smarter Martyr, up yet another bulging face. This would straighten out the line completely and in combination with Exodus would leave a pair of high standard, high quality, logical lines right in the middle of Kilnsey. One sport, one trad, nice. This I have yet to do, please give me a chance to try...

Blue - Exodus (E8 6c)
Red - Warlord (aid start to rech thread)(E2 5c)
Dotted Red - Warlord Direct (E6 6c)
Purple - Smarter Martyr (Fr8b)
Dotted Purple - Massala Martyr (finish as for Smarter Martyr) (Fr8a+/b)

Day 1

I've got a very short smash and grab day at Kilnsey with Garry, we get there at 10:20 and need to be in the car heading home at 2:00. Garry isn't sure what he wants to do, I have an idea...

I clipstick up the adjacent sport route (Smarter Martyr, 8b) and then Garry lowers me down and I have a look at the face, first impressions aren't great, it looks very blank for a long way. After a bit of brushing and looking around though I manage to find a poor two finger left hand crimp in the blank section. A long move above this there is a horizontal line of reasonable to good pockets and a long move below this there is a large, slightly slopey right hand sidepull. Down and left of the sidepull is a pretty good flatty and below that is a good jug, and some gear (a threaded rock 4). And finally below that is the thread and jugs that indicate the end of the difficulties of the start (itself an E6 called Warlord Direct). After a quick clean of the holds I try the middle section on a top-rope and it's desperate. I can get to the sidepull off the flatty but it's awkward. Then it looks like a wild slap for the tiny two finger crimp, that's NOT going to happen. A bit of brushing random bits of rock reveals a poor left hand pinch, it's really poor but it might be enough to let me adjust my feet and get established for the throw to the two finger crimp (throw to a two finger half pad crimp, how is that ever going to work??). The pinch feels rubbish but it does let me adjust my feet into a semi-sensible position to set up for the hopeless throw...

 I pull up a bit "let’s imagine I caught the crimp..." I think to myself. I pull on and try the next move, it looked long hanging on the rope, but actually trying it the realisation dawns that it's ludicrous. Swing around a bit and...

Why HELLO what have we here? A side-pull, pretty good, first joint, off to the right and crucially a bit lower than the line of pockets. How very nice to meet you Mr Side-pull.

So brush that up and then try and do the move to catch it, I'M OFF. Oooof, still hard but feels like it might be more possible. But hang on, the left hand felt a bit weird when I came off. Inspect the two finger crimp and lo and behold it's now a bit smaller and a bit less positive whilst at the same time a bit more painful to hold. Humpfff...

Anyway got some sort of a sequence, despite having not done any of the moves. I start to lower down and as I’m passing the awkward move to the side-pull off the flatty I find a lower undercut pocket, a quick dabble and there’s a more flowing sequence in place.

For the rest of the session Garry works the lower section, and ultimately manages to top-rope it in a one-er. I get another couple of goes on the rope and spend most of the time looking for some more holds with no great joy, I continue to play on the moves but make no real headway. At the end of the day I walk away having brushed a few holds, held a couple of positions and failed to make a single move on the crux section…

Game on.

Day 2

I’ve been thinking, a lot, and it’s occurred to me that there is a possibility. You see the tiny two finger crux hold is very hard to catch dynamically. Let’s be honest, it feels completely impossible for me. My feet feel like they’re in the “right” sort of positions for the move, and I think I’ve got my hands as well placed as possible. But the bulging nature of the rock means that my left hand is holding me on, and as soon as I take it off I’m falling away to the right, so the move is always going to be dynamic using this sequence. I need to kill this barn-door effect so I can reach the hold static. But that seems insane, how can a move that feels like a long slap become a static reach? There’s just no way…


…would a heel work? The left foot is on a sort of knobble hold, maybe instead of putting my toe on it I could put my heel round it and use that to pull me across to the left and up to the hold.
This is what entirely consumed my thoughts in the time between day 1 and day 2. And come day 2 I was keen to put the theory into practice.

Again clip-stick up the adjacent route, lower down and place the piece of gear above the crux to hold me on the line, lower down and brush the crux holds. Try the heel, oh my days it works. The impossible slap is now a controlled static move (albeit pretty powerful). I slump on the rope, not really sure how to do the next move.

After a rest I pull on from the crux hold and try the side-pull slap, no dice. Hmmm, break out the toothbrush and get hunting… and the wall once again reveals the smallest of treasures. A little diamond of a hold, a tiny right hand nothingth of a hold. Awful, but crucially in the right place to be reachable off the knee scuff, unlike the side-pull. I pull on the two finger left hand hold and low right side-pull, pop in the knee scuff and after a couple of misfires manage to latch the poor right hand, just…

Then I’m off.

Finally I try pulling on to the two finger left hand and the poor right hand, plenty of rope tension and pop to the side-pull. A couple more false starts and then I hit it. Ok there was tension in the rope, but not that much, probably…

Lower down and rest.

Then I decide to get straight onto the sharp end. This was a very conscious decision. The route was far from worked out, or a sure thing. Whilst I had just about done the individual hand moves I hadn’t linked any of the crux moves, and I also hadn’t tried any of the in-between foot movements/adjustments. But if I wanted to do the route as a sure thing then I might as well bolt it and we can have another sport route to work to death*. I wanted to do this trad, and to my mind that meant I wanted to try and embrace the trad-ness as much as I could. Don’t for a moment think I’m trying to claim any sort of ground-upishness. That’s obviously not the case, but I wanted to try and make some sort of notional nod to that style of approach. When I got on the sharp end I still didn’t know if I could climb the route, I didn’t know if I could adjust my feet/body-position between hand moves, I didn’t know if I could do the moves without a bit of rope help. Pretty much the only thing I did know was that I was probably going to fall off.
A lot.

(*this is not a veiled criticism of sport climbing, I think sport climbing’s ace. Rather making the point that if something is done “trad” it is nice to do it in as “trad” a style as is possible)

Anyway first time up, I place the gear climb up to the move to the two finger left hand hold. Pop the heel on, pull, body tension, reach and… reach a bit more and… got it.

Now what? I need to move my left heel to a toe so I can then move my right foot for the next move. But my left heel is pulling like hell; it feels like the only thing that’s keeping me on. I try to gently release the heel. As the tension comes out of my left leg, I can feel more and more weight going on to my left hand. But my left hand is rubbish, I can’t hold it, no way, I’m off.

The gear holds.

The rest of the day continues in a similar vein, but slowly I start to get closer to being able to move my feet. By the end of the day I’ve managed to adjust my feet, get the knee scuff and slapped ineffectively for the rubbish right hand intermediate hold. Progress of sorts.

Day 3

Garry does the first half of the route (itself an E6 - Warlord Direct) - MONSTER!

Clip-stick up the adjacent route, lower and brush. Straight on the sharp end, getting smoother, slicker, and more used to falling. New high-point.

Day 4

Clip-stick up the adjacent route, lower and brush. Straight on the sharp end, getting smoother, slicker, and more used to falling. New high-point.

Day 5

Try the route straight off the ground, feels grim.

Clip-stick up the adjacent route, lower and brush. Straight on the sharp end, getting smoother, slicker, and more used to falling. New high-point. And then a new low point, as the day progresses conditions at the crag grim out big time. Clag descends and I start falling off on the move to the two finger left hand hold, not dropped that for a while, time to go home…

Exodus (E8 6c) - the failures from nik jennings on Vimeo.

Day 6

OK so day 6 is straight after day 5, it's my 6th day on, my left forearm feels weird, it's been raining since yesterday afternoon, I have Sam (16 month old son) in tow, I'm totally gate-crashing another pairs climbing day and when I get to the crag there is misty clag everywhere and there appears to be a river running down the route. If ever there was a day when the stars aligned this wasn't it...

Closer inspection reveals that the river is actually running down the adjacent sport route and it looks as though the line I'm trying is still dry. Although the single bolt lower-off at the top is in the river, luckily you reach across to clip it from dry rock so that should be fine.

The usual, clip-stick up the river trying to keep my feet dry. Then lower down the line of the route brushing up the holds. I also have a quick check of the piece of gear at the very top of the route (it protects the last easy move) just to make sure I'll be bringing up the right rock. Get to the ground and pull the rope.

Have a rest while Rachel and Cal get on their respective routes and then it's on the sharp end. The start goes easily, I've done this so many times now it just flows. Get to the first gear and take a quick rest and shake, then on to the crux sequence:
LH - up to jug in break
RF - big flat hold
RH - flatty edge
LH - undercut pocket
LF - vertical smear
RH - Slopey side-pull
LF - step through to jug
RF - way out right
LH - poor pinch
RF - up and in to sideways smear
LF - heel hook
LH - reach to small two finger edge
LF - switch to toe
RF - in and up to small edge, scuff knee
LF - drop off press out left
RH - up to tiny scallop hold
RF - stand up higher
RH - slap to sidepull

Latch it, I've latched it, I've got the side pull. Now to bring my left foot across to the right of my right foot to a good foothold, where is it? The move is blind, but I know the foothold is there, it's a handhold, it's big, come on, where are you?! Over-gripping and over pulling on the right hand side-pull. To couteract this I'm having to bone the left hand hold as hard as possible. Getting rapidly juiced here. Where is the bloody foothold? Is that it? Am I on it? Don't know can't tell, pulling too hard with my hands, can't get any weight on my feet, stupid, stupid, aaargh. That might be something, go for it, try to move my right foot...


I'm off. Close though.

Another rest while Cal has another go on his route (he's looking good on it). Then, after butting in on Rachel and Cal's day of climbing I decide to max out my selfishness by asking if Rachel minds if I queue jump and have next go at climbing. She's too polite and says yes. People often say that one of the key elements of success is a degree of selfishness, I hope not, it's not very nice.

Anyway this is it, I need to go after this attempt whatever happens, it's still raining, I don't know when I'll be able to get back here, it will probably be wet anyway, do or die (how dramatic...). Just before I set off I have a brief word with myself "I'm going to get the left hand hold, and I'm going to crush it, full power, it doesn't matter how it feels or how I feel, conditions are irrelevant I'm giving it everything, I'm not falling off that hold, gravity is going to have to rip me off if it wants to beat me". It sounds cheesey, but it's what I thought, would it be enough?

Through the start, easy, brief rest at the jug, not tired, left hand up to the break jug and some sneaky micro beta. I'd noticed on my last attempt that as I moved my left hand from out of the break jug that there was the faintest hint of moisture on my tips, something and nothing but could it make the difference on the tiny left hand hold? Maybe the back of the jug was slightly damp? So I'm not greedy, just get the edge of the jug, it's still good so no problem. Right hand up to flatty, adjust body position and the left hand out of jug and into undercut pocket. A glance at my tips as they move through the air, they still look freshly chalked, no excuses now. Right hand to side pull, sort feet, left hand to crap pinch. Right foot up, left heel on, left hand up to two finger hold. I'm crushing this, bear down, hard, sort feet, knee scuff, bear down harder, right hand up to tiny scallop hold, feels almost static, adjust body position, set up, pause, pull more on the left and slap with the right, hit the side-pull, max power on the left, over-grip like a loon on the right, hold it, hold it, step left foot through, find hold, yes, right foot out, look up at good left hand hold. It's just there, I can reach it, but...

...but I can't move, what's going on? No weight on my feet, pulling too hard with my arms, how many times have I told people not to do this, stupid, stupid, no weight on feet which means the static reach to the good left hold isn't happening, I've got to slap, this is crazy, IT'S EASY WHAT AM I DOING! Right arm getting powered out, go, now, throw...

I think I'm off for an instant and then my left hits the hold, it sticks, clip the gear. Breathe, where am I? Well my left is feeling tired, my right doesn't have a hold to hold on to, that gear suddenly looks very directional and not something I want to fall off onto. If it rips will I hit the ground? Maybe, breathe, think. There's a good right hand to the left of my left hand, chalk right, reach across, chalk left, feet getting very close to the river of water, bit annoying. Back onto left hand, right move up, this is easy, or it was when I wasn't looking at a potential ground fall. Feet up, right hand up, dig in left foot, feels slippery, move left hand up, don't slip don't slip don't slip, got it, right foot up, right hand up, left foot up, left hand up, massive jug, breathe, relax, gear, chill shake, two moves, top. WHOOP.

Exodus (E8 6c) from nik jennings on Vimeo.

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