“you never climb your best on a road trip”
I can still remember Toby saying this to me over 7 years ago while climbing with him and Neal around Europe but although I could remember the words they meant little or nothing to me until recently. Looking back now I can remember Toby’s frustration with not being able to send routes at his desired grade across France and Germany. It seemed stupid to me at the time because he was able to send every 8a he tried within a go or two. Now, having had a home crag in the UK for a year or so and being able to adapt mentally and physically to its unique style of climbing I can finally understand where Toby was coming from. When you travel you must learn to accept a backwards step in performance in order to learn new techniques and develop new strengths that will ultimately allow progress on to your next level of performance. Being Irish and not having any form of home sports climbing to speak of I had never felt this before. Travelling and going on a climbing road trip was where you collected all your best ticks, surely?! Because there were none at home!
While here at Ceuse I think I must have gone through the following mental mind sets:
- I’m gonna flash all the 7c’s and start working my way through the 8’s straight away.
- Wow! I don’t remember this place being so technical, where are all the positive edges?
- I can’t stand on that!!
- I need mileage!
- Right, turns out I can pull through all the moves on the 8’s maybe I just need to stick to some hard projects and avoid all that balancy shit I don’t like.
- And finally… OK, I can learn a lot from this place and its routes, especially the ones I don’t find easy or particularly like. This isn’t a go for broke climbing trip with a return date set to Dublin. This is the start of a long term apprenticeship with European sports climbing for both myself and Caroline and we need to forget what we think we know or think we should be able to achieve. Our expectations had been calibrated to UK limestone and needed a reset if we were going to move on and enjoy our climbing in Spain.
It’s weird how stuff that you hear or read or think at different stages can all come together at a certain point along the line to make perfect sense and provide the impetus needed to make headway towards the next level. Seven years ago I witnessed Toby’s frustration in Ceuse and Frankenjura and also got an idea of the training he had put into his climbing and how much it meant to him. While chatting to some Slovenian climbers here in Ceuse they mentioned that they had climbed 8b+ at their home crags this year but usually drop their target grades to around 7c for their summers in France and enjoy trying onsights and climbing loads on a totally different style of hold and rock. When they return home for the Autumn they resume training and projecting, you know, pushing their standards. And then there was Jerry. Jerry Moffatt that is. I had been given his book “Revelations” as a going away present from Tim my head of department in Rhyl and had held off from reading it until here in Ceuse. I was never one for reading biographies but this had me hooked instantly. I consumed it within two days and then went back and read it some more. There was so much in it that I could understand, remember feeling myself, relate to, be motivated by and that just plane inspired me. One concept of relevance here that crept up a lot during the first half of the book was what I’m gonna call the “relocation smackdown”. Jerry recounts his early fanatical climbing career relocating from crag to crag. Tremadog in North Wales for two months followed by a two year apprenticeship literally living from the dirt in Stoney Middleton in the Peak District and then onwards to further afield destinations like the States, France and Germany. At every point along the way he details achieving his highpoints at each location before moving on and getting smacked in the face at the next. Climbing and training almost continuously, he repeatedly spent between two and four weeks adapting to each location and style of rock before he could resume climbing at his level and begin sending.
Coming back to the real world I can remember going through similar difficult patches moving from crag to crag over the years although, as my standard was never as high as Jerry’s and I never had anywhere near the consistency of constant climbing, I never really noticed it or at least never attributed it to the different rock types. Beginning in Dalkey I got quite good there, leading and soloing lots of routes daily and even managing the odd E4 within my first year on rock. From there my first trip to Glendalough or the Burren stand out as humbling. Their totally different styles seemed way harder to me and I just assumed Dalkey grades were soft in comparison. Over time and through regular visits I gradually adapted and before leaving for Wales I had lead E5 at all these crags. It was the same with my introduction to Fairhead… HVS never felt so hard before but again after numerous visits I had managed a couple of E6’s there. The culture shock on arrival to the Clwyd limestone in the UK was more obvious though. I pretty much got nothing done for the first few years here before one day it finally clicked and this year I managed to tick my way merrily through a handful of grade 8 sports climbs. I had adapted.
It stands to reason then that a similar introduction phase should be due to take place about now on the longer more sustained European limestone routes of southern France and Spain. All of a sudden I am happy with what I’m feeling about my climbing at Ceuse and am enjoying being able to onsight the odd 7b+ and build up some stamina or more importantly begin exploring the ability to recover while on a route! The change in attitude from trying to squeeze in ticks to enjoying learning a new style has been refreshing. And not just for me but for Caroline aswell. After months of moving from project to project in the UK we’ve jumped at the opportunity of being able to do 10 new routes a day and not worry about redpointing. Caroline got a good base of grade 6 routes under her belt and onsighted a long 7a+ to the chains (before unexpectedly flying off, rope in hand about to clip the anchor! A real battle!) during the first two weeks of Team Ireland and also enjoyed playing on some of the crags better 7b+’s and 7c’s just to get an idea of what was to come for her later in the year. It’s our last climbing day of this trip to Ceuse and it’s going to be our sixth day on. During the last five days at the crag we’ve been warming up on 6a’s and 6b’s, climbing classic 7’s all throughout Berlin, Biography and Demilune sectors and finishing up with a good attempt each at something we find pumpy. On Monday I went up Ratman and Bouse de Douce, 8a+ and 8a in the Berlin sector just to try the moves. They both felt great but being honest I knew I didn’t have the time or desire to repeatedly go back on them for the ticks. They’ll be more fun as quick sends in a year or so when I’ve some fitness. Instead I put my draws in Makach Walou a brilliant pumpy 7c+ with no real hard moves. Placing the draws it felt super pumpy for me and I didn’t rate my chances of redpointing it before leaving for Spain but I reasoned that if my draws were in it it’d be more likely to give it another try and hence get to work on learning how to actively recover and depump while on a route. As it turns out it was Wednesday evening before I got back on it to give it my first redpoint attempt. I use redpoint loosely here because I had no real sequence I just knew I could get up it and that was enough. I surprised myself by climbing up above the 5th draw before getting lost and pumped out on the less positive edges below the 6th. Forcing myself upwards I crossed over and kept moving from edge to edge before falling off. Chuffed! I had gone for it and taken a lob whilst trying. Something I have little experience of to be honest and have always found a little difficult to do. Hanging on the rope I rested and then fought my way to the chains in one. Right then, I now had a sequence. Half an hour later came my second redpoint attempt (baring in mind it was our 5th consecutive day on!) with thin skin and tired arms I climbed past my highpoint, clipped the 6th and began to recover on the crimps above before coming off a greasy edge at the end of the hard climbing beside the final draw. I am chuffed. I thought this route was my anti-style and was making such quick and unexpected progress.
Meanwhile Caroline’s attention had been stolen by Saint Georges Picos, a mega classic 7a and somewhat of a rite of passage for Ceuse. It wasn’t the grade that appealed to her about this line it was its nasty difficulty that reacted with Caroline’s determination that got her hooked. As Kev said, “if she’d put that same amount of effort into any of the 7b+’s at the crag they’d have been ticked by now”. The route has an intense first 4 bolts providing the crux and after that takes a sparsely bolted line up an easing vertical wall. The first few moves are reachy and finger intensive, involving some stiff pulls with minimal and polished feet. On Saturday Caroline climbed the route first go after spending some time trying the start the week before with team Ireland. It was a real inspiration to watch someone dispatch their project in such a determined style. Crush mode! Was this really her first time at Ceuse? The route served its purpose well by forcing her to crank and also by ensuring a good head training session on the runout upper wall before the chain. After this everything was game-ball for Caroline as she had overcome her own personal challenge. Aside from climbing on all the 7a’s and b’s Caroline has been working a really nice 7b+ on lead. Tuesday evening with failing light Caroline made short work of the reachy crux for the first time and fought on to reach the decent rest before coming off near the top due to a combination of fading light, not having a robust sequence and not being able to see the footholds! Still though massive progress to be working at her previous best level on such a different style of climbing within such a short space of time.
Today will be our 6th and final day on at Ceuse for a while. Although I’d like to send the 7c+ I’m not too fussed as I feel like I’ve come on a lot in my three and a half weeks here and I now know what is possible for me during future visits. We’re going to walk up, warm up, try some more onsights and finish our trip off on some brilliant routes… School is in.