Thursday, 30 September 2010

A warning.

I got warned the other day. What the warning is about is for me to determine, by writing this post.

After getting back from Skye I had a brief day at Dunkeld with the lovely Lyons and others. They were on the sport but my fingers hurt too much for that, not least because of two cut fingertips: one courtesy of a cat, one courtesy of a razor-spike-half-pad-mono-gaston-flake (ya rly) on a rather tricky route at Neist. Instead, eschewing the obvious choices, I fancied doing something bold but steady, involving myself in the intricacies of schist wall climbing without it being too hard. So that was a good start, proper inspiration was there.

I got on Ratcatcher, the easiest route on a steep wall, up a vague groove system, with a couple of spaced pegs and apparently not much other good gear. I warmed up, climbed steadily past the first low peg and some minor gear. Got established on a ledge in a shallow groove. No obvious gear. A shallow cam slot for a size I'd already used. Hmmmm. I place a skyhook on a deep quartzy incut. It stays on. So far, so not great. I have a look around. There's easier ground a bit higher, but not very easy ground to get there. The groove is a bit shallow and slopey. There's bigger holds out right, chalked but I'm not sure where they go, it's not so obvious a line. Feeling around I find a constricted pocket and fiddly a wire in blindly. Pulling up I find it's very shallow. But it stays in.

The gear feels purely psychological. To use Arno's term, I am in a No Fall situation. But that's okay because I'm not going to fall, I'm just going to move up to easier ground. But the confusion remains - up the sketchy grooves, or deviate right onto bigger holds?? There's an old skool gnarl guy below who did it earlier, hanging out with his wife and motley pair of hounds, but I feel a bit daft asking him. It's not that hard, it should be the obvious line. So I move up....briefly....very briefly as my foot skids off dusty rock....and I slump onto the skyhook and half-in wire....which takes my weight for a second before I hurriedly grab the rock. Having failed on the route I have no intention of going up and less intention of testing the gear again, even to lower off, so I manage to downclimb to the peg and lower off that.

I'm a bit shocked - "No Fall", but I just did. I'm not happy about not doing the route, I was liking the vibe of it. I'm not happy that I was in a risky situation and fell off. Obviously the gear was better than I thought and collectively safe enough. But I'm not a "safe enough" person, I'm a fucking coward and properly fussy about gear. I sometimes do bold climbing but it's carefully planned and controlled. It has to be - I don't want to hurt myself! Thus I'm worried about the risk that occured in this situation.

So what went wrong?? What did I do wrong?? What can I learn from it??

1. Biggest mistake - not asking the guy below about route finding. Why the hell not?? Sure he's a bit stern and seemingly unapproachable, but doing and enjoying the right climb is more important than social niceties. Sure it spoils the journey of discovery a wee bit, but when the situation is confusing and ambiguous and with dodgy gear, that's not as important.

2. Big attitude mistake - not being focused enough, not taking a serious climb seriously enough. I trusted that I could do the climb fine given I'm on good trad form at the moment, but I should have thought more about all the challenge it entails - including checking what routes were nearby and exactly where it might go.

3. Related mistake - underestimating the schist. It's not my speciality and it is blind and confusing. Knowing exactly which path of deceptive bulges, blind knobbles, obtuse pockets, blunt flakes and hidden edges leads to victory is rarely obvious. I should have been more aware of route-finding. Heeding the larger chalked holds and where they might lead would have helped.

4. Other factors - possibly tired after a 6 hour drive from Skye and 5 hours sleep.

So the warning, and the lesson is: Take serious climbs seriously, regardless of how well I'm climbing. Heed the rock type, stay focused on what the challenge requires, and make use of any options that deal with the situation. I guess it is a matter of awareness and adaption. I will remember that!

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