Thursday, 27 November 2014


A while ago I wrote about people claiming their "First E-whatever!" whilst actually failing on standard mid-grade routes, or rather pre-failing by not even trying to climb the route, instead avoiding it by headpointing / top-roping. I actually seemed to get some hysterical bleating in response, well at least I think I did, I gave up reading when there was the first whiff of the usual "but people can do what they want" waffle. Strange how some people put the effort in to get their knickers in a twist about something so common sensical, but then don't bother making any other comments on the positive stuff I write about Scottish climbs and scenery (at least a couple of people have noticed I post that too)... All very Daily Mail reader, but perhaps not so surprising. What was surprising was a friend who said he appreciated that particular blog as it made him think a bit about his climbing and his current temptation to headpoint a few routes, and that maybe he could resist that temptation for a while and find other ways to progress with his climbing.

Which got me thinking - I'd posted about the failure of headpointing mid-grade trade routes (which both posts apply to, NOT to new routes, cutting edge routes, esoteric early repeats etc), but not about how to avoid that failure, avoid that temptation in the first place - THAT could be something useful. So, some ideas on how not to pre-fail:

Firstly, the main reason for pre-failing:

"I think this route is too hard for me to climb now"
(Therefore I won't try to, I'll avoid climbing it by top-roping etc etc)

I'm sure most other reasons will boil down to that. In particular the kneejerk counter of "But it's just what they want to do" is immediately counter-countered by considering why one would "want" to headpoint etc: Because it's personally preferable to onsighting that route. Why? Because there must be something about the onsight that makes it less preferable, and that's almost certainly *some* difficulty with the onsight, meaning: "I think this route is too hard for me to climb now".

So taking that reason, one can break it down into overlapping constituent issues:

"I think" - perception / information.

"this route is too hard for me" - difficulty / ability.

"right now" - current situation.

And try some suggestions how to overcome those issues:

1. Gather as much information as possible.
No necessarily enough to spoil the experience, although a beta-flash is still a good effort. Sometimes the guidebook info is well researched and you can rely on it to know the route's challenge, but not always. If there is any doubt then check forums, ask for general information, speak to people who have done it. Find out the sort of information that would make an accurate guidebook description.

2. Inspect the route from as many natural angles as you can.
I.e. gather as much of your own information as possible. Look from the sides, look from the top, do adjacent routes. If there are sections that put you off onsighting, see if you can get a better look under your own steam. 

3. Get your partner to abseil down, clean and check it.
If the route really needs checked out or cleaned, then get your mate to do it (assuming they don't want to do the same route!). It's that simple! They can give it a thorough scrub and make sure the information is accurate. In all 3 information gathering options, the route will still have some essential mystery but there could be crucial hints so you KNOW rather than THINK about it's difficulty.

4. Analyse what the main difficulties are on the route and what abilities you would need to improve.
If the route is too hard, or you're simply not good enough to do it, work out why. Too bold? Too pumpy? Too technically hard? Etc. Rather than trying to avoid that real challenge, work out why it is tempting to avoid it, and what you would need to improve to actually tackle it.

5. Train towards the route(s).
Following from the above, actually put the effort to BE good enough to do the route. If you're looking at routes that you're not certain about onsighting, you should be wanting a challenge and you should be willing to improve and try hard to do so. Train physically and mentally to improve to meet that challenge.

6. Stack all the odds in your favour.
Use all the usual tips and tricks with optimal gear, chalk, shoes, clothes, belayer, warming-up, timing, weather, etc. Many small factors can add up to make a big enough difference to make the route feasible, so analyse all aspects of your preparation and logistics to make them optimal.

7. See if it is possible to engage with the route at all.
If it's a general challenge, see how far it is possible to climb up and downclimb. See if there is a ledge or good rest to get to to evaluate how feasible it is to continue. If it's bold or dangerous, see if there are any places with good protection, and how far past it you can go before either having to commit into danger or being able to fall safely. Even if the whole route seems too daunting it might be possible to start it, and maybe then finish it.

8. Be prepared to try and fail.
Failure is always a possibility, it's the risk associated with any challenge. But it's not a certainty unless you've already failed. Given a choice to try and fail, or fail by not even trying, choose the former. Once that's accepted, at least you can give it a go, it's better than giving up in the first place.

9. Heed conditions and choose the right time.
If the route seems to be too hard right now, maybe the timing is wrong. Some of the odds refuse to be stacked when you want them - weather and personal condition especially - so keep that in mind and be prepared to choose the right time. Learn the factors needed to make Plan A work....and have a Plan B too.

10. Take a longer view and save the route for the future.
The route will always be there and for most people the opportunity to try it properly will crop up again. Unless you're an OAP and about to permanently move abroad, there's no need to be impatient and not give yourself and the route a chance. You don't HAVE to headpoint the route now, see what you're capable of in a month or a year or a decade.

And if all else fails....just don't do it. There's always a choice. There's always the option to simply accept the route is too hard and walk away. There is no shame in that honesty and acceptance and respect for the route and respect for good style.

Apologies if any of this isn't as clear or as ethically strict as it should be, I've been trying to write this for ages and got bored of it. As usually, any complaints can be forwarded to The Department Of People Who Give A Shit, Somewhere Far Far Away, thanks.

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