Wednesday, 13 July 2016

A fine line...

...between success and failure, between love and hate, between good and evil, between evocative personal prose and eyeball-vomitingly self-indulgent flowery drivel. But other bloggers do a far better job of the latter than me and I hopefully retain enough awareness to restrain the drivel a bit.

The fine line I'm referring to is between a climbing challenge that is enthralling and engrossing and a climbing challenge that is draining and demoralising. Despite a respectable veneer of bumbledon and - so I've been told - an illusionary impression of calm competence, I'm often pushing along that line, or at least trying to. And with such fineness, it's the little things that cause you to swerve from one side to the other. Nearly a year ago I was on the former side of the line on the best lead of my life on The Long Run at Gogarth, a few days ago I was on the latter side of the line on the hardest lead of my life on Black Magic at Pentire. The little thing was conditions, perfect on TLR with a fresh cool breeze after all day sun, arduous on BM with a humid breeze after all day haze.

Cathedral is a very good descriptor. It's a very slightly off-vertical cathedral though.

I probably shouldn't have been on it, and it's all Duncan's fault that I was. We were down there with the indefatiguable Cheque Pictures, filming Duncan returning to Eroica for a fully free ascent 37(!) years after his standard aid-point ascent. This all went rather smoothly with the crux dispatched with all the flamboyant power-whooping you'd expect from Mr Critchley, although when I came to follow it (a *very* rare occasion of me following a harder route, mostly because Eroica had never been on my wishlist) I struggled to see how he'd dispatched the greasy, minimally-featured crux and subsequent death-defying teeter on lead. The general difficulty and poor conditions were reassuring - definitely not a day to try anything hard like a lifetime ambition right at my limit or any nonsense like that. 

Relief mixed with sandwiches and general Atlantic coast discussion at the bottom of the crag, but I kept walking down and touching the Black Magic starting holds and looking at the fine line of the horizon which seemed to be a lot clearer and less hazy than previously. I'd been wanting to do this route for decades ever since the triptych photo of Ken Palmer rocking over (unspeakably bad beta of course) but surely I wasn't ready for it now. I went for a power-shit around the corner just in case and came back to this:

Duncan: How are you feeling??

Me: Kinda nauseous and wobbly really...

Duncan: Well, that's natural isn't it, you're bound to feel like that before a big challenging lead.

Me: Oh for fuck's sake, damn you old school climbers who know what it's all about, that's exactly the right thing to say, now I have to try it!!

He could have said some inane shite like "Just man the fuck up and get on it" or some wishy-washy cop-out like "Well you can always leave it till later", but no, he had to say the right thing, the right mixture of sense and understanding (which didn't quite extend to the 20 year old general beta - also unspeakably bad, but that didn't matter ;)). 

So I did it and the haze came back in and by the time I got to the belay the distant headlands were barely visible and although it was climbable it certainly wasn't crisp and this had the experience teetering from the undiluted pleasure of TLR to something darker and deeper and I got mid-way though the crux after half a dozen goes trying to commit to it and just wanted to drop off as my emotions were frayed and decided I might as well drop off doing the move which of course I didn't as climbing isn't usually as hard as committing and then it was just a methodical process of infinite 5c moves and sore toes and spaced RPs up the flake and really that was just fucking ace.

White magic.

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