It had to come one day I guess. But after four months of rapid progress on trad, I really wasn't expecting the step backwards.
Arriving in Pembroke this weekend, I was psyched to get on something hard again, but when I started climbing I found myself quite nervous. Even seconding routes I was getting gripped. Ah well, bit of falling practice should sort it out?
Nope. Made me relaxed about falling deliberately on easy routes but I still felt uneasy at the prospect of getting on something hard.
On Saturday afternoon, Ramon pulled off an onsight of the stunning line Bloody Sunday (E4 6a) at Huntsman's Leap. His performance was juxtaposed with my struggling up on second. The hard part of the route is near the bottom, and following Ramon's beta with my rather different physique turned out to be a bad idea. I knew I wanted to lead this line, so in my mind's eye I was struggling like this on lead, near the ground, and I was terrified. By the time I reached easier ground higher up I was a wreck.
In the pub that night, things back in perspective, I was keen to get back on for a lead next day... but in the morning I started to get scared again. I really couldn't work out why - the moves are hard but the gear is good and there's more than enough of it. Huntsman's leap is an intimidating location, but I'd been there before, and there's always the option of jumaring out.
As we descended back into the leap, I had just about convinced myself I was going to do a less exposed E3 corner climb instead. But Ramon was going first, and he wanted to do an E2 which unfortunately had the sea still lapping at it's base. I wanted to wait half an hour till the tide went out, but he was keen to get cranking and wanted me to belay from a few meters away. There were good directional belays at the bottom, but I couldn't justify putting all that slack in the system for the sake of my dry feet so off came the shoes and into the cold water I went. The longer I stood there, the more pissed off I got. By the time I was drying my feet of to get the climbing shoes on, I was about ready to chuck it all in for the weekend, and struggling up the tricky first few meters with totally numb feet slipping off holds didn't do much to change that. But as I got higher up, and started to get into the climb, I began to realise two things.
1) I was looking for excuses to avoid getting on Bloody Sunday
2) I wasn't really pissed off at Ramon, I was pissed off at myself for looking for excuses to avoid Bloody Sunday.
I topped out into the sunshine, had a quick whinge about the belay conditions, and went about sorting my head out. It was pretty obvious there was only one thing for me to do, and that was get on Bloody Sunday, and work it from the ground up, taking falls from hard moves (if they came about) rather than controlled conditions.
I took a couple of falls at the first hard move, before I worked out some new beta with a rather satisfying finger lock and a balancy, tenuous gaston. This gained a big hold to place two good wires to protect the second hard move. I got that one second go and placed another couple of good wires, but suddenly I was doubting them. There was one more hard sequence to go before easier ground, and it seemed like if these wires were to fail I'd be quite close to the ground. They were bomber, but I was now doubting my own judgement on them, for no other reason than I didn't want to commit. After a bit of faff, I did commit and finished the route clean from there. I still felt pressure all the way up, but the higher I got the more it was accompanied by a sense of achievement. My head my have deserted me, but I'd shown myself I have the will to get through it. And that feels very important.