It was a fitting end to an already unlucky week with my mood matching the bad weather and Georgia having implied my duff karma was the reason for mishaps with the weather, vehicles and obviously the fall. Although I disagreed about my somewhat dark soul having effected my vans water pump or of bringing storm Ali over to Lundy I did think its heavier than normal weight (from pints of Lundy Light perhaps) might have helped the 2 bits of rock to break, placing my sorry arse down hard.
Karma is not meant to be a punishment but rather a lesson to people who need to learn. Leaving Georgia to meditate I stumbled my rather beaten body out of the zawn before it had time to stiffen up and contemplated some of the key lessons I’ve learned from trad climbing.
2. Get 2 bits of pro between you and the deck asafp: You know what the f stands for there. I’ve seen afew people deck out who only have 1 piece in (don’t say it), sometimes from the belayer being too far out, giving a shit directional pull in a fall. Get the belayer close in but not underneath you if the start is poky/wire reliant low down. Try and keep at least 2 runners between you and the deck when above. I’ve seen people shove in microcams a long way apart then getting into difficulties above where they were reliant on them holding to stop them being on the deck from high up. Get some normal wires in if you can. I often place a cam next to a wire to try and make the cam stop the ropedrag from effecting the wire placement.
3. Confidence and calm: Normally built up from experience on lots of climbs and having the knowledge of what you are letting yourself in for and of your own ability at that point. Confidence might be the biggest asset there is for trad climbing, along with keeping calm and making good decisions quickly. Most people will have at some point in their climbing ‘lack of confidence’, where they don’t want to climb into the unknown. Having climbed into the unknown a few times and not always liked what I’ve found there I can tell you backing off if you are not feeling ‘it’ is no bad thing. If you feel you just have ‘the fear’ though and are backing off when realistically it’s safe to carry on, just tell yourself you will find a good hold and gear not too far beyond, as usually you do. Don’t sue me if you go for it and you find neither. If you are tired or having a shit time of it in life I’d recommend saving the bolder leads for another day.
5. Endurance: Jesus it can be slow on some trad routes. So slow. Build up as much endurance as you can and quit smoking. Like many endurance activities a lot of the battle will be mental rather than physical. The best possible mental training for endurance is to spend time with people who are both vegan and Buddhist, they are all killjoys.
6. Aerobic: A big pitch on trad might take you an hour or more to lead, and on some of the bigger cliffs it could be 2 hours walk in with a heavy bag. Then you are bridging, recovering in shit rests, nearly always on your feet. Running and general fitness stuff can help out on trad climbs a ton. Quit smoking.
7. The comfort zone: As mentioned in lesson 1, newbies should try and keep within the comfort zone for some time before exploring or expanding its edges. For very experienced climbers though it’s when you are well within the comfort zone that many and possibly most dangers lie. How many good climbers do you know of who have hurt themselves or died on routes that are very easy for them. It’s easy to switch off, not place enough gear, become too blasé. Much like people crashing on a road they know well near where they live. In some arenas they call this a Heuristic trap. In fact I think my fall hits most elements of a heuristic trap; over-commitment to a goal, familiarity with the terrain, scarcity, social proof (tony stone had done it the week before).
The best case if you have an accident and survive is that your climbing partner will pass you a Buddhist book of proverbs open on ‘Nowness’: An arrogant and proud woman was keen on seeking enlightenment and got told to climb a high mountain top to find the cave. On arriving in the cave she finds an old wise woman and gets down on her knees asking for enlightenment. The old woman asks if she is sure she wants enlightenment? After she is given the confirmation the old woman turns into a demon and starts to whack the woman with a stick shouting ‘now, now, now’.
You may find this patronising but being lame are left with the only option of trying to incinerate the patroniser with your gaze.
Don’t get caught out when you are well within your comfort zone.
9. Self rescue: Anybody going sea cliff climbing where your abseiling into cliffs its worth being able to do a few things. Principally ascending a rope using a couple of prussiks. If you’ve misjudged the tide or your partner hurts themselves getting back up the abseil rope to get help might be the only option. If you fall off into ‘space’ seconding it’s unlikely your partner will be able to hoist you so it might save your bacon there too. If you’re going to be in more remote areas then being able to escape the system with your harness is also worth knowing as is being able to do a tandem abseil. If your partner gets injured on a sea cliff and you don’t know anything about what I’ve mentioned above your unlikely to be their hero, just shout for help, or meditate.
11. Quick pro: God some people are slow as shite at placing kit. It looks like they just whack the wires against the wall expecting 1 to slot in somewhere. Get good at putting it in fast and well, practice on the deck a fair bit first. Aim for cams to be more over-cammed than under-cammed to stop them walking/flicking out as easily. It can often be the most stressful part of a climb and there may well be moments in your climbing where your life is very much reliant on the speed you can fire an ok runner into a rockface.
12. Cutting it close: Or pushing the boat out, perhaps on a climb which is a harder grade than you’ve done before. People see unexpected gains as having twice the worth as gains they expect to get. So it can feel good having the uncertainty element thrown in there. I’ve seen a lot of climbers over the years going for their ‘big lead’ and quite often you can tell before they’ve set off how it’s going to go. It’s always great to watch when someone is throwing absolutely everything they have into a climb, wether or not they get up it. They’ve decided to Carpe Diem and when you are really keen and switched on it can make you into a different climber. Be sure you’ve assessed everything you can about the climb from the ground before setting off, and be ‘en guard’!. It’s often the first bits, when you are near the ground which are the most dangerous, same indoors incidentally with most deckouts around the 1st-3rd clip.
13. Mental Health: I’ve lost more friends who climb to suicide than to climbing, they’ve often been climbing pretty well at the time but admittedly their behaviour showed some of the warning signs of depression in the months leading up to their deaths. It’s worth keeping an eye out for your friends if they start doing things they wouldn’t normally do.
Will Perrin was one of the best rock climbers the UK has seen. I remember telling him that the first pitch of Conan the Librarian was tough before he proceeded to make it look piss. I’d been to Hendre Hall the night before and arriving at the crux groove wearing all our clothes the breeze had died and the sun baked me. He had put no runners in the traverse and said his belay wasn’t that good. Sweating profusely and with a dry hungover mouth I got the fear and remember shouting and swearing at him as he smiled back.
14. Great places & people: It can take you to some really stunning places, sometimes not that far away. I’ve been to Yosemite, Madagascar, Patagonia but when I get back to Gogarth, Fairhead, Pembroke or Lundy it feels as good as anywhere really. Trips to Dubh Loch, Skye and Lewis are also hard to beat. As I’ve stated many times I think in many respects North Wales is a contender for the best or one of the best trad climbing venues in the world (for smaller clmibs obvs). By and large most climbers I’ve met have been pretty sound too, apart from Andy Kirkpatrick with him being both a Trump and Kavanagh supporter-chodes.
I’m sure there were loads of other lessons I could have thought of but I was kind of sick of the talk about karma and if anyone mentioned it to me in the near future I’d use what imagination I had to send them a suitable lesson when they least expected it, even after I got told off all week about the Buddhist teaching of causing no harm.
I’d given the Extreme Rock routes priority one for the year and there were still 7 left: Revelations, Promised Land, Controlled burning, The Clearances, Megaton, Scansor and Unicorn. I actually felt pretty good, I’d broken the back of it and the Lundy fall might have been the luckiest I’d taken, it certainly appeared to be a life changer in the 1st few minutes. I tried to think of any good deeds I’d done to warrant such good luck..…I was certainly struggling. Perhaps it was that time we woke Niall in the middle of the night…I’d need to do some more research into this karma thing.
Thanks to anyone who climbed and put up with me this year. Next year, I’ll put it to bed, or die trying.
Trips for any friends next year are 3 days in the Burren then onto the Fairhead meet from there and 10 days on Lewis in early August, Sron Ulladale then the sea cliffs. There might be a free ticket to Lundy in late March if anyone is keen too!