Recently I’ve been searching for the reasons as to why I continue to climb. I’ve been feeling a little lost and a little dejected. My motivation dropped way down and I was left asking myself why I’m continuing to do this. I remember what it felt like to feel amazing at the rocks and the last few weeks have marked a distinct lack of anything amazing.

Perhaps the problem was not the activity, but the perspective. I viewed things as on/off. Sometimes I think I’m more machine than man (and so do my friends) but I need to become more of an emotional machine (or just more intelligent). The wording I used in my previous post may have given something away. I wrote that I’m not yet ready to do battle, which was perhaps just a loose reference to trying very hard to achieve something, or maybe it was a polarised view of what I’m doing in my climbing. Why do people battle? I think the reason we engage in battle is to win, and if you win it’s great. But if you lose it’s horrible. No country that ever lost a war or battle was happy about it. Is it simply because winning is a necessity in those circumstances?

I’ve applied this view, in certain ways, to rock climbing. Each boulder problem that I’ve approached and tried to climb has had two possible outcomes. Either I get to the top or I don’t. Simple really, a 1 or a 0, success or failure. There aren’t any other possible outcomes. So what could be different? Well, the interpretation of the outcomes for a start. Also, a bit of zooming out and approaching it with a larger world view would certainly do no harm. It is certain that there are only 2 possible outcomes but the significance of these outcomes has meaning only because I’ve assigned them meaning (they have no intrinsic meaning). So what meanings have I assigned to them? On a simplistic level I’ve associated success (reaching the top) with feeling good and failure (not reaching the top) with feeling like I didn’t quite make it. I’ve never made a goal to fail on something, or to just do my best. I’ve always made my goal the eventual ascent of any boulder problem/route I’ve chosen. This is perhaps who I am and part of my makeup. I don’t really know.

This way of thinking is bound to cause problems in the long run. Moving from success to success all the time is very hard and probably impossible for most people. Inevitably, there will come times when all my energy is focused on doing a certain problem, and when I don’t quite manage it I really do feel like a failure. Feelings of failure can also be good in that they motivate me to train harder, improve my climbing, and return to crush, but they can also move you the other way and cause you to spiral downwards and, inevitably, away from where you want to be… on top of boulders! Personally, I feel like failure is a fuel that drives the wheels of training, but somewhere in this whole process I lost the joy.

How can my worldview (climbing worldview) change? I think a major revelation is that I need to go back to the process and realise this is why I go climbing. If you remain so focused on failure/success, as measured in getting to the top or not, then everything that it takes to get there is lost. But that is precisely what I should be appreciating and enjoying. The goal posts need not just be moved, but they need to be dismantled (or heavily rejigged!). If the process is what I focus and concentrate on then failure will become a distant memory. There is no real failure when you consider the overall process that you’re going through. I’m constantly improving in my climbing. If I break it down (or up!) from the daily level, to a weekly level, to a monthly level, and then to a yearly level, I can see that I’m making progress all the way. I’m in a better place today than was 1 year ago in terms of my climbing. Extending the viewpoint beyond climbing, I can see so clearly that this is the real process I am undertaking in all aspects of my life. Or perhaps, this is certainly how I WANT to be living my life. A constant striving to improve. To implement this in my climbing life would be a great step towards a better overall experience. Of course, I’m still human and I still desire to have success on the many amazing boulders here and elsewhere, but I want to shift my focus from being single-mindedly set on getting to the top, to an enjoyment of the entire process and still retain the joy of topping out. I guess this paradigm shift has been a long time coming and perhaps I once even had it. Looking back at Amber I see how every day I didn’t get to the top was a day I beat myself up because I failed. In reality, each day I improved on both that boulder problem and in many other ways. I learned about my mental resolve and I answered many questions about what I can achieve. The shift in mentality begins now and I’m returning to a view whereby I can see success even in a session which resulted in me not getting to the top.

All of this was completely pertinent today, as I went back to Gecko in order to try the assis. All of the above thoughts have been on my mind for a few days now and they were definitely present in my climbing today. There were also present in my Friday session on Karma. I tried Karma last year, and perhaps I’d even tried it before that (I can’t remember). This time I had a breakthrough session. The goal wasn’t to go there and do it, because I still felt like I had much to learn before I did it. It was to go there and learn what I can, with a mindset of wanting to bring it down from being an unknown quantity to something I know I can climb. I was having a tough time with it, never getting my right hand onto the sliver of a hold that is supposed to help you reach the top. My motivation was a little low but the appearance of Chris and Ty for some moral support came as a welcome boost. With Chris’ help I finally managed to reach the right hand hold, and that led me to also be able to get my heel on. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to unglue my right foot from it’s foothold and bring it more underneath me, so I didn’t really have much of a chance of reaching the jug. But this small success with reaching the correct part of the handhold was a breakthrough for me. It actually felt really good and I knew it was the key part of the puzzle that will eventually allow me to climb it (I hope!).

Today’s session on Gecko was the same. It was a breakthrough session. The first session I couldn’t get my heel on, the second session I could get my heel on with some difficulty and just about managed to do the move off it. Today I found the heelhook move relatively easy and this was most noticeable by the lack of knee or groin pain! Stretching works my friends!!! It took me a great deal of time to really warm up, and get my skin to the correct temperature so it would grip on the holds. When it did I found myself breaking through. I found a crucial bit of beta that suddenly pieced it all together. Whilst I was previously dragging my left leg outwards when heelhooking, I know move it more easily until my knee sits into what can only be described as a knee smear on the rock. It’s the perfect shape and in the perfect location, both working to make the heelhook move a much simpler affair. After this I knew I should be starting with my derriere on the terre. My best goes saw me climb through the sit start and into the stand start. Unfortunately, by that point my skin was cold and not adhering to the holds. Your skin really does need to fuse to the holds… (it was many, many years ago that I heard Dave Graham say those same words whilst stood in front of this very problem!)

All of this meant only one thing. I know, with certainty, that I can do Gecko Assis. Not only that, I’m making sure not to put the eventual ascent on some pedestal of success, but to understand it’s only a part of the greater process which is me trying to climb this boulder. Today climbing felt good again, and it’s been a long time since I felt that. I was enjoying the process of making progress and creeping ever closer to getting to the top. The main point I want to make (also to myself) is that the eventual ascent is the product of everything that came before it. It shouldn’t be separated into a separate worthy entity all on it’s own, but it should be viewed as the final piece of a puzzle. Just like doing a Rubik’s cube, the satisfaction upon seeing a solid face is present because of the work it took to get there. It feels nice to have made this small realisation and I’m sure it will also filter into all my climbing days.

Moving away from personal revelation to personal attacks, today I realised that a mighty hogzilla isn’t the only danger in the forest. Far from it in fact. Whilst trying Gecko today I decided to do the stand up start for a bit of practice, and as I pulled my head upwards on the top sloper, in order to reach for the crack at the top I heard a sound rushing past my ear. Then BOOM! Something had just hit me very hard in my eyebrow, less than 1cm from my eye. I won’t type what I then shouted but it wasn’t pleasant. I fell off and started going a little crazy. Unbeknownst to me, a group of 20-30 guys, all in camo gear with facemasks etc, were running around the forest, shooting each other with BB guns (and high powered ones at that). Their battle had moved towards the gecko boulder and some moron was perched with his gun facing me. When he saw my head pop up he opened fire. How on earth a man in a blue/grey jumper looks anything like a camo’d up idiot is beyond me. I did go rather mad about this and went after him but he’d run off. I could see a whole crew of them a few hundred meters away and made my presence known to them in what can be described as not the finest queen’s English. Once the pain subsided I realised just how lucky I was that it hadn’t been 1cm lower. If that pellet had hit me in the eye I doubt I’d be writing this… and I doubt my eye would have ever recovered. So beware next time you’re in the forest… men with guns, men with BB guns, wild hogs, and strange men in leather jackets are all part of the dangers you face. Even with all of those things it’s still some of the greatest (if not the) greatest bouldering on the planet.

Ty doing the ultra classic Hypothese;

Chris on Gecko Assis;