Arriving in the Grampians was a dream come true. Whilst the dream of being able to pull on perfect orange sandstone was manifesting itself, some other factors were doing their best to turn the dream into a nightmare. In an ideal world I would have been training hard for this trip for a solid 6 months, arriving in peak shape and ready to tear down everything in sight. The reality was that I had started climbing in December 2012 after 18 months of little to nothing. I hesitate to call it training because all I was doing was simply going to the wall. That’s not training. But for me it was a start. I tried to make sure I went to the wall a minimum of 2 or 3 times a week. It was a decent start but then we left the UK. 2 weeks climbing in Hampi then a month of near enough zero climbing in Nepal and Japan. Now I was here in the Grampians and my mind was screaming at me to pull down like a beast whilst my body cowered in the corner sobbing, begging my mind to stop shouting, just hoping the nightmare would come to an end. In tandem with the war of my mind/body a second factor was simmering away. Literally. We’d arrived in the Grampians during a heatwave. It’s hard to imagine, but the cool days of autumn were missing. Instead a record was being set for the most consecutive days above 30c. It’s almost hilarious that these two factors would manifest themselves at the same time, but it was a reality. So whilst the dream of being in the Grampians was a reality, the dream was an island in an ocean of nightmare.

Pre dawn starts did have one advantage – beautiful morning views

The first days were spent wondering where all my climbing skills had gone. And sweating. Forget the record of most consecutive days over 30c, we were enduring days over 40c. Waking up at dawn it was already 25c and by 11am we were retreating to the campsite to have cold showers. It was VERY hard work, mentally and physically. One night as we lay in the tent as still as corpses and trying to regulate our breathing I began to wonder if I could do this. The sweat wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t cool down enough. I wasn’t sure I could cope with this heat even in the dead of night. I told Emily we might need to move to somewhere with air conditioning and she did what she always does, she tells it like it is. Her response “Stop whinging”.

On the way back from the crag one day…

Our early days on the rocks were characterised by lots of sweating and lots of flailing. On day 1 I had managed to flash a v5, Bleausard, at Andersens, but I put it down to fluke and I was panting very hard as I topped out. Then again, how could the supposed Englishman in Font fall off a v5 called Bleausard. The problem could have been straight from the forest itself, an overhanging arete with rippled slopers and a difficult mantle top out. Day 1 also saw me taking several tries to do some other classic V4′s such as JS Memorial Slab. Not a dream scenario but I’d learned my lesson about how to approach new areas from past mistakes.

In the past I would arrive at a new area, go to something hard like a V11 and get shut down. This isn’t good physically as it doesn’t allow you to begin to learn the ways of a new rock type and style of climbing, but it’s even worse mentally. I’m a huge believer in success breeding success. It’s something I’ve seen not only in climbing but in business and entrepreneurship. Being defeated mentally on the first day is the first spiral into a disastrous climbing trip. This is why our first days of climbing were spent on easy problems.

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Emily on the classic V4 JS Memorial Slab and me on a very font esque v6

Day 2 we went up to Hollow Mountain Cave. What a sight. It really is very impressive at a micro and macro level. It’s amazing that it has so many bullet hard sandstone holds and it’s amazing that they all link up. It’s less amazing when you realise that it’s very lowball and most of the problems are less than 5ft from the ground, but this doesn’t detract much. Warming up at Loopey’s (just above HMC) was a good start and it meant Emily could try the classic V3 Fashion. It’s pretty hard for a v3 in my opinion, but I later realised that many of the easier classics have been subject to a rather unfair (in my opinion) downgrading. Moving back to HMC I decided to warm up on Wimmel Friedhoff, the ultra classic and 4 star (in a 3 star system) problem. I set the camera up to record the flash and set off. I finished the problem on the pad, not on the top. Hmm. No bother, I’d just figure out the easiest way to do the crux move and then do it. I did the crux a few ways, but they all felt like v9, and then I just decided I needed to man up and do it. Camera’s on. Again, I finished on the pad. On my back this time. I simply couldn’t hold on to the crux sloper.

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The crux of Wimmel Friedhoff, V5

At this point I did the classic idiotic thing to do; I stopped trying a paltry v5 and moved on to a v9. I’m sure we all know climbers like this, and quite honestly I think it’s a very bad tactic. But just to prove I’m an idiot sometimes I moved on to Cave Man, the mega classic v9. Cave Man is HMC’s version of the Parisella’s ultra classic v9 Rock Attrocity. In fact, HMC is very much like Parisellas. Both are caves with a high density of hard problems. Both feature “classic” problems which start and end in the middle of nowhere. Both have a big link which starts at the back and finishes at the top. Both are somewhat lowball. They really are very similar.

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Can you really see a difference?

Anyway, I carried my form over from Wimmel Friedhoff and applied it in equal style to Cave Man. The crux is about the 3rd move, a long reach from an undercut into a decent shoulder hold in a flakeline. There is a different sequence (supposedly slightly easier?), but I wasn’t interested as I wanted to do it the original way. I tried this move several times and to say I wasn’t close would be an understatement. I think my exact words were “this move is impossible. This can’t be the sequence”. So I did what any person in my situation would do; I turned to YouTube . This is the first climbing trip where having youtube on tap has meant it’s easy to get beta for many problems. This is a pretty huge deal in my opinion and it definitely makes for a different experience but I’ll post something about it separately.

I found a video of James Kassay doing a much harder problem in the cave which climbed through Cave Man. I watched him do cave man in disbelief. Not only did he use the exact sequence I was using, but he chalked up in the middle of the move and effectively used it as a rest. I literally could not believe my eyes. I pulled on again with the image of Kassay in my mind and tried with all my might. I got closer, but I didn’t do it. The appalling level of my current ability was becoming very apparent. I was seriously out of shape. I was even further away from my dream form than I realised. Mentally this was a hard thing to accept. I tried the move again, my fingers fondling the flake. Ok, it wasn’t impossible. But by this point I was thrashed and the fumes that were present in the tank when I started had burned away leaving me with only the dregs of any once present power.

Day 4 we went to Kindergarten and the assault from the heat continued. In addition to this the flies were out in droves. The warm up was a trivial looking V0. I fell off. Twice. I needed to get out of this rut. After managing a few more V2 and 3′s we went over to the Nevin Rule, V7. This is a truly incredible piece of rock. It’s no coincidence that it’s on the front cover of the Grampians bouldering guide. It’s stunning, only marred by the fact it doesn’t top out and drops off a jug. Still, the line, the holds, the actual formation of the rock is truly astounding. I fell off on my flash by trying to use clever beta and proceeded to crush it on my 2nd try. It’s a really great piece of climbing and it was a good achievement for my mental state.

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The incredible piece of rock containing The Nevin Rule, V7

Up next was a V8 called Spanking the Monkeybars. Burly roof climbing on slopers and jugs. Easy. I found the moves really hard which was a bad start, but I had a go from the start. I fell on the very last move. The flies were all over me, I was sweating like a pig in blanket, and falling off there momentarily broke me. I went off on an out of character rant about how shit everything was, how the heat was ruining this trip, and ended it by banging on that I was a failure in climbing. It was a ridiculous rant, totally unjustified, completely out of character, and really wasn’t fair on Emily. I felt bad afterwards, but more than that I was surprised at myself. I was actually here in the Grampians, the world class sandstone bouldering mecca and I was getting eggy. But I couldn’t climb, and worse than that I’d convinced myself I wouldn’t manage anything on the entire trip. I’d arrived with so many expectations for this trip, and the weight of them had crushed me like a black hole. I spat out my dummy like an impetulant child. It wasn’t on.

But thankfully the trip didn’t end there. We kept waking up at dawn, kept going out to the rocks, kept trying to climb and on day 10 the weather finally turned…