It’s been raining heavily during the past week. The days of climbing on rock fell to the back of my mind and I made the most of what is a momentary drop is pressure. In the meantime we’ve built a campus board and the boys at beastmaker delivered a new fingerboard. The campus board is competition spec, official rung spacings (although I was very tempted to push them out to 23cm), exactly 20 degrees, and features Metolius rungs (both small and large). I would have preferred to make my own rungs, but since this isn’t my personal campus and since I don’t even live here, I rolled along with the easy option of the Metolius ones. I’m not a big fan of the Metolius rungs as I think they are badly sized and badly shaped. However, there is one thing you can do to make them marginally better, and that is to mount them upside down. This waves goodbye to their incut nastiness and gives you a much better training tool. My request was vetted on the large rungs but I put my foot down with the small ones, and so now we have some large rungs that are incut alongside some small rungs which are flat (ie. Perpendicular to the board). After putting the rungs up and then standing beneath it, 9 suddenly looked very far away.

It’s been a long time since I have used a campus board. In fact, the last time would have been in the school, before it’s demise, which was a LONG time ago. I can remember that not long ago I commented on my lack of snap, pop, and power on the rock. Would this campus board reiterate the point or would it give me new food for thought? Luckily (ha ha) the rain continued and so I spent 3 evenings in a row either fingerboard, campusing, or both. Fingerboarding is something which I think is time well spent, as it allows specific training of the most important things in rock climbing, fingers. Once again, it’s been a fair while since I did any serious fingerboarding, so this was a great opportunity to test myself, and doubly so because everyone has been raving about just how difficult the beastmaker is. After all, it is called a beastmaker.

Funnily enough, what I thought would be solitary sessions out there became great big group events with at least 6/7 people from the gites coming out either to climb or to talk. In fact, they mostly came out to talk… which did nothing to make them stronger, but gave me a nice change from the association of training and solitude. Soon enough I felt good and found myself asking what the current records were with regard to the beastmaker. Dan and Ned have got most of the records for what they can hang one arm, 2 arm, 2 finger, 1 finger, etc (all the details are on their site), so it was a natural challenge to give them a go. I genuinely didn’t know what to expect, but found myself at what I consider to be a decent level. I could still hang on smallish holds with my middle 2 fingers, and could hang on the slopers fairly comfortably. I quickly became aware that I’m no weaker in terms of this basic strength in this department. I did detect a slight bias between what I could hang right arm and left arm which is something that will probably develop when you don’t train, or it could simply have been due to worse skin on one hand. This was immediately reminding me about the conversation I’d had with Tyler about rock climbing making you good at rock climbing, but training making you strong. With that in mind I decided to have a punt on the campus board.

It took me a few minutes to remember what to do, how to twist, when to let go with the lower hand, etc. All campus board technique which I guess I still have engrained in me. Maybe it’s like learning to ride a bike, or maybe it’s like learning to do a wheelie on a bike. Anyway, it didn’t take more than a few attempts to fire off 1-5-8 which was a relief, a surprise, and somewhat confusing. Clearly I’ve not lost all my power or my snap, and so when I don’t feel it on the rocks it’s either due to a poor day in general, or possibly due to an ineffective warm up. Warming up on rock is, in my opinion, more difficult than warming up on your local board because you don’t have the set warm up routine to get you from 0% to 90%. The holds on rock are not necessarily as conducive to effectively warming up all your fingers evenly, which is less of an excuse than an understanding of how to warm up outdoors. Anyway, I didn’t push it too much on the campus board as every nights session was what I hoped would be a preamble to the next day’s climbing (rain permitting). 1-5-9 is the obvious goal, and we have a 9 set up at what is really 8.5 (although ours is actually 8.65), but we also have a real 9. Could the goal of a REAL 1-5-9 be a reality by the time I leave? Only if it rains a lot!

What did I take away from these 3 nights of campusing/fingerboarding. I’m not weak. Perhaps that needs to be quantified. I’m not weak compared to my level which I operate at when I’m at home and training on my own board. Rock climbing has done enough for my body to be in reasonable shape, and so I think I’ve matured in specific rock climbing abilities whilst not losing much strength. The basic strength loss is minimal in my opinion, and so the positives outweigh the negatives by a huge margin. This might not be a huge revelation to some people, and it’s not really a HUGE one to me, but it’s a nice reassurance that someone can go climbing on rocks whilst still maintaining their strength. I think that there is perhaps too much emphasis in certain subcultures of climbing on training, and this being the only path to success. Clearly training plays an incredibly important part of improving in rock climbing, but just going out there and climbing as much as you can is an option that should be preferred. I realise that not everyone can go to the rocks every day, people have jobs and other obligations, but I really think that if there is an option between indoors and outdoors, then go outdoors. I guess I need to ask myself if I’ll really apply that when I go back to England. The only thing I want to climb is The Ace, and so going climbing on rock verges on being less enjoyable than just having a session on my board. I guess this question will be answered when I do return home.

After the 3 nights of training the weather finally broke and after lunch we headed to the rocks. Psyche was high, very high infact, with certain people mentioning things like “nervous tension” about trying certain boulders that day. Our first port of call was Gecko and 66% of the car’s occupants were in the “wet” camp, but I remained positive and put my 34% (I count for more, it’s my car) into the “dry” camp. Unbelievably it was actually dry, but another couple of hours wouldn’t hurt and would give it further time to dry. With time to kill Tyler and Dave decided to hit up Karma, so off we went. Unfortunately neither of them managed it, but progress was made and an ascent will be had by one (if not all) of us this season (I hope!). It was particularly interesting seeing Tyler try it, as I think to climb Karma you really need a sense of understanding behind the movement and the positions into which your body must become fixed. Ty is clearly a monstrously strong guy, but I know he’s also a very good rock climber (something most people probably overlook – blindsided by the strength), so watching him try to figure it out was interesting.

The plan was unfurling, and we soon hit the magic hour of 3:30 so jetted back to Gecko. Things had only improved, with the holds looking and feeling dry. Ty was fast out the gate, wanting to find out if his on the sly stretching was going to work. It did. He did the heelhook move easily, did the other moves easily, and was in a very strong position for getting the problem done. I think we all realised this at the same time and it was then I understood his mention of nervous tension. I put my boots on and felt the wave of nerves wash over me, causing a whole host of interesting emotions. I had desire to do it, nerves about whether I would do it today, but belief that the possibility was there for the taking. I really think that sometimes if you force yourself to belief something enough then it only affirms your physical ability to do it. I felt a little sick but super psyched and a smile was on my face. This was the wonderful feeling I’d not had in so long. The desire to climb Gecko is really strong and it’s not overshadowed in the slightest by my expectation of myself that I can climb it. I don’t know exactly why, but I think it’s largely due to the fact that Gecko is one of the greatest things I’ve ever tried. The holds which are only just enough to give you the grip you need, the precision of the movements, the wideness of the moves, all of these things sum up to make one of the best boulder problems around.

I warmed up, had no overwhelming feeling of either strength nor weakness, but knew that conditions were prime and only aiding a possible ascent. The light was gorgeous as it filtered through the trees down below the boulder and the overall scene was one that only added to my satisfaction. Tyler and I were pretty much taking it in turns to have redpoint attempts. We were both making progress, but it was Tyler who was first to breakthrough the first move of the stand start and fall whilst trying to go into the undercut. It’s nice to climb with people when the overall vibe is one of wanting others to succeed. There is no competition between Ty and I, or anyone else for that matter, all we wanted to see was someone succeed, and this is in part why it was such a nice session. I was making my own progress, getting to the stand start most goes, but fluffing the first move.

The transition move from sit start to stand start.

When you reach the stand start there is a fleeting moment where you are in a stable position, long enough for a thought to flick through your mind, saying to you “this is possible right now, be accurate, execute”. I was there, looking upwards, felt the position, spied the hold, and boom. I hit it well enough, not perfect, but well enough. My thumb was able to exert some sort of attraction with the rock and I ninja swapped my left heel to a toe then slammed in my right heel hook. I bumped up my right hand, now compressing as hard as I could between these two poor holds. I udged my left foot upwards to set up for the move into the undercut. Only 2 moves to go, into the undercut, and then out of it to a jug and a glorious top out. I moved, then stopped. I hesitated for a split second as I knew my grip wasn’t perfect on my left hand, but then convinced myself it was good enough. I was so close that I had to just give it everything. I pulled back in and my body started moving towards the undercut but the precise moment before I wanted to move my right hand it dryfired off, punching me in the chest, and acting as a catalyst for my left hand to come flying off, also pinging into my chest. Baboon like, I was off. My feet still believed, and for a fraction of a second I was in the position but with only my 2 feet on the boulder, as can be seen here;

The next fraction of the second passed and ended with me sat on the pads, super psyched to have gotten that far, but clearly disappointed that I hadn’t done something to change the fact I’d fallen off!

This was progress. I’m making progress on this boulder problem, and if it continues in a linear fashion then I’ll have it done in a session or two. If it doesn’t continue linearly then it might take me a few sessions more, but whatever happens, I will be ascending this boulder before I leave font. It’s what I want more than anything else in the forest and I know I can make it happen. It’s a joy to try and just thinking about makes me feel good about rock climbing. It’s a welcome relief to find that I’ve rediscovered my love of putting all my energy into one boulder problem, which I’m sure I’d lost after Amber.

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