54 can be written as the sum of three squares in three different ways: 72 + 22 + 12 = 62 + 2(32) = 2(52) + 22 = 54. It is the smallest number with this property.

I’m beginning to become reticent about writing these blog entries. I feel as though I should be returning with tales of success, or adventure, or at the very least silly stories about half naked men running through the trees screaming like chimps. Unfortunately I have nothing of the sort, only sad tales involving bad skin and failure.

Perhaps all this failure blogging will give some insight into the process of sieging. Chris Doyle is one of the masters of the siege. I think sometimes he prefers a good siege over actually doing a hard problem quickly. The process is a long hard battle but as with most long hard battle’s, the victory is one of irrepressible delight. I wouldn’t actually describe by current attack of Gourmandise as a siege. I’ve only had 3 sessions on it, which isn’t a lot by the standards of the masters of siege. I guess it is feeling like the beginning of a siege because I am so freaking close but not actually on top of the boulder. So each day that I walk up there I begin thinking things like “will today be the day”, which in my opinion is a siege mentality.

Today’s session was, however, cut rather short. Before trying it from the start I wanted to have a thorough test of the heelhook beta. I had discounted it after only having 2 goes at it, and today I began to think that I should give it the time of day. Previously I wrote that I wasn’t using the easiest sequence, but it was one that would work and as a bi-product it would also yield excellent moves. But today I thought that by sticking with this I am denying myself the opportunity to go and try all the other wonderful things on my ticklist. If I can only finish Gourmandise off then I can move on to some of the other gems that are awaiting my feathered forearms. With that in mind I spent 15 minutes trying the heelhook sequence, only to discover that it does work, it is easier, and I should be using it. Obviously I only had a finite number of goes in me during any given session, and I was SO close to doing it with my old sequence of power that I thought it was worth one last shot. I tried, but got to the same point, past the crux moves, then greased off. I think to use my power sequence requires much better conditions as you have to do many moves with your right hand on the same hold, each move only furthering the sweat oozing out of my tips. But it was time to move on, to realise that I was fooling myself, and to begin the process of optimizing a new sequence. I had my next go from the start with the aim of using the heelhook sequence, but the result of the go was a small split tip on my right ring finger. Great. I taped it up and got prepared for my next goes. I don’t like heelhooks generally because to use a heelhook implies that you need to take weight off your arms with your heel. I suppose that’s what feet do in general, but heels make more use of that fact. I also don’t like heelhooks because they are not as secure as a toe. I have half decent body tension and strong toes (I think) so I can pull pretty hard with them in a very specific way. My heels are not honed in the same way, so I spent the next two goes falling due to my heel sliding off. It was partly because it wasn’t sitting quite right on the 4mm spike that holds it on (sounds like some Si o’joke shizzle) and partly because I’m just not that good with my heels. The next go was better and saw me get through the crux only to fall due to a misunderstanding of the physics of the move. The change in sequence was taking a bit of getting used to. The next go resulted in a huge flapper on my right ring finger when I tried to adjust it but instead slipped straight off. It was bleeding but nothing a ream of tape couldn’t solve. I was getting a bit battered and the flapper was causing a lot of pain even under tape. Sara helped me to realise it was time to leave but I thought I’d have a quick go from the 8A+ start using the new heelhook sequence, as good practice for next time. It all went fine, I passed the crux, then passed my old redpoint crux, and was at the (virtual) end. Whilst doing the final couple of moves to top out my left hand greased off like lightning and I was on the ground/Sara’s arms. Luckily for me she was there as I had gone past the pads in the landing zone. Unluckily for me, whilst greasing off I managed to seperate the end of my nail from my finger, which was now pouring with blood. Great.

That was truly the end, and after a few paracetamol and a pain au chocolat we left for greener pastures. It probably sounds like a total disaster but it wasn’t for me. True, I am sick of falling off, tearing skin, and failing, but I am happy that I’m still making progress. With the new heelhook sequence I have eliminated the move which I have been falling off on the link. It means that next time I simply have to go there with good skin, a refined sequence, some sweet pastries, and ascend the boulder. I guess with a siege the point at which disillusion sets in is when you fail to see progress. When you become stagnant it’s probably very, very hard to continue. The Japanese tend to have a rather good philosophy on these things, which I think is so prevalent throughout their culture. Koyomada is perhaps the greatest sieger of them all, spending over 100 days on his most beastly creation in Japan. The 16th century swordsman Miyamoto Musashi said;
“Aspire to be like Mt. Fuji, with such a broad and solid foundation that the strongest earthquake cannot move you, and so tall that the greatest enterprises of common men seem insignificant from your lofty perspective. With your mind as high as Mt Fuji you can see all things clearly. And you can see all the forces that shape events; not just the things happening near to you.”

It’s this vision that is employed during the siege, the ability to picture a final success, and the mindset to focus without losing purpose. Although I’m not in siege mode, I have great empathy with it, and I actually hope to be able to enter it at some point in my climbing life.