The last couple of days have been passed in the Zillertal, enjoying both the rocks and the river. One thing which I am still learning about is where to go on what days in order to have nice conditions. This is a long process, learning from others whilst also learning from my own mistakes. It was rather hot so I decided that James and I should head to Breitlahner as there are a couple of routes which are in the shade, just above a river, and between them they cater for both our abilities.

It’s a really nice spot, with an overhanging bloc perched above the river, only 10 metres from a rather nice little waterfall. We got there late in the afternoon and the temperature was tolerable but still warm. James set off on Horny Trout, 8a, as a warm up but didn’t quite make it all the way to the top. He came down and I took my warm up go, which ended in a similar position. However, he’d done the hard work and figured out the sequence so I worked through the moves and got to the top feeling nicely warmed up. The route is really cool, being overhanging and featuring compression moves with heelhooks followed by an outlandish undercut move to a fingerlock which only works when you have a heel-toe cam in a break.  It’s quite a committing move as it feels like your ankle might break if you fluff the move (which turned out not to be true!).

James took his redpoint, made it look easy, and clipped the chains. I decided to follow suit and set off. I was making it look easy-ish, cruised up to the rest which utilises a heel above your head, then headed into the crux. I made it through and found myself only with the last couple of moves to do. These moves had seemed so easy on my first go, I’d thought nothing of them beyond having a sequence committed to memory. When I got there they felt steadyish but as I was about to reach up to the jug from which you clip the chains my right hand guppy came sliding off and since I’d decided to skip the last clip I started tumbling downwards head first. It was a little spicy, but my main concern was how I could have possibly fallen only 10cm from the end.

Why did it happen? Was I too pumped/tired? No, not really. Was I incompetent? Not exceptionally. So what happened? Why on earth was I spinning around in space instead of lowering off with the route in the bag? All I can put it down to is lack of skill. I simply didn’t concentrate enough. I wasn’t aware enough and I made a downright stupid mistake. I’d essentially done the route, but that isn’t the same as actually going 10cm further and clipping the chain. An imaginary boundary needed to be crossed and only clipping the chains was acceptable, not simply climbing the whole route, crushing the crux, and then borking the final few cm.

I figured it would go down fairly easily on the next attempt, but before I had my chance James set off on Dolby Surround, 8c+. It’s a fairly impressive route which breaks down to one very hard move and then a power endurance section to the top.  As I was belaying, I looked at the waterfall, felt the moisture coming down on the wind, then understood why all the holds felt exceptionally greasy. The wind was blowing down the valley, and the holds were picking up all the moisture in the air, which no amount of chalk or brushing seemed to aid.

I took my next redpoint and just slid straight off the holds on the lower section. The same thing happened a couple more times and I was beginning to get the slightest bit perturbed that I was having (interesting use of the verb have) to climb this route again for the sake of a final 10cm. But this is the game I’ve chosen to play and so I kept trying. Eventually I made it through the lower section, had a brief rest, then set off into the crux. I made it through, clipped the final quickdraw as I didn’t fancy taking another upside down fall, then set off on the final 4 moves. This time I wasn’t calm, I was ridiculously pumped. I felt like I couldn’t move, and actually shouted “take” to James but he was nice enough to shout “no, keep going!”. He was totally correct, I should just keep going, I’m on the redpoint!!! I bashed out another move, had 2 moves to go, my arms inflated like Popeye’s, and then hit a wall the size of the Chinese. I literally couldn’t pull my body upwards even though I was on decent enough holds. This was probably a 6a boulder problem, but I had nothing. I tried so hard to pull upwards but the tank was empty and I fell off with nothing left.

I felt a little ridiculous. I’d turned a 1st RP route into a mini-epic and now I was going to leave without having done it! Well, there was only thing left to do. I stripped off, walked straight towards the waterfall and took a swim. It was cold, very cold in fact, but I felt so refreshed. This whole river ticket concept is losing it’s edge as James and I seem to be going in the river every single day regardless of success or failure. After James also took a dip for no apparent reason other than pure enjoyment, we walked back down to the car with the plan to return the following day.

When we arrived the following day everything felt different. My skin was hurting, I felt tired, I had a few cuts from hitting the mid height jug with too much force, but the winds of success were blowing. The wind was wafting up the valley, bringing with it a warm breeze. There was no moisture in the air and I knew the holds would be much gripper. After an amusing warm up go (in the sense that I made it to the last couple of moves before getting punched in the face by a flash pump!), I set off again. I can only describe what happened as finding my flow. Everything just came easily. Where I was previously using intermediates I was now feeling like I could easily pull straight through. Where I was using heelhooks to hold positions I was now able to just keep one toe on and be steady. It felt great actually. The rest was brief as I just felt so at ease, but I made sure I took a few good lungfulls for good measure then set off. When I reached the final few moves I felt fresh as a daisy. Why was this proving so different all of a sudden? I really felt like I could have done it all over again, and when I reached the final moves I asserted my freshness by not only chalking up, but actually locking it down and skipping the normal holds, reaching straight up for the final jug. I was really shocked. I still am. I don’t understand why it all of a sudden became easy. If I knew the answer and could apply the same effect at will then I’m sure I could do some hard routes, but unfortunately the answer remains elusive. Still, even without the answer I had a glimpse of what is possible and it was eye opening.

Following this we made some plans to go for a swim. Even without a river ticket we head into the cold water. In fact, I think we’ve been in a river every single day for at least 1 week. The coldness is still there but it’s getting easier and even enjoyable (until you realise it’s just as cold as it ever was). Tonight’s swimming adventure turned out to be much better than expected. Lisa was going to take us to a special spot, but we got there only to find the access impossible. Luckily she had a backup plan and after parking in a random location and walking, seemingly aimlessly, through a forest nowhere near a river we popped out at an amazing little beach, with a great swimming spot. Even better was that there was a Ray Mear’s type character already there, with a fire pit built and lots of wood (or rather, chopped down trees) ready to go. The sun was way over the mountains at this point so it was pretty chilly but with the promise of a fire there was nothing to hold us back. It was a really nice spot and it felt nice just to be there, thinking again about just how lucky I am to live this life. After a while there was nothing left to do but get the clothes off and run straight into the river. James seemed to think it felt warmer than normal, but I noticed no difference. The coldness feels so intense but when you remember how good you’ll feel 5 minutes later it becomes slightly easier.

Unfortunately the fire I expected to be roaring when I emerged from the water was but a tiny flame. It was providing no heat, but James and Ray got on the case, creating a raging fire about 30 minutes later. By now it was completely dark, but the fire was raging and the stars were out in full force. It was a really beautiful scene… lying on a sandy beach, warmed by the glowing fire, and soaking up all the stars… even counting a couple of shooting stars. I even made the same wish on both of them… which probably says something about how simple my wishes really are. I didn’t want to leave but eventually, at around midnight, we had to find some level of sustenance so we regretfully left. This night was one of the best nights I’ve had in Austria as it had everything. It was organic, we had a river, a sandy beach, a roaring fire, and the most stunning firmament to gaze upon. I think my wish has already come true…

Once again, I apologise for the lack of pictures. I promise to make up for it by at least getting some footage of something soon!