Today was the last day. I’d admitted to myself that I would be driving to Brione for the last time, walking up there for the last time, and walking down with both my pads, which had begun to put roots down under Amber. I did feel good this morning as I made sure I was early to bed. Sleep is the greatest healer there is, and the more I get the better. With 9 hours in the sack I was ready to give it my last ditch effort. Leaving the house, the car told me it was -4C, the coldest I’ve seen it thus far. The sky was fairly clear, with the odd wispy cloud hovering on the horizon, but I’d seen the forecast and today was the last day before the snow/rain once again arrived. As I drove up to Brione I wasn’t in any particular mindset other than thinking how epic it was going to be trying to navigate the snow on the way down with 2 pads, a rucksack, a tripod, and a camera bag. I strolled up to Amber, along a single track path, which has been cut only by my 2 feet. My footsteps from 1 week ago are still there, and are joined each day by more dotty footprints. The exact same left-right-left-right lead me all the way to Amber, the small piece of rock that I’ve spent so many days getting intimate with. The same process happens upon every arrival. I remove my bag, my down jacket, my gloves, and my hat. I set up the tripod, frame the shot, and turn the camera off. I do some pull ups on the top holds. I swing my arms around. I put my climbing shoes on. I work down the moves. Then I’m warmed up. Every day, the same process. But today something felt different. The second sloper wasn’t exerting a great force on the third pad of my ring finger. Why? I was holding it differently for some reason. I pulled on again and I did the move again using this new grip. It felt good. It wasn’t a big difference, perhaps only 10mm different, but the butterfly effect was evident. The different grip position put my wrist at a different angle, which put my body in a different position, which enabled my left hand to remain in a pinch position (instead of a 5 finger crimp), which made the foot move easier, which then led to my whole body being higher in the move and this was all revealed by an accidental placement of the hand on one of my warm up moves. The result what that the move I’d been falling off felt much easier. Whilst the position felt initially more unstable, it’s outcome was positive and I was both pleased and surprised to have found it. I brushed off the old tickmark and drew on a new one, trying to fool myself into believing that this would make some sort of difference.

I was warmed up, the holds were brushed, and I was ready to put it all on the line. I felt like my first go was going to be THE go, and I sat down I felt ready to ascend. Flowing through the moves it was all going well until a stupid hand slip saw me hurtling earthbound into the open hands of the snow. Unfortunately the landing wasn’t so soft as the snow has iced up a bit, but it wasn’t so hard that it caused any lasting damage (neither to the body or to the ego!). Today I was in redpoint mode. I didn’t need to try the moves, I didn’t need to rush. This was the final push, the final stab in the dark, so I took my time between attempts. I sat on the pad, looked at the mountains, watched the snow fall off delicate branches, and generally felt contented. I’d put down my water bottle when I’d arrived and now that I wanted a drink I looked down to see that 90% of the water had frozen. I was very shocked. It certainly didn’t feel that cold, but my eyes weren’t deceiving me! I couldn’t really ask for better conditions. After some undetermined rest period, my forearms stopwatch told me it was time to try again. It wasn’t a great effort and I fell off again. I did feel good though, which left me wondering as to why I was falling off. I think I simply wasn’t gripping the holds exactly how I wanted them. I was feeling lazy in my execution, probably a result of some unconscious thought that I don’t need to grab them all perfectly as this problem isn’t anywhere near my limit of physical difficulty. Sometime later I finally had a good go. I did the long move leftwards, set up for the blind slap… slapped… NO! My left hand hadn’t gone far enough and I’d completely missed the hold. Unbelievable. I’d quipped to Doylo that I wouldn’t fall at that move on the link and here I was falling off it. The usual mixture of being annoyed at having failed, but pleased to have gotten through the long leftwards move swirled round my head as I took another rest. I knew I could do it today. I really did. But knowing that and executing are two very different things. Then the magic happened. My left forearm was feeling a bit sore and I didn’t feel quite ready to have another go but I suddenly felt like it was time. I chalked up every last nook and cranny of my hands, took a deep breath and set off. The cutloose move felt easy, almost like I was floating. The holds felt grippier. I hit the first sloper, adjusted my left hand into a position that although didn’t feel secure, I knew it was the right position to begin AND finish the next move. I bumped to the second sloper and it didn’t feel right. I didn’t have it in that magic spot I’d ticked. I’d overshot it by a few mm and it felt completely different. Unfortunately it’s not a position you can adjust in. You get one chance. Fight or flight, and the answer was obvious. I proceeded to do the foot move even though my right hand felt bad, and then I was up into the nonexistent undercut. My body was high, I felt good. What?!?! I did the move leftwards and then bumped again to the better hold. This was it. I’d made it past the crux. Now all I had to do was make sure that my foot didn’t slip, that my heelhook was placed well, and that I did the final 2 right hand moves to the top. Bang. Bang. I was at the top. An ugly topout was performed thanks to the snow covering all the useful foot holds, but it didn’t matter. I was on top.

Then nothing. Just some heavy breathing, some head shaking, a little smile. I jumped down feeling good. I’d managed to do it. I’d undertaken this challenge and gone through the whole process. Now the final move was complete and the process was closed. It was finished. Amber isn’t the hardest thing I’ve climbed, but it was probably the most epic. General Disarray was similarly epic with days of brushing snow, but it didn’t feel as epic as this. I’d answered my question as to whether I could see this through to the end, and funnily enough I’d accepted the end before it came. I arrived at the boulder today knowing that I would be leaving with all my stuff when I walked back to the car. The process was going to get closed regardless of failure or success and I knew that both outcomes would leave me in different places. My ideal choice was to climb the thing so that the process was complete and the boulder was finished. Perhaps a flake of luck fell onto my shoulder as I walked there today, or perhaps I climbed better today, or perhaps conditions were better. Whatever it was, it closed the chapter and now I’m ready to leave for a few days. In the end it wasn’t really a case of fight or flight, it was a case of fight and flight (or should that be do and drive?)