It’s All About The Experience, Not The Grade

Yeah, yeah…. “Whatever!” I hear you say… All the climbers who’ve failed on their projects say this. Well of course they do. It’s only natural to try and focus on something positive out of what can appear a negative experience (at least on the outside).


Well, I’m switching this round. This time it’s not about the experience. It’s all about the grade. 7c to be precise. When I came out to Spain I was having a bit of a battle with two short bolted lines – it looked like they were going to push me hard and I’d top them out a better climber. It was funny to receive so many messages of support from friends back in the UK about these two routes (I rarely get them if it’s a much bigger grade!) and how much it made them laugh to see me struggle.


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As I sit here on my way home to England, I’m please to report that I did neither of them. Yup, I put well over 10 sessions into one and still never clipped the first bolt. It might even have been 15 sessions. I can’t say I learnt loads from the “experience”, but I did make some funny observations about my psychology along the way…


  1. Doubt the topo:


“Yup, it HAS to be wrong. There’s no way this is 7c. I must be on the unclimbed project to the left and it’s 9c.”


Unfortunately, I checked with a few people (out of desperation) and it turned out I was on exactly the right line. Some mentioned that it looked shit, other’s (the Spaniards) told me I was stupid to be trying a 3 bolt 7c and to go to Oliana.


2. Doubt the method:


“I must be using bad beta and some huge jugs have fallen off”


For a while I had a glimmer of hope here. I spoke to USA 9a beast, Joey Kinder who told me that there was no way I should be trying this route from a sit start (well the chalk started on the floor!) and in fact I was trying a sit start Font 8A into a 7c. YEEEAHH… I thought. That’s the puppy. I’m on a new Raven Tor style link up and no wonder the 8A is feeling tricky. He even told me he thought it looked hard and hadn’t done it.


He climbs 9a and has great taste in brushes. Probably?
He climbs 9a and has great taste in brushes. Probably?


3. Doubt the first ascenionist:


“Go to the source, tell him you’re trying a link on his route and ask his grade opinion”


Here’s where it all fell down. I managed to track the mutant who’d put up the world’s hardest 7c and asked him a few pointed questions. I knew he’d vindicate me and put my ego back in place.


“Ah yes the 7c with the sit start? I have already done this. I thought maybe 7c+”


Holy shit. Smoke me a large chorizo. Get my poncho and cover me up. This is horrendous. I’ve gone to the source, he’s shut down my Joey Kinder morsel of hope and landed me on Weak-Island with a big bump.


4. Come a full circle and say it’s about the experience:


That’s what they all say isn’t it? I know I’ve certainly said so myself before (probably I was having some kind of Elvis leg experience on a trad route) and whilst it is often true, it’s definitely NOT always true.


“Screw this 7c.”


“I’m not feeling it. Why am I so rubbish?”


The more I thought about this route, the more I realised it was about the grade (it couldn’t be about the journey… I’d still not clipped the first bolt!) and what it meant to me. What does failing on 7c mean?


Back to the drawing board. Training time!
Back to the drawing board. Training time!


It means I’ve got to improve and I’ve got to get better. That’s the bottom line. It’s been a very sharp illustration of some of the factors I lack in my climbing. For sure, it’s disappointing, but what’s more exciting than realising you’re really rubbish at some things and you know exactly what to work on?! That route was like a giant red flashing beacon saying, “improve this stuff or you’ll not move forward” – and I cannot wait to get stuck into some specific training.


You never know…. next year I might even reach the first bolt??

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