All Revealed: Session Notes on Projecting My First 8A

[Feature photo by: Lans Hansen. Shoes by Barrabes. Clothes by 3RD ROCK.]

The rumour mill of sending. Every time we hear that someone has sent something, the air is filled with questions. How long did it take, how many tries, how did they get that strong —- basically just how. If you are anything like me, you want to try and measure the success of others, well, to put it simply, in order to repeat it. But most sends are more often than not left to the climbing rumour mill rather than dotted with facts. So I decided to offer a breakdown of own experience at projecting thus far. Here I’ve written up my journal notes from each session. I found the process to be volatile extremely emotional. I’ve detailed each stage and mental and physical development throughout in case it’s of any interest. (If not skip to the video at the bottom).

PROJECT: first 8A/V11

TIME: 2.5 weeks

SESSIONS: 10 sessions – 1 crappy session where I had like 2 goes and it was raining anyway (this was verified by my ego) = 9 sessions

Session 1 – Can’t do a single move on the 8a section

The first day we were just messing around. Kind of. This particular boulder is made up of two parts a 6c+ finish and a 8a start with 8 moves. It took me multiple tries and the session to even do the 6c+. Needless to say, it wasn’t going to well. Needless to say, I’ve never returned to a problem that showed such little potential…But for some reason this time I did.

Session 2 – Still can’t do a single move

That reason is my friends. Psyche is contagious. If it wasn’t for the positivity of my friends, to be honest, I definitely wouldn’t have gone back to this boulder. No way. I’d never walked up to a problem and not been able to do a single move…and came back. I mean, how many of us do? Usually we turn away from failure, but sometimes trying to conquer it looks to unexpected things.

Session 3 – Did all the moves

It had been almost a week on the project and just as I was about to give up, Hope reared it’s ugly head. All of a sudden we had a break through. We were psyched. We did some moves. We did some more moves. Rumours were spreading around the campsite and a couple of other people were starting to try as well, beta was in a flurry. A few moves came together, and then all of the moves. Whoa. From no moves at all to all the moves in one session. It was an incredible moment. One that I haven’t had often in climbing. I felt like somehow I had gained the ability to speak to the rock. From not really understanding anything to my body making the shapes and movements separate of me.

Sessions 4 & 5 Struggling to repeat single moves, but improving technique

But as soon as I started expecting to do the problem, I started to get discouraged. The next few sessions we spent trying to unlock whatever microbeta we needed in order to make our bodies do these exact moves on command. My body understood what to do but my head didn’t. I couldn’t repeat moves I had done before. I was guessing with foot placements. Hope fades, frustration begins.

Session 6 – Best link, have it in two parts

I had that moment, that moment you say to yourself, I should have sent it then! I got through the crux, but pinged off a hold, from lack of skin or weakness, and couldn’t get back there again.

A friend commented, ‘Well, if you’ve done all the moves, you should just be red pointing.’ He had a valid point. If you constantly rehearse each move, you may never see the problem as a unit. Of course there are stages to this, but gaining confidence on links is essential.

But the problem with this boulder was the process was grueling. The start move was the hardest to execute. And then there were the split tips. I had had three by the time I sent, which I did with tape on my tips. The movements were dynamic until perfected, the rock like a gravel road, filing down skin on the hand, wrist, arm, fingers. So tiring, so exhausting. The boulder was really at my limit and I could feel it.

Session 7 – Worst session yet, split tip again

Reverse progress. Split tips. Confidence fading. Questioning building.Normally exhaustion isn’t a problem, you just rest. But when you invest so much time in a boulder problem, having a bad session can mentally wear on you. Also after 5 or 6 sessions on something, other aspects of projecting came into play that I never considered – like spending so long focused on one particular move that you actually forget the beta from a different section.

I got completely overworked. I was waking up earlier and earlier with the hopes of sending the project, but instead it was just making me more tired. All I could do is think about the moves. I felt like a schoolgirl with a crush on a boy that I desperately wanted to call, but I absolutely couldn’t according to my friend’s advice.

And now I was filled with the all encompassing fear that I’d picked the wrong project, that it was too hard for me.  I was nervous. The last time I went to the project, I was jittery, almost shaking, worrying about doing it right so much that I was completely unable to.

Although the body can adapt to things, we have to remember that it can only perform at it’s highest for a short amount of time. Our tactics at the start were to work the 8A in the morning, then have an afternoon session elsewhere. I became increasingly exhausted. In almost 2 weeks, I had sent one 7A (and that’s not for lack of trying). My body was completely shutting off. Although improving in some ways, like performing moves that originally I couldn’t do, practising hard moves for hours before climbing all day made a recipe for exhaustion.

So I took about 4 days off.

Session 8Trying to get to my high point, but conditions not great

Back on the project fresh, hoping for more, but only reaching my high point. The hardest thing to do is to stop and relax. I felt like this project became a learning experience about self-control and tactics, by learning how to truly listen to my body and give it the time for have maximum performance. Patience.

I took another day and a half off.

Session 9Rainy day. Totally doesn’t count 😛

Session 10Sending day! But it didn’t seem at first

Conditions were perfect. But my body wasn’t performing. After a few hours of trying to warm into the moves, my skin was quickly shredding. We were running out of time, the sun was slowly warming the holds. It was almost unclimbable. But I couldn’t walk away from the dry cool wind yet. I gave it one last burn after hours of trying, hands covered in tape. By no means did logic say it was time to send. But it happened. It did feel ‘easier’ than the other times, things just worked more perfectly somehow. Each move had to be executed just right. I had to try hard. And scream a little through the end – no way was I letting go. And I was certainly never trying that again!!

It’s the hardest thing that I’ve ever done and I can’t say that it was entirely enjoyable but I guess projecting is like comparing a one-night-stand versus a relationship. The more than you invest, the more worth that you receive in the end. At least that’s how it felt to me. I wish I had some secret to give away, but for me it really just came to, keep trying.

To read more about my emotional process, see my other blog, Why You Should Start Projecting and Stop Playing It Safe.
And as always thanks to Barrabes for their continued support.

electric copper 8a/v11 from alice hafer on Vimeo.

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Why You Should Start Projecting & Stop Playing it Safe

[Feature photo by: James Taylor]

A little context: for me projecting my first 8A was a very emotional process. I don’t know how to describe this fully other than through this series of paragraphs. Not your thing? For details of the actual climbing, my blog on the session by session breakdown to climbing 8A is coming soon. Thanks for reading! (And big thanks to Barrabes for the shoes to help me along the way).

There’s Nothing Safe About It

Sitting on the top of a boulder, sun streaking through the needled roof of abundant, consecutive pine trees in Albarracin, my friend lackadaisically commented, ‘It’s pretty amazing to see her try so hard.’ I asked, ‘What do you mean?’ and he replied, ‘to see someone trying really hard at their limit. Not many people can do that.’ I  thought to myself, I want to be like that.

Projecting – seeking conditions, waiting all day to try, fasting, binging, sleeping, resting, getting up at dawn or trekking lights in hand far into the night – to be fully taken in by a climb.

Projecting hasn’t really ever been my thing – it’s never been practical because of where I lived or lack of transport. But since I started travelling 5 months ago,I met a few climbers who really inspired me. I realised by not projecting, I am just playing it safe. Those who are as obsessed by climbing as I am may feel the same – I always want to progress. We often wonder how to send hard grades and stare off into space mesmerized by the thought of sending something hard, but the reality is, are we trying?

We don’t often give ourselves the chance to really, truly push our limits. I had to try, to find out what I was capable of. But, of course, there are downsides to all risks.

 

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Electric Copper 8A. Photo by: Lans Hansen. Special thanks to Barrabes for my sending Genius.

When You Feel Love at First Sight

For me, it was all about picking the right boulder. Imagine you’re in a bar. Your friend is late and you don’t have anything to do. Suddenly this gorgeous being walks in, searches for a seat, locks eyes with you and, then, oh yes, he’s coming right towards you. This is the moment I had with a boulder. The top just peaking from the zenith of three angled boulders, a cone-shaped granite style climb. With few holds and open handgrips it was obvious it would be tricky, confusing, with cryptic and marginal moves, incredibly easy to do wrong. My friend had pointed it out to me,  her first description that it split her tip. The end was sharp she warned. But that’s just the type of project that you want, one that draws you in, totally captivates you.

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Not sending another project Born Into Struggle 7B+again.

I Know Projecting Sucks

But sometimes projecting means not being able to do any moves in a session. A whole day of climbing wasted. But instead of focusing on the day-to-day gains, the meaning of each day has to become greater, it builds up to something more robust within yourself. But in such there is even more to loose. Rest days turn into meandering daydreams of fantasy, memorizing the moves over and over again. But the residual worry hovers, whispering that you might not send in the end, that it will all be for nothing.

We all love our comfort zone. That’s the idea of being comfortable. We tell ourselves if we power scream or take one more session than normal, we are taking risks.

But a real risk is not knowing. Not knowing after each day that you spend on something, if you will ever send it at all.

For me, my opinion of projecting had already been tainted. I could only think of a few other times I tried projecting – battling a 7C route at Raventor that I spent so many sessions on that I started to dread going to the crag. I thought if I just tried enough times, I would do it. And it was true – I did finish the route, but I had so much pent up frustration that I didn’t feel much accomplishment even when I finished and moved straight on to another route with disdain.

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My climbing partner Zofia on Jack the Chipper, my unsent 7C project.

Last year, I had attempted to do my first 7C boulder taking a few trips to Magic Wood, dedicating 4 – 5 climbing days to it. I ended up falling on the last hard move multiple times, thinking only then afterwards on the drive home to the UK that I probably should have reconsidered my beta. But really it was a mental block. When I got to the last hard move, I somehow knew I would fall. There was no physical reason why I couldn’t finish. Perhaps our emotions are far more connected to our performance than we might like to admit, making projecting an even more daunting endeavour.

When you’ve worked yourself hard on a project, it can become emotional. Sometimes you have to step away. When I was projecting the 8A I took a few days off and started to think about the horrible session, walking away bleeding, frustrated broken. Talking to other friends who were projecting too, I discovered it was normal to want to give up, to reach a point when you feel success is nearing and all of a sudden the body shuts down. You feel weak and hopeless. This is when it’s hardest not to give up. But you can’t give up. The body is a machine, it will recover, and so will the mind.

But There’s Too Much at Stake

But just the suggestion of breaking through a LIFE GOAL, yes life goal, one I thought I could never achieve, meant I was also overtaken with excitement. The climb meant so much to me. I felt I had so much to loose. It didn’t help that I’d told everyone about the problem so the crowds were flocking. At first I had a weird sense of jealously, I don’t want other people working my boulder too. But then I realized that was completely absurd. Being selfish about projects is meaningless. We should all share in the success of others. The more the merrier. If anything, it may make our own projects seem more accessible.

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Climbing is All in the Mind

But the challenge in trying something at your limit often means the brain has to perform more than the body.

After hearing about Rocklands for years, the land of bouldering visions, where everyone does their first something, I knew I had to go. But after a finger injury and pulled hamstring, I arrived my expectations low. I set out to try a 7C+ but without much ambition, more for the experience.

But then when I happened on a 7C+ that was perfect for me and sent it, my perspective altered. It happened so quickly I couldn’t believe it. It made me wonder, what I was capable of?

I had joked with a friend before this holiday, ‘Hah, no way I could ever touch an 8A, but maybe if I come back next year.’ I had originally given up on the idea of going to Rocklands this summer, wanting to postpone it to train even harder.

Before Rocklands, I had only done my first 7C a few months ago in March in Fontainebleau, so how could I be capable of more? All logic and all those people you should never listen saying, ‘You should probably try more 7C. After all, that’s probably your limit. You should really consolidate the grade first. You only did 7C a few months ago, so 8A is certainly out of your league.’

There are so many voices telling us what we can’t do. I know I’m not every person, but I took a risk and it turned out for the best. I did my first 8A and progressed two grades! We live in a climbing world with voices from all angles telling us what to do and what not to do. That if we try hard we will get hurt (which of course is possible, but that’s not necessarily connected to grades), we will fail or we should just do mileage. At the risk of sounding too positive, I viewed projecting as an experiment, as a way to find out the truth about climbing, the body and it’s capabilities. It turns out the body’s limit can be pushed, be readjusted. Through recruitment, confidence, experience and mostly importantly having fun. So that’s why I say, shouldn’t we all be projecting? Isn’t better to just find out for ourselves what we really can do?

Stay turned for my next blog, the nerdy day by day projecting process on how I sent my first 8A/V11.

 

 

 

Gear Testing: Scarpa Vapour V W

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In the switch from winter to summer, I went from climbing indoor blocs in London at the Blokfest series to started to summer sport climbing outdoors in the Peak District and up in Yorkshire at Malham and Kilnsey. I won’t get started on the indoor vs outdoor argument, but in making the switch,  I found more than anything that I was slipping off constantly.

Either my footwork was rubbish or was it my shoes?

At the time I was climbing in my La Sportiva shoes (a variety) and getting a bit frustrated so willing to do anything to keep my feet on I decided to try  Scarpa for the first time and went for the Vapour V.

Spoiler alert: THEY WORKED.

Okay, so I have the tendency to be a little over excited, but I slipped on the Scarpa Vapour V and I found that it was much easier to edge, to heel hook and even to press my toes on far away footholds. My core hadn’t gotten stronger, my hamstrings certainly hadn’t been trained, so it had to be down to the shoes.

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Slightly Downturned Toes and Bi-Tension Randing

 

KEY FEATURES

The Scarpa Vapour V are actually a woman’s specific shoe boasting to be the best all-round shoe.  The Scarpa website describes them as a precise and versatile shoe, which they claim as their best-seller.

The Vapour V have ever so slightly downturned toes while the shoe is generally flat, so the result is they still works for overhangs and small footholds. What makes the shoes so special, however, is probably their unique randing, which is how they put the rubber on the shoe. They use a Bi-Tension Randing which pulls from the toes back towards the heel, and in turn  makes the shoe feel more part of your foot and snug, so pressing onto small footholds is a lot easier.

Their Ultra Thin Flexan Support is their unique arch support that basically means the shoes are mostly flat but supportive and flexible enough that you can wear them on longer climbs on on multi-pitch routes, which I found to be true. I wore them all day without a problem.

Equipped with the tried and tested Vibram® XS Edge rubber, their stickiness was one of their best attributes, which no doubt contributes to the ease with which you can switch from straight-up climbing to overhangs without feeling like you have to change shoes.

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Malham Cove – land of tiny and polished feet, a true test for the Vapour V

PUT TO THE TEST

These are a pretty stellar all-round shoe. Compared to some of the other shoes on the market claiming to be all-round such as the La Sportiva or Five Ten, I felt that the Scarpa were more successful in the sense that they were fine for all day wear and any type of climbing. They could be used on difficult overhangs as well as tackle small footholds on a slab.

On my trip sport climbing to Malham, I found the shoes perfect on the polished and small footholds that otherwise, would’ve sent me reeling. The shoes more than excelled my expectations and I could focus on the moves and the climbing, rather than my feet slipping off constantly.

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Testing the Vapour V on Sardine 7b+ at Raven Tor, Peak District

At Raven Tor in the Peak District, I tested them bouldering as well and found that on the overhanging and small footholds that the toes stuck extremely well. No doubt the result of the unique randing and the downturn toes. Heel-hooking, I expected them to be lacking as the heel was a little bit loose, but instead they stayed in place, well enough for me to work the moves of the Weedkiller Traverse (7a+) in the cave.

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FIT

I think the one setback was where the fit was concerned. I originally ordered the Scarpa Vapour V in a 37.5 which is one whole size down from my normal shoe size 38.5. I read up online and I was told that this would be suitable, but when my shoes arrives, I couldn’t even put them on. I went into a shop and tried on a few pairs and the only ones I could even put on were my exact street shoe size 38.5.

When my 38.5 arrived they were extremely tight at first, but I found that they stretched very quickly (within 2-3 sessions) and then they were very comfortable. But over time I found that they continued to stretch and that the heel and the arch became a bit loose.

It’s important to note though, that I was still able to use them climbing on the same type of blocks despite being a bit lose on the heel, heel hooking was still very solid. For next time though, I think I will buy a half-size down and take a few painful sessions of breaking in to gain the perfect fit.

My suggestion for Sizing: same as regular shoe size

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Photo: Ben Johnson

CONCLUSION

  • Comfortable: great all-day  shoe
  • Versatile: good for overhangs, slabs, and  technical climbs
  • Long-lasting: sturdy and well-wearing
  • Perfect for heel hooking

 

At the risk of sounding like a Scarpa convert, I’ll definitely be buying these again.

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One Woman Psyche Part 2: Nerves

I stepped out of the car and despite my apprehension, a seemingly normal looking man stood before me. He rushed over and gave me a hug, his voice dripping with a southern drawl. I wasn’t just in America, now I was in Kentucky.

All seemed well and with no other option, I followed him and his buoyant, chubby black lab into the massive house behind. Bright yellow walls and an exposed wood kitchen welcomed us. The house was more than big enough for a family of six. He led me down the stairs into a basement. I hadn’t seen a house this big in years. ‘And this is my freezer, where I keep all my meat, ’ he said with a smile, red packages glinting as he snapped the door shut. But tiredness blurred any worry and I sleepily said goodnight, watching the many bottles of Jack Daniels lining the shelf near the ceiling slowly shrink.

I lay down in extremely soft bed, my eyes jumping to the lock on the door, thinking of the stranger just a few steps away in his bedroom. And in that moment, I felt the complete emptiness of being alone, thinking how different things would have been if my partner had been here. If I didn’t have to trust this stranger, when all the signs pointed to ‘Run-away!’ But despite the nagging reminder of the deep freeze in the basement, I felt I had no choice. And in a bold moment of trust in the moment, I even left the door unlocked, finding sleep as the morning promised a first day climbing.


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The next day as I sat in the front of the black truck and made small talk, I did my best to remember the gravel-covered roads and church signs marking the way to one of the main areas in the Red, the PMRP, PendergrassMurray Recreational Preserve.

It was 25 degrees Celsius and sweat poured down my back ans mosquitoes bit my legs as I tried to stay positive. But it really wasn’t hard taking in the sweeping sandstone pockets and massive overhangs, the signature of the Red. I offered to belay first, quickly deciding that I would scope out my unknown partner and host. But then he was quickly down and it was my turn. No more excuses to be had.

My heart started to beat faster and I tied in, careful to show that I knew what I was doing. I stripped off my top; it was too hot to climb with proper clothes. My armpits dripped and palms were soaked. This wasn’t climbing, this was survival. It was only a 6b but my biceps and forearms burst with the pump, but I couldn’t fall off. I didn’t know this guy, but not only that; I had a reputation to live up to.

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Before I arrived, I had been included in a group message telling all these Kentucky locals that I was a 7c+/13 climber and above. A message obviously shared to let them know I wasn’t going to sketch them out with a dodgy belay. But in turn I felt under pressure to live up to these claims. They’d made assumptions and heard rumours and then I’d arrived, not knowing how my body would feels but I felt I to perform. And here I was on the other end, not knowing the climber holding the grigri, but where was the pressure on him? I felt I had to perform but did he?

I had never been in this position before – under the pressure, again to perform, but in a different way. This time it was to ensure the other’s safety and to live up to the words said about me before. I had to onsight this 6b otherwise they might think me a hypocrite, a poser, a liar.

But the nervousness made me even more pumped, and as my forearms exploded from the holds, the rippled open-handed jugs, burning into the bottom of my forearms, I quickly learned why the Red was famous for shutting people down.

My heart fluttered the whole way to the top but I sent it. I had to. Then I battled through a 6c and a 7a+ to follow, but the adrenaline left me exhausted, skin shredded, and callouses torn from my palms in the heat and humidity. I’d gone climbing, but I couldn’t be sure I was having fun yet.

I stayed another night, but the next day I thanked my host and packed an on-lend rope & draws that he’d graciously offered. I decided it was time, time to head off into the unknown, and I finally headed to the infamous camp-site at Miguel’s Pizza, what some call the Camp Four of the East…

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Photo: Karsten Delap

One Woman Psyche: Part 1

In light of today’s election results, I thought what better thing to do than distract myself  and others with something other than political woes. Entertainment is our favourite form of escapism, so here is the first of my blogs about my recent trip to the Red River Gorge… Thanks for reading!


This past year has been a true test of my relationship with climbing. Just about exactly one year ago, I ended up in Colorado bouldering alone for the first time and came to the quick realisation that I had absolutely no idea how to do things on my own. I couldn’t figure out how to put my tent up (in my defense it was a complicated one), I ran over my groceries, I almost got a speeding ticket, and I drove over an hour to a mountain crag that is covered in snow that time of year. Things were not going well.

But in the months that followed, with my minimal but newly found independence, I ended up tagging along solo on a climbing trip with some top climbers I didn’t know well, journeying to China all alone to climb with a crew I barely knew (but were awesome!), and then my most recent affair – getting stuck in the Red River Gorge all by myself…with no climbing gear except shoes and a harness.

It’s almost as if this year something in the universe has been pushing me to be that Strong Independent Woman I’ve always thought I was (but apparently wasn’t). And to answer for myself – How much do you love climbing? What does climbing mean to you?

Moving away from the increasingly shrinking airport check in and my would-be-partner, I waved a panicked goodbye and ran to catch the plane. A hallow filled my stomach, regretting the missing rope and draws, but moreso because I still didn’t feel confident enough to do this alone, but I certainly didn’t have a choice.

It might seem like a simple thing to go climbing alone to some people, but for me climbing is often a two-way relationship. The trickles of climbing horror stories that we’ve all heard always left me apprehensive. I knew people went sport-climbing solo, but I rejected the idea long ago, knowing I could never put my life into a stranger’s hands. Unless forced!

My belayer is my partner – friend, encourager, and support. Perhaps I’m too dependant, but when you have to trust them to keep you safe, I don’t feel I can climb with just anyone.

‘So’ Jerome asked over the phone, ‘Are you just going to stay in Florida then?’ But somehow my mouth said the words before I could think, ‘No, I’m sticking to the schedule. I’m going to go alone.’ Something inside made me want to be that person. The kind that could go places and do things alone.

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With only 24 hours from landing on USA soil, I packed in a hurry, eager to start the 12-15 hour drive. On the couch sat two sleeping bags and two roll mats innocently waiting for me. I packed them both, just in case.

It was past 10pm when I finally arrived to the Red. Slade, Kentucky, the land of Daniel Boone, rattle snakes, and more than 100 sandstone arches. I followed directions the old fashioned way, turn by turn, sent via text from a friend of a friend of a friend, as there’s no service in most of Lee County, Kentucky.

‘Just meet me at Koops gas station,’ this friend of a friend of a friend said. ‘I’ll be in the black truck.’ I waited at the eccentric gas station, with four small upright rectangular pumps, each dolling out only one kind of gas each at different prices.

The impending big black truck arrived and quietly pulled in. I shut off my engine to get out, but as I did, the truck started driving away –  I was meant to follow this person in this car, somewhere, before even hearing their voice or seeing their face. So I did…

A Taste of ‘Professional’ Climbing

In the past 6 months, a huge amount of change has occurred in my climbing career (not to mention the fact that I feel like I have one now). I climbed a few 8a sport climbs, was offered my first sponsorship from Monkey Fist – a skincare brand I really love, and I was an athlete (imagine that!) in two climbing films, one with Bloc Features and the other with Volo Digital for the Reach Film.

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Blokfest finals at Boulder Brighton. Photo: Karolis Pipiras

I’ve been competition climbing for years and won here and there  but nothing really came of it. This past year I was 2016 Senior Female Blokfest Champion, but nothing really happened, they didn’t even mention it on UKC. I’ve learned a few things along the way and it’s mostly that if you don’t tell people about what you are doing, they don’t really notice, which then encourages the unashamed self-marketing, but the real truth is it’s pretty much the only way to succeed in this industry. In all my recent travels I’ve met a lot of people climbing really hard, something that happened when I moved into the slightly more ‘advanced’ bracket of climbing and relocating to the climbing hub of Sheffield.

But I found as soon as you climb a little bit harder, you then move to the bottom of the fish pond again. I’ve had the opportunity to meet women who are bouldering 8a and 8b as well as sport climbing on the same level or harder. This progression has definitely given me a lesson in humility.

Back in London I didn’t know many women who were climbing at a similar level (or were super psyched) so I felt like a little bit of an anomaly. But now being  one of less strong women climbing, it’s brought me to question how much I love climbing – do I love it more than being on top or winning? I went through a phase of struggling to see my own ability as worthwhile, as most people are topping out boulders faster than me or climbing grades way harder. I constantly felt under pressure to ‘prove’ myself, as I didn’t know them well or haven’t climbed much with them.

Contrarily trying to publish my achievements as seems necessary to be a an aspiring professional, I started to feel a little bit like a poser – as if what’s the point of posting about myself if I’m not nearly as good as these other women? Georgie Abel, one of my favourite womens/climbing/etc bloggers posted a nice explanation of this odd phenomenon — feeling like an online imposter, which I really relate to. Since posting about my climbing, I have had those feelings of questioning whether it’s worthwhile, but especially with the lack of women climbing in the media, I hope that it would have the same effect that my friend’s posts always have for me – that I’m inspired to try as hard as they do.

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Frustrated at not sending at St Bees. Photo: Lee James Thompson

Recently in the making of these two climbing films, I was put under the pressure of the camera – a totally new experience for me. We drove 3.5 hours and went to St. Bees where I was told to climb a certain boulder and then I had to make everyone wait while I tried to get it, over and over and over.

It took maybe 3-4 hours. I’d never really been in the position where I had to climb something and people were dependant on me. The pressure was immense, and it again made me question how much I really loved the sport. If being a professional or a sponsored athlete meant finding it within yourself to be able to perform any time, but not only that, having fun any time, I wasn’t sure I was capable of that! I started to question whether being a professional is really something I want, as it was seeming more work than stardom.

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Trying to send my project under camera pressure. Photo: Volo Digital

In the filming of the Reach, we travelled to Magic Wood. There were a lot of us being filmed and on the one day I had the camera crew I felt really bad and wasn’t climbing well. And then there was always the problem of someone trying something harder that maybe should be filmed instead. Maybe the camera crew should have gone with them instead of me; I had to make it worthwhile. All logistics and pressures I had never really considered before.

This taste of professionalism I have to say has definitely brought on a reality check. We all talk about wanting to be pros, but these pros, the people I’ve been climbing with, deal with these pressures all the time, and it’s something you really have to work through. I think perhaps I was under the guise of this disbelief that there was a lot of free gear, free press and loads of fun to be had as a sponsored athlete. A lot of people want to be pro climbers but they (me included) don’t realise how difficult it really is – when people are waiting on you, when your brands are emailing you asking you what you are climbing, or worse, when your sponsors are dropping you if you don’t win or get injured, it’s not so fun.

In Magic Wood, I didn’t send my project under the pressure and took a little break to re-vamp. At the moment, I’m focusing on climbing outside and trying to have fun instead of focusing on ‘sponsorship.’  I’m trying to find the space in my mind where I’m back to achieving and climbing for myself, no matter whom is asking, as it proves a totally different ball game. In a recent conversation with Zofia Reych, my climbing partner before she off and moved to Bulgaria (why?!), we talked about how sharing your life and achievements with others should become more of a conversation than an advertisement, and that’s what I want to have (with the occasional gear mention…)

Becoming a professional is still something I’m aiming for, whether silly or not, as more than anything I really want to see more of my friends getting really psyched and trying hard. As well as encouraging women to feel confident, get huge muscles and climb really really hard. But for now it seems difficult. Hopefully I can move back into climbing just for myself, something I think is worthwhile to find in anyone’s climbing life!

Bleau Blues: 9 Tips to Send Your Day-Project

Looking through my log of climbing journals, I found this little throwback and I was surprised to find some good advice…I found my own Tips to Send a Project, which I hadn’t read in so long, I found pretty useful myself and will use them my upcoming trip to Magic Wood.

If you’ve ever had that feeling after a day out bouldering like you just could’ve done better or could’ve climbed harder, then you’ll relate to my account of a trip I had to Fontainbleau a few years back. It was my fifth trip to Fontainebleau – an amazing crag where most of us struggle to climb hard while expanding our bellies with croissants, pain aux petites (my favourite) or chocolat viennoise. I wanted to send my first Font 7a/v6 and it felt like the right time. I was feeling positive. I felt it was definitely going to happen this trip. But despite the sun and the pastries, I got the bleau blues.

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Falling off L’Helicoptere 7a, which I still haven’t done. Photo: Steph Choy

I’d been climbing for three years, off and on – given two separate foot surgeries and a few injuries – but it had felt like long enough to be able to climb my first 7a. My first visit to Font had been a few months before and I tackled a 6c+ with a fractured thumb. It had been my unfortunate luck to shut my thumb in the car trunk (trunk fully closed, thumb in). Okay, Okay, there was alcohol involved. Learn from my mistakes! Do not go anywhere near car doors while drinking unless very experienced with doors.

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Thumb bandage apparent on my first outdoor v5, Le Nez 6c+ at Canche Aux Merciers

I reasoned with myself, if I could tackle a 6c+ with a useless and painful thumb, what was holding me back from my 7a now?

At first learning the F system was my excuse. Fontainbleau uses the same letters and numbers at the European Sport grades but it’s graded based on the climber doing it the easiest possibly way, knowing the beta, and having practised. A little harsh, I felt. Knowing that flashing isn’t even an option, the hope is to figure this beta out in the day with enough time for your body to also perform by the time you’ve exhausted yourself.

In retrospect, this isn’t harsh at all, but completely normal. Projecting in a day is extremely hard, especially if it’s at the top of your grade. But at the time, I wasn’t sure it was down to strength and I feel it’s probably the same for most people.

I thought that perhaps the problem had more to do with strategy and the fact that I didn’t really have one.

Needless to say I didn’t send a 7a on that trip, but I did learn a few things to help send day projects. These tips are mostly my own opinions and hopefully they help you too, but consider we are all different so read with a grain of salt, but maybe can help you work out your own strategy as well, which I do feel is the key to sending those day projects.

9 Tips for Sending a Day Project:

    • CHOOSE WISELY

      Choose your project carefully, make sure it plays to your strengths (and favourite moves) if it’s at the top of your grade. If you don’t know what your strengths are (which I hear a lot) next time you go to the bouldering gym, try and be aware of what moves you find easy and do without thinking and that might be the key to what your ‘style’ is.

 

    • WARM UP

      Warming up is one of the most important parts of climbing well and preventing injury. By definition this is an actual heat rise in the body of 2-3 degrees. Read more about what warming up really is and all the physical benefits on Physio Room.

 

    • FIRST THING

      Get on your project right away after warming up. A trainer that I worked with last year, Rich Hudson of New Heights Fitness, advised that you should go to the hardest boulder problems you want to try in the day immediately after warming up thoroughly. This decreases injury as you are fresh and full of energy and, hopefully, increases chances for success.

 

    • WATCH & LEARN

      Try to watch others climbing your project rather than wasting all your energy on it. All of people moan about others ‘greasing up holds’ but I think it’s good to have a crew on your problem because it can save you energy remembering your sequence or finding new beta, particularly someone whom you know climbs similarly to yourself.

 

    • PAY ATTENTION

      Use every failure as an opportunity to try and figure out why. You’ll improve your technique and body awareness and hopefully see failure as something useful for your future climbing rather than a negative experience. Sometimes the difference between getting the move and not can be as subtle as starting a problem sitting two inches to the left to pull on.

 

    • REST LONGER

      Before you know all your beta work in sections and rest for 3-8 minutes after each attempt. Don’t wear yourself if you know that you can’t do all the moves, by trying from ground up (unless you have to, in which case rest longer). During rests, it’s best to stay moving rather than sit down as the body will be clued in that activity is coming again. This is a good time to do physiotherapy exercises. Once you know your beta and you’re going for a redpoint attempt, for each failed attempt, rest for 10 minutes minimum, up to 30 minutes between goes.

 

    • EAT MORE

      Don’t forget to eat every hour. You may even find it helpful to eat a small bite every time you have a strenuous go. I find that coffee or sugar in small doses can help give a bit of an energy spike, but only in small amounts.

 

    • TRY HARD

      Trying hard isn’t as simple as we might hope. Recently I had a discussion with a friend about the inability to ‘summon the power’ when we are trying a hard move bouldering. Often this is due to brain conditioning. We aren’t able to tell our body to pull hard and so we don’t. Seth Lytton has a hilarious blog about how to ‘try really freakin hard‘ that suggests conditioning yourself with a ritual.

 

  • LAUGH IT OFF

    One of the best pieces of advice about climbing I ever heard was to remember to have fun. The more you love and have fun climbing, the more you can achieve. For me, this is one of the most helpful aspects of projecting. I can always perform better when I’m having fun. Even in failure, you are still learning about your body’s movement and improving your technique. Bottom line – stop taking it so seriously!

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    Another project in Magic Wood, Blindfisch 7b that escaped my send.

Just remember this is my own advice and may not work for you, but I think my suggestions are pretty general and may help most climbers overall. If you have any other tips on how you send your day projects, I’d love to hear them as I’m sure I’ve missed some. We’re all different, so different things can work for different people.

After that frustrating Font trip, I went to Font two more times before getting my first 7a, but then on the third succeeding trip I got 3 in one day, using a lot of the techniques described above.

Confessions of a climbing sexist

Today rummaging on the internet, I stumbled upon a shared post by Light Shed Pictures, reposting a ‘high-five’ to a letter from Georgie Abel in response to Evening Sends author Andrew Bisharat. Not typically one to get too involved in the climbing-sexism topic (I usually leave that to my friend Zofia Reych who does a great job on her blog), I really had to speak out on this one.

Andrew Bisharat has been heavily criticised for his opinions on his website about feminism and women in the climbing community. Upon reading most of his stuff, I couldn’t help sense the twinge of male-privilege and condescension that his tone often carries, but I have to give him credit, he did his best to remain as neutral as possible…Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against Andrew, I know 10s of thousands of guys like him, and I generally just ignore them and try to change the world towards female-male equality in my own climbing life.

However, this letter to Andrew from Georgie remarkably conveys how I truly feel about the climbing industry. It was such a great response to his perspective. I had to endorse it. Georgie says that instead of highlighting women for their achievements separate of men (this was discussed in Andrew’s original article on FFAs) she wishes for a world where we can just climb and get on with whatever the fuck we want without anyone really caring or thinking about us being females. This is the world that I want too. But upon reading Georgie’s cry out for this equality, I suddenly realised that maybe my perspective is also contributing to this sexism.

As a woman who ‘climbs hard’ and is relatively above the average of many women, I sometimes consider myself ‘above’ this sexism in the sport. The men I often climb with respect me, consider me one of their own. I recently got told to try a route that was ‘one that girls like’ and I was shocked by this phrase as I am normally surrounded by guys who really don’t care if I’m a girl or not (sometimes I regret that with never-ending talks of  bowel movements).

But in my personal climbing life, Georgie’s article made me realise that perhaps I am climbing sexist myself.

 

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Going for the dyno on Piranja 7c+ Magic Wood (I didn’t get it yet)


I often try to be braver, train harder and be stronger than men…just because I want to redefine how women are seen in climbing and in life. But even that perspective is just fuelling the differences between the sexes. I should be brave, strong, train hard because it’s fun and I love it — not because I need to demonstrate to men that all those stereotypes are not true. Sometimes I find myself looking down on women who are scared at the top of a climb  and come down, or ask a man to put their draws. I feel frustrated that they are giving into these female stereotypes – why can’t they just man up! Wait…’man up’? What are we even talking about here? I’ve realised that even my own thinking sometimes follows this sexist pattern. I should, instead of judging these women, or trying hard to never be one, I should be saying, you can do that climb! Or, you know what, it doesn’t matter if you don’t want to or if you are afraid — you can do what you want. Climbing is person, you should be the climber you want to be. Sometimes that means not topping out a high-ball or finishing a route. If it’s not fun to conquer your fear, you don’t have to! If you don’t like doing pull-ups, then forget them. If you don’t want to train on a finger board, then don’t do it!

No more am I going to be brave, strong, train hard because I have something to prove. I’m going to do it for myself because I love climbing, being strong and training hard. Oh, and I’m also a woman.

All the articles I mentioned are below:

Andrew Bisharat’s original article:http://eveningsends.com/the-curse-of-the-first-female-ascent/

Amanda Robinson Schwartz’s article on Moja Gear where he responds: http://mojagear.com/journal/2015/12/08/being-strong-and-fragile-a-discussion-on-sexism-racism-exclusivity-and-privilege-in-climbing/

Georgie Abel’s letter:https://medium.com/@georgieabel/an-open-letter-to-andrew-bisharat-2f14c76a0ec4#.hsttu05aq

Sidni West’s endorement shared by Light Shed Pictures: https://medium.com/@sidniwest/an-open-letter-to-the-men-running-the-climbing-industry-baf78f6df443#.zbe0ql20w

View story at Medium.com

All By Yourself: Climbing Alone

For the past six or so years of my climbing career the majority has been dependant on climbing with others. I started out in a gym where I would text my friends to come climbing before I went and sometimes not go if no one else was. Although climbing is one of the few sports that you can actually do alone, the sense of community is the essence of climbing. I can’t stress that the community in climbing is what makes it such a great sport, the type of people you meet and the trust that you build with each other’s lives in your hands. It creates bonds that an afternoon of badminton never could.

But off my little philosophical stool, I’m here to talk about Climbing Alone.

This past week, I spent some time in Colorado trying to learn about where to climb in the massive state. Not only did I end up lost pretty much every day, but unlike in Europe, the crags were relatively empty except on the weekends and most days I found myself all alone trying to climb.

Crossing the Selfie Threshold
Crossing the Selfie Threshold

My motivation in my head was extremely high, but when I walked up to the first boulders at Horsetooth near Fort Collins, Colorado, I suddenly realized that a 10m v0 even wasn’t going to happen by myself. I tried to think positive, but then a low rattling sound made my heart drop – a rattlesnake lay across the path, just a few feet from my legs. The dry jingle of it’s tail made me realize even moreso that if I was bitten I would still be all alone. I backed up and moved to a high line of boulders, hoping that the snake would stay where it was. I decided to make up some problems, tossing the guidebook aside and taking what low climbs I could handle, something this guidebook guzzling girl never would dream of before. The sound of my shoes on the ground and the shuffling of the mat left a hallow feeling like I would hear the snake again instead, so I put on some music just like I was at the indoor gym.

After an hour or so of some attempts to spot myself, trying to fall exactly where the mats where (and of course missing), I concluded I was probably going to be fine.

When we are on our own, whether we mean to or not we start to err on the side of caution.

I decided to walk down to a v5 traverse I knew was low and long, promising hours worth of relatively safe entertainment. I brought my bank of supplies with me, my two measly mats, my phone playing music and body ready to get some ‘real’ climbing in.

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Punk Rock Traverse v5

The hours crept by. I tried the problem a few times, but struggled at the end, worried that I actually had to do 80% of the problem without a mat at all. But it was fine.

I was worried that my motivation would straggle and I would sit around like I sometimes do with my friends and stare off into space or just watch others climb. But when it’s only you, it’s almost easier. No one is watching and you really find out how much you actually like climbing. I tried the v5 over and over and I found I was getting exhausted in just a few hours. With no one else to show me how it was done or to make me rest, I was tired pretty quickly and found just a few hours enough for a full day.

I continued to another boulder called the Meditation Boulder, where my two mats were definitely not enough, and decided to do some easy face climbs. I got to the flat and wide top of the boulder and had a seat, suddenly lost in the expansive view afforded me. It was quiet except for the wind and the faint twinkle of my cell phone playing some song I could barely make out and in that moment, I was glad I was alone.

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The view from the path in Horsetooth Resevoir.

In the stillness of the Meditation Boulder I suddenly heard a sound and snapped my head towards it. I saw a few boulder mats poking from the dry bush near the water. The voice carried and I could see the approaching climber – another soul to save me! I quickly down-climbed and gathered my things. I’m not usually the type of person who runs to speak to others unless they are my friends, but I couldn’t resist having a conversation, a climbing partner and some more mats.

That’s the thing about being alone, you really start seeing other people as opportunities rather than someone to be judged or not good enough to climb with you. Everyone can bring something special to your day.

I rushed over trying to be cool asking if I could try the traverse with him. I was ecstatic on the inside, I knew I would take anyone. But in a few moments of his incessant chatter and complaints at failure because of a hangboard session the night before, I felt all too quickly that being alone wasn’t so bad after all. But then I realized that we need companionship and that he was just a passionate climber, just like me, brave enough to bare the dusty rocks alone too; we we’re one and the same and I was glad for the company at the mats.

Feeling worn out, I walked back up the trail to my car, so tired I hardly noticed where I was going. I suddenly realized that I was on the snake path and quickly shuffled onto a boulder instead of the path. I stopped, breathing a sigh of relief that he wasn’t hiding the bushes or on the rock. I paused and decided to turn back just to see if he was still there, to reassure myself that I had even seen him at all. I dropped my bags and crept along the path and sure enough there he was. In the same position on the side of the path, guarding the way to the boulders, ensuring that no one else could pass. I thought to myself, perhaps he wasn’t out to bite me at all, but maybe he was there to watch over me, to keep all those other people away, so I could climb alone in peace.

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The rattlesnake on the path.

Why bother with Mallorca? That’s just for Sharma

The arch stands about 15 meters from the shore and if the ocean’s pull isn’t just right, you are stuck breathlessly swimming to the start. Arms flailing and feet heavy in my climbing shoes, I am no Michael Phelps. Swimming is probably my least favourite activity, falling a close second to pushups. I’ve been climbing for three years and Mallorca was my dream ever since I saw those tan arms and messy hair tackling the 9a. Having seen the 9a in life, I see that it has more than enough to defeat me, but it is not unachievable by man. One day I will be the first woman to do this, I tell myself. I will train, and I will move here, and I will never give up. Then my video will have twice as many hits as Sharma. Uh huh, my mother would say as I told her my dream. She doesn’t even know who Sharma is and probably not YouTube either.

There’s been enough climbing magazines that say why Mallorca is a number one climbing destination. Mostly they talk about Sharma and his insane strength climbing the 9a Es Pontas sitting underneath the watery arch.

But Why Mallorca?

It’s the ocean, of course. It’s blue. Who knew it was supposed to be blue? Check yourself UK costline and central Florida!  Let’s be serious: It’s the rock. Shoes wet, hands slipping, I can somehow still hold on as I traverse The Might of the Stalactite a 7a with huge pumping Stalactites (clearly) and technique that would blow a muscle puff’s mind. It’s hot. My hands are even sweating but I don’t fall. I finish and smile. A 7a flash!! Unheard of so far in my lifetime.

Each route hanging over the water as you solo presents a series of amazing holds. They are mostly huge jugs—the difficulty is the overhanging. It requires some muscles of course, but I found for the most part the Mallorca routes are about your endurance and technique to keep those muscles from failing and plummeting into the icy water. The limestone is mostly sharp when not a smooth stalactite, and although a piece is known to break off occasionally, the quality is unbelievable. Each route feels like a 5 star. There are some misses of course, but the majority renders only fun. There is hardly an irrtatingly high graded or polished boulder problem like you may find in Fontainebleau or the Peak District.

Who’s ready to buy another plane ticket? I’ll meet you there.

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Jump in or not?