Learning to climb 5a

This past summer when I decided to restart my blog, I spent the majority of the sweltering months back in the USA concentrating on not climbing. So when I decided to go with some friends to Fontainebleau for my birthday this September, I was a little more than skeptical about how the trip would go. But first, I’ll be honest, I’m generally a grade chaser. I spent most of 2013 trying the same problem over and over so I could claim by first 7a+ (v7), Early Doors in the Peak District in the UK, but I didn’t have much confidence with my long-lasting injuries and wasn’t successful (but hey, now you know you can almost climb 7a even with injuries). But in the USA after my orthopaedic physician, physical therapist, natural healing masseuse and acupuncturist all said I probably just needed to quit climbing, I decided I would take the summer off and see what happened.

Font 2014
What happened was a dish of humility served onto my plate. Not really expecting anything anyway, I knew I would barely be able to climb not having used the muscles in weeks. I did a taster session at Mile End Climbing Wall in London my first week back in the UK, but there wasn’t much to show. I did a v2, but was actually impressed that I could do it and was proud of myself. But my reaction surprised me more than my weakness. I remember my competition climbing days when if I had hurt myself, I would be eternally frustrated that I couldn’t produce the same results (v5, v6) immediately or repetitively.

When we arrived at La Musardiere campsite near Milly-La-Foret in France, instead of driving straight to the rocks, we settled in for chicken korma, French wine, and an early bedtime. The next morning, we packed ourselves into our little car, with the boulder mats strapped on top, and drove to Rochers aux Sabots. Ironically, Rochers aux Sabots was the first place I had done a 7a outdoors in Europe. I had previously done one v6 in America, but the climbing style is very different (other than maybe Horse Pens 40 in Alabama) and it was a whole new level to gain a 7a at Font. There it was, Jeux de Toit, Roof Games, my first 7a sitting, looking polished and so very hard? I was surprised I had ever managed that before and was impressed with my past self.

But that day was about the blue circuit. Font is famous for its circuits which are labeled with coloured paint, fours crossed straight into the rock, so you don’t actually need a guidebook to climb there, just a map. The blue circuit ranges from 3a-5c (vb-v2) and doesn’t follow any order so you get what you get. This time I was struggling on 3a-5c, which used to upset me. I’d stop for the day, outdoors, or decide I was bored and leave the climbing wall, indoors. But I was okay. I had finally graduated to a climbing adult: I realised climbing should be about having fun more than a competition. And while climbing 7a can be great, sometimes is equally as nice to learn how to climb 5a all over again and spare a few moments for some cheese and wine.


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