[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.
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.
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.
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.
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.