The British limestone is very unique to say the least. We don’t have the massive 50m lines of tufas and the golden rock of Europe, but what we do have is a lot of history and character and us Brits are very proud of it. Conditions are often fickle as the UK gets a lot of rain; some seasons crags never even dry out or are un-climbable a month earlier than the year before. It makes projecting an interesting and often long-winded process.
This year Mina and I took on battle with Raven Tor, famous for its short and gnarly climbs like Hubble and Mutation. I was trying ‘Mecca The Mid Life Crisis’, 8b+ and Mina the extension of it, 8c.
Mina had previously made the first female ascent of Mecca a couple of years before, at the time making it the hardest ascent by a women on British soil – pretty inspiring. To be honest I thought Mecca was out of my league but Mina persuaded me it was a good idea and I got really psyched watching her cruise through Mecca most sessions to reach the head wall. From here she made steady progress, gradually getting higher each session. Then the conditions took a turn for the worst, it was 15+degrees and 95% humidity most sessions. Progress came to a grinding halt for the next month. For Mina, it turned into a mental battle, suddenly the self-doubt came flooding in and no amount of positive reinforcement or encouragement from other people can push these thoughts away, you have to truly believe it yourself. Personally I knew she could do it, it was only a matter of time and a bit of luck with conditions and it would be in the bag. We religiously checked the conditions all day, everyday trying to work out the best time to go. It started getting cold, and of course Mina started getting high; a move or so higher up the head wall each session. It was really cool seeing her full of energy and psyched again for the route. She totally relaxed and crushed, making her the first female to climb 8c on British soil!
Rewind a few weeks back. While I was battling away on Mecca Extension, Katy had taken on the challenge of Mecca. In the same little terraced house in Sheffield, she was mentally going through the moves on Mecca the Mid Life Crisis as I was upstairs still ruminating about the extension. The house was in redpoint mode and we were both psyched. Katy had tried Mecca a bit earlier in the year (and got pretty close) but with the wet holds that spring gives Raven Tor and a lot of travelling with work, she had mentally put it to one side until the autumn. Now it was time and she was keen to get involved again.
After some time away from a route, one always hopes to pick up where one left off; a seemingly reasonable but often misleading expectation given the hard style of climbing in the UK. Katy had to shelve those expectations and be prepared to fight the frustration in order to get back to her high point. It was fine at the start, steady progress was encouraging and, as those redpointers amongst you will know, any progress is like stardust to a psyched climber. Then she hit a bit of a wall; session after session she fell at the same move…. the psyche started to wear off and her confidence began to droop.
At this point, in our little house in Sheffield, a lot of tea was drunk around the kitchen table! We were both fighting demons and trying to push through walls of self-doubt, low psyche and frustration. I’m pretty sure we both cried, we gave each other advice we couldn’t take ourselves and prayed that at least one of us might break through and drag the other one into success!
It was Katy that made that breakthrough. Having struggled with a back problem for a few weeks, she began to get more treatment and it started to resolve… and her climbing improved dramatically alongside it. She felt less pain, she moved more freely and it gave her an opening to push on. Katy was actually working to a deadline, she was leaving for Canada for a work trip and was then heading off to Spain…. she had one session left to do the route.
I wasn’t with Katy that morning at the crag and, honestly, I wasn’t sure how it would go. She didn’t seem to care anymore; strung out by the emotional involvement, it was clear she was going through the motions of just “one more go”.
Maybe that is what needed to happen, maybe not caring as much helped to lift a load, to lower her expectations and remove some pressure.
She climbed the route that day.