Friday, 24 April 2015

Margalef Take 2 - a tale of a trickyish route of an unspecified difficulty which may not may not be hard for other people depending on who you talk to

Era Vella - big and steep

For those who didn't already know, a few weeks ago I went to Spain and did my project, Era Vella. I tried it for 3 weeks in October, got my ass kicked, came home and trained for it all winter, went back for a 5 day mini-trip in Feb, then headed out for 3 weeks in March/April to do the deed. Fair to say I was pretty chuffed to get up the thing this time around! Being a clown, I decided to start the trip by repeatedly falling off below my previous highpoint, and thus endured a short period of depression, despair and self-loathing before pulling myself together and beginning to really enjoy each redpoint try on it as my highpoint crept up the wall. I rested a lot, which can be kind of boring, but means you're excited to have a go each time you head back up, and that's just the mindset I need to be in to stay motivated on a long project like this. As I've found before, and as Tom tells me is almost standard protocol for his coaching clients, the reduced expectations and pressure of a few bad sessions actually helped in the end too. Sometimes accepting the likelihood of failure is just what you need to open the door to success. (Don't worry, I'm done with "inspirational" quotes now.) In another example of stupidity, I also had to relearn the same lesson I've learnt multiple times before on long redpoints - climb faster. Fortunately, something Tom Bolger had said about his experience on the route reminded me of this, and cutting down on time spent at the rests once again proved to be key to staying fresh enough for the upper wall.

It was fun to hang out at the crag with Team America too, kid crusher Kai Lightner and his groupie Shane, who has the 'loudest' jacket I've ever seen - Adidas meets Europop chic. It's going to be taking over in the near future. Thanks to Will, Nic, Sam, Eddie and Tom for all the belays!

Did I mention it's big and steep? Photo: Nic Duboust
After managing to get up Era, I decided to indulge in a type of climbing I've been missing recently: onsighting! God I love onsighting stamina routes. I really, really love it. In terms of pure enjoyable days out it might well be my favourite style of climbing. It also provided yet another reminder of how low expectations can be good for you. On my last day I felt mediocre waking up, felt weak warming up, then pulled out one of my best onsight performances ever. Like the cynical, grade-chasing dick that I am (see below) I selected an 8b that people seemed to think was soft and sounded like it would suit me - La Trencatranques up at the magnificent crag Espadelles. [Useful knowledge: Despite what the guide says, this crag gets some morning shade in Spring, especially towards the left-hand end, so with a reasonably early start you can get a few routes in.] It was just what I wanted - good holds, big moves, burl, and a fight. The lack of expectations meant fast and decisive "go big or go home" climbing rather than the slow ponderous approach that works well when operating within your comfort zone but can be the death knell of onsights at your limit.

Replica time Photo: John Dudley
Returning to the UK karma decided that I was a little bit too happy, and so subjected me to 3 days of running experiments in a big metal box near Oxford, including night shifts and general sleep deprivation. I'm not even an astronomer damn it! On the bright side, I think we got some good data, so I might actually finish my PhD one of these days...

Crux section Photo: Sam Harvie
Things I learnt from this experience:
- Projecting is totally shit and totally brilliant all at the same time. (Not actually at the same time, usually it's shit and then brilliant. Or maybe brilliant-shit-brilliant.)
- On redpoints try climbing faster and spending less time in the rests
- Have goals, but try not to have expectations
- Ain't no-one does pre-try music like Phil Collins and Bonnie Tyler
- Rock climbing is awesome. Not that I ever forget that one.
The view from Espadelles sector

Grades, Grades, Grades and Honesty
Grades don't matter. It's about the experience, it's about enjoying the process, it's all about the line, it's all about the moves etc etc.. But let's face it, to many of us, grades DO matter. They're not the be-all and end-all, but they are a not insignificant aspect of what we do. There are some grades which I log feeling a little cheeky, e.g. my first 8c+ in Loup, a couple of my harder onsights, shit like Revolver at Anston Stones - I know that if they were given the lower grade in the guide I'd just log that, note 'hard' and not really be that surprised. Sometimes I probably wouldn't even mark it as hard. Ironically, for Era I had no similar feelings. It felt hard for me.
The approach to the crag in February. It wasn't hot and greasy.
Still, since a bunch of people have done the route recently, Jens has been on the downgrade warpath on 8a.nu. Apparently some people have said to him they think it's not 9a. That doesn't surprise me that much. It's an enduro route, which means that if you're above the required level for it it's likely to feel pretty steady (e.g. the 7c+s at Cascade Sector, Ceuse work in a similar way - feels like 7c+ to the 7c+ climber, feels like 7b+ to the 8c+ climber). For some reason, these people want to remain anonymous (or Jens is spouting shit). First up let me say this: you can't have your cake and eat it. Taking/reporting your ascent as 9a but then emailing the one man in the world most likely to start a grade debate to tell him you think it's easier - thus enabling you to put dibs on an inevitable self-congratulatory downgrade and keep your sponsors and groupies happy at the same time - is pretty whack in my opinion. It's also not 'keeping out of a controversial grade debate' it's just keeping your name out of it.
Anyway.. Siegrist did it, though it was piss, and said so on his blog. Fair enough. Now if he thinks it's 8c, I'd love to see what grade he thinks the 8cs in Loup or Santa Linya are, or the longer UK routes like True North or Mecca Ext. But hey, whilst he can tell me 8cs he thinks are harder than Era, I can tell you 8a+s at the tor that I think are harder than 8cs at the tor. And that's on the same crag as each other! That shit just happens with grades - they don't really work that well all the time, especially if you try to compare different styles. Is it 8c+? 9a? Being possibly my first 9a (except Pilgrimage, which is clearly not 9a with my sequence) all I can justifiably say is that, for me, it's the hardest thing I've done by a notable margin. I won't tell you that that means I don't care whether it's considered 9a or not - I'd like it to be that consensus is 9a and I'd be talking bollocks to say otherwise - but it does mean that even if it's 8c+ I'm still happy, still glad I put the time and effort in, and I still think it's a great route.


Ethan onsighting the classic Sativa Patatica (8a). Not a shit route.




1 comment:

  1. Hey mate, heard you're keen to get down under to Aussieland in the spring (our autumn?!) - would be good to meet up in the bluies when you're down here.

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