Here are my thoughts on the last few days, its all been a bit crazy and I think it may be starting to sink in.
I’m going to start with this time last year as I feel it is relevant; I was in a pretty bad place for various reasons and not psyched for climbing. It took me a long time to get back into training mode and so for this reason and also because the weather was amazing I decided to go trad climbing more and see if I could push myself. As the trad season wore on I became more and more confident. I’m pretty good at listening to my gut and I’m not ashamed to back off things when it doesn’t feel right for me. I achieved some personal goals and did some cool routes I have always wanted to do, I also fell off trad routes for the first time in a long time. I fell off on a flash attempt of a route called Kaya E6/7 6b and I also fell off Strawberries E7 6b. Whilst I’m not saying falling off stuff is cool I learnt a bit more about myself – yes I get scared; I’d have to be pretty mental not to but I can control my head and still go for it.
If I was younger would I have this same appreciation of the seriousness of some routes?
My answer is I think not; the way things have panned out makes me who I am – I am very measured in what I do. One thing I learnt growing up on trad is that your not really supposed to fall off so I tried my best not to. I veered away from climbing at 18 when I got glandular fever but when I came back to it I got more stuck into sport climbing. Now I live in North Wales I try to find a balance in my climbing between bouldering, sport and trad.
So back to the route, I had looked at Chicama earlier in the year when Hazel tried it (I definitely want to go back and do it but the weather stays better on the coast). Then I had a look at Trauma E8 up on Dinas Mot, it was a hot day and the moves felt pretty spanned but maybe I will have another look on a cooler day as it would be a good challenge. Finally Calum suggested going up to Gribbin Facet to have a look at Rare Lichen whilst he had a look at another route. It was a hot evening in one of the best summer’s we have had and neither of us were psyched on prospective lead attempts. I was happy with most of the route except the crux of changing sides on the arete, I wasn’t sure whether this was due to the heat or not.
Over the next few weeks I couldn’t stop thinking about Rare Lichen and the cool arete line it takes, I knew I was hooked and when that happens there is only one thing to do and that is lay the ghost to rest. I went back with Alex to see if I could top rope the route clean and refine my sequences in cooler conditions. Both of these things were a success and I top roped the route clean twice but for some reason my fingers were achy and my body was tired after.
I decided not to lead it that day but I came away happy knowing I could do it, the next few days I was working and then we headed to Ceuse – I could potentially have done an evening hit but saw no point in being pushy, I wanted to do the route when I felt ready. Unfortunately when I got back UK weather was on form and it was raining! 🙁
So the day I felt ready came, the weather forecast looked after working the weekend and I was hoping a couple of nice days might have made the route less slippy from it being a wee bit lichenous! When I woke up I was dismayed to see it looking overcast, I spoke to Ray and we decided to have a chilled start and head out at midday. I can’t stress enough how amazing Ray and Llyr were whilst filming because they put no pressure on me to do the route that day.
First time up on top rope to remind myself of the moves I did it clean but the holds were moist and greasy – so far not great! I brushed and chalked them thoroughly and it was pretty frustrating to have to brush the holds each time I used them. If I didn’t a black layer of grease stayed on the holds which definitely wasn’t ideal given the seriousness of the route. I gave it one more top rope and did a dry run placing the gear, after doing that my gut instinct on the day was to have the gear pre-placed. This was confirmed moments later by some atmospheric fog rolling in and over the rock! So to get the boring bit over with, I did the route first time up on lead and I was mega chuffed.
Now to answer the questions that will surely come with the critics – should I have to do this? Probably not but there are definitely plenty of cynical people out there. To my friends who know me they have supported my choice on what I did.
So first question:
Why did I pre-place the gear?
This is by far the most serious route I have done to date and maybe in future I will try to place the gear but I will always go with my gut instinct. I could place the gear ok on the first crux but I was having to place it blind, and on the top crux I could just about place the lower piece of kit from the rest but I could not place the higher bit of the kit in the same mini crack without climbing into the crux. I’m pretty sure both Cal and Caff placed the gear from the rest. So my dilemma was do I place some of the gear? Immediate answer was there is no point in going half and half. In addition to this the rock was not in ideal condition and I wanted to give the gear placements the best possible chance of holding if my foot popped or my hand greased off on the sketchy small holds. The friends at the start become pretty redundant after the first couple of moves, then you have to make a committing scary moves to reach the next gear.
The next gear that protects probably the crux of the route is a size 0 brass offset (rated to 2kn) and a size 1 brass offset (rated to 4kn). After that on the top crux I had in a size 2 brass offset and a ball nut. All in all I’m glad I didn’t test out the gear placements, whilst I didn’t place them there are still some serious committing moves above some mega small kit and the consequences if I fell off could potentially have been bad. At the end of the day I’m not trying to hide how I did the route.
Should I have saved it for better conditions to place the gear?
Maybe, but the weather in the UK is pretty unpredictable and this may have been my last chance this year! I was in control and felt there were a couple of points I could shout for a rope if the fog and low lying cloud had made the rock feel terrible again.
Do I get the E9 tick?
Who knows. At the end of the day grades are pretty subjective, headpointing a trad route and redpointing a sport route makes the technical difficulty start to feel easier but on trad there is still the head game. If I’d fallen off I may have seriously hurt myslef; but I may not have I didn’t fall off so I don’t know what could have happened. I felt like I couldn’t fall off for most of the route and I certainly didn’t want to blow the top bit and have to climb the bottom of the route again.
Hopefully this satisfies people’s curiosity.
Thanks to Mountain Hardwear, DMM and Five Ten for their continued support with amazing kit!
Finally a big thanks to Alex Haslehurst for coming out and supporting me. Plus Ray and LLyr for being super chilled. Also huge respect to Leo for putting such a cool line up in the Ogwen!