Facing Fears

With this year’s Women’s climbing symposium nearly upon us and with the hashtag be bold be brave I thought I would write a blog on facing fears. I think all too often it is easy to go down the safe route and go into our comfort zones but those times we push outside of our comfort zones can be some of the most memorable and rewarding.

First up was the DWS competition in Exeter and it was a fantastic event. How does this link in you ask?

When it comes to water I’m not the biggest fan, the thought of going under water scares me a little bit as I feel out of control and I let my mind go into overdrive as to what may be lurking in the water.

Suffice it to say I was more than nervous about doing a comp that involved falling into water. The day before the comp Neil, Michaela and myself headed to Berry Head for some filming with Lukasz and his partner in crime Wojtek. This was a new venue for myself and it was great to sneak in a morning on the rock climbing the classic rainbow bridge. The decision was then made to have a look at Neil’s 8a called Cutlass; the brief dilemma I had was that once I committed to the route my first fall into cold UK water would be inevitable. I got into the start of the crux and was trying to figure a way to do the move but also realizing that cocked up the sequence and a splashdown was imminent. My fall into water was not graceful and the shock of cold water took the breath right out of me, I’m pretty sure my reaction to being the water was to get out as quickly as possible but I’d done it!

The next morning I woke up with no voice and feeling pretty rough as my cold had not fully subsided with Alex saying that I did not have to compete if I wanted to do. In a true sponsored hero way (yeah right) and mostly down to a huge amount of stubbornness I knew I was going to climb no matter how I felt.

I was pleased to top all the semi final routes and took the compulsory jump into the water, which was surprisingly not as cold as the sea the day before. I knew that I was lacking in power on the climbs but I’d managed to scrape my way up them and was hoping for a stamina fest in the final.

Semi Final Route 1 - Jamie Vanstone
Semi Final Route 1 – Jamie Vanstone
Semi Final 2
Scary top out on semi final route 1 (not the best method) – Jamie Vanstone
Semi final route 2, definitely the most fun of the 3 – Jamie Vanstone
Splashdown after topping route 3 – Jamie Vanstone

Coming out to read the final route it looked fairly power endurance based but the climb looked like fun and I was going to give it my all. I was up third from last having tied for first in the semi-finals with Michaela and Sierra. I climbed ok through the start but had used more power than I wanted to, I came to a big kick out onto a volume and tried to lock across to the next hold but hadn’t set up right for it, in true route climber mode I decided to head back for a shake out instead of pushing on through. I think normally this would have worked but my arms were having none of this recovery business and I had no power to kick back across. I hung on for as long as I possibly good but again a splashdown was inevitable. I came off knowing that I could have climbed better which was disappointing but also having enjoyed the freedom of the style of climbing and the routes that had been set.

I watched Sierra and Michaela climb past my high point and was chuffed that Michaela won overall with an impressive display of power. The men’s final was fun to watch after we had climbed and DMM’s own dark horse Liam ‘the hitman’ Halsey stole the show to win! Thanks to the Blokfest team for an amazing set of routes and the Quay team for coming up with this incredible event. I am psyched to compete in this event again next year which is a positive improvement on my attitude towards water.

finals route
Climbing on the final route – Jamie Vanstone
michaela crushing
Michaela crushing the final route – Jamie Vanstone
Liiam hitman Halsey
Liam ‘hitman’ Halsey did DMM proud by winning the men’s comp – Jamie Vanstone

My next big fear was faced a couple of days later on the lovely South West sea cliffs. I seem to have a mental block with E4’s and especially E4 5c’s in particular. I’m not sure why but it may link back to the first E4 I ever tried in the Lakes where I came close to killing myself. It’s definitely the grade I seem to back off the most and the one that I seem to have mental epics with the most recent being Ray of Light on Dun Mingulay.

When we headed to Tintagel the plan was to do Vagabond (E4 5c) and then Il Duce (E5 6b). Alex was keen to lead the main pitch of Il Duce and I was half tempted to give him the lead on Vagabond as well because he has a cooler head for the chossy scenes. On the way down though I decided to stop being a wuss about leading the route and decided to ‘woman up’ and lead the two 5c pitches together and get over my head problem.

I think it is safe to say I was pretty apprehensive but I took the task in hand, this route as it turns out was fairly dangerous with some suspect holds and a dodgy exfoliating peg. As it turns out this route is now considered to be E5 5c! The first 5c pitch was pretty trick at the start with some good cams and I was committed hoping some good gear would appear on the headwall, I was disappointed to find a rusty peg but clipped it as there was no other gear. I continued up at a slow controlled pace with my heart in my mouth for another 8 to10m finding no other gear on the way and reaching the ledge for the belay. I decided to continue up the next 5c pitch with the gear being better but not really trusting the rock and was up and down one tricky section for what felt like ages until I decided to go for it having calculated what I thought was the best method as long as none of the holds broke in my hands! It was just as well I lead it because Alex’s back spasmed out and he only just stayed on the route; I was pretty chuffed to have made a step upwards in my climbing mentally and it was nice to have this confirmed by Alex being impressed with the lead. It’s not often I look to him for approval but it made me feel all fuzzy knowing that he was proud of my lead on this route. Il Duce remained elusive on this trip as time had run out but it is one we are both keen to go back and climb at some point in the future.

Heavily Laden Motorbike
Tom Bunn with a heavily laden motorbike after climbing at Tintagel

The next day we head to the more solid Pentire head; it’s hard not to be inspired by such striking lines and we decided to head up Eroica (E4 6a) as the last one on Alex’s list at that crag. I lead the first pitch which was fun but slightly greasy as Alex was intent on leading the crux pitch. It’s pretty fierce from the start with one small wire to stop you from falling onto the belay as the pegs are now rusty and disintegrated. Alex went up and down a few times trying to figure out the crux move which he normally would have cruised but due to his back and potentially fractured foot from doing silly boy things (skateboarding) he backed of which took me by surprise. This was a new experience for it to be all on me to get us out of there as I made Alex lead all 4 pitches on Ray of Light at Dun Mingulay whilst I cried my eyes out the whole way up it.

I was nervous setting off and went up and down a few times too trying to figure out a good method until I finally decided I’d got the best sequence and just had to go for it which paid off.

I know they are not the hardest routes I have ever done but I had to face some demons to get to the top of both of these routes and I think I finally beat them.

No Hands Alex
Alex finding a no hands rest on the first pitch of Eroica E4 6a
pentire sunset
Beautiful sunset view after climbing Eroica

I wanted to finish off this blog with a link to James Mchaffie’s blog about Neil Mawson’s new route. I feel it is relevant in that  from Caff’s blog you can see the amount of drive Neil had to do the route but also in relation to my coaching session this weekend he had to do a lot of brain training to achieve this impressive send. I’m hoping for any ladies attending our session that these different mental aspects will make this achievement all the more amazing. There are so many extra elements in climbing that we tend to forget about apart from seeing a hard route sent and I think Caff’s blog touches on some of these behind the scenes extras. So here it is:


To finish it all off I hope these picture beneath provide some laughs; this is what happens when you take a group of boys to restaurants with napkins, especially when Alex is involved! Any captions welcome 😉

The two Alex's
Alex eyeing up the other Alex’s napkin boobs ‘Alex H I do rather like the look of yours, Alex B yes I am rather proud of them’
Liam looking very pleased with himself
Yan and Joby
Yann looking pleased that he finally made some napkin boobs and Joby looking confused at what to do with them
Jim adn Wiz
Jim trying to make his seem bigger than Wiz’s

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