I’m sure everyone gets a route from time to time that becomes your nemesis, no matter the grade it scares and intimidates you. It’s like you are David facing the mighty Goliath, seemingly having no chance. Until finally you manage to outwit him and defeat your foe.
About 4 or 5 years ago I set off up to Cloggy for the first time with Alex, I’d been having a good week climbing everyday. I’d onsighted routes like Right Wall and Void in this week, I was on a roll or so I thought.
Our plan of attack was to climb the classic Great Wall E4 6a. Rather arrogantly – I think this was my undoing – I was already thinking that this route wouldn’t be that hard. It used to be given E3, so I just assumed the gear would be obvious and the climbing relatively straightforward.
I set off up this route going at a steady pace and placing some good kit. However, at the crux I had a brain freeze. I’d got kit in but my confidence seemed to have run dry and I just couldn’t commit to the crux. In the end I reversed the entire pitch (daft I know) instead of heading upwards.
I let Alex take over for the lead, I was so disappointed when I got back up there to find that I could do the moves easily. I felt like my head had let me down and fear had gotten the better of me. This time Goliath had hammered me into submission, my head was in such a bad way that I let Alex lead the next pitch too. I had been humbled by this route, stripped bare of my confidence. I felt vulnerable but I bounced back in every way except for facing this route again. It was a valuable lesson never to underestimate a route no matter what the grade is, and yes I do get scared.
Cloggy is a truly stunning crag when it’s dry and it was pretty busy when we arrived. While it’s beautiful I would now never underestimate the aura of intimidation this crag gives you. Whilst places like the Cromlech are intimidating the holds tend to be good and the gear placements fairly obvious. The climbing at Cloggy is technical and the gear placements are fiddly leading you to waste a lot of time and energy. I have been up to Cloggy a few times now and never had an easy mental day up here, I always come away exhausted. I’ve witnessed history in seeing 3 friends climb Indian Face in the space of a week, something I would consider a death route if you made a mistake. It was harrowing and I’m glad they all survived to tell their stories. I’ve had some good climbs on Cloggy but on the same day I had a meltdown on an E4 5c called the Boldest. I felt this was more justified because it is quite a serious route but it only led to me feeling a little negative about Cloggy and reluctant to go back.
A week ago my friend Dave Evans suggested a return visit to Cloggy to do Midsummer Nights Dream (E6 6a), the word Cloggy sent chills down my spine and I wanted to run away. I started making all sorts of excuses about why we shouldn’t go up there but Dave was pretty psyched on the idea. I felt I owed Dave a day of what he wanted to do after he agreed to belay me on my project at LPT for some filming the day before. I think I was more nervous belaying Dave than he was (only just) about the main first pitch on Midsummer. I was impressed with how he kept it together to onsight this stunning pitch. I can only say seconding it that my eyes were bulging with how technical the climbing is and how run out it was. It’s a funny one, you don’t get pumped but the holds are not good enough to stay on if you lost your balance. You can’t half commit to a move, my words of encouragement to Dave had been smash it in which was entirely inappropriate. In hindsight it should have been climb like a graceful ballerina, not how you would describe Dave if you know him.
I tried climbing the start of the second pitch twice but the rain and wind forced us to retreat. Unsure whether the forecasted thunderstorm was on its way in we were certain that we’d made the right call. On the ground it frustratingly started to brighten up. With it being Summer Solstice we thought it would be rude to leave the crag, the options were Great Wall (my nemesis) to get to the 2nd pitch of Midsummer or a different and easier route altogether. In my head I knew there was only one option but I was scared, I voiced out loud that we should do Great Wall because I had to get over this big mental block. I’ve not been doing much trad recently so my gear placements are a little rusty to say the least and I’ve not been climbing smoothly on trad so far this year. As I set off I was climbing well until I had to place gear. Everything suddenly got a little shaky and I became nervous, my movements became a bit more rigid and there was a clap of thunder in the distance. Great, this was my excuse to back off, I even said out loud that I could just clip the in-situ wire and reverse. Luckily Dave shouted up to me with words of encouragement and I kept on going after the in-situ wire unable to believe I’d reversed these moves. Then I got to where I was 4 years ago, my mental block. I started to shake, overgripping I felt uncertain as to whether I could conquer this giant. I was way above the in-situ wire and needed to settle my head before the crux. I built myself a nest of 4 fiddly, shallow but bomber bits of kit. It was the only way I would be happy. I went up once to figure out what I was doing then I came back to the shake out. All the way up I’d been hesitant and quite negative, in that moment I calmed myself for the inevitable choice. I knew I had to commit to the smears and two awkward moves for glory, in that moment my head cleared, I trusted my kit and I went for it, committing one hundred percent to succeeding or falling off.
Luckily I succeeded, but the bigger success to me was that I got to a point where I trusted my gear and I was happy to go for it knowing I may fall. I defeated my inner demon and toppled my Goliath. It’s not the hardest or boldest route I’ve done, but in some ways it meant just as much to me because I had to come back from a dark hole of negative thoughts. Sometimes it’s easy to take these things for granted when you’re on a roll and in a good head space. As I’ve found, it can be a difficult battle when you’re suddenly full of self doubt to turn it around and get back to the top of your game.
For anyone facing fears I wish you good luck, and if you have any questions about tactics please feel free to ask questions and I’ll try my best to answer. Happy summer of climbing!