Grades are just arbitrary numbers and yet we get so hung up on them. I’ll happily admit I’m motivated by them and they provide goals and targets for me to work towards.
Type “how to climb 7a” in to Google and you’ll get plenty of results, the top one being by Steve McClure, the man who’s just climbed 9b, read it, it’s good.
Unlike Steve, I don’t have many grades in hand when I climb a 7a! My best onsight is only a grade harder at 7a+ and my best redpoint is 7b+, this year is the first year I’ve put some proper effort in to trying to push my grade and I’m about to start working my first 8a (nb. working is a long way from succeeding..!)
Here’s my take on it anyway!
Train. I spent years going to the climbing wall thinking I was training, I wasn’t! If you go to the wall and just mince around doing a few routes, that isn’t training. It’s still useful, it’s mileage isn’t it, but think about what you’re trying to achieve. Training is a massive subject, about which there’s shed loads written (even how many moves you should be climbing per week to climb a particular grade, or how much weight you should be able to hold hanging on a finger board), but have a think about why you’re failing on routes, lack of endurance, lack of power, lack of strength, lack of power endurance, these will dictate what areas you need to work on. Consider getting some outside advice on this, personally I needed to be told by someone else what I needed to work on, despite having a reasonable amount of knowledge on the subject.
Fall off, again and again and again. The head game is massive and falling off lots will help it. If you slap for that final hold you might hold it, if you don’t try you’ll never know, if you’re scared of falling you won’t slap… Fear of falling saps energy, makes you climb poorly and will hold you back. When I’m climbing laps indoors I never clip the top lower off, just jumping off once I’ve got the top hold, so I’m falling off a minimum of 16 time during my laps session. I used to practice random falling to build up the belayer trust but I don’t need to now, I just climb hard (for me) stuff until I fall off. Go for that next move, that one more move, every time! Bear in mind I’m talking about training here, not redpointing a route, we need to conserve our energy sometimes. Remember though, poor falling off practice could make things worse, so give it some thought and don’t do what I saw the other day – people taking their first ever lead falls on a vertical arete (hard to land well, you’ll bang your shins etc) and then not high enough up the wall so the belayer was almost kicked in the head and the climber getting quite close to the ground.
Performance Preparation. Mine used to consist of an espresso and an easy climb or two and that just doesn’t cut it. I remember chuckling to myself seeing people running around, doing star jumps, getting a theraband out and so on, now that’s me, every time. Again this is a massive subject but think about getting the cardio going, mobilising the joints and muscles and getting your co-ordination kick started, then get on some easy stuff for a bit to recruit your muscles. This happens at the beginning of the session and also before each climb when I’m outdoors. Part of the performance prep is route reading, spotting the rests, clipping positions, particular moves, where you’ll need to move fast and visualise yourself doing it and succeeding.
Don’t be afraid of failing and always take the positives. You want to push your grade? It sucks but sometimes you won’t get it. Take the positives though, it’s so important! Many years ago I threw my sport ‘draws on the floor and shouted “sport is sh*t, I’m never climbing sport again”! These days, to be honest I’m usually smiling when I fail, something will certainly have gone well or I’ll have learnt something about my climbing or the route itself and it motivates me to try harder!
Reading that won’t make you climb 7a, sorry. Reading that and giving each point some more thought might do… Each point could be an article in its own right and you might need to do some further reading or even get some outside help, but maybe it’ll be worth it. There are also other things to think about, such as nutrition, self discovery is all part of the journey, and there’s a lot that’s applicable to pushing your trad grade too.
One day I might write a how to climb 8a blog, but we’ll have to wait and see on that one!
So what’s stopping you climbing 7a?
Heading the Shot is a route that I’ve wanted to do for a couple of years, the trouble is it’s hard! It gets given two grades, E5 6b if you don’t pre-place the quickdraws and 7a+ if you do, as although it’s bolted there’s a couple of bits you’d deck out from – they’re pretty spaced. I’d long ago decided that if I was to ever get on the lead, I’d pre-place the ‘draws.
Over the last two years I’ve gone up there three times and worked the moves on a fixed line and every time I felt like I was so far off the mark. The holds are mega thin and the hard moves are sustained – they keep on coming! Although I’ve been training down the wall a lot over the last few months the strength gains don’t really help on a route like this, there’s no big holds to crank on, it’s all about delicate rock overs and balancy climbing on very small holds. What does translate though is the confidence and head game, I’m happy falling off and super confident that my belayer will be concentrating which helps massively. Having never climbed 7a+ before it was always going to be a big challenge.
So yesterday we went up to Serengeti where Heading the Shot is to have a play on a top rope. I abbed down the route placing ‘draws to keep the rope in the right place so we didn’t swing around too much when falling or resting, the holds looked as small as ever! Michelle went first and although she rested a few times got all the moves done. My turn, this is hard, shit. I got all the moves but lowered off pretty despondent about it and with toes in agony from them being crammed into tight Five Ten Whites, pushing onto tiny edge after tiny edge.
Michelle went for the lead getting up to and past the first bolt, there’s a tricky move to get in to a position where you can clip the bolt and her head wasn’t in the right gear so she took a small fall and lowered off. Now I had decided there was no point at all in having a go that day, but had a quick change of heart sensing maybe, just maybe I could do something Michelle couldn’t! Past the first bolt, all steady, up to the second bolt, still good. The next moves make up the crux sequence and I just couldn’t commit, I lowered down, happy to have got on it but still not sure I had it in me.
We made the decision to go back the next day.
Now one advantage I do sometimes have (apart from being lanky!) is if I really want a route I can switch my leading head on enabling me to concentrate and climb far better than when I’m practising on a top rope, and I really wanted this route and knew I could try harder.
Walking back up this morning with Michelle and Oreo, the weather was amazing with wall to wall blue skies and when we got there the slate was warm to the touch. Days like this put all the rain we’ve had to the back of your mind.
Michelle was up first, top roping it one last time before the lead, she got it clean which was great, this meant no more excuses for her about not getting on the lead. I’d decided not to top rope it, there wasn’t any point, I knew the moves and all I needed to do was try harder so after a quick warm up of jogging on the spot and swinging my arms around, I went for it.
Go number one (that tells you what’s coming up!), the climbing was just as hard but I was progressing move after move feeling confident on every one of the small holds. First bolt, second bolt, boom – crux done, clip the third bolt and I’m on to the big holds of the traverse. Arghhh! My foot popped when I really wasn’t expecting it and I was off. I was super pleased to have cruised the crux but so frustrated to have failed after the hard part of the climbing.
Michelle’s go, she has to do the crux differently to me and she peeled off the route coming up to the third bolt making what seems like a really hard move.
Go number two for me, psyched up off I go, second bolt clipped, noooo, foot popped before the crux and I’m dangling again.
Mid fall screen grab!
Michelle’s go number two and she fell off the tenuous move she has to do again after looking super solid up to that point.
Go number three for me. I didn’t want to have to get on this again after this effort so I was ready to give it my absolute all. Up to the crux fairly easily, this is it, awesome I’ve made it on to the good holds of the traverse. DO NOT FALL OFF NOW! I crimped hard and made sure I wasn’t going come off here again, this time I made it in to the finishing groove which still isn’t a push over and was standing on great holds – the kind it’s hard to leave. The fourth bolt was clipped, a fall would be perfectly safe, I just did not want to ruin this attempt so I took my time, stayed calm and stupidly proceeded to climb the top section via a completely different sequence, which luckily worked…
I was super stoked to get this route ticked, it had taken time and effort, afterwards I definitely felt a sense of achievement and a healthy dose of relief to have got it.
Michelle still hasn’t got it, but 100% will next time!
To put it all in to perspective for me, someone came along just after and on-sighted it with relative ease!
Heading the Shot is an awesome route on a great looking slab in the Slate quarries of Llanberis. There’s a brilliant guidebook for the slate by Ground Up and more importantly there’s great cafes nearby.
Check out the Facebook page for more shots etc. of what we’ve been up to lately.