Updated: Oct 17
I first started climbing around 20 years ago, although nowhere near as regularly as I do now and well before I moved to North Wales. I used to buy Climb and Climber magazines religiously, gawping at people climbing great routes in great places, and had a vague understanding of grades without having much to equate them to, especially sport grades, I was only interested in trad.
For many years trad was all I was into. For someone climbing VS on a good day sport was hard. I remember one day at Hedbury many years ago, after a session getting my butt handed to me, I threw down my tatty collection of draws and shouted “Sport is crap, I’m never doing it again!”
Oh how times have changed! I will never stop being a trad climber, it’s the most complete form of climbing in my mind. Normally onsight, the head game, the fear, the adventure, the places it takes you, it’s so special. That said, for the time being at least, sport climbing is my main focus, it’s what I train for, it’s what my holidays revolve around and it’s what I obsess about, interestingly my trad climbing has undoubtably improved because of this though – but that’s another blog!
8a was a grade in a different stratosphere to where I was operating. I knew people who had climbed 8a, but not many. That didn’t bother me, I didn’t have much desire to climb that hard, or at least I thought I didn’t, mostly I just didn’t think I’d ever be able to. So what changed?
Well before that, let me give you a brief timeline of my sport climbing progression. Like someone who’s been on a diet and worked out sharing their very personal pictures as a before and after shot on instagram, I find this quite cringeworthy and strangely personal, but here it is:
March 2010 Know What I Mean Pal, first 6a Jan ’12 Lili Marlene Direct first 6b Dec ’15, St Vitus’s Dance, first 6c+ Dec ’15, Mynd am Aur 7a (slate)
Jan 16 Heading the Shot 7a+ (slate) May ’16 Jerusalem is Lost 7a, first non slate 7a Dec ’16 El Oasis first 7a o/s Dec ’16 Dale Duro Negro first 7b Aug ’17 Empire not my first 7b+ but so good Jan ’18 Happy End first 7c Jan ’18 Bricopaco first 7c+ Jan ’19 La Pantonera first 8a
Jan '20 Some more 8a's and working a touch harder
So from 6a to 7a took 6 years of climbing but no training or sport focus, but 7a to 8a 3 years – perhaps could’ve been quicker with less work but that’s life.
What changed to make me want to climb harder then, especially on sport? Well partly getting dumped by someone and an attitude of “Well I’ll show her!” Then that winter I went to Spain for about a month on a sport climbing trip and was hooked, climbing with mega psyched people and being immersed in the whole scene of redpointing and falling off being completely normal was very far from my trad world of on sighting and for the most part avoiding falling off (by that point I’d climbed a few E3s and E4s, taking the odd fall of course, but more often shouting take well before). That coupled with the fact that where we were didn’t have much below 7a anyway, made me realise I can climb harder than I think, and far more importantly, I want to.
Returning from Spain I got some coaching from Paul Smith (www.facebook.com/rockandwateradventures/), which is probably more accurately described as bench marking and training advice. Now I’d been climbing indoors for years, saying I was training. No, just no. Climbing indoors for fun isn’t training. Sorry to break that to you if you thought it was. Of course you’re still getting some benefit, but don’t kid yourself, training is far more than that. Again, it’s the subject of another blog (probably one I’ve already done!), but suffice to say I started going to the wall much more often – shock horror even when the weather was ok outside, and properly training specific targets, be that finger boarding, campussing, 4x4s, etc. It’s also worth mentioning a couple of apps I use – the Beastmaker app and also the Lattice app has been an awesome motivational tool.
I started bouldering too having had minimal interest in it over the years I got pretty hooked ticking a few local classics which I found massively useful (The Minimum 7A+ taught me about big moves, Ultimate Retro Party 7B taught me about heel hooks and giving absolutely everything and Left Wall Traverse 7B taught me about trying flipping hard for a lot of moves in a row).
I’ve even looked at my diet – unusually compared to most people I had to up my calorie intake, as well as looking at what I eat pre warm up and pre climb, I’ll be honest I didn’t have a clue what foods have many calories or that I needed to keep my glycogen stores topped up.
On that note though don’t get me wrong, you still have to climb outside to be good at climbing outside, but I’m naturally weak so need that indoor training to get my stats up to the point of being physically capable of climbing a certain grade, and yes there are stats such as how much extra weight you can hold while hanging a 20mm edge.
The title of this blog alluded to the fact that you too can climb 8a. I’ve just said I’m naturally weak, and for sure I’m inherently a lazy sod, the thing is I really wanted it. I’m not ashamed to say grades motivate me, I love a great looking line, I love an amazing setting, I love brilliant company, it’s all super important, but to me a lot of the time grades matter. I can still enjoy an ace 6c or a compelling E1, but I love trying things at my limit. I love the redpoint process too, thankfully…
“I can’t hold those holds – I can hold the holds but I cant move from them – I can do the moves but cant link ‘em – I can link ‘em but how on earth am I going to clip?! – I can link sections and clip but I can’t do it in a oner – Oh crap, I know I can do, now the pressure is really on (without a doubt the single hardest thing on the 8a I’ve just done was controlling my self inflicted pressure induced nerves) – Eventually you clip the chains.”
Redpointing (working a route) is pretty fundamental to pushing your grade, it’s a completely different mindset to on sighting and it’s not for everyone, but embrace it and honestly your grades will go up – even your onsight grade.
So what’s stopping you? Can you motivate yourself to train 3 or 4 times a week? Can you commit to climbing trips? Do you (don’t underestimate this one!) have an awesome climbing partner to project with? Do you have the psyche to stick with it? Do you simply have the time (I’m very well aware that I live a pretty easy life doing what I love for work and play, living near world class climbing, a great wall and not having many other commitments)?
Get some coaching. Set goals. Train hard. Try hard.
It’s not easy, but honestly, if you want it enough, you can climb 8a.
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