Ive always wanted to climb big numbers. Grades motivate me. I think it’s almost seen as taboo to say that but for me, it’s true. It’s partly just the numbers themselves but it’s also what they represent. A challenge that you’ll have to push yourself harder than before to achieve but once completed, will bring satisfaction.
I did my first 8a in July 2011. I went to Ceuse in August 2012 and did my first 8b and that was where my goal of 8c began. I’d advanced 2 grades in a year, why not try to do the same again? I had a gap year to do it in.
The goal rolled around in my head over the winter and although I was training for my road trip I never specifically focused on training for 8c. It’s hard to train for a grade, it’s much easier to train for a specific route of a certain grade. Training with just a grade as your goal is too vague, you’re effectively just training for overall improvement that way which lacks specificity and focus. I needed to find a specific 8c to train for. It was during my time spent in Rodellar in May that I found that route.
Pata Negra at the Ventannas sector of Rodellar is an impressive route tackling the line of least resistance through 35 metres of overhanging rock above one of the arches. For the most part the climbing suits me pretty well; crux sections between rests, lots of heel hooks and above all, it’s long and steep. A true ‘stamina monster’ as Micha put it. When I first tried the route in May with Ben I tried to remain optimistic that I’d be able to finish it off during that trip but after a couple more goes it was hard to ignore the fact that I just wasn’t physically in good enough shape for it. There were a couple moves I couldn’t really do and a few more that were all out desperate slaps for me. On a shorter bouldery route this would be ok, with more work the moves would get a bit easier and the route would become possible, but when you have to do said moves after 25 metres of pumpy climbing you need to be able to do them fairly solidly in isolation to ever stand a chance of linking them from the floor. I went home knowing what I needed to do and as explained in the previous post, trained pretty hard for my return to Rodellar.
After working hard at home for 3 months I came back with a lot of motivation and was prepared for a siege. I’d already decided that if Pata Negra was the only route I did on this 5 week trip then I’d go home a happy man. On my first day climbing I warmed up and then headed across to Ventannas, nervous but excited. I’d planned to set off with the mind set of expecting it to feel brick hard. Starting an endurance route hoping for it to feel steady is an error I’ve fallen victim to in the past. Inevitably some sections will feel stiff if it’s a route at your limit and your mind won’t be ready for that so will amplify the feeling of difficulty and you’ll start to feel negative about the chance of success. I had to set off expecting to try hard but also had to stay positive that it would be do-able. Confident but not over confident. A good mind set on my first go was important, it would mean I’d come down with positive energy and that would lead me into the next go well and hopefully things would continue upwards from there. Come down feeling negative and everything could so easily go the other way. Climbing is 95% in the head.
In a way the first go was the moment of truth for me, from my first go I’d know if the training had worked. Were the crux replicas similar enough? Would the gains in finger strength on the bit of wood above my door transfer to the route? Were the past three months worth it? I tried to keep these questions out of my head and just focus on the climbing.
I lowered down and breathed a small sigh of relief, it had gone well, I felt good on all the moves and above all was feeling positive. It still felt hard but of course it did. Its 8c and my name’s not Ondra.
Over the next two days on the route I continued to develop beta, refine it, practice it, get it wired and I soon began to have a few redpoints. I could only have two good goes per day, that’s the trouble with projecting long steep stamina routes. The time I spent on the route in my head was much longer though. Thoughts about it consumed my mind. It was an obsession, perhaps an unhealthy one. The only way I could really escape from it was to go and climb other routes so that’s what I did. First day on was spent on Pata and second day on was spent in other sectors climbing different routes. It’s not good to think about the same thing all the time.
Any preparation I could do to improve my chances of success, I did. I went as far as cutting the labels off my harness. Tesco aren’t talking shit when they say every little helps. However the preparation for my fourth day on the route wasn’t exactly ideal. I’d spent the previous day attempting to recover from a cold. My attempts were unsuccessful, I still had the cold so was considering taking a second rest day. I headed out in the morning to belay Phil and in the end I decided to take my kit as conditions were good. The best we’d had all trip, it had cooled down and a strong wind was blowing.
I arrived to a busy Ventannas in the afternoon, there was a queue for my normal warm up and I had to wait 20 minutes for someone on Pata Negra. Despite this, the atmosphere was good and I was starting to feel a lot better. I didn’t want to hang about any longer so did some hangs on the fingerboard and climbed the first few easy clips of Pata. Not my normal warm up but it would do. Conditions were the best I could ask for and at that moment my mind was in a perfect place, I couldn’t waste that. For the first time I left my dogging quickdraw on the ground, time for a proper redpoint.
I set off, the first crux felt the easiest it ever had. I came to my previous high point in the second crux, about halfway. Ok. Keep going. I make it to the rest, relax. Into the last crux, the redpoint crux. Dropknee, pull. Im still on. Swap the dropknee and pull again. What? I’m still on! Hold the cut loose. Crimp. Eye up the jug and lay one on. What the fuck? I came here for 5 weeks to climb only this route and here I am, just 10 days in, with only a section of about 7a to get to the top. I try to relax, lower my heart rate and then continue. I pull up some rope and clip the chain.
Suddenly in that one moment all the pressure is wiped, I’m free, weightless, the hard work has an answer. I can relax.
Redpointing is weird. All that time and energy invested into one thing and then in an instant it’s all over. Im still fairly shocked that I climbed it on my fourth session this trip. Four sessions is hardly a project but when you add in 3 months of training at home just for this route it certainly feels like it. In the end I can say it was all worth it. Gap year goal achieved.
I should take a minute to say thanks to Ben who showed me the way back in June when he climbed Pata. Top effort to him for doing it without having to go home and train for it. He also helped me a lot with all the beta he sent me while I was working the route. Also thanks to Phil and Babsi for the belaying and good energy!
Here’s the video.
Photo credits: Miguel Catita