• JoJo

Setting A Personal Climbing Goal

I’m generally not one for setting myself goals. I don’t think they’ve particularly helped me in the past. I’m pretty hard on myself if I don’t achieve them. And the unpredictability of the future makes setting any goals seem like a naïve and whimsical notion.


However, there is one goal that I’ve gradually been talking myself into for some time. It’s been in the back of my mind for a while and is currently shoving its way through the mosh pit in my head to the front row to scream at the lead singer in a desperate bid to grab their attention. Picture me aged 16, wearing even more black eye liner with an even longer emo fringe, at the front of Manchester Evening News arena swooning over Billie Joe Armstrong and you’ll get the idea.


Idly thinking to yourself on a dreary British winter day about a random goal for the future is a nice enough activity. Minimal amounts of stress. Easily achieved while having a cup of tea. It’s lovely. Making a goal real and putting it out into the universe is nerve racking. Higher amounts of stress. Slightly harder to achieve while having a cup of tea (unless your goal is to have a cup of tea, of course). It’s less lovely. And yet I can feel myself doing it. Like a bloody idiot. Failing to listen to my own perfectly logical and reasonable instructions.

Oh, fuck it. I’m doing it. It’s happening. I have so little control over the words that make it from my brain to my mouth. Apparently this applies to the words I type as well. Oh well, here goes.


My Goal


I want to climb a 7a boulder by the end of 2021. Dear lord, what have I done?


How Do Climbing Grades Work?


For those of you who have no idea what that means, here’s a quick guide to bouldering grades. People who put the holds on the wall in climbing gyms are called route setters. They decide how hard each of the boulders they build are and give them a grade. This means everyone knows roughly how hard each boulder is and whether they have a chance of climbing it. For outdoor climbing, the person who climbs the boulder first suggests what grade it is and the people who climb it after them weigh in on whether they agree or not eventually reaching a consensus about what grade the boulder is. Although it gets ugly sometimes. Egos can be fragile things.


There are different grading systems for different types of climbing in different parts of the world. I’m just talking about bouldering and I started climbing in a gym that uses the Font grading system, so we’ll stick with that one. Put simply, the lower the number, the easier the boulder. When you get up to 6, letters and symbols get involved. The lowest grade in this bracket is 6a, then 6a+, 6b, 6b+, 6c, 6c+, then that repeats for 7 and 8 until you get to the hardest boulder in the world, which is graded 9a.


My Current Grade


I believe my hardest climb to date is a 6c+, although it’s a little tricky to say for sure. Putting a definite grade on a climb is difficult because climbing is so varied, as are the people that do it. Boulders can climb very differently for tall or short people. Some people love overhangs. Others love a vertical wall. Everyone has their own style with different strengths and weaknesses. So, some gyms don’t give boulders a specific grade but sort them into bands of grades. For example, a system might go something like this: green boulders are 3 – 5, yellow boulders are 6a – 6b+, red boulders are 6c – 7a and so on. I’m not normally chasing a specific grade. I’m just looking for a fun climb, so this doesn’t really bother me. I think the hardest grade I’ve ever climbed is 6c+ but I can’t say for sure as it was in a gym that used this system.


Even if I have climbed this grade, I’m pretty confident I’ve only done it once, maybe twice if I’m really lucky. However, I do know I’ve climbed multiple 6c boulders, including one outside. I’ve climbed plenty of boulders that were specifically labelled 6c. I’ve climbed enough boulders in enough gyms with grade bands covering 6c to be confident that I’ve climbed a good number of them. They’re certainly not easy for me. But I know I can do them.

El Desrodillador boulder in Albarracin
My hardest outdoor boulder so far - El Desrodillador in Albarracin

It may not immediately seem like a huge leap from 6c to 7a. That’s just 2 grades difference. And 2 is small number in most contexts. After the year we’ve had though, I’m unsure of my current climbing level and how long it will take me to jump 2 grades, if indeed it is just 2 grades that I need to jump. Some days I feel like I could get this done in a few months. I am super JoJo. Conqueror of boulders. Dreamer of dreams. Achiever of many goals. Other days it feels like I’m a million miles and a lot of pull-ups away from 7a. I am clumsy JoJo. Bumper of kneecaps. Queen of failed attempts. Achiever of many spectacular falls from crux moves.


Why This Goal?


The fact that it’s a jump to a different number makes this goal feel extra daunting but also extra tempting. A new number. 7. Ooooooo 7. It sounds so exotic. So exciting. So intriguing. So tantalising. So mystical and desirable to someone who’s been climbing boulders with a 6 in for the last 4 years of her life. 6 is so mundane. So pedestrian. So boring. I’m so over 6. 7 is where the action is.


I can’t remember a time when climbing something with a 7 at the start of it didn’t seem ridiculous. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at a boulder from afar and thought to myself ‘Hmm that looks fun’, then arrived at the starting holds, seen a 7a or 7a+ label on it and quietly walked away, back to the 6b or 6c climbs I felt like I belonged with. Boulders starting with 7 are the territory of the big boys and girls.


But I know if I’m going to get better at climbing, I need to stop thinking like this. I can be a big girl if I want to. 7, much like 2, is a pretty small number when you think about it. It’s silly to be intimidated by a small piece of plastic with a small number on it. As far as I’m aware, I’ve never been mocked in a climbing gym for trying hard. Although, I did climb in Spain for quite some time and had no idea what most of the people there were saying so I can’t be totally sure on this one. In any case, I don’t know how likely this is to happen if I don’t try so I’m going to have to get friendly with the concept of 7a and convince myself that I have as much business climbing these boulders as anyone else. Me and 7a need to work on our relationship.


Have I Got A Chance?


I’m encouraged by the fact that I’m in surprisingly good shape, given the amount of climbing I’ve actually been able to do this year. In a normal year, I would climb about 3 times a week. I had three months of absolutely no climbing at all during lockdown in Spain. Reasonably consistent climbing on the home wall and a few rocks once we got back to the UK in the summer. Then somewhat sporadic sessions once the autumn weather kicked in and the second lockdown happened. Now, I’m averaging once a week in a proper climbing gym and home wall sessions totally depend on the cooperation of the Cumbrian weather, so it’s very hit and miss. But plenty of pull-up and fingerboard sessions have kept my climbing specific muscles feeling strong and yoga, dog walking, and Nintendo Ring Fit Adventure has helped maintain my flexibility and general fitness. I’m certainly not as rubbish on the wall as I dreaded I might be when the pandemic started, and it was clear that life was going to be considerably screwed for some time.

A galgo on a sofa with a whiteboard with tally marks
Counting reps in lockdown

Therefore, this is not an unrealistic goal. That’s what I’m going to keep telling myself. I don’t entirely know how I’m going to do it. I will almost certainly move to a new house at least once by the end of 2021. The pandemic and the weather mean I don’t know exactly how I’ll be able to train in the near future. I might get injured. I may not have regular access to a gym. There’s a lot of unknowns and I’m still not even sure setting this goal is a good idea. But, what the hell, I’ve done it now. I’ve told the internet. And that’s basically a contract with the world. A tiny portion of the world that reads my blog. Granted, it’s not legally binding but I’d feel bad if I didn’t give it a good shot now you’ve invested several minutes of your time reading all about this goal of mine. That would be rude.


So, I will try. I promise you that, dear readers. I will give it my best shot. Logic and reason be damned.


The goal is set. You heard it here first. 7a by the end of 2021. Oh heck.

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