A lot can happen in a week.
Since my last post, we have acquired a sofa, an armchair, some curtains, and a bookcase. Poor Amber has had (and got rid of) fleas and managed to sleep downstairs with little fuss for several nights in a row. I’ve sorted out my sewing and exercise space (more on that next week). And I’ve had a humbling reminder that I’ve still got plenty to learn when it comes to climbing.
In this week’s post I will tell you all about my first session back at a Cambridge climbing gym and talk you through my latest climbing goal and why I’ve chosen it.
Last Tuesday morning I returned to the tiny bouldering wall I poetically described in a past post (Spiritual Home: Ode to a Climbing Wall). This is the place where I first learned to climb, and subsequently fall off, short(ish) walls covered in funny coloured lumps of plastic. This dusty little room inside a sports centre holds a special place in my heart despite being objectively a far from top notch bouldering gym.
So, you can understand my sense of betrayal when the current set of boulders at Kelsey Kerridge climbing wall kicked my unexpecting arse.
Initially I was thrown by the fact that the grading system had changed from specific Font grades (6a, 6a+, 6b etc.) to bands of V grades (V0-1, V2-3, etc.) I can only handle so much change in a short space of time.
I then remembered how terrifying the top of the slab wall in this venue can feel while attempting to finish off a sketchy V4-5. It doesn’t feel particularly high compared to other walls I’ve climbed up. I think the fear possibly lies in having another wall directly opposite (and therefore behind you) the slab wall. The gap is completely safe and I’ve never come off the slab wall and hit the opposing wall. But it’s just enough to nudge you from the standard I’m-about-to-scrape-my-face-down this-slab-wall fear up to I’m-about-to-scrape-my-face-down-this-slab-wall-and-crack-my-head-open-when-I-fall fear.
Finally, I fell off a climb of a grade that I’d ordinarily expect to flash (V0-1). And I didn’t fall off through a lack of concentration or a silly mistake. I genuinely had no idea how to climb it and fell off through a lack of skill and creative thinking.
I could come up with plenty of excuses for my struggles. I could argue that I was stressed out and tired from lugging boxes and panicking about the size of the removal van I’d selected. Alternatively, I could cite the fact that it always takes a while to adjust to new/old-but-new gyms and styles of setting. I could even blame it on the holds that clearly weren’t getting brushed very often and the peculiar air chemistry that seemed to instantly make my hands sweat.
These undoubtedly all played a part in my minor capitulation but I’m also self-aware enough to admit that I was probably a little cocky. I had visions of returning to my old gym and putting past-JoJo to shame. I imagined cruising up the wall where I had my first frightening fall and casually laying waste to the overhanging arch that had given my less fit and far flimsier former self so much trouble.
The reality was a little different.
The slab wall is still terrifying. I have a sneaking suspicion that the arch may be even more overhanging than it used to be. And the grades have lost all meaning.
Luckily, after a brief freak out, I managed to have a sense of humour about the whole thing. I concluded that if I was going to spend two hours falling off grades I would normally expect to cruise, I was going to do it with as little damage to my ego as possible. I chose to work my weaknesses on some boulders that were not even remotely my style.
The highlight of this weakness targeting session was flinging myself at some dynamic moves on big holds on Steepy Overhang McArchface. Despite not being especially good at them (as you can see from the video below of Husband schooling me on another dyno), I love dynos. I’ve talked about my journey to power through my early dread at the thought of doing a dyno in a previous post. I now more frequently find myself collapsed on the floor in fits of giggles rather than floods of tears upon flumping to the deck after a failed flight. A dozen or so unsuccessful attempts at firing myself towards a big pink blob of a hold perked me right up and I left with a big smile on my face and a spring in my step.
Although the spring was more to do with the fact that clock in the gym was wrong and I was late for my bus.
Thankfully I made it home in time for a chat with the lovely Rachel from Core Climbing Coaching, who puts my training plan together, and I shared my recent mental and physical stresses and strains with her. I expressed my lack of direction since achieving my goal of climbing a 7a boulder. I spilled my guts about the sorry state of my shoulders and neck. And I filled her in on my floundering session at the wall that morning.
As usual, she handled my pages of notes and flood of incoherent word soup with aplomb and made me feel a lot better about the whole thing. We discussed the gyms I had relatively easy access to in my new home and I waved my webcam vaguely in the direction of my new JoJo-shed (again, more information on this next week) to demonstrate that my home setup was still pretty nifty. We talked about easing back into training to avoid buggering up my slightly fragile body. And we hummed and harred over what my new long-term goal should be.
I’ve been blank on this subject for a while.
Chasing the grade of 7a was a big motivator for me. It encouraged me to push my strength to the next level and gave me direction when I otherwise felt lost and unfocused. It helped me keep my head through lockdowns and uncertain times and I’m glad I chose and accomplished it.
However, right now I want climbing to fill a different space in my life. Now I've moved to a (sort of) new place, I’m back on the Open University train, and looking for a new job, climbing should be my happy place. It should be where I go to forget everything else and have fun. Where I go to challenge myself in a way that’s playful yet secure.
I’ve always liked the idea of being a well-rounded boulderer. I’d say a well-rounded climber but that would involve getting on a rope and I’m far too lazy to deal with the faff of knots and quickdraws. The problem with this goal is that it feels very vague and I’ve never been sure how to put it into action.
This is why I needed a coach.
Rachel helped me break this big goal down into extremely achievable mini-goals that I can focus on each session and gave me a more concrete way of assessing how I’m progressing as a well-rounded climber in the long-term. She really is ever so smart.
The initial focuses will be slopers, a weakness that I hate, and dynos, a weakness that I love.
A sloper is a hold that is round and blobby and doesn’t have a pleasingly sharp in-cut edge to dig your fingers into (see picture to the left). I don’t enjoy climbing on slopers. I struggle to trust the friction between my hand and the treacherous hold. I find positioning my bodyweight around a nightmarishly slopy plastic protrusion practically impossible. I avoid climbing on slopers at all costs. If there was one aspect of my climbing that screams “you could make progress here” it’s my efforts on slopers.
Dynos are the exact opposite. If I could match my execution of dynos with my enthusiasm for them, I’d be a very happy and talented jumpy bunny. It will take little to no willpower to train dynos every session. This will be a delicious dessert to follow the bitter main course of overcooked slopy slop.
In order to bring a little more clarity to the goal of being well rounded, I’m going to pick a set of boulders at the other gym in Cambridge (Rainbow Rocket) and attempt to climb every boulder in this set. Although this will certainly not push my top grade, it will force me to attempt climbs on every angle and made up of many different holds. It’s also a little like ticking things off the climbing equivalent of a to-do list and I find that very appealing.
I’m very excited for my new plan to drop into my inbox and delighted that my lull in psyche feels like it’s on the way out. Though my focus is yet to return to razor sharp, it no longer feels as blunt as an old butter knife. I have an idea of where I’m going and how I will get there.
Maybe I’ll even cure myself of my aversion to slopers. I never used to enjoy pulling hard on crimps and now they’re my climbing delicacy of choice. Practice certainly won’t make me perfect but it will hopefully produce progress and a sense of joy in my climbing again.
Be sure to check out future posts for updates on this new goal and to see how the tumultuous relationship between me and some slopy holds plays out. I will regularly sneak off for a brief affair with a dyno or two but maybe we’ll all live happily ever after in a slightly bizarre polyamorous relationship. Stranger things have happened.