Tuesday, 29 January 2008

A sort of progress (by Peter)

In a Les Amants Réguliers vs The Dreamers sort of style...

There are footholds there if you look really closely.

Inspired by the photo of me puntering my way up Green Wall Essential at The Buttermilks in Bishop, California; I thought that I’d contribute a post about just how long it took me to get this problem. With apologies to Wills Young and Mick Ryan, here is the description of the problem from their excellent Bishop Bouldering Guide (page 236): -

Green Wall Essential v2 ***
A super-technical line on perfect rock: The aim is to get your hands on the first horizontal fracture in the patina at about ten feet up, and then make a couple of moves to the summit. Begin either at the left-facing sidepulls, or better, from the thin crack on the right.
There is also a photo of Tony Lamiche climbing it on page 225, so I guess that I am in good company!

First of all, let’s get some things straight. I am not a good boulderer. I am not even a semi-decent boulderer. I am however a much better boulderer than I was in March 2007. A much better boulderer than before I went to Bishop for the first time.

The now defunct (?) Gravity Magazine was kind enough to publish an article of mine about that March / April trip; it appeared in the July 2007 edition. I closed this with the following thoughts: -

I suppose what sticks most in my mind are two things. First the climbs I almost sent, top of this list is Green Wall Essential (V2) at the Buttermilks, described as an old-school technical test-piece. I had the final jugs in my grasp twice only to rather lose it both times and fall rather a long way.
I don’t know how many times I tried the problem on that first visit. We went to the Buttermilks three times and I got on it each time. Maybe I had 50 attempts in total. As the above excerpt suggests, I managed to fail it twice when it was surely easier to make the final moves. However, my glib comments in the article hide how long it took me to work out the initial sequence, and then the next one until you get a hand on the patina fracture that the guide refers to (it was long after this that I fell both times). It hides how much the quartz-monzonite shreds your skin when you repeatedly fall out of the same finger-lock. It hides the pain of thinking you have overcome all the difficulties only to feel your fingers unpeeling and the downward rush to Earth.

What attracted me to this climb was that it seemed so straightforward, but clearly wasn’t. That it was yelling out “climb me” at the top of its voice, but then turned shy when you actually attempted the climbing. I liked the fact that it seemed accessible, but clearly was a bit beyond me for reasons that I couldn’t quite fathom. It was about perfecting body and foot position on holds like polished glass. For me at that time, despite the lowly grade, it ticked the boxes mentioned elsewhere on this blog of being possible, but only just.

I think it was Green Wall Essential that finally confirmed my journey to the dark side and becoming an apprentice boulderer. I began to understand people trying the same problem for years. I began to understand the thoughts that plague people at night; that if they just shifted their body weight to the right and then reached through all would be well (only for this latest scheme to lead to ignominious failure yet again). I began to understand throwing yourself at something until your fingers bled and you couldn’t pull any more. I left Bishop in April 2007 frustrated, but hooked and with a patina-broken wall on my mind.

Luck had it that a work trip to the US in October offered a cheap way to fit in a return to Bishop. It was a bit too early in the autumn season and it is was a bit to warm even for the time of year, but it is always great to be in Bishop and we weren’t complaining at this unexpected bonus. Anyway Green Wall Essential is in the shade most of the day right?

The first Bishop trip had acted as a real spring-board for our climbing season. We had spent time on mountain multi-pitch (Adam Rib comes to mind, but then so does our first climb on Cloggy), Peak and North Wales single pitch and a ton of bouldering all over the place. My thesis is that the Bishop trip was the catalyst for a chain of events that led to me claiming my first E1 onsight. Returning to Bishop, I felt that I had unfinished business, that I had grown as a climber and that a certain V2 was now mine for the taking.

Until I repeatedly fell off the first couple of moves…

But I eventually managed to piece the sequence back together, got up to the first patina-fracture and failed and failed and failed again! My mood plunged from confidence to abject despair – had I not improved at all in six months? Was I fooling myself that I could actually climb on occasion? I sometimes still dream about going into a University exam and realising that I had revised the wrong subject. It felt like that again; a recurring nightmare from which I could not escape. A terrible sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Until I moved my right foot two inches to the left and six inches up that is. I got the patina fracture, but much less extended and much more in balance than before. I was set for stepping onto the non-existent, glassy edges that you convince yourself are there and pulling up and lunging right to a goodish hand-hold (which felt much juggier than earlier in the year). But I had been this far before and still not tasted success. I think that it was at this point that the maturity gained in all the intervening climbing came to the fore.

In March I had the Wile E. Coyote experience of suddenly realising that I was in mid-air and that, unlike Road Runners, I couldn’t fly. Maybe I didn’t fully believe that I should be there. Panic followed, accompanied by heavy breathing and heavier falling. This time I was composed enough (and my fingers strong enough) to take a pause, have a think and relatively calmly send the easyish moves to the top.

Latching the final hueco jug felt very special, probably up there with my best climbing experiences. It is so much more rewarding when it has been such a struggle – maybe something that I miss in my onsight approach to trad.

But, in common with those other experiences, it was soon replaced by the next challenge. Do you want to know how many times I fell off of Birthday Problem at the Buttermilks, and after I had my hand on the juggy nubbin as well…

Finally, no way is Green Wall Essential V2!

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