Thursday, 17 January 2008


Jenn beneath her Buttermilks project

I first saw the boulder problem Soulslinger years ago on Dosage Volume I. It stuck in my mind since it was overhanging, but with positive holds, my favourite type of problem. However, this line wasn’t in some grotty cave like most of the things that I end up climbing. It was on a soaring arĂȘte deep in Buttermilk Country and just called out to be climbed.

The first time I stood beneath it in March 2007, I thought ‘wow that looks hard… but maybe just possible’. I didn’t try it on that trip. I’ve generally found that they give problems a grade of V9 for a reason, however something made me think that I could climb it.

I went back to Bishop in October 2007. At the end of a long day, Soulslinger was free so I decided to give it a rather feeble go. This was it. This was my chance at the problem whose line I would trace in my mind over and over again. I gave it about four goes before I declared defeat and retired back to the hotel room for the day.

I just didn’t have it in me mentally. Standing below the arĂȘte, I glanced at the top jug tantalising me, but so far out of reach. I had this horrible feeling that I could do it, but at the same time, I wasn’t ready.

Later on during the trip my boyfriend would suggest going to try Soulslinger again, but I would reply, ‘um, there is a lovely looking V1 that’s free, let’s just try that’. Yes, it was a rather poor diversionary tactic, but how could I explain that I wasn’t mentally capable of taking on such a challenge.

The reason that I enjoy bouldering is that it allows me to really push myself and work at my very physical limit. However, in order to be able to do such things, I have to really, really want to do it. Two days before I left for Bishop, I found out that a close relative had cancer. Although the situation turned out as best as it could in the end, this weighed heavily on my mind. Life hasn’t exactly been going the greatest for me lately and I guess I just let it win.

I climbed rather poorly during most of the trip, but I wasn’t exactly surprised by this. When you leave a lot of projects you assume that if you come back stronger, they will all fall. The thought of never giving them a proper go isn’t really an option. However, that’s how I felt.

Oddly enough I think part of me was also afraid of success. Last July, just before my 30th birthday, I climbed my first V5. I don’t really know why, but I passed some great barrier in my mind. It was for me the day that climbing stopped being solely about having a good time and turned into ‘achieving things’. It was the first time that I did something at my very limit and a part of my brain that I though long dead just clicked on and said ‘right, this is what we are going to do now’.

I also started to become accustomed to the process of trying hard stuff, putting everything you have into it and often failing. I simply didn’t have the capacity during my last trip to Bishop to be able to go through all of those emotions. I wasn’t able to put myself out there and risk failure or even success.

Now, safely back in the UK, I find myself going over every hold in my mind. I shift each of my weighted fingers in turn so that everyone makes best use of the tiny holds. I pull back and feel my shoulder muscle stretch as I pop for the good rail at the beginning sequence. There is nothing else, but the soreness in my fingers, a gasp of breath and the will to stay on the rock, the one thing that I couldn’t manage to summon up, and then I fall.

I think that motivation plays a huge role in climbing. It is also one of the most difficult things to train. One of the reasons for this blog is to enable me to examine and hopefully better train this mental aspect of climbing.

It wasn’t all a lost cause though, on my last day in Bishop, I managed to push myself up my first Bishop V5, which anyone who has ever climbed there will agree it was no pushover!

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