Mythos, Mushrooms and Moving forward

Back in February when exams/job/life were slowly grinding away my spirit and I booked a two week trip to Kalymnos I couldn’t have wished it to come round sooner. Thankfully it did as I felt more in need of a holiday than ever before. On top of that, throwing myself into climbing like I mentioned in my last blog seemed to have left me feeling reasonably fit and strong and miraculously injury free. Although I spent all last summer sat on my bum revising and not out on rock (only able to snatch odd sessions down TCA to prolong the onset of atrophy and moreover to preserve my sanity) throwing myself into indoor training since late January saw me feeling about as strong as ever down the bouldering wall and having managed to eke in a few early season-trad sessions I had begun to familiarize myself with rock again a little. All these factors culminated in a confidence and good feeling about the trip ahead. It would have been too easy to get carried away though.

Last year’s Kalymnos trip set the bar high – in regard to both general good holiday times (easy logistics/awesome friends/great dynamic) but also how I felt about my personal approach to the climbing and the achievements I gained. Someone once told me, or I saw in a film that Joe Brown had said that “The best climbers are the ones who are having most fun”. This sounds straightforward enough, but actually for me having “fun” climbing can sometimes be a complex mixture of a few elements. I know its different for everyone and not everyone will share my view but for me ’having fun’ means not taking things so seriously that I lose track of the amazing lifestyle that climbing allows. Being with a bunch of mates in a great location having adventures and sharing unique experiences , despite the numbers and the sends is what it’s all about. It’s also about not forgetting I have many other interests and things I love to do and these shouldn’t be neglected just because I happen to often like climbing the most. However on the other hand, I climb because of the sense of achievement it gives me when I improve and this is achieved through hard work and a borderline obsession. It’s ultimately a selfish venture and I often struggle to get the balance right between taking it seriously enough to improve and keeping it real enough to enjoy it, no matter how I perform. However, last year I feel I might have found an approach that seemed to sit perfectly on the balance line that keeps me having fun.

Previous to last year’s Kaly trip I had only been on one short sport climbing trip abroad before (El chorro for 4 days Feb 2010) and with a distinct lack of good quality sport in the low-mid 6’s in the UK I hadn’t actually clocked up much mileage. This lead to expected slow improvements. So, sick of feeling like I was going nowhere fast last year I had resided myself to aiming to do lots and lots of the top rated routes in the Kalymnos guide book, no matter what the grade. Having tried a few 6c’s before and failing with one or two rests, I knew this was about my upper limit and had decided that this would be a good, realistic grade to aspire to. However I was happy in the thought that even if I didn’t achieve this I would have climbed some of the most inspiring routes the island had to offer from 5+ onwards. I was able to be excited without the dangling carrot of improvement. The pressure on myself was off. This vague goal allowed me to keep steadily trying things that were hard for me and keep jumping on stuff on lead if it inspired me, giving a good battle when it got tough. No matter what the grade I found this battling fulfilling, knowing I’d put the best effort in I could no matter what the outcome of the route. What’s more, the method seemed successful. For every 6b or 6a+ I found tougher than expected or I got spat off, I would flash a 6b+ and be really pleased. I was trying, I was learning, I was keeping it real, and most of all I was having fun. I climbed a 6c last year on 1st red-point.

Knowing that my climbing technique, confidence and fitness had come on since last year I flirted with the idea that this year might finally be the year I would send a 7a. Although that would mean an unlikely two-grade jump on my hardest ever red-point, it was a very luring aspiration. It would certainly have been too easy to get carried away.

However, with keeping fun in mind I fought hard to remember my level headed-ness of last year. After all I would certainly have more fun climbing lots more awesome routes at a variety of crags and probably improving more by trying lower grade routes that didn’t suit my style instead of chasing the 7s that were probably realistically beyond my current capabilities anyway, especially when I knew nothing about/ cared not for ‘projecting’ particularly!

So my main climbing aim for the holiday was to try more of the highly rated routes that I didn’t manage last year and to explore more cool looking crags hoping to knock up some mileage on the 6c’s and to try (without too much pressure on myself) to do a 6c+, to make sure I felt like I was improving and trying. The first day started off well. Ross and I partnered up to get into the swing of things on Kasteli and lead six classic routes including the lovely positioned Pillar of the sea. This was a great first day crag, the walk in was amicable for Jules and the broken toe she had managed to acquire just the day before we left for the trip, plus the views out across the island lent themselves to taking it easy between routes to sit and read books and eat feta cheese.

We continued to do some cool routes for the next day or so to get us used to the rock and clock up some mileage. The sun was shining the climbing was amazing and everyone was having a great time. Creeping up the 6’s comfortably and happily I jumped on a technical looking 6b+ at Afternoon crag that was described as tough for the grade. Seizing the opportunity for an early challenge I found the crux sequence hard to read and ended up testing my endurance out by hanging on the jugs below the first crux for AAGES. Jules said she managed to read a chapter of her book whilst I was still hanging on those jugs shaking out! I still hadn’t worked it out properly but committing to one idea and using a few power screams as helpfully, if a little ironically, suggested by Lucy, I went for it. I messed something up and ended way out left on a gaston and shortly fell off trying hard to get back across. Slightly disheartened that I had failed it took me a while to finish the route. I knew I couldn’t let this affect my efforts though and having watched some guys huffing their way up it later realised that it was sequency, hard and possibly even harder for the short. Again keeping last year in mind I wasn’t disheartened, I had really battled and gone for the move even though I was a good way above my bolt. I was learning and trying and I couldn’t say fairer than that!

The next day Luce and I got up early to beat the sun to Odyssey. After a couple of warm-ups I tried Ciao Vechio, a steepening 6c finishing on big jugs on very steep terrain. I was a little intimidated but knew I was good at this sort of thing – big and burly, so went for the flash. Happily I found it pretty straightforward. I couldn’t believe how steady I found the steepening crux and was so focused on pulling hard between the big moves that I missed a bolt out on the left, making it hard for me to return to clip it. This allowed me to stamp my puntery characteristics on the climb after all, despite comparatively cruising the route! With the wind in my sails I tried a 7a – Calipso, to the right over similar terrain but steepening more at the top with bigger moves on less good and less obvious jugs. This didn’t go as well but I did get up it in about 3 tries of the crux. Just having the confidence to get on and try the route and eventually get the draws in was a big leap forward. I tried it a couple more times without much progress through the crux moves. They were just too big and powerful! After Fran had a go on it and also struggled I resided that it just wasn’t my style and I preferred to spend my time on other stuff, still pleased I had a good few goes on it and took some fun falls! Credit to Tommy Gun for capturing this moment of me falling!

(Falling off at the penultimate bolt on Calipso – 7a at Odyssey)

Its wasn’t long until the first week drew to a close and Jules had to sadly head home. Gutted to not be able to join us on the multi-pitch route ‘wings of fire’ on Telendos she did manage to come over on the boat with us and share in enjoying the beautiful hike up to the base of the route and fabulous views before heading off to get the ferry and then plane home. The route was a very enjoyable experience. Climbing in two pairs, Ross and I and Tom and Lucy, we kept reasonably in pace and with the belay stances mostly big enough for at least 3 of us the banter was kept up through all 8 or 9 pitches (most of which we strung at least two together, which makes the experience less fiddly and enduring).

Both crux pitches had their spicy moves adding to the interest and a shout out to Ross and Luce for delicately handling their leads on the balancy traverse pitch. Disappointingly the walk off was less than interesting and a long game of ‘my granny went to market’ and four rounds of the alphabet game only just kept away the tedium!

After the day on Telendos fresh psyche arrived in the form of team Nottingham accompanied my Matt from Glasgow who was raring to go at the tufa classics that Kalymnos had to offer. More than happy to be swept along with his psyche I accompanied him to visit some of the crags he had on his list, some of which I’d been to, some of which I hadn’t.

I had loads of fun revisiting Arhi. Matt enjoyed the classic, steep-tufa routes and reveled in being of the right build to get his leg in the ‘morpho’ knee-bar-no-hands rest of Kastor whilst I rested after my efforts on Calipso by enjoying a handful of the delicate 6a+ slabs that the crag has to offer. We finished that day with a rock jump into the sea to cool off which left some of us with rather bruised rear ends! Lets just say I preferred my feet first style over Matthews ‘bomb as though your sat in an arm chair’ position!

(Rock jump at Arhi – the less painful technique!)

A first time visit to Ghost kitchen got it ranking up there as one of my favorite crags of the island and thanks to great beta from the tufa style-king Mr. fiend himself I managed to haul my way up Dafni, a 6c+ classic weaving it’s way between crazy, precarious mushroom features providing adequate rests from the technical and bouldery moves in between. A stupidly fun and inspiring route that is like nothing I’d climbed before.  Despite the grade, which I can’t help but admit helped to put a smile on my face (especially since it gets 7a in some guides, although I reckon 6c+ is more accurate considering the rests, which I was still really pleased with) the route was one of my favourite on the island and well worth seeking out.

(Making the most of the last mushroom platform rest by dangling all my limbs over it- Dafni, 6c+ at Ghost Kitchen)

The intimidation of the Grand Grotte didn’t get the better of Matt as it did me since he managed to flash both DNA and Trela in the one day, a massive well done to him at this impressive feat. I however, having failed on Taz, a 6c to the right of Trela, very much requiring tufa skills for success, felt that lending Matt a hand to clean the draws on Trela – which incidently he described as being at the higher end of 7a – by seconding it was more suitable than trying to lead it and spending an awfully long time with my eyes on stalks instead of enjoying climbing it or learning some tufa-technique essentials on less intimidating terrain was the way to go. Despite having managed to second it with only one rest I was still happy in my mind that not leading it was the right decision and I know having gained some experience at resting on tufas I could come back and red-point it. Aspirations for another trip!

A trip to Spartacus saw us both having fun taking advantage of the rest on the mushrooms of Les Amazones. A return trip there with the rest of the gang on our penultimate day saw Caroline crushing new personal highs on Harykiri, 6b/+ a route I thoroughly enjoyed romping up the good pockets on too. Matt then huffed and puffed a little on Kerveros, a 40m slightly over-hanging 7a, but flashed it with no real problems. I then, taking precedent from my habits at the Grotte, allowed myself to try it on top rope. Although the moves were big the route was also long with plenty of opportunities to rest on good holds. This played to my strengths, especially since I’d gained some fitness and resting techniques over the duration of the trip. Even while I messed up some of the moves and climbed relatively inefficiently I still managed the route clean, without resting. As I lowered back down I knew what was coming next. I suggested to Matt that I lead it after he had done another route and his encouragement was exactly what I was hoping for.

I genuinely wasn’t even thinking about the possibility that I might send my first route in the sacred 7s, but more the significance in my head of having a go on lead at something I knew I could do on top-rope. Also, mostly, the route was uber-fun, the moves were big and burly at the start, thrutching between stalactites before it became a tactical endurance test through the middle where I knew I must milk every rest and get each sequence right first time if I were to succeed again.

Happy to be on the sharp end again this pushed my head into a focused state that saw me battle through the first 15m of crux moves concentrating solely on the climbing and really enjoying it. Through the upper and mid sections I continued to keep focused on the moves and concentrate on relaxing at the rests, acquiring confidence in the recovery I seemed to be gaining. Before I knew it, all I had left to do was make it through the final moves efficiently and clip the chains, but every-time I left a good hold the count-down timer to seriously deep and debilitating pump was getting shorter and shorter. Desperate not to fluff it I pictured the sequence to the jug that I could clip from and got on with making the moves. Soon it was done. I finished the route.

Whilst enjoying a Mythos back at the apartment after the initial realisation that ‘I had climbed 7a!!’ it was only natural that I began to reflect on the days climbing and what the route had meant. Again I can say with absolute certainty and genuine honesty that more than the numbers, the fact that success on this route was down to a culmination of things: my previous hard efforts, trying routes of various styles, employing tactics of cool-headed-ness and focus that my former less-experienced self wouldn’t have been able to do and most of all the psyche and encouragement of some great friends had allowed me to feel like I’d really moved forward.

Ecstatic that once again my approach seemed to have worked. I took a trip along learning lane (stopped of at the pub a few times and entered a cul-de-sac of high banter and low brow conversations often enough too mind!) but had soo much fun along the way. I would have to agree with Mr Brown here as I feel that fun has made me a better climber and I feel in a really good place to start the British Trad season and approach it in the right way for me.

(Enjoying trying to emulate the guide-book photo pose on the rest on Les Amozones, 6c at Spartacus, fighting its way up there to 1st place on the ‘routes I enjoyed most at Kalymnos’ list)

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