The Process

The Process

Wednesday 14 January 2015

Capturing Moments

Recently, I've been thinking about the importance of mental conditioning. There are many people in the world who no doubt possess the physical capabilities to rival those of the world's best climbers, but for some reason, they haven't been able to perform when it counts. It appears that many of the world's elite climbers are able to regularly perform at their limit whereas I often hear stories of how close others got to achieving their particular goals, only to 'fluff it on the last move', 'drop the lip' or 'slip out of the jug at the top', (see my last blog post for a perfect example of this). Most of us fill ourselves with anxiety without even realizing that we're doing it. Before we've even laid a finger on the rock, we've already over-burdened ourselves with worries about elements over which we have no control. I'm always worrying about the weather. It dictates everything we do, as climbers. En route to the boulders, I find myself studying the environment around me. Peering out the windows of the car, I'm checking to see if the grass is wet, if the road is wet, if the branches of trees are swaying about in the wind and if so, how much? I worry if I occasionally differ in my ritual on the approach. All of these elements converge and leave me anxious before I've even laid eyes on whatever it is I'm about to try. 

Coming into this season, I drew up a hit list for myself. It was a short list and contained only five problems ranging from F7C-8A+. My main focus was on the quality of these lines and I was inspired by the effort which I would have to put into each one. To me, they were all of three-star quality. I decided to complete them in ascending order of difficulty. I would only feel justified in projecting one if I had completed the one previous. Also, this would allow me to completely immerse myself in each problem individually without any extra distractions. 

First up was an unrepeated line in Cloghogue, called Computer World (7C). I chose this line first as I knew that it involved climbing through a sequence of positive edges that weren't completely friction dependent. It was nearing the start of October and the temps were still in their mid-teens, but itching to get out, I decided to go for it. I knew what to expect as I had tried the line in slightly damp conditions back in January. I had a feeling that once the October rain hit the forest, it would be difficult to judge when the block would be dry. Initially, I didn't include Computer World on my to-do list. I felt, from my previous attempts, that the crux move was just too difficult to manage. I just couldn't quite make the move up to the sidepull, and sticking it felt like a completely different situation. Regardless, I wanted something hard to try before the season kicked off and so I chose to target Computer World. I wasn't worried about the outcome, I just wanted something to prepare myself for the mental aspect of redpointing.

(I promise, it's not as messy as it looks...)

Karl Summons the Power
On my first day back to the boulder, I was just excited to be in the forest again, surrounded by mossy ancient pathways and the general glow of a clear Autumn day. It always reminds me of a scene from The Lord of the Rings, which maybe fulfilled a childhood yearning of mine. Both Karl and I made our way down through the density of ferns and arrived at the block more excited than ever. I initially relearned the most efficient way to complete the opening sequence and then spent the rest of my time trying to work out the crux move.

Cheers Karl
Eventually I stuck the move but, in complete shock, dropped it almost immediately. I was unable to stitch it together with the opening sequence before we decided to leave. About a week later, I returned with Karl, Zoe and Adam. It's always such a pleasure to go out climbing with these guys. Their collective motivation fuels mine and I find myself willing to try that extra bit harder when they're around. I rehearsed the top section on a rope that Zoe kindly helped to rig up, and from that point on, I was content on giving ground-up attempts. I came agonizingly close on one attempt where I fell high up on the top section. Unsure of whether I'd be able to get back to that point, I took fifteen minutes to regain composure before I set off again. I reminded myself where I was and that the outcome didn't matter. It was then that I was able to relax and clear my mind of any anxiety that may have crept in. I managed to stick the very low-percentage crux move once more and continue to the top to claim the second ascent. Ten minutes later, In an attempt to film my sequence from a different angle, I set off once more. Before I knew it, I had stuck the crux move again and the rest just fell into place. It's funny how that works. I had absolutely no expectations and I didn't even intend to climb the full line again. I placed absolutely no pressure on myself and just focused on each individual move at a time. I've been focusing on recreating that headspace ever since. Overall, this process took three days of solid effort which then left me mentally prepared for Leftism, which was next on my list.

Adam's True Profession Calls Out to Him

Leftism (7C+), Glendalough. (Photo Courtesy of Anthony Corcoran)
Five days later, on a calm, crisp evening in October, equiped with our trusty floodlight, dubbed 'The Lumens', I ventured out with Karl and Adam, headed towards an all-too-familiar spot. Glendalough has become a second home to me, having lived most of my life in the surrounding area. This isn't the first year that Leftism has been on my tick-list. I could never fully manage to stitch it together, but I've known for a while that I was capable of doing so. I can recall a mixture of anxiety and fear every time I sat beneath the starting holds. On this occasion, I ran through a routine in my head and focused only on one thing at a time. I stacked as many things in my favour as I could: I brushed the holds as perfectly as I could, I chalked up as perfectly as I could, I even rolled up my right trouser leg as perfectly as I could to avoid any interference with the technical heel placements at the start. I'll admit that the entire process was a bit obsessive but it was exactly what I needed to get into that positive headspace. To my mind, I couldn't have prepared a single thing more perfectly and so I was at peace with myself to just let things flow as they should. The rush of emotions didn't quite hit me until the very end of the problem. I felt very confident throughout the entire sequence as my mental conditioning was paired with the conditions outside. It was an amazing feeling to just put the problem to rest and I felt I could finally move on. I returned a few weeks later in an effort to solidify confidence in my own physical ability when the weather was slightly less than ideal. After I had sent it in the midst of the mist, I realized what I thought had been my physical limit was, in fact, a mental limit, and my mental limit had now expanded.

All Hail the 700 Lumens
On the 4th of December, my buddy Karl and I ventured out into the misty drizzle in a foolish attempt to get our fix for the day. We drove out to the Scalp hoping that Space Machine would be dry, only to arrive and find a thick, glossy band of water flowing down the face. Even Dark Angle was wet, something I've never actually seen before. In a last ditch effort, we decided to tackle the muddy slope to check out Switch. It just so happened that Switch was bone dry.

Switch (8A), The Scalp
I've made my way up to Switch several times before only to find that the crux sidepull was wet. I couldn't quite understand why this kept happening and I just figured it took ages to dry out considering it was on the underside of a low roof block. There is a thin crack that runs down the center of the block that connects with the left hand starting sidepull on Switch. I've done my best in the past to block the seepage before it has had a chance to reach the sidepull, but my attempts have always failed. Despite the humidity on this particular day, the air was cold and there was little to no wind, meaning that the problem would stay dry even with a light shower or two.

Photo Courtesy of Michael Nestor
Towards the end of the session, I was very close and feeling quite nervous as time was running out and I had to leave soon. I had worked out and rehearsed the moves about a week beforehand so they were still fresh in my mind. I knew I had to connect with the opening moves perfectly so that I could execute the final move with feeling still left in my hands. I forced myself to take a fifteen minute break and then set off again. I remember sitting under the boulder and watching my hands nervously shake about as I chalked up. As soon as I pulled onto the problem, everything stopped shaking and I felt secure on every move. It wasn't until I had stuck the two-finger dimple and was about to jab my left hand into the top jug that I realized this was my send go. Driving back home, all I could think of was the importance of capturing the moment when it presents itself. I could have kept throwing myself at the problem until I had to leave, but I would have walked away empty handed. Sometimes a little patience is all that is necessary.

Switch, The Scalp
I'm beginning to understand the importance of proper routine and a positive mentality when learning to master the art of performing on demand. I've discussed this on numerous occasions in an effort to understand it a little more. Some like to put pressure on themselves because it encourages them to try harder, and some feel the need to purposely rile themselves up. I prefer to take a more relaxed approach to my climbing goals. It really doesn't matter which approach you take, just as long as you figure out which approach works best for you. The brain can be strengthened and trained like any muscle in your body. When neurons fire in your brain, they carve out certain grooves and are then more likely to fire in the same way again. For example, if you reinforce every fall with a negative thought, then you will effectively train your brain to return to that negative headspace. Similarly, if you look for the achievements in every attempt and reinforce those with positive thoughts, then your brain will more likely return to that headspace. I'm a firm believer that at any given moment, if you possess a positive mindset, you have the potential to reach your current limit which I feel would otherwise be improbable. I've applied this approach to my training and I'm seeing an improvement already. With every session, I try harder and harder as I pinpoint and highlight the achievements and only acknowledge the flaws if I believe them to be outcomes of a hidden weakness.

I am currently locked in a condition war with The Hills Have Eyes and have fallen off the last difficult move about fifteen times now. I have never struggled so much with the weather on any other problem. The Hills Have Eyes climbs along a diagonal break that cuts across the face of the Tank boulder in Glendasan. It seems to be a complete pot luck in terms of arriving at the boulder when it's dry; it doesn't seem to follow much logic at all. If you drive up on a dry day, everything else around it could be dry but the face of this climb could be dripping wet. With moderate wind, it seems to take roughly seven to ten days before the crack completely dries out. I've found it more promising to try the line the day after it has rained so that the rain hasn't had the chance to work its way down onto the holds. One of these days I will arrive back to it when it is crisp and capture the moment. I have been focusing heavily on my training and diet to make sure that I am feeling prepared for that time when it comes. For now, I try not to worry about the approach of the warmer season as this will only distract me from the moment. 

The Hills Have Eyes (8A), Glendasan. (Photo Courtesy of Karl Nelson)
Wet Projects Are Always a Struggle
In the meantime, I've been getting out and exploring some other lines including a sit start that I added to White Stick in Glendalough, dubbed White Stick It (7B), which I encourage everyone to try. One thing that is fueling my motivation at the moment is that next season I hope to visit Magic Wood for as long as I can before the snow hits. This leaves me roughly nine months to regiment my training plan and match it specifically to what I wish to achieve. At the moment I've been climbing non-stop on the board, trying to strengthen my entire core and working on my varied pinch strength. I've been training with a very strong group of guys, feeding off of each other's psyche levels, which I can say is sky-high on a regular basis. Each of us have our own goals and we are all working together in an attempt to help one another realize those goals.

Karl Getting Buck on the Groove, Glendalough
White Stick It (7B), Glendalough
I have never been more psyched for what's to come.

Over and out,

Saturday 26 July 2014

Process in Completion

It's been quite some time since I last wrote about anything in great depth, which is partly due to the fact that I don’t feel like I've accomplished anything particularly meaningful in the past few months. The truth of the matter is that I was disappointed in the direction in which my climbing was taking me, as my focus began to drift away from the reason in which I had started climbing in the first place. It had lost its sense of playfulness, and instead I came to associate it with a more pressurized environment.  My climbing performance became a way in which I tracked my self-worth. I put pressure on myself to push my own limits and expected a corresponding spike in my own ability, whether in competition or on rock. Not only did I not see a spike in ability, but I actually felt I performed worse under pressure: the opposite of what I had hoped for. Even though I didn't want to put pressure on myself in the first place, my own expectations destroyed me time and time again. 

I believe that this thread of disappointment wormed its way into my consciousness as I began to focus more and more on competition climbing. I set a goal for myself to be more engaged in the competition scene this year, and I succeeded. I did as many competitions as I could and I really enjoyed some of them. On many occasions, however, I let this self-inflicted pressure get to me, which ultimately left me a bundle of nerves. The only way in which I can expect these results is to relax into the environment and to let things flow as they should. When you strip away the layers of self-imposed expectation, all you are left with is a clear and empty mind, free to enjoy what it is that you are so passionate about. This is what I must focus on in the future. 

I've always naturally been suited to the outdoors. Everything is a lot simpler out in nature: there is no pressure, and the objective is a lot clearer and more inspiring. Unfortunately, this year, I was unable to get out as much as I would have liked, and so a lot of my projects remained unfinished. I’d come close to a few, very close to others, and on some, I’d been able to do all of the individual moves but hadn't been back to link them together. This really frustrated me. I felt I was on the verge of doing a lot of these boulder problems but hadn't been able to finish them off due to bad timing or bad conditions. 

Switch (8A), Scalp
People of the Sun (8A+), Glendalough

When I first started climbing, I used to keep a close eye on the weather forecast from Monday onwards. If I caught a glimpse that there was good weather on the way, I would always plan to take at least two rest days before the weekend to allow for new skin growth and muscle recovery. Somewhere along the way, I decided to stop doing this, and instead I began to focus heavily on training, and the strength gains it would bring to my outdoor climbing. Whenever I would get a chance to go outdoors, however, I would be too exhausted or I would lack the skin to do anything. This scenario repeated itself time and time again, to the point where I just grew tired of trying. I started to question why I even continued to train if there were only one or two occasions when I actually managed to try my projects in good conditions. 

The Hills Have Eyes (8A), Glendasan
Spawning from my frustration with having the time or conditions to go out and try my projects, I decided that my training would focus wholly on one goal: completing Toy Boy (8A+), my project from last summer. 

Toy Boy (8A+), Val Masino
Last summer was a big turning point for my climbing. It was my first bouldering trip abroad, and it was the first time I was going away for two months by myself. I stayed in a little campsite in the North of Italy, which is located on the south side of the Ticino region in a narrow valley called Val Masino. By the end of the first month, I was still trying to sample as many of the boulders as I could, running from area to area with three or four crash pads, trying to find something special lurking among the dense forests surrounding the valley. In retrospect, I really had no idea what I was looking for. I had seen a few videos of this one problem called Toy Boy that had recently been cleaned and established, and it was far greater than anything I had pictured. When I finally came across this boulder, nestled among some of the larger boulders in a quiet niche of the valley, I was instantly hooked. It was something so different from the other boulders I had tried, and I immediately threw myself into the process of working the line, not knowing that this process would take over a year's worth of effort. I continued to work the line for the three remaining weeks of my trip. Eventually, my forearms began to lose considerable strength: either the fatigue of camping for two months getting to me, or the lactic acid build-up in my forearms from working this line every day actually beginning to poison my muscles. The line was so long that it was basically a power endurance workout every day that I was over there. On my best attempts, I managed to link the problem up to the final moves, but I pumped out before the top.

On shorter problems, you have the opportunity to regain composure if you make a mistake, but on something as long and sustained as Toy Boy, once you make a mistake, it's nearly impossible to recover. It was definitely disappointing having to leave the valley, uncertain as to whether or not I would be returning any time soon. I allowed myself to become overly attached to the climb, which inevitably filled me with anxiety and pressure every time I pulled onto the starting holds. I knew that if I were to return, I would not only have to be physically fitter, but I would also have to bring along a different attitude. I decided to go back almost immediately upon my return to Ireland.

Val Masino
Ten months later, I began to do power endurance training: setting 4X4's on the 35 degree board at Gravity which mimicked the type of movement found on Toy Boy. I knew that I could do every move on the climb, so it was simply an endurance issue that I had to overcome. A few weeks before my trip, I started to train properly for the first time in my life. I designed a new program for myself and I stuck to it. In just three weeks I saw a dramatic improvement in my finger strength, going from being able to do a one-arm dead-hang on the small campus rung edge for 5 seconds to 9 seconds and being able to do a one-armer on the smallest crimp on the Beastmaker. This measurable improvement gave me a huge boost of confidence about my return to Italy, whereas before, I had doubted my readiness. Would I have to return home once more without anything to show for my efforts? I had to convince myself that I was going to do it. 

Of course, as with any climbing goal, there was a significant prospect of failure and a significant chance of revisiting that frustrated and fatigued mental state with which I had become all too familiar. I understood from the beginning that this was a possibility, so I knew that I had to take my time and focus on  properly executing each move, one after the other. I arrived in Italy and immediately wanted to get to work. Unlike last year, this time my girlfriend Zoe was coming along with me. She reminded me that finding success on a climb doesn't necessarily mean the number of attempts you take, but the effort which you put into each attempt. I needed to focus on making every go count, as I usually only had about three or four good attempts in me before my body gave in. For me, a good attempt was reaching the last few holds, and I must have fallen on the last move of the climb about six times before I managed to hold it together all the way to the top. The bottom section was so involving, and required me to lock-off every move, that by the time I reached the top section, I'd be too pumped to carry on. This section required a strong mind as well as a strong body to execute each move. 

Unfortunately, the first day I went to try Toy Boy this summer, it rained. I had warmed up on the other boulders in the area, set up the pads to my liking, chalked and brushed up the holds, decided on the best spotting position with Zoe and was literally standing under the starting holds when it began to bucket down. I decided to wait a while in case the rain died down but it only proceeded to get heavier, thus we were forced to return to the campsite. On the second day, the day before I managed to send, I actually latched the top ledge and held it comfortably, but as soon as I went to move off of it, my fingers uncurled and I was off. The two times before that, I had fallen going for the final ledge, but for once, I did not get negative about my climbing. All I could do was smile as I knew in my heart and soul that one of those tries I'd climb it to the top and that the process would be over. It is usually only after a project is completed that you begin to appreciate what you learned throughout the process, but for some reason, I had already began to appreciate everything it had required of me.  

Crux move on Toy Boy
I woke up pretty early on my third day in an effort to beat the sun to the boulder. I warmed up, the rock felt great, and that's all I could have asked for. I blanked my mind and pulled on. I didn't think about latching that final hold, all I thought about was executing each individual move perfectly. Not once did I have to readjust on a hold, and eventually I hit the top ledge. All I can remember from that burn was the last two moves, I have absolutely no recollection of how the moves before that went but I know I must have hit them perfectly. It was an ecstatic feeling, finally piecing together a sequence of moves that once felt impossible. I recall ease and fluidity, but I know from my seemingly endless amount of effort that my experience was the opposite of that. I was standing on top of my project feeling that I hadn't reached my limit just yet. After my introduction to climbing just over two years ago, I never thought I would reach this level in my climbing ability, and I feel like a whole new chapter opened up for me. I have learned so much from this experience, which is one that I know will feed my projecting mentality for many years to come.  The process began on the 13/7/2013 and I am happy to say that as of 1/7/2014, the battle is officially over and the process complete. 

It is only now, after returning to Italy, that I realize why I train and why it is worth staying motivated during these times. As of now, I have decided to focus my efforts on outdoor climbing for the coming year. Not to say that I won't compete this year, but that I feel I owe it to myself to see how far this momentum will take me. Toy Boy became the most mentally challenging problem I have ever been faced with and to finally overcome that challenge with my girlfriend watching, someone who heavily influenced my fascination in the sport when I first started, was and will certainly remain a highlight of my climbing life. 

Video of the ascent: 


Tuesday 25 June 2013

Progressing Through Your Strengths

A few weeks ago I decided to head straight for The Fuckin’ Original (7A) in Glendalough. This boulder problem, established by Barry O’Dwyer back in 2003, consists of two hard shoulder moves requiring a lot of core tension to execute the movement. In some ways, the lift off the ground is the crux of the problem, however, for me; the final move was the redpoint crux. Now, this may sound slightly out of place to give such a short boulder problem a redpoint crux, however, what I struggled with was not the lift off the ground so much, but lifting off the ground so that my fingers sat neatly between the crystal edges on the undercling. This was imperative for executing the final lock-off move to the sloper. Often my fingers would shift slightly and slip away from the original starting position and slide over a sharp crystal or two which would be very painful and I would be unable to hold the lock-off position in order to reach the top. The second move of this problem isn’t very hard at all if you do that move independently from the others, however, I found sticking it from the ground, quite challenging. This move was at my full span and I must have fallen from this position over ten times. The good part of the hold was just out of reach for me and so I had to deal with a lower part of the hold which just so happened to be quite an abrasive sloper. Occasionally my drive to complete the problem would force me to slap for the top, regardless of my fingertips screaming otherwise. I could feel my fingers cutting slightly when I pushed through and I started to wonder whether the problem was worth doing or not. Slapping for the top was out of the question at that stage. I was feeling very tired and I knew that I would be unable to hold the position even if I did latch the sloper. I then waited for the sun to disappear behind some clouds and I gave it one last attempt and I was just fortunate enough that my fingers didn’t shift from their starting position and I was able to climb it to the top.

I was in search of some pure power lines to increase my strength and this was at the top of my list, next up was The Cherry (~7A+ - in my opinion). Meanwhile I did not want to compromise my technical ability by focusing solely on pure power lines so I decided to mix it up slightly. A little while after, I took a trip out to Glendasan with my girlfriend to try St. Kevin’s Slab. It’s a 6A+/6B in my opinion which goes straight up the face of a diamond-shaped slab. I had been previously told that the arêtes were not in for this problem and so I was aiming for the very apex of the slab where the arêtes join up. Aesthetically, it’s a beautiful slab problem: perfect setting, perfect movement and perfect holds. Desperate smearing led to a terrifying finish but an ascent that I am proud of, despite hearing afterwards that the arêtes were actually in. After lazing in the sun for a while we headed up to try The Hills Have Eyes (8A) once more. The holds felt slightly better this time and I’m getting excited for the arctic weather to swirl in once more.

The Hills Have Eyes (8A)

Zoe on St Kevin's Slab (6A+/B)

Last Wednesday, I had about 10 minutes to try The Cherry (eliminate) (~7A+ - in my opinion) for the first time and fortunately I was able to complete all of the moves. The crux is an incredible throw out to a really nice, non-abrasive crimp from a wide triangular pinch for your right hand exiting a 50 degree roof. I look forward to returning; however, as of now, I’m in the beautiful valley of Val Masino which is located in the Ticino region just under the Swiss border in Northern Italy. Because of the high altitude, the summer months provide some of the best conditions for bouldering in this area. It is home to the very famous Melloblocco festival which is the world’s largest annual outdoor bouldering meet. It attracts some of the world’s top climbers every year, including the likes of Dave Graham, Nalle Hukkataival and Michele Caminati, all of whom showed up this year. My main sights are set on a problem that was established during this festival called Toy Boy (8A). It looks like my style; however, the problem is actually quite a distance away from my campsite, as I’m told. To save myself a lot of effort, I've decided to hold off until I think I’m capable of giving it some serious attempts. I’m here for 2 months so hopefully I've got plenty of time to build up my strength and endurance.

The Cherry (7A+)

It took me about a day to get settled into the camping way of life again but on the second day I went in search of Il Terminato (7C), a beautiful steep power problem on small crimps, slopers and perfect underclings. This problem is just incredible. It very much fits my style and it feels very hard to me. It begins with a bunched-up, explosive move to match a vertical crimp with your right hand. Then you have to do a dynamic move up and to the right to catch a three finger slopey hold which then you bump to a third of a pad crimp with an amazing thumb-catch. You then do a series of tension moves to match the crimp and explode from there up to a sloper with a slight in-cut crimp at the back. Further down there is a slopey rail which you must compress using two underclings beneath. This leads to a compression style finish on slightly better holds but a tenuous top out.  I’ve been able to complete all of the moves so far, however linking them is a harder task. Every move flows into the next and there are no awkward foot swaps or moves that I dislike. The problem contains several slopey footholds but it seems that every single one of them is designed specifically for each consecutive movement and you never use the same hold twice. I wasn't too sure what I was getting myself in for attempting this problem but I am so happy that I did. All I was told was where it starts and where it finishes in terms of hand placements, all the rest was for me to figure out. On my very first attempt I was actually able to link it through the crux, which lies within the opening moves, and make it ¾ of the way through the problem before the lactic acid began to explode from my forearms. The method I used during this attempt was an incredibly burly one and I knew if I stood any chance of completing the line I would have to change my sequence.

Il Terminato (7C)

Il Terminato (7C)

I started the third day off by climbing a few brilliant unnamed 6C+’s and 7A’s and as the evening drew closer I decided to head down to focus on finding that alternative sequence to Il Terminato. When I found it, I was psyched out of my mind. I decided, on a whim, to throw my heel up over my head beside my left hand and to reach in under myself with my right hand to take the good undercling. Previously, the idea of taking the undercling with the right hand had baffled me and it felt a lot harder than 7C. I’m pretty sure this isn't how the problem was originally climbed or how most people climb it today but personally I don’t care much for finding an alternative solution. Somehow this works for me and it’s a move I have never experienced before on rock nor on plastic. This brings me back to last winter and how I noticed that with a lot of climbs there was a ‘set’ beta. In the beginning, I felt that you either did it the way the first ascensionist did it or you didn't do it at all. After getting shut down on certain lines, I then became very motivated by the opportunity to come up with my own beta that tapped into my own skills as a climber. Bringing this motivation back the present, in using this beta on Il Terminato I was able to climb the 7B+ version, which starts two moves into the 7C, all the way to the top, but without a pad underneath me I decided to retreat. The top out is a little scary even with a pad underneath me so I've decided to wait until I have a spotter to attempt the full line.

Opening moves on Il Terminato (7C)

So far, I've been very fortunate with the weather and as 5 pm approaches each day, so too does some of the best conditions I have ever experienced before. I've never really liked climbing solo, I always feel that I have to be more careful with the moves I commit to and I generally feel that I exhaust myself within the first hour or so because I don’t take the necessary breaks I would do with friends. Regardless, the rock is too perfect to go unclimbed. Yesterday, feeling an urge to really shut myself down on my dream line, I went in search of Bad Ass (8A). This line looks exactly like every problem I enjoy creating on the systems board in the gym. It’s a perfect 45 degree face that follows a ladder of crimps set very far apart from one another. Despite walking for 7 hours, covering 18 km, I was unable to find it – maybe someday. Today, I will look for Due Cervelli, Uno Soluzione (7C+) which is very nearby and very approachable. The quality of climbing here is beyond all expectation and even though there are so many boulders I want to do, there’s one route that has really caught my eye. I don’t really know anything about it but it follows a series of deep, in-cut pockets up an overhanging face. At first glance, I was really surprised to see pockets on a granite face but on closer inspection, the rock is so polished that it may as well be a well-trafficked limestone route with no friction. Regardless, I’m still very excited to try it at some point during my stay here…

Welcome to Val Masino

And so it’s onto the next challenge…


Friday 31 May 2013

Beginning to the Present

Climbing is a peculiar thing. The lessons we learn along the road can impact us in ways that may surprise us. The attitude that we carry towards our discipline can play a significant role in whether we succeed or fall short of a set challenge. We listen to our own advice, and from that, we ask our bodies to comply, however, this is not always the case. Some, like me, will pursue and strive for an obstacle that presents a great deal of failure. From this, the need for our bodies and minds to work, in sync, with one another in order to overcome the challenge, is key. Climbing has the ability to become the most frustrating thing in the world at any given time, but, it can also be the activity that brings us the most joy. There are so many lessons to learn, and ones I have yet to experience, along with those few that I will have to work through more than just once. The idea of being presented with a challenge that tests our limits in terms of both physicality and mentality is where obsession is generated. Once this challenge is buried, a thought eventually begins to scratch away at our minds, telling us there is something bigger and bolder at which to throw ourselves. This is why I love climbing and why I will always climb. The sense of reward after directing every ounce of energy into completing one block or one slender streak up the face of an entire cliff-band is one that is unparalleled in any other aspect of my life. My experience with this sense of reward is limited; however, it is the on-going pursuit that keeps me motivated and will always keep me motivated. Whether it is gained from small progress on one of my most inspired, longstanding projects or completing a climb faster than I had previously imagined, there is always going to be a sense of drive in what I do. And so the addiction is born…

To bring you up to date, my name is David Fitzgerald and I live in Wicklow, the granite bouldering mecca of Ireland. There is still so much potential for developing in this area and a lot of the best lines are being established right next to the boulders people have been climbing for years, or even on the same boulders themselves. As of now, I have decided to focus on repeating as many hard boulder problems as I can, however, I won’t just launch an assault on any hard boulder problem just because I feel an obligation to complete it, it must inspire me to some degree. The reason for this is that I find most of the harder lines in Wicklow and in other areas very appealing in terms of the challenge that they present, I don't simply want to do them so that my tick-list will look nice. I want to climb everything and in every style so that I will progress as a climber. Generally I don’t like one move problems as they don’t require an awful lot of thought, and to be honest, I don’t really call them ‘boulder problems’ anyway. Or maybe I should call them problems, however, in most cases they are easy problems that are hard to do. They are nice testaments of strength, that’s for sure, and I do admire them in their difficulty. More so, I prefer climbs that present some form of struggle, and in some ways, an ‘on edge’ feel when I’m climbing them, where every move feels desperate. It is from this desperation, in some ways, where the biggest rewards are plucked. Sure, it is nice to say that you have pure 7A crimp strength, pure 8A dyno power or whatever it may be, but I feel that there is more reward to be found in completing a boulder problem that contains multiple aspects of climbing ability.

Right now, I’m working on a climb called Leftism in Glendalough, Co. Wicklow. It’s a 7C+ established by Michael Duffy in December of 2008. It’s long. Very long. Longest boulder problem I’ve ever tried and very atypical of Wicklow bouldering.  I have had roughly three sessions on this problem with a few attempts here and there on slightly miserable days. For me, It’s an overwhelming project to undertake and one that has already taught me quite a few lessons. With this problem, you can’t rush the results, it will only cause frustration. I remember when I started climbing the goal was to improve, just like everyone else. I remember my first day out bouldering in Glendalough and seeing this huge, overhanging arête that looked quite blank with one nice hold in the middle. I wondered to myself if it had ever been climbed before, still oblivious as to what people could actually achieve on rock. Right now I feel privileged to be working on such a line and going through the learning process that many have tackled before me. The big one, however, is that I can no longer be concerned with getting to the top. I chose to work this line as I knew it would present me with great challenges both mentally and physically. From my experience on plastic, I knew that my power endurance was not very impressive, so I knew that working such a long and powerful line would present me with the serious challenge that I was looking for. Mentally, I knew it would be draining, as are most long lines. Often you make gains and then suddenly you start to feel setbacks and doubt begins to creep in as to whether the line is possible for you or not. This is why I can no longer be concerned with getting to the top, and instead, I must only focus on each consecutive move as I progress through the problem. As with most climbs, you get to the top, you celebrate for a little while and you move on to the next biggest thing. This is why the process of working these lines is even more important than just sticking them down on a tick-list. In order to progress quickly in my climbing, I feel that I must learn how to be patient in order to succeed, as paradoxical as that may sound.

Leftism 7C+

Leftism 7C+

This winter/autumn was my first bouldering season outdoors. I started climbing in November of 2011 and by the time I got rolling I had already missed out on the good conditions. This winter, I quickly became obsessed with granite bouldering and how the movement was so different to anything I had ever experienced before on rock. I had a few projects in mind and I feel fortunate enough to have sent them alongside my good friends. After sending the sit start to 2.4 Pascals (7B+), everything kind of fizzled out after that in terms of outdoor climbing and I returned to the gym. School work began to pile up and the weather began to change. Now that I have some free time I am getting out as often as I can in order to complete a few projects, which include: Leftism (7C+), The Hills Have Eyes (8A) and Space Machine (7C). I thought that the weather would be too hot and humid to climb on the Wicklow granite, but it turns out that it's just fine. I had the opportunity at some point in February, I think, to have a session on The Hills Have Eyes and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It suits my style perfectly. It’s a 30-35 degree overhanging wall that follows a series of crimpy, powerful moves along a crack-line that leads to an easy arête finish. As soon as I work through Leftism, I’m going to invest all of my time into completing this line.

The Hills Have Eyes 8A

2.4 Pascals (SS) 7B+

One lesson I have learned is that you should never underestimate how much you can achieve if you invest all of your time into something you are so passionate about. At the beginning of last winter, I would never have imagined completing the moves to the sit start of 2.4 Pascals, or the sit start to the Groove, or even the sit start to BBE, which was my style at the time. However, when I was climbing at the gym (Gravity Climbing Centre, Inchicore) or even on the bus to and from college, my projects would never leave my mind.

And so, I am writing my first blog post here, which will hopefully serve as a medium through which I can sort out my thoughts in writing and share them with the climbing community. Climbing will always push me, inspire me and allow me to have some form of measurable progress in my life. This is why I do what I do. Always willing, always psyched.


“There is no strong or weak on granite, It’s a matter of approach” – Dave Graham.