The Process

The Process

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.