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.
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,