I haven’t blogged for a long time; this wasn’t down to bone idleness or not having anything worthy to report, it’s just that I wasn’t inspired to write. Every time I sat down and attempted to put pen to pad, or keys to screen nothing would come out.
However it’s a rainy day in Rocklands today there seems no better time than now to collect my thoughts of the last 6 months.
I returned from a tumultuous trip to the US just before Christmas. Why tumultuous you may ask? The answer to this is probably a long one but to cut it short lets say mixed motivation, poor weather and popping knees. On the plus side the finger injury I had prior to the trip disappeared, I got to hang out with some great friends and I climbed Wet Dream (V12) in Red Rocks. The number isn’t earth shattering but this had been on my radar since I saw a video of Ethan Pringle making the first ascent in 2004. It is one of the finest boulders I have ever climbed. Interesting movement on immaculate rock, requiring a strong body and mind.
Upon returning to Sheffield I planned to campus and fingerboard to regain that finger and arm strength I had lost from being injured, alongside this I wanted to get out on the grit as much as was humanly possible! These two objectives balanced nicely; I could get out on rock and then go to the wall and train. The grit isn’t the most physically demanding of rock types but it does eat skin for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The wood of the campus- and fingerboard is friendlier than the resin holds at the wall. A match made in heaven!
Within a month I was feeling the strongest I had for a long time; training goals had been smashed and I had been out on the grit more than I can remember. I had been making the most of any break in the weather to get out and I felt like I was being rewarded for this persistence. On the 28th January I abandoned the van and trudged with two pads through knee-deep snow to Stanage Plantation. I had tried The Ace (8B) on two prior occasions that month and both times had been agonisingly close to success. This Monday morning was my third day on and it would be my fourth session within the three days but conditions were good and I was psyched. It didn’t go easily but an hour after arriving I was standing on top of perhaps the most iconic boulder problem in the UK with the whole of Stanage Plantation to myself; it was a perfect moment! Sharing success with friends is great but those solitary moments of struggle, fight, pride and elation are just as important to me.
This is already longer than planned so lets fast-forward through a frenzied few months of sessions on the grit, trips to Wales and the Lake District and more training than I care to remember. Countless days of multiple sessions; indoors and outdoors, core and climbing, campus- and fingerboarding, pull-ups and press-ups, TRX and rings, stretching and yoga. For 10 weeks leading up to my trip to South Africa I worked tirelessly to be in the best shape possible. There were moments of despair, anguish and pain but there was light at the end of the tunnel and I was feeling bigger, stronger and faster all the time.
So, why all the training? This would be my fourth trip to Rocklands and although it may sound ridiculous I was travelling 9000 miles for one boulder problem! I will pre-empt your exacerbated sighs and groans of disbelief but we all know the obsessive nature of rock climbing and what ridiculous things it makes us do. Now, yes there are many more boulders that I have to climb in Rocklands but in truth I don’t think I would have come back this year if it weren’t for King of Limbs. I had been close last year before hurting my shoulder on El Corazon (8B) and for some reason this boulder really appeals to me. It isn’t a sawing line, in fact it’s in a dark cave, but the holds and the movement epitomise what bouldering is to me. Short and powerful, it requires fingers of steel, core of steel and shoulders; you guessed it, of steel! I grip the holds so tightly that realistically my skin can only bare an hour or two of torture on the climb; it really is bouldering in a nutshell.
King of Limbs was discovered and put up by a good friend of mine in 2011. Micky, at the time, was one of the strongest boulderers in the UK and probably not far off the top echelon in the world. That trip he got the 3rd ascent of Golden Shadow and Black Eagle both of which were considered 8B+. He then set about exploring so that he could leave a piece of the North-East in the Western Cape! Some how he came upon the King of Limbs cave and that was that. He extended his trip so that he could make the first ascent of this test-piece and stuck his nose out by murmuring an 8B+/C grade. I think he actually said it was far harder than both Golden Shadow and Black Eagle in his opinion and the Internet jumped on the 8B+/C grade.
Since then it has had a good few ascents and with beta refinements people have said it could be 8B.
So, where am I? Training: tick, reason: tick, history: tick.
In 2013 I had one very brief session on King of Limbs and in conclusion I was a country mile off the strength required for this boulder.
In 2014 it was one of four boulders I wanted to climb on my trip. I had three sessions before hurting my shoulder and it felt doable but looking back I am not sure I was strong enough. I probably only did the crux move once in each session and linking the first three moves; realistically I wasn’t even close.
To put in context how difficult King of Limbs is for me I think it is worth mentioning that in these two trips I ticked 24 problems of 8A and harder including seven 8B’s.
So, how did 2015 pan out? I had planned two weeks in Rocklands to complete King of Limbs and then I was to spend three weeks exploring the boulders around Cape Town. Unfortunately huge fires over the summer left most areas in Cape Town closed for re-growth of vegetation. My flights were already booked and so it seemed that I would have five weeks to try to climb King of Limbs. This lowered the pressure a bit and meant I could take my time and not rush the process. King of Limbs is gnarly on the skin and body so ample rest between sessions is needed.
After arriving in South Africa to a rain enforced rest day I first headed up to King of Limbs on Thursday 4th June. After warming up I re-acquainted myself with the ending and then got stuck in. I managed the crux iron cross move five out of six times. I was stronger; it had been worth all the hard work! The first move seems to be inconsequential to most but to me it is awkward and getting it wrong sets you up poorly for the crux. I didn’t do this move and so leaving after my first session there was mixed emotions.
Two days later I was back. I just couldn’t commit my skin to trying hard on anything else until King of Limbs was complete. After watching a few videos I had a new idea for the first move. It instantly turned the problem on its head. The body position and movement suited me and although I still find it a difficult move it no longer felt awkward and I was excited for every attempt. Skin was thin and goes were limited but in this session I actually stuck the iron cross from the start only for my foot to pop. Normally in this situation I would be full of rage and anger but I wasn’t, yes, I was frustrated but I was also happy. I knew I could do it and I still had four weeks left.
The plan was to take two rest days for my skin to recover and then head up on a one-off cold day mid week. Unfortunately this freak cold day turned into a rainy day and I didn’t want to have three days off. This balance of skin maintenance and the need to climb was becoming stressful. After one rest day and with rain forecast for the day after I decided to head up to King of Limbs for 3-5 goes; this was how many attempts I deemed my skin could manage.
It was the hottest day so far but there was a wind blowing into the mouth of the cave. Four goes in and I had come close to sticking the crux from the start, my skin was wearing thin and the nerves were mounting. It wasn’t that I wanted the process to be over; I loved the physicality of this boulder but the skin management and amount of rest I had to take was frustrating, after all I was here to climb.
And that’s when it happened, as if by magic, on that fifth and last go I stuck the crux, the foot didn’t pop, I latched the next move by the skin of my teeth and then went into autopilot. The last few moves are definitely droppable but it all came together rather splendidly in the end!
That brings us to the present, rainy day, the day that I was supposed to be going to try King of Limbs. Thankfully I went yesterday!
And now what you have all been waiting for, or maybe not. THE GRADE. So here are the facts;
- Counting the first aborted attempt in 2013 it took me seven sessions; this is the longest I have tried any boulder for.
- I used very similar beta to the first ascent i.e. very basic!
- It is harder than any other boulder problem I had ever climbed and I think it suits me reasonably well.
- In my opinion it’s either my first 8B+, which would be lovely or top-end 8B. I haven’t decided whether to be conservative or take the glory yet!
Whatever grade it is the process of climbing King of Limbs has been a fulfilling and rewarding one. From seeing it conceived in 2011, getting totally shut down in 2013, nearly tasting success in 2014 (or so I thought) and finally to putting time, money and hard work into climbing it in 2015 it has been an enriching experience that I will always cherish and remember.