I am a boulderer at heart but living in the Peak District one is constantly reminded of the amazing trad routes on the gritstone. The history of climbing in the Peak from Puttrell to Brown and Whillians to Fawcett, Moffatt and Dawes, all revolves around the mental challenge and tenacity of HARD GRIT! I remember watching Hard Grit when I first started climbing and thinking that these guys were crazy; yes the lines they were climbing were incredible but was the danger aspect worth it?!
Over the last few years highballing has really started to blossom in the Dark Peak and with the evolution of bouldering mats people have started to climb the legendary gritstone test pieces ground up above foam. I have to say I didn’t take to it like a duck to water but I was persistent. I would go out with friends and have a go, sometimes backing off and sometimes succeeding but my mental capacity for it had a ceiling and that would be reached quickly each time I was out. I couldn’t tick multiple highballs/solos in a day but if I managed one I would leave the crag a very happy man and spurred on by my ability to overcome the mental hurdle of fear.
It’s not that I wasn’t strong or fit enough but I just didn’t have it up top. My mental approach to climbing has always let me down whether it be hard bouldering or easy moves in a compromising situation; it’s my head that says no not my body.
Over the past year or so this has really begun to change and my climbing has improved as a result of this. I feel more confident in my ability to dispatch whether I am having a flash go or on my hundredth red point and I think this has come from learning to deal with failure and being accepting of this. We all fail and this makes us stronger, increases our drive for development and makes the success taste all the sweeter when it comes round.
This mental change in me has lead to a curiosity of the bold routes on gritstone. If I could channel my thoughts and focus them for a few minutes, combine this with my strength then I could surely climb some reasonably hard trad routes. This was my thinking and so this year I decided to have a go….
The weather hasn’t cooled as quickly as normal in the UK this autumn and so this makes bouldering at ones limits almost impossible; there just isn’t the friction. The limestone junkies among us have loved it; their season extended, that extra bit of time for just one more red point! After returning from South Africa though I was keen to train and get out on the grit as much as possible and that is what I have done. Ticking through easier classics on the gritstone boulders got me keen to have a go at a bit of trad action and luckily I have a few friends who don’t seem to mind babysitting me!
Last April I managed to flash Simbas Pride (E8 6b) at Burbage South; it may have been above snow and a some pads but I can assure that would not have helped if I had come off the last move. That experience actually scared me but I realized that I could do it. After all it is ok to be scared for a just a few moments especially if you can harness that.
Sunday last week brought promises of good weather from the forecasters but the view out of our window didn’t suggest that. However, with high team psyche, Katy, Nathan and I headed out in search of dry rock! First stop (although we didn’t stop) was Curbar. As we drove past rain hammered down and the edge glistened with moisture in the flickers of sunlight; next stop Black Rocks. Katy was keen to try Gaia and her enthusiasm carried us through. Upon arrival the rain had stopped and sun had come out; giving those perfect damp, steamy conditions we all love for the gritstone!
We nearly left but once again Katy was adamant it would dry up and her wisdom/enthusiasm proved to be correct. A cool breeze started to blow and the rock started to feel in good ‘nick’.
I had never been to Black Rocks before but the top route on my winter tick list resides there: Meshuga. Ever since seeing Seb babble his way to success I have wanted to do it but as boulderer I thought it would always be a pipe dream. However, over the past couple of months it had started to dawn on me that routes like this were actually possible; I just had to apply myself in the right way on the day.
So now I was actually here it was time to get nervous. I wandered round to look at the mighty prow in all its glory and, wow, was it impressive. Big and tall, proud and imposing, to say I was intimidated was an understatement but I was also enthralled! At this point I am going to be honest; I had entertained ideas of having a flash go but upon seeing it in the flesh these ideas quickly dissipated into thin air. In hindsight I think Meshuga is very flashable but I will leave that accolade to someone else.
Time to rope up!
Nathan kindly set up a top rope, gave me a run through of the moves and I set off. All went smoothly and I did actually flash Meshuga but with the safety of a top rope! I gave the holds a brush, did it once more and came down. It was time to decide. Did I have the guts to lead it? Would I fully commit? Time to mull it over as I watched Katy on Gaia. In the end the decision I made was due to the fact that if I didn’t go for it today I didn’t know when I would be back and all that time I would be building it up in my head. I have been used to flashing scary routes; switching my brain off for a few minutes. I didn’t think drawn out head-pointing mind games was something I wanted to play or, in fact, could play. I decided to go for it. Around the time of this decision on any route I tend to get impatient and want to climb before I back out. Luckily Katy wanted a rest so we headed round.
Moments before tying in I managed to turn into ‘Calamity Jane’. I tripped over my water bottle, fell to the ground taking my shoes off and received a mat to the head as I attempted to throw it underneath Meshuga. My conscious thought was happy for these events as it got all the bad luck out of my system; surely I was in for some success now?!
Time to go!
The moment just before pulling on was my last moment of doubt but I buried it somewhere deep and got the ball rolling so to speak. Now I am sure people say this all time but I really felt like I entered some kind of ‘zone’; autopilot is the best way to describe it. I knew what to do but I felt like my body just did it automatically, I didn’t have to think or tell it what to do, movements just happened. As soon as the blind slap around the corner was done and I hadn’t hit the floor I knew I was safe but I stayed focused and managed to get myself to the gear. I vaguely recollect cries of congratulations from the floor but I stayed quiet and continued up not wanting to fluff the top. After the ‘meat’ of Meshuga you still have to climb another 8-10 metres; it’s not hard but you don’t want to be the first person to drop it there!
And so the story comes to an end. As I completed the final move and pulled myself over into the fading golden light a pipe dream had been realized, a moment I never thought I would experience. I, a boulderer was standing atop the mighty Meshuga!! Relief, jubilation and a whole host of emotions that I cannot describe welled up inside me. A warm numbness flowed through me, a feeling of utter contentment made me smile like the Cheshire cat.
There was time for one more significant ascent that day: another dream to be realized and a tear to be shed. Katy climbed Gaia! The route that had encompassed her thoughts for as long as she could remember, the route she never knew if she would have the courage to lead, the route she was now sat atop of!!
Massive thanks to Katy and Nathan for taking a boulderer to a route crag and allowing him to realize something special. Much appreciated guys!
Also, huge thanks to Seb for taming this monstrous piece of gritstone and inspiring us all with expletives and wittiness as he did so.