I am a Gym Climber, I reckon that 70% of my climbing is spent in a sweaty climbing gym, and this is really where most of my hard climbing goes on. Sure I go on climbing trips and will get on projects but the hardest moves I have done are often within a few feet of a coffee machine and cake counter. From this I derive a lot of my confidence, and when approaching climbs outside, if I feel a certain way when climbing inside then I know I am capable of climbing hard outside. I am getting somewhere with this – I’ve had countless conversations with friends which have concluded that climbing outside makes you weak. I used to look at climbing trips as a race – just as you get used to the techniques that are required to climb at your limit, you have lost too much strength to climb at your limit… I know even as I write this it sounds ludicrous, but this is how I thought it worked, and just to put this in context I have climbed for nearly 10 years and with this strange outlook have climbed a fair few V13s.
Then last summer an email came through that meant we could go on an extended trip for around 7 months, what an opportunity! But according to my previous harebrained theory, by the end of the trip I’d have the climbing strength of someone who had never climbed before, the guy who desperately flings for mahoosive jugs cutting loose all over the place and always pulling up into a full lock before moving on to the next giant hold… yup that would be me. Although I would however have impeccable footwork by then… maybe I could push the limits of friction slabs… I genuinely debated if this trip was a good idea. Should I go and explore Europe and get paid to do what I love, or should I stay in the gym? I KNOW WHAT AN IDIOT!
Well we went, and as you can imagine there were ups and downs, weather closed in one too many times, we spent too many hours driving between crags and you do get tired living in a van over a winter. So eventually my strength did start to falter, but every so often I would get a glimpse of my past strength and pull a hard’ish boulder out the bag, until we got to Buoux that is – a limestone crag in southern France. Buoux was really full-on – the bolts were far apart and the climbs hard and intimidating, so I didn’t really climb much. Then we had a short holiday on the French Riviera and about a 100 pastries later I ended up in Ticino, the home of hard bouldering, and I was feeling very, very crap. On my first day I projected a v2 and didn’t even do it. I knew I had an uphill struggle ahead of me, but every time I’d taken a break before I have managed to get back to strength in the gym but this time i had to try something new, so I got to work plugging away at boulders I would normally have expected to do in a few tries, and in a little over a week I was feeling better than ever, stronger than I have ever felt. It felt pretty good… and I hadn’t climbed inside once.
What happened? First up I think it’s important to clarify that my previous theory, that rock climbing = loss of strength, was daft. I am now a firm believer that if you’re trying hard then you’re doing something right. But most importantly I gave myself a break. Instead of spending time convincing myself I was losing something I needed, I turned my situation into a positive and appreciated the process I had to go through in order to get strong again for what it was and not what is wasn’t.
So the next time you get that sinking feeling when you feel worse on your project than you did before, give yourself a break. Embrace the fact that you’re outside climbing cool lines and doing a cool thing in hopefully a nice place, and I’m sure you will climb better for it.