Welcome to the 8th Grade

Welcome to the 8th Grade

1 month / 7 sessions later and it’s done. I have climbed 8a, or more precisely I have climbed The Prow at Raven Tor.

Whilst trying the route I wrote a diary for each session I spent working it, initially I had planned to publish them here on the blog…then I read them and realised they were inconceivably boring… As a result I thought I’d take a slightly different approach and talk a little about the build up to climbing the route and some of the of the small adjustments I made to my lifestyle/routine that made a difference – all in all this seemed like a much more interesting topic!!

To begin with, here’s a little video made by my friend Jack Geldard whilst we were out in Patagonia – it sets the scene quite nicely.

Rob’s Secret Alpine Training Mission… from Jack Geldard on Vimeo.

I’d actually forgotten all about this, but watching it did remind me of how much effort I had put in throughout the winter and the focus I had placed exclusively on rock climbing (as an alternative being an all-rounder inc.  winter/alpine climbing). This focus had made me stronger than ever before, but maybe not much fitter owing to most of the climbing being on gritstone; however, one thing I know is that strength/power – certainly for me – are harder to acquire than fitness/stamina so I was on to a winner. This doesn’t always translate to trad climbing as there’s so much else going on psychologically, but sport climbing it made a real difference and gave me greater reserves that I had ever had, particularly in terms of ‘pull’.

This idea of having greater reserves linked in nicely with a lecture I had attended by Mina (Leslie Wujasyk) at last years Kendal Mountain Festival. Throughout the talk she introduced the concept of ‘Self Efficacy’ and the principles outlined in Lanny Bassham’s book ‘With Winning in Mind’.  One particular concept that I liked the idea of was the ‘positive affirmation statement’, which was a short positive statement that outlined your goals, intentions and inevitably – if you stuck to them, believed in them  – your objective would be achieved. These statements have the habit of sounding a bit cheesy, but I think that it did make a difference to my mindset. I repeated mine to myself so many times that the week before I climbed The Prow I’d even dreamt I’d climbed it! Here’s a copy of mine (try not to vomit):

Positive Affirmation Statement
The Positive Affirmation Statement

Another reason for my success on both The Prow and 8a was that I really wanted to do it. I had tried The Prow a couple of times last year but never really got into it, throughout the evenings Raven Tor gets pretty mobbed with people and the start of The Prow (which is shared with Body Machine) is usually crowded. I knew that in order to climb it I needed to change my approach and rather conveniently the flexibility of my job allowed this. Raven Tor is in best condition throughout the morning, when conditions are cooler and the sun is off the crag; furthermore, it is much, much quieter and therefore allowed me to get stuck into the route without distraction (or guilt that I’m hogging the route). As a result, instead of coming back from every session feeling stressed I came back having really enjoyed myself. Progress also came much quicker as a result of this positive mental attitude and also of the quality of the time I was spending on the route. This really was a revelation to have turned the tables around on an experience I had previously found quite unappealing.

Jon Garside on the start of The Prow
Jon Garside on an early morning/pre-work session at the Tor.


Take both the good sessions and the bad sessions in your stride. This session, despite the immense humidity, provided one of my greatest breakthroughs on the route.
Take both the good sessions and the bad sessions in your stride. This session, despite the immense humidity, provided one of my greatest breakthroughs on the route.

Finally, I subscribed to that David Brailesford concept of micro (or marginal) gains. If there was anything I could do, no matter how small/subtle a change, to help me get up that route I was going to do it.  I developed a good morning routine that included a Sun Salutation A+B,  then putting the kettle on and doing a selection of shoulder stretches, thera-band exercises for my elbows and a pigeon stretch to loosen my glutes. I’d usually do this again just before lunchtime, each time repeating my positive affirmation statement to further reinforce the belief that I could do it and was going to do it. Whilst on the route I not only dialled each and every move, but dialled every clip to the extent of knowing which way the quickdraw was facing, how far it was extended and whether or not it was worth skipping on the red-point. I then thought my way through each move from bottom to top every night before I went to sleep and every morning before I got up.

Obsessive behaviour, but ultimately fulfilling because I did it. As a result though, it does get you thinking  “if I can do this, what else can I do?”. Not just in climbing, but in other aspects of both my personal/professional life. It’s an empowering process, but nice to have it all over and done for the time being, it’s probably not overly healthy to be that intense for too long. In fact, the day after I did The Prow I went for a lighthearted boulder around the Derwent skyline – just me, my bouldering mat and a camera. It was a stunning evening. Still climbing, but something so very different from what I had just gone through. Change. It keeps things so fresh…

Onto the next, whatever that is…

(I’m sure it’ll be good).

The stunning Low Coach at the Coach and Horses along the Derwent skyline
The stunning Low Coach at the Coach and Horses along the Derwent skyline

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