The sport to trad conversion (and ever changing goal posts)

With a trip to Fairhead around the corner, and very little trad climbing in the bank, these past couple of weeks have been dedicated towards my reacquaintance with the dark art…

It’s funny how something can feel so lost, when really it’s just faded a little. Despite not having trad climbed in months, the ability to maintain a cool head, distinguish a gear placement, see a line and how to climb it is still there, stored somewhere within my mental muscle memory. Last weekend I shook the dust off that part of me, it’s a process I have to go through each year. I think everyone has to go through this process, with some people taking longer while others get back into the swing of it almost immediately. For me, even a single route with adequate psychological involvement can be enough to bring me back to a similar level to which I’ve always operated.

I guess this is simultaneously uplifting (it’s good that it’s so easy) and a little disappointing. Were I to think about it, with having come on a lot within other disciplines (i.e. sport climbing) I’m stronger and fitter than ever before; but – and it’s a big BUT – they are so very, very different. In fact, they’re so different that it is exceptionally hard to get the two to translate and correspond with each other in the slightest – it’s like they are two completely different sports entirely. That said, I really don’t believe that. They’re not. It’s just a very subtle process that takes time and you can’t expect an instant translation such as the one I referenced earlier.

Katy Whittaker pushing her French 8b+ ability onto Right Wall (E5 6a / French 6c??)
Katy Whittaker pushing her French 8b+ ability onto Right Wall (E5 6a / French 6c??)
Duncan Campbell coming in at the other end of the scale, bringing 7b+ ability to the table with much the same result
Duncan Campbell bringing 7b+ skills to the table with much the same result – success!

So, whilst I have high hopes for Ireland I think it is best to simply take it as it comes, see how it goes, and ease myself back into it slow and steady. I am perfectly willing to be proved wrong, but I suspect that with such an approach I am far more likely to succeed in my ambition which is, I guess, to get ‘better’…

It would also be interesting to see if this method gets ‘E5 Rob’ and ‘8a Rob’ to communicate more openly and see if that leads to ‘E6 Rob’ or even ‘E7 Rob’ – I mean why not? Part of the problem is that we all self impose limitations on what we expect to achieve. I did it with things like El Cap and the Eiger, right now I would say I do it with E6/7s, French 8bs, and dreams of free-climbing El Cap. You know you’ve got an issue like this when you write these things down, or say them out loud, and you immediately think to yourself: impossible, stupid, ridiculous – I’ll never do that.

Or will I…

Jack Geldard re-kindling his own love with gritstone trad climbing on Auto da Fe (E4 6a) at Rivelin
Jack Geldard re-kindling his own love with gritstone trad climbing on Auto da Fe (E4 6a) at Rivelin
A few years ago I would have never believed I would climb 7c+ in a single session, with Herbie I got close...
A few years ago I would have never believed I would climb 7c+ in a single session, with Herbie I got close… Here Glyn Hudson goes through the exact same battle, wrangling the infamous undercut mono before the energy sapping tufa above.

Maybe by focussing on being an all-rounder I spoil the moment within each discipline. Having spent the past 12 months almost exclusively sport climbing I have achieved more than I ever believed possible, but as a result my trad has definitely suffered. Put more in, get more out I suppose? Years ago I remember seeing a picture of Andy Cave on The Prow at Raven Tor, at the time it got 7c and with Andy being a ‘mountaineer’ I remember thinking “wow, that is amazing”. 7c just seemed so far out in the stratosphere, to even be seen on one constituted major waddage (I presume he did it). Quite a pleasantly innocent attitude really, much like the beginners mind:

Shoshin (初心) is a concept in Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind“. It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would. The term is especially used in the study of Zen Buddhism and Japanese martial arts.

Recently I’ve come close to climbing a number of 7c+s – even 8as – in a session. Close, but no cigar… Still, the fact I came close really made me think of how our progressively changing goalposts get in the way of realising how far you’ve come. It’s easy to punish yourself when you have shown no perceptible signs of improvement, but take a step back and suddenly you realise you’ve achieved something that you would have marvelled at maybe only a year ago.

So in a few years will I look back on my perspective now – of E6/7s and French 8bs – or will I be looking forward to…well…who knows what?! At what point do we become content with our own achievements, at what point do we no longer wish to push ourselves.

Judging by my parents, who I regularly use to ground my thoughts, I believe I will continue to do whatever I am passionate about. There’s probably no reason to worry about the rest…

Obsession (7b+), a route I'd tried years ago and found pretty much physically impossible - 7 years on it goes down in an afternoon
Obsession (7b+), a route I’d tried years ago and found pretty much physically impossible – 7 years on it goes down in an afternoon
Penny Orr battling with the redpoint demons on Tin Of, whilst they may be different to trad demons they're still very real!
Penny Orr battling with the redpoint demons on Tin Of, whilst they may be different to trad demons they’re demons nonetheless!
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Sport Climbing

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