As I was cruising up yet another stunning crack splitting a 300m granite face up high off the Aiguille du Midi, I felt truly in my element. Recent life events have really knocked my mental strength and the first thing to suffer is my ability to climb, or at least feel comfortable climbing.
My recent post about losing who I am and feeling lost here in Chamonix provoked an incredible response. I had comments and private messages from over 40 people; some offering support and a beer, others confessing to feeling exactly the same and feeling glad that I had spoken up and given this issue a voice.
As I talked more and more about what had happened and what was going on with me, I started to get a sense of closure and felt my mind moving on. Over the two or three weeks since that post, I have seen a remarkable difference, most notably in my ability to climb hard again!
Losing my rock climbing head
I have often heard people say that one of the things they love about climbing is the focus it requires, that, when you are in the zone, you cannot think of anything else. I completely agree with this however, for me, there is a caveat; I need to be able to get in the zone in the first place.
My head has not been in a good place recently and with that went my ability to climb anywhere near my limit. It is early season and so I’ve not minded too much but I was getting a little tired of trundling around easy routes and wanted a bit more of a challenge. But, the first time I headed out at least, I wasn’t ready.
I headed up to Monolith, a crag up the valley in La Joux with my friend Pat and was feeling pretty good, if a little raw. As we started on the warm-ups, pretty steady F6a climbs, I knew I just wasn’t ready. The bolts felt too far apart, I didn’t have confidence in my movements, and I just wasn’t there in the moment. I knew I needed more time.
Thankfully Pat is very understanding and so, after a few easy routes, I became his belay b!tch and resigned myself to just watching for a session. I was keen to get back up but just knew now was not the time.
A weekend with a friend up high
Over the next few weeks, however, I started to feel better about things and my mind felt stronger. I had a weekend climbing booked in with a friend with Plan A being an alpine route on Dent du Geant. The conditions changed and access looked a little tricky and, all of a sudden, I was committing to a two day trip up high trad climbing on red granite. A whole different ball game.
There is a big difference between clipping bolts, sport climbing, and placing the protection yourself and trusting yourself enough on a trad route. Was I ready? Was this a good idea?
Tim has a lot of psyche and so it didn’t take me long to get excited but, of course, I still had a lingering fear that it would all fall to bits the moment I set off on lead.
With a perfect blue sky above us, we headed up to the Aiguille du Midi and to our route for day 1, the Guiffra-Monaci on the Eperon des Cosmiques. I knew that whoever started second would get the crux pitch and so was a little relieved when Tim let me lead off first. What happened when I started climbing was something else, though. I felt amazing!
With Tim taking the second pitch, it was here the climbing started properly and my second lead I was in full swing. By the time I was halfway up the pitch I was whooping and cheering every few moves, loving every second and feeling in my absolute element.
What had changed? Maybe nothing at all but, one thing was for sure, as I was cruising up the perfect hand jams and grinning ear-to-ear, I had found my flow.
Finding my flow
There is something quite special when you are doing anything at the best of your ability; maybe it is a project at work, cycling a long way, or, for me, climbing, but when you get in flow and things just click, it is like nothing else. As I came to the end of my pitch, I just didn’t want to let it end.
As Tim arrived at the belay to join me and seeing how much I was enjoying myself, was an utter gentleman and offered me to carry on up the crux pitch, a supposed 20m 6a hand crack. A little intimidated, as this is right at my trad climbing limit, I thought what the hell, let’s do this!
Questing up the crux pitch we might have gone a little off route onto a wider crack but it just didn’t matter, I was having so much fun climbing I just wanted to carry on and on. It didn’t disappoint. After another 30m I was pretty exhausted but over the moon.
I was back. This is where I belong and this is what I want to be doing with my life.
This was over a week ago now and I still can’t stop buzzing about the whole experience. Though it is great to get my psyche back, what I am most happy about is that I feel like I belong here again, that I have made the right decision to stay and that, for now at least, I don’t want to be anywhere else.
Chamonix is my home and I am incredibly grateful to call it that.
Bring on the summer!