Hanging from a piece of gear, in full view of every alpinist on the Col du Midi, I gave up. I swallowed my pride, accepted my ego took a bruising, and I shouted down to Mark that I’d had enough and he can have a try. I felt completely shattered physically, and felt a complete failure mentally. This was supposed to be well within my climbing grade but I had had enough.
Excuses, excuses, excuses
As I was lowered down to the belay, the roof that defeated me got further away, and I kept on thinking, why did I get it so wrong? We were on the crux pitch of the entry level classic Rebuffat on the Eperon des Cosmiques, an easy alpine rock climb that I had embarked on as a little stepping stone to harder routes. Maybe I need to go back to the drawing board. It has been raining since the climb and that has given a heavy feeling to the whole valley. Cooped up indoors, I’ve been thinking over every aspect of that day since. I didn’t feel 100% when we set off, I had been irritable from the beginning and this could have been from a poor night’s sleep or maybe I was just tired? This was another route, like the Chèré, that I had built up in my head, something I should cruise up, maybe I underestimated it? When I climbed up to the crux, a horizontal roof you need to negotiate, I started to get doubts, roofs really are my achilles heal in climbing, I always seem to take a fall, maybe I just can’t climb roofs? All of these excuses, and more, started running through my head. The worst feeling of all, however, was a complete sense of disappointment in myself, something I have never felt before. Since I began climbing, no matter how bad a day, I have always come away smiling. There was always something I had learnt and, living in London, I was happy just to be out on rock for a few days. Living in Chamonix means that I am getting out climbing significantly more, and I have started feeling that just being out climbing isn’t enough now, I need to be making progress all the time, pushing my limits and making giant leaps forward. Failing in that left me feeling like I had wasted my time.
What a load of old codswallop
It is amazing that I have been making so much progress recently but that is not the sole reason I’m climbing. I get outdoors because of the feeling of freedom it gives me, for the sense of accomplishment not matter how small the achievement because, compared to a lot of things I’ve done in the past, everything I’m doing now is a massive step up.
Every day’s a school day
A few more days have passed, and I’ve been hesitantly talking to people about my feelings after the climb. Every single person has given me a knowing look, a little smile, and then they start sharing their story of a climb getting the better of them. A couple of themes started to emerge and I realised that there were some important lessons to be taken from my brush with a Rebuffat route. At the end of the day, I didn’t read the climbing sequence right, wasted my strength on the wrong moves, and burnt myself out unnecessarily. I got it wrong. These things happen and, having gone away and licked my wounds, I need to take heed of these lessons, and get back out there.
1) We can all underestimate goals sometimes
When everything is going well, it is easy to build your confidence. This is great but you need to be careful. That confidence can grow faster than the reality and you should always take a healthy pinch of caution with you, enough to make you think everything through properly. If I had taken a bit more time of the necessary moves, communicated better to my partner, and not got myself in a flap, it could all have gone very differently.
2) Everyone has an off day. It’s ok.
Deep down, I know I got the climbing moves wrong but that doesn’t mean it was the only thing off that day. You can’t always operate at a high level, you need rest days, and, even with time off, everyone has a bad day eventually.
3) Don’t be so melodramatic.
I felt so terrible after the climb. Sophie was away and so I sat at home, on my own, drank a load of beer and felt sorry for myself. What a waste of an evening. Well, maybe not a waste but it really wasn’t that bad. I don’t need to hang up my climbing shoes and take up curling, nor entertain the idea that I’ll never climb at a particularly high grade. I had an off day, I’ll have more, it’s ok.
It is Sophie’s grandmother’s 80th birthday this weekend so we have fled the non-stop rain in Chamonix for, unusually, drier weather up in Normandy. I’m going to get out on some runs, swing some kettlebells, eat awesome food, and hang out with family for a few days. After that, it will be back to Chamonix and back on the horse. The weather is set to get better and I can’t wait to get back out on rock that teaches me a lesson or two. My ego took a bruising but I’ve still got all my fingers and toes and sometimes, you need your ego putting in check. You can see some more photos on Mark’s Flickr account here