Sunday, February 26, 2017

I climbed my project

On my most recent trip to Margalef, I finally climbed my project.  It was a route called Voladerum, and it was my first 7c (5.12d).  It was also the result of a multi-year saga.  One day back in the winter of 2008, I was on a short trip to Margalef with my friend Lucy.  It was a cold week, with some snow and probably a bit of rain, and one day we woke up to find that virtually everything we wanted to climb was wet.  There was one roadside 7c at Laboratorio that was dry though, and Lucy suggested I try it.

I thought the idea of trying a 7c was insanity:  I had only climbed one 7b and no 7b+s, and this route in particular was the exact opposite of my style.  I liked long endurance routes with no especially hard moves, and this route was short and bouldery, with a difficult crux straight off the ground.  It wasn't even short-person friendly, unlike most of the routes in Margalef, which generally favor the short.  But I decided I might as well give it a shot.  On my first try I could do...none of the hard moves.  Zero.  I played around on it until I was exhausted and then came back down, assuming that was the beginning and end of my 7c career.

But the next day, for some reason, I decided to have one more go.  Suddenly I was able to do not just one but several of the moves.  From then, I was hooked.

Working on the upper half

I've been back to Margalef many times since 2008.  For several of those trips, I wasn't nearly strong enough to even try my route, since after 2008 I mostly stopped climbing and started running instead.  On one of the trips, I was able to make some progress on the route but then couldn't replicate any of that success on the next trip.  While I was enjoying working on the moves, I wasn't convinced that I'd ever actually climb the route.

Sometimes (okay, most of the time) the belayers thought it was hopeless too
The big breakthrough came in August of 2015.  My patience for merely working the route started to wear thin and I started to enter the mindset of wanting to actually do it.  My friend Dave and I scheduled a trip to Margalef for November, and I decided it was time to start doing some training.  Not just going to the climbing wall once a week like I had been doing for the past few years, but real, focused training.

This new mindset led me to search for videos of my route on the internet, and I was lucky enough to find something on Vimeo.  The climber in the video did the crux in the most bizarre way possible, but I filed the info away in the back of my mind, and when I got to Margalef and decided it was worth at least one try that way, it worked.  The crux was still desperate for me, but at least with the new method my success rate was higher than with any other method.  The rest of the route started coming together slowly; after the crux there is a steep, burly section followed by an upper half that is only about 7a but a consistent 7a, with no real rest, and the moves didn't always have an obvious method so it took several goes to work out the best sequences.

My best effort of the November 2015 trip saw me get through the crux and the burly section but run out of gas soon afterwards.  It was the same story on the January 2016 trip, although the crux had gotten a bit easier due to some winter bouldering on a burly roof problem.  Dave diagnosed me with a lack of upper body strength, as well as fingers that could do with a bit of strengthening, and sent me home with a prescription for pullups and fingerboard work.

It was an agonizing wait until the next opportunity to go back, which was November 2016.  I was determined not to forget my hard-learned sequences, so before I left Margalef in January 2016 I made sure to take photos of all of the hard sections, and when I got home I rehearsed the moves in my head every night before falling asleep.

My phone's gallery is still filled with fine works of photography such as this.  This one is the crux--the route is almost fully horizontal here.

The autumn of 2016 was an even more focused version of the training from 2015.  I made myself a written training schedule, complete with several sessions a week of fingerboarding, pullups, core strength work, bouldering, and endurance circuits.  I played around with my diet, too, and managed to lose a little weight.

It all worked.  My first day in Margalef, I did the crux first try.  I was so surprised that I instantly forgot how to do all of the upcoming moves and fell off.  The next time on the route, I got through the crux, through the burly section, and partway through the easier section.  I had been having trouble remembering my sequence for the easier section, so I spent a full session on it, working the moves over and over again.

Then I took a rest day.  And bought a bottle of wine, just in case it should be needed for celebrations the next day before the shop opened in the evening.

My project is in the sun all day until about 5pm, and it was far too hot to climb in the sun that trip, so I had to endure a nerve-wracking wait for my try at the redpoint.  I distinctly remember being so nervous that I thought I might throw up, and I told Dave that I was never having another project again, so that I wouldn't have to go through this another time.  Just before 5pm I headed to the cave at the far lefthand end of Laboratorio for my usual warmup, and then it was time to climb.  By this time of the evening the weather was virtually perfect, crisp and dry with a nice cool breeze.

I pulled on and redpointed the route first try.  It felt unreal--kind of like a dream and kind of like an out-of-body experience.  It also felt easy.  I was expecting a big fight, especially when trying to clip the chains (a mini-crux for the short), but the fight never came.

I felt complete happiness sitting at the top of the route, trying to take in what had just happened, and then I felt complete sadness at the realization that it was my last time on the route.

There was nothing left to do but strip the route, go home, and drink wine...and find the next project.  And for the next one, I'll know that if I'm not failing as much as I failed on Voladerum, I'm not trying something hard enough.

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