Thursday, 24 August 2017

HOW THINGS ARE: A REALIZATION

2017 had started in a very good way. On a freezing and sunny early January's morning, I found myself going to a new, for me, bouldering area. Eyes on the prize, I managed to climb a 7c in a few goes and split a couple of fingers. With a migthy 4° in full sunshine and a crimpy roof, things do not come much better. 
Fast forward a few months, in April I had climbed a four years old board project, something that I had sometimes thought I would never climb. Four years trying a problem that played to all my strengths, mean that it's probably quite hard and I felt it like a monumental achievement. Possibly the hardest thing I've ever climbed. 
Then I made a mistake. I went back climbing. High temps, baby skin, lower back pain and other trivial excuses couldn't make up for a generally terrible climbing experience. 
I repeated this mistake again and again until this past weekend, after which I decided to face the cold, hard truth: I have come to the end of my rock climbing career. 
I have an enormous desire, a need perhaps, to perform. Possibly, to outperform others in terms of strength and power. But mostly to outperform my own self. I've come to this moment thinking that I would keep progressing despite age, work committments, injuries. And to some extent I have, but simply not on rock. 
There is a gap, between what I can physically do in a safe environment, and what I can climb on rock, that is embarassing. 
But most that anything else, I feel that I've come - close - to the end of my physical potential. 
Two of my best weapons, that have granted me so many climbs, that is crimping and heel hooking, are no more such. 
Crimping has become quite hard to bear, and at times unbearable. My fault, obviously. You can't spend session after session on front2 full crimps on the small BM edge without being handed a pricey bill at some time. Not if you're 45 years old, anyway. After boning down on some proper crimps, the upper side of my index fingers DIP joints gets so painful that it hurts to do simple, everyday's life tasks like using a fork or a knife, or twisting a car key. It is frankly terrifying. I think that, simply, the connective tissue between the bones has gone. 
Heel hooking has become nearly impossible, for both the state of my knees and of my hamstrings. After a couple of serious heel hooks I start to limp, the pain becomes unbearable and I feel that, should I push on, something big and serious is going to break for good. After yesterday's heel hooking - four tries in total - today I can't bend my right knee past 90° without feeling a stinging pain and without the knee collapsing down. 
Luckily, as I said, I can still perform: only, in the safe environment of my board, where heel hooks are impossible. Full crimps are still a problem though. 
I need to get familiar with the fact that I can't climb hard on rock anymore. 
I have my board, my BM, my various one arm edges, the Lattice Edge and so may other toys to enjoy. And I can enjoy them at their full potential, with a long and boring warm up, fans and air conditioning to make the best of the given conditions and a plethora of paraphernalia that I simply can't have out there on ze rocks. 
Plus, physical problems aside, I don't know how to climb anymore. I've never been Mr. Technique, but fuck me, now things are ridiculous. I lost any movement fantasy and intuition, and all my climbing skills are: plant foot on small foothold; become a steel beam; get next positive hold. I can't move on anything else. 
I get frustrated if I can't climb hard. And I don't like it. 
It's been good, even great, until it lasted. 
In the past, I had already understood that I was mainly a board climber and a trainer, but then I've had some good success on some hard things and this led me to think that maybe it wasn't over yet on rock. 
I was wrong. 
Climbing hard on rock now would involve so many complicated things that it's basically impossible: from the choice of a suitable problem, to the time to try it, to getting good conditions, to motivation. 
I am a bit sad, but not so sad. 
As long as I can climb, or keep trying, my board projects, progress on the dead hangs and move big amounts of iron, I am happy and I feel that I still have a lot to give. 
I can now dedicate my full self to the most useless pursuit of Strength. 
 






















 

Sunday, 23 April 2017

WHAT'S NORMAL?

It's Wednesday, it's half past nine and I've just finished my dinner. I am watching TV on my couch with my girlfriend, and everything's as usual. There's nothing special in this evening. Apart the fact that I've just climbed one of the hardest problems I've ever set on my board. Apart the fact that I'd been trying that problem for more than four years. 

It's Wednesday, it's seven o' clock and I've just finished my warm up. I am on the bed, recovering from the last set of the recruitment part of the session. This time I tried something new, and, dammit, I think I screwed it. Monumentally. Instead of feeeling fired up, angry and sparky, I feel tired and empty. My forearms feel a bit worked and they don't seem to be getting much better with time. My core doesn't feel ready either. I'm not sure about what I should do: should I go for it despite everything, or should I sack it and put in another training and refining session?
My last sessions had marked some incredible steps forward with this project: in one, for the first time I'd been able to climb the problem in two overlapping halves, twice. I also climbed the second part three times; in the other, I nearly did the problem.
The roots of this incredible progress are deeply sunk in the previous session. During the years I had tried many different options for the feet, to try and make the crucial section of the problem less problematic. Without success. To have a higher percentage of success on the two hardest moves, I should have used two footholds that made the previous moves very low percentage ones. 
So, I was stuck. 
There was no solution but to simply choose which moves I wanted to keep safer and which one I wanted to risk. This went on for months and years.
At some point, to try and have some kind of success, I - forgive me gods of climbing for I have sinned - added a hold. I decided to use a good edge just beside the left hand hold, to match on it with the right hand during the first crux of the problem, a hard swing from a small three fingers crimp. 
After some effort and countless sessions, with this added hold I managed to do this move for the first time in three years, and I was happy to say the least, as it shows.


Success was far though, because I still hadn't done the second crux of the problem. 
Fast forward a few months, and after many tons lifted and deadhung, one day, one magic day, I managed to do the move as originally set, without the added hold, just holding the swing from the small crimp. 
Another step. And another wall in front of me, the second part of the problem. 
More months, more tons lifted and deadhung, and I finally did the second half of the problem. I thought it was game on. How wrong I was... 
Success of each session was judged not in terms of climbing the problem, or even putting in good link-ups, but in terms of being able to do the single hard moves. Sometimes I would stick the swing move once, some other times I would do the second crux once, but most times I wouldn't do either. 
For weeks and months. 
Then, on another magic day, I managed to climb all the moves in the same session, and I felt like a god. 
This feat didn't happen again for more and more weeks. 
Temps in the low twenties, season was over. At this point, there was no reason not to try and prepare next season's efforts, by - maybe - finding new solutions for the feet. 
I dedicated an entire afternoon just to trying new combinations for the two cruxes. The problem was that I'd already tried them all before without success. Having better footholds for the following move would make the previous one almost impossible. 
Then, I tried the previously unthinkable. 
I tried to keep both feet high on both cruxes. I had tried this before, and it was beyond my imagination. The moves felt impossible. 
But now they worked. I could not fucking believe it. I could use these footholds. 
This time I was really onto something. 
This process of years had led to the infamous previous session, in which I felt closer than ever, nearly doing the problem, as it shows here.


And now it's Wednesday, it's seven o' clock and I feel tired and empty. 

It's Wednesday, it's a quarter past seven and I'm sitting here, at the bottom of the board. Hands chalked, shoes tight and clean, who knows what's going to happen. 
First move, from undercling to rounded edge: I catcht it slightly on the left side and have to adjust a little: a matter of millimeters. 
Second move, slight cross to a good edge, again, a little bit too much on the left. 
Third move, things star getting serious, right hand to a vertical pinch. I squeeze it and I feel good goddammit. It's on. 
Fourth move, quick move to the undercling. Positive edge, undercling, goddammit I love this hold. So many good problems pay homage to this hold. I feel strong and set my feet and body for the next move, the start of the first crux. 
Fifth move: to the small crimp. This hold is nasty. Three fingers, a bit less that half a pad, full crimp. Nasty. Why did I choose it? Because it's there, obviously. I catch it slightly too much on the left. Again. Motherfucker. For the whole problem I've been half a centimetre shifted to the left. Now. Now. Now it's time to be strong. 
Sixth move, the first crux, the swing. I set my feet up, I stay low and vertical under the crimp, I press on the footholds, just the right amount of weight, not too much or I'll jump out, not too little or I'll miss the next hold. I move, I land on the edge, still on the left side of it goddammit. I feel the swing, I feel every micron of skin on the holds, I reach the apex and start swinging in, and in that split instant I feel my right hand rolling on the hold, and before I realize it my feet are on the mats. God fucking dammit. When will it ever be over? I am brought back to weeks and months and years of failure. I kick this thought out of my mind, feast or forget. 

It's Wednesday, it's half past seven and I'm sitting here, again at the bottom of the board. Hands chalked, shoes tight and clean, who knows what's going to happen. 
First move, I get the hold even more on the left than the previous try. I adjust and I am not there at all. 
Second move, I get it horribly wrong, miles to the left. I am shocked by how badly I'm doing. I loose concentration and tension and my left foot slips from the foothold. I am on the mat after two moves. I need to be strong now. I need to be as mentally strong as I am physically. 
I am calm. I am in the eye of a hurricane. I am a hurricane. 
I make a small tickmark on the second hold. I will get it there. 

It's Wednesday, it's seven and thirtyfive and I'm sitting here, again at the bottom of the board. Hands chalked, shoes tight and clean, I know what's going to happen. I am going to climb the problem. I've put the toothbrush on the mats and I've muttered to myself: "This is for later, I'll brush the tickmarks off after climbing the problem." 
First move: perfect. 
Second move: perfect. 
Third move, the pinch: perfect. 
Fourth move, to the undercling: perfect. The instant my left hand lands on the edge, I know that I'm doing great. It feels good and grippy. 
Fifth move, the small crimp: obviously perfect. I am exactly where I want to be. Three fingers covering all the good spot, thumb over. Now my control ends here. I am stepping off the charts on terra incognita. Hic sunt leones. I don't know what's going to happen in the next second and half, but there will be only two possibilities: I'll either hold the swing, or I won't. 
I land perfectly on the edge. Swing out. Apex. I feel my right fingers moving so slightly on the crimp. An instant of uncertainty. I swing in, kick the board and stop. I am still on. But the swing took a lot of effort this time and I feel it. 
Seventh move, haven't been here for a while. To a very good undercling, the start of the second crux. I breathe and adjust my feet. Right one low, left one high. The unthinkable is now real. 
Eigth move: the cross. I set up, inhale and hold my breath. "I'm going to fall here." I think, but my body doesn't listen, it's on autopilot and I am on the hold. I twist my body under it, my left foot is bolted to the board as if it were on a ledge. On a fucking bivy ledge. The right foot comes in and I am ready to match. 
Ninth move. Front two match. There's just enough horizontal space on the hold. Unfortunately it tapers just where you have to match.
Right. I had been here before. Three times. Once, a couple of years ago, I fell matching. Another time, a few months ago, I again fell matching. The third time, a few days ago, I fell on the following move. 
And now? 
I match perfectly, I feel the pressure on my index and middle fingers, I feel the texture of the hold running out where it tapers and disappears under my fingers. There's only so little to use. It's a hard compromise between left and right. You have to make each prehension equally good, or bad depending on how you see things, to make the move. If you're tempted by the sirens of immediate success, and you're lured into getting the hold too good, too deep, you'll easily twist your body under the hold, but then you won't be able to match and you'll fall. On the other hand, quite literally, if you think too long-term, and you sacrifice the left hand for a good match, you'll never get the match, because you'll fall twisting your body under. It's oh so subtle. 
But I am there, my fingers are exactly where they have to. 
My body is exactly where it has to. 
And then... 
Then I don't know. The next thing I know is that I've done the next move, I find myself on the following hold, not perfectly, but on it. Three fingers on, slightly openhanded. It's unreal. I am here. I am still on. 
I regain control. 
Eleventh move, to a very good edge on the left. Nasty shoulder move. I do it. 
Twelfth move, to the final jug. I get it. It's over. It's fucking goddammit over. 
I can't believe it. 
I slam the door open - I'd locked myself in to be more concentrated - and go to celebrate with my girlfriend. I jump around the house with arms in the air, and I can't believe it. 

It's Wednesday, it's twenty to eight and I'm sitting here, on the mats, and everything's normal. Everything's as usual. I take my shoes off, I brush the tickmarks off, I put everything to place: shoes, brushes, chalkbags. As always. I am ready for a shower and dinner. As always. Because everything's normal. Except for the fact that I've just climbed a four years project that I had deemed impossible until just ten days before. 
It took me more than twenty years to get to this point. And I'm not talking about climbing the project. I am talking about reaching this vision, in which the extraodinary is absorbed by the so called normality. Climbing doesn't entirely fill my life anymore, and my obsession is self-confined into precise boundaries. 
My climbing is all the climbing I know and care about, and it's just one part of my life. An important part, but a part, a fraction nonetheless. It's finally become just something that I do, I love and I enjoy. 

But having climbed that problem is still fucking awesome.


Wednesday, 2 November 2016

I AM STILL A CLIMBER SOMETIMES. OR: THERE'S A RIGHT TIME AND PLACE FOR EVERYTHING.



 Perfect.
 Perfect.
A little less than perfect. 

As I've said and said and said, I pride myself on being able to express perfectly every imaginable thought and concept, analyzing their deep essence and meaning. This time though, I'm struggling to grasp exactly what lies underneath the mere facts, so I'll stick to the mere facts. 

The first day was amazing, and I allowed myself the luxury of visiting a new sector. A new sector, new boulders in a place where you've been climbing for almost twenty years now, is really a luxury and fuck me, I absolutely reveled in it. Basking in the Sun and in the Glory of ticking every problem, I got seriously reminded about everything that's great in climbing. 
All alone with just my girlfriend, agonizing with anticipation during all the three minutes that were dedicated to the theraband warm-up, it's been great to feel my body adapting to the task, morphing from steel-beam rigidity and mobility to steel-beam strength. Or something like that. 
I found myself in a bulimic orgy of problems, with the main difference that it was nothing pathologic. For once, I didn't even think about grades. 
The desire to climb every problem made that thought superfluous. 
Pocket pulling a go-go, sun on my back, chocolate and protein shakes, nothing else comes close. 
An amazing prow at 7b+ refuses to surrender under my assaults, so I'm forced to use all my four limbs, trying to actually put some weight on my feet, and it goes. I am the best. 
At that point I decided to try a problem in a roof, that was still marked "project" in the guidebook. I immediately had a sequence, that involved skipping at least three pockets. Unsurprisingly it didn't go. 
Campari Sprits and food followed, both in inhuman amount. 

The second day was still amazing, but I woke up feeling as if a freight train loaded with cement blocks had run over me. 
Back to the new sector, I did nothing apart from repeating a few problems for the camera and spotting my girlfriend. And eating chocolate, bread and honey sandwiches and protein shakes and protein bars. At some point I went back to the supposed project. To be truly honest, I couldn't believe that it was really a project: there were holds, and I know that there are many strong climbers that climb there. So I imagined that there could be some ultra-deep low start. The only problem was that it was a boulder bridged over two boulders, forming a small tunnel, so there was no deep start. I then imagined that the start could be on the opposite face of the boulder, then you would basically downclimb and join what appeared to be the logical start. I tried this, broke a few holds, hit my head twice on the nearby boulders and understood that it was no go. I decided to start one hand movement lower than I'd started the previous day, and fuck me it made a difference. 
My body was quite stretched and serious pulling was needed to stay put and not touch the boulders on which the roof sits. 
After a couple of fumbled goes, I did it, as the magnificence of the picture above shows. Best photo I have, possibly. 
So, with the new sector basically ticked I went to visit and old friend. A long traverse in a roof that I'd been after since 2010. It was dry, and I remembered all the moves perfectly. I was terrified, they were hard. The following day was going to be the day. 
Again Campari Spritz and food in unjustified amount. 

Even the third day was amazing, but my mental skies were full of grey clouds, the grey clouds of uncertainty, doubt, and pressure. I woke up at 6:40 and couldn't go back to sleep.
The roof was my target for this trip, and with Winter approaching I knew that this might be the last chance of this season. I had taken the chance to avoid the project with the excuse of the new sector and its chanting sirens, but now I had only one option. 
I believed I'd done this problem in 2010, as this video shows, and as I wrote in this blog entry
Anyway, I was wrong. After long hours spent on the internet and speaking to one of the guys who regularly climb there, I discovered that the problem shown in the video was in fact a first ascent, and that the original problem I was after laid a few meters on the left of the roof, and it was a much more serious proposition.
Back to the drawing table... 
In the Summer of 2015, with all the new info, I managed to climb one of the coolest problems I've ever done, as I wrote in this other blog entry. This problem also constitues the first half of the original traverse that was starting to feel like a hidden treasure to me. 
Then in September 2015 in was back there again, as I wrote here.
From that weekend of 2015 until a few days ago, every time I would do my theraband warm-up my thoughts would go back to the problem that had smashed my shoulder, to the project in front of which I was now stood. In 13 months I'd done a lot of theraband warm-ups and I'd thought to that moves a lot of times... 
My last session, one year before, had left me not only with a painful shoulder, but with a bitter taste also. The moves had felt hard, I couldn't repeat the 8a and I also couldn't link the second part on its own. Summoning all the hypocrisy I was capable of, I blamed the torrid conditions and tried to forget about it.
Now, I was feeling a coward for leaving the project to the last day, I knew that I should have dedicated all my available time to it, leaving the last day for the new sector. But the damage was already done, and there was no turning back. 
I took it very easy, spotting my girlfriend and eating, I even tried to have a nap in the Sun. I couldn't sleep, but it helped me a lot, at least in terms of a cool tan. 
And finally I am here. All the holds are dry, a couple of ones are a bit humid but I brush this thought off. 
I don't have enough pads for the whole thing, so I ask my girlfriend for an even more accurate spot, to avoid being impaled by some sticking tree branches or crushed onto some rocks. 
First go, all the bad memories of the last session disappear in an instant. The sloper feels good, and forgetting all my past errors, I perform every move perfectly and complete the 8a part, then I enter the proper roof. Months of snatches, weights and training have made my shoulders bigger and more powerful and the crux move goes down without a problem. I struggle on the reach though, a long sideways reach to a blind, distant undercling. But I get it nonetheless. I cut loose and using momentum I paste my feet on the slopey holds of the back wall. I am horizontal over some big rocks put in circle to be used as a bonfire, and I mutter "Spot me very well here." to my girlfriend. This thought breaks the magic and the thought of falling off onto the rocks enters my mind. I still do the cross move to the other undercling, but then I fuck the feet placements and I am back on the ground. 
I pant and pant and can't get enough air to fill my lungs and fight the effort. I am spent. By just one go. 
I find myself in a mist in which I am happy for what I've just done, yet disappointed because only four moves were left. Happy because I had retroflashed the 8a, disappointed because I had let a negative thought make a big damage. I was so close. 
And now I am exhausted. I am over. It is over. I have to wait another year, soon it will start snowing here. I can't wait any longer. I don't want to. I won't.
One more go. My forearms are the size of a balloon and I take off my thermal that compresses them too much. After a few minutes collecting my thoughts, every other second that I wait feels unbearable and I must go again. 
I am not rested enough and it feels. 
I fumble the first two feet placements and in anger step off and start all over again. 
This time it goes better, but still not perfectly. I do the first part again, but then the next moves are a bit precarious and I waste energy. I'm at the shoulder move and as I start compressing my right foot slips off the hold. A gigantic hold. A hold so big you could lose your shoe in it. 
I swear and swear and swear and now I'm sure it's really over. 
Or maybe not. I force myself to rest forever, I put on my down jacket and try to make blood leave my forearms. It's a long task. 
After what seemed an eternity I am there at the start. Should I take my thermal off or not? How will it affect my forearms? I keep it and go. 
I immediately feel incredibly well, I feel the rubber squeak onto the rock. I am so comfortable in this storm. 
I tap my left hand on my trousers, the sloper feels amazing. Feet are perfect and I am easily at the hole. Instead of cutting loose I instinctively keep my left foot on and heel hook with my right. I feel the difference and I know that I'm climbing perfectly and I congratulate myself. With the left foot on, I am a bit further away from the next hold and I'm not prepared to this. I struggle to identify it from the new position, but then I dig deeper and get it. I feel the difference again in my body position and I know that I have to pull harder to avoid a lethal swing. So I pull harder and I avoid the lethal swing. I keep motoring, everything seems different. 
The left hand hold, instead of frustration, gives me confidence and I do the next moves with a sense of pleased surprise. I must be doing good. At the shoulder move. My right foot is sunk so hard that it hurts this time, and my position is so perfect that I can match without putting so much pressure; I can even briefly let go with my left hand to recover a little. 
The reach. 
The reach is still hard, I feel my left hand sliding a little but I don't care, I get the undercling. Paste feet and push as if I were to break the rock. I feel extremely solid. I am over the rocks, the thought of asking for a closer spot comes and goes and remains a thought, because as soon as I realize it I am eyeing the right hand pinch and before realizing that I'm eyeing it, I am reaching it static, and then the sensation of it being much better than it ever felt reaches my brain and shocks me. I am three moves away and I'm feeling powerful. I cross over with my left hand to the final pocket, toe hook still bolted to the rock and I go to the blind edge behind the small prow. 
And I miss it. 
I had missed it the day before on a quick rehearsal and I had thought about how hard it would be, if I were to miss it coming from the start. And now I'm coming from the start and I've missed it. 
But I am so solid that I stay calm and search for it, then grab it. Everything feels good, I cut loose in control and one second later I am at the final jug with my left hand, then I match and jump off. 
I gasp for air once again, and in between gasps I keep repeating "I can't believe it." Again and again. 
I lay down on the mat and keep panting, I ask for a hug. 
I know how hard it is to be with an obsessed climber. 
It's over now, I've done it. 
Year after year after year, a story that goes back to 2010 has now come to an ending. The happy ending. 
I still can't believe how well I climbed and I still can't believe that I climbed it. I am so happy. I take my flask and sip some whiskey that my girlfriend brought from London. Before leaving for this trip I'd filled my flask again because after all I was sure it was going to be gorgeous.
Tomorrow we'll go back home. Tomorrow it will be sunny and clear again, but I don't care, because I've done it today. 
Later on we go for a walk, then we go visit the nearby LaSportiva factory for some bargain sales. It's packed with climbers buying stuff. They're all clean and branded. I am a mess of patched jeans, tape and blood stains. 
I look around, and wherever I turn I think "I am the strongest one. Noone else is as strong as me." 
And I feel like Jerry.