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.
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.
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.