Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Caro topping out safely on the 'The Jackals E8' 

End of the trip minus 2 days. If at this point I didn’t pick up the skill, then I must be a desperate case. I had the two best mentors you could think about: Hazel and James.
The easy part was to teach me about to place a nut, a cam. I theorie, it’s fairely easy: you get a hole, a crack, you stuff the cam in , release. Maybe it’s a bit more tricky when you have to insert the nut then turn it.

Placing the cam that just won't stay in, 'The Jackals E8'

That is the easy part, as I said. Except I realized just yesterday, watching Hazel than james on onsights E7 and E8, that you are definitely supposed to wiggle, look, check, until you are sure of your gear, then finalise by a massive tug. Here is my problem: once I placed my gear, I have no real idea of how solid it is, as a result, there is not so much point wiggling, as I won’t know if I am improving the proces or making it worse.

Master trad climber born and bred, Hazel on sighting 'The Cad E6'. Copyright Land and Sky Media

And then comes the real hard part of Trad climbing:being able to say: “this nut is solid at 90%”, or, ‘this nut is solid at 30%”. That’s what James is really trying to teach me at the moment. If you know you can relay on a solid gear, you can climb, run out. If you can’t relay on it, you have to find some other protection before moving up. If you can’t estimate your gear quality, you’re climbing blind, taking a chance with your life. Really very tempting, I have to admit, to just say in you head, “well, it will be alright, this cam in a breaky hole may hold, I should be at least slowed….”. Except no, Hazel and James are no stupid recless dudes, they insist on me not following this easy suicidal track.
Incredible, in fact, this trad attraction! I would have bet everything I would be a scared little mouse, top roping every route, crying one meter above the gear. But no! I find myself having just head pointed a route, with a big runout in the beginning, that I protected with a shitty cam in a loose hole. James onsighted the route after, and made me realize that my supposedly safe start was in fact not that far from a solo! Lesson of the day: do not accept “may hold” as a safety line, treat it like a solo! If you wouldn’t be happy to solo this part, then you shouldn’t be happy to climb with such poor gear. The real danger in Trad, is that it’s really easy to fool yourself, make yourself believe that you’re safe while the real wise trad climber is wise because he knows that he is committing into un-protected sections.
That committing stuff is my problem now. I don’t know where is the limit between being courageous and being an idiot. Watching Hazel and James, I really feel like they do succeed in that very well, having grown as climbers in that trad spirit. The question is, how long will it take me to learn to be a safe and courageous trad climber?

James in his element at Nesscliffe. Copyright Land and Sky Media