Climbing the walls

Its been a strange few weeks and months on the climbing front.

From sheer excitement and confidence of Ice climbing in the alps in March and the successes of Scottish winter in the Cairngorm’s (my first Grade IV lead) to a time of disruption and frustration as we pack up to begin a house move and a regression of my climbing skills.

I’m not a great climber. In outdoor rock terms I’m not even a good climber but i was getting better.

We were “crushing” it on the indoor walls, running up our local indoor ice walls like an axe carrying Spiderman and in the Alpine wonderland around Cogne and Chamonix we were in our element – but when I headed to the lakes for a weekend of camping and rock climbing with a friend something went wrong.

I’ve learned climbing is definitely a mental game and eve mild disruptions to my mental state, any negativity, stress or in this case (mild) hangover just ruins my climbing – I just get the fear!

And for me its a snowball effect, negative or positive.

My climbing partner Davy Wright and I had a cracking 2 days at the Great langdale campsite, among other things testing stoves, camping food and a new superlight one man tent he had been sent , we had great weather, a superb pitch with a view of the crag and the pub was only a short walk away – Nirvana!


The climbing however was more challenging. We started off up Evening Wall S 4a which while a bit tricky was fairly straightforward and I was feeling ok. Davy leading we made it up to around half way and then the going got a bit harder. I’m watching Davy lead off and the  reach an overhanging , blocky crux . A stronger climber than me he seemed to be finding it a bit tricky and while I belayed I could feel my stress levels rising. He may be able to make it but can I follow? Finally he seemed to move past it with a straddling move that frankly made me feel sick at the thought of repeating.

I moved off, moving well then got stuck on a vertical section with no obvious way forward. After frankly a ridiculous amount of time and faffing I moved right and moved up to pass the blockage.

Stressed and a little shaky from adrenaline , my hangover’s  dull itch at the back of my head and throat I arrived at the move Davy had finally made.

Before I even arrived at it i had checked out. I know that.

I am aware of how defeatist that is, but it’s reality.

I had already decided I couldn’t do it so found umpteen ways to agree with myself .” Its overhanging, its all negative, there are no holds, its sloping the wrong way, its all blocky and I don’t grip well on blocks“… I could go on.

I’m embarrassed to say I gave up and had to lower off -not an easy task for Davy who had to find a belay , set up an ab and rap off as well and then together we had to climb the hill to retrieve the gear.

He was great, no judgement – “every day at the crag is fun no matter what” – but i knew it was less that great. And I knew it was my inability to manage my head , not my ability to climb that had let us down. I was relieved to be on the ground but angry at my weakness.

Turns out we had veered onto a VS crux  (Odin) in error so I don’t feel so bad but the issue was still there.


Fast forward to a local crag and again fear took hold. One move taking me far too long and my lack of confidence limiting the routes.


Pull back, climb lower and confidently, repeat, build more confidence, celebrate every little success, accept we have off days, ask what I actually expect to achieve, is that realistic?, do I even want to climb at higher grades?

Once again another great friend and guide , Andy Mallinson helped my with a great coaching question – “do you want to be a rock climber”?

Answer – actually… not primarily, no.

Mountaineer and winter/ice climber, yes.Rock?- yes for fun but I’m never going to Dave Macleod and  you know what? – that’s ok!

Then house moves and packing up belonging took over. A few weeks pass and training takes a a hit, diet goes out the window – I feel weak, out of shape, angry at my self. Then finally  we get back in the gym, get our diet back in check and hit the Indoor wall at Ratho to spend a day “just seeing how it goes”.  No pressure.

Result? A superb days  climbing, easily making my usual 5+ grade, doing well at 6a. Feeling confident, feeling happy – enjoying it . And when did the climbing actually start? The week before – in the gym, in the diet, talking about it, planning for it , treating it as fun not a goal.

My heads back in the game but with different expectations and some more realistic goals that I am more happy to accept. At some point you have to do it for fun , not to hit a goal otherwise you’re going to find yourself  at home, frustrated and  climbing the walls.


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