Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Lab Rat... My second 8b+

It's not often that I get to fly through the air with both hands aimed at a finish jug. It's even less often that I get to catch that finish just and celebrate veraciously. This Sunday I got to do both in Waterval Boven. Lab Rat has been a nemesis of mine since November. This was one of the first routes I ever saw when I arrived in Waterval Boven for the first time in 2006. My eyes grew large and my secret desire to climb it slow grew larger. At this point I was climbing 6a so the thought of 8b+ was not even a fantasy, I had only ever climbed on rock once before and didn't manage to do that very well either. I was a complete NOOB but I was motivated and I knew from past experience, I can do anything I set my mind to.

For years I've been training and getting stronger, sometimes in leaps and bounds, sometimes a micro at a time. Last year was a micro year as was this one. 8b is hard work, 8b+ is another game altogether. I hadn't been on Lab Rat in ages, since about two weeks after I had my accident this year. When I got on it a month ago and did all the moves that I'd been struggling with I realized that a switch in my head and body had been flipped and I was really ready for it. It was odd too seeing as I'd been climbing such long routes recently like Mutation, Rodan, Vorpal Sword and Jack of All Trades. I hadn't been on a short bouldery climb in ages. But when I jumped on Lab Rat I somehow knew that my weekend's plan to get back on Rodan wasn't going to happen.

Latching the finish jug after a tough all-points cutloose double dyno... Photograph by Gustav Janse van Rensburg
I got very close to doing it about a month ago but failed when I slit the tip of my ring finger and had to call it for the weekend. The next month I bouldered three times a week in the gym and started training exceptionally hard trying out the Sean McColl training program that he posted. I started feeling stronger than before. My time on the Violent Streak (8b) at the Chosspile also contributed greatly to my power endurance. That is one tough line. So is the Shadowfax project (8b+) which I've also been fighting with for ages. My links on both of these climbs are progressing really well and sends are going to become immanent in the near future. Both Shadowfax and Violent Streak have beaten the crap out of my poor pinky on my right hand.

Last week

Sunday morning before the send
I arrived in Boven this Saturday and needed to get my draws off of Rodan. Without warming up, I cruised through all the moves trying not to get too pumped or tired. I felt unbelievably strong. Did some of my best links cold. I cleaned the route and put my draws up on Lab Rat. First go of the weekend I fell off the finish jug of the dyno -- Happy Birthday Brian. I lowered off, rested a while and tried again all afternoon but couldn't send. Final go of the day I linked from just before the crux fingerlock to the chains. This was the first time I'd been able to link this section. I was psyched.

Sunday morning we were on quite a strict time schedule as I needed to be back in Boven before 1. First go of the day I got past my previous highpoint, sticking the finger lock lower down and then I dorked it three moves before the dyno! I couldn't believe it. I got down, waited five minutes and blasted through the lower crux effortlessly. While shaking out I made myself focus that little bit more than previously. I did the boulder problem to set up for the dyno, took a deep breath and while in that moment I realized that my arms felt as though I hadn't been climbing at all. I was completely fresh. I was ready. I pounced. Both hands latched the jug, my shoulders didn't even move as my feet shot out backwards. I had it. I wouldn't let go.

I celebrated as I campused to the chains... I was so happy!

Moving past the fingerlock and into the rest...

Moving into the boulder problem for the dyno.

Friday, August 10, 2012

No! You Can't Have Them! ...Not Yet

Two weeks ago I got a message from Tristan cryptically asking me if I'd fit into a size 6 shoe. I was worried it would be a tight fit but still was excited to see what present would be awaiting me. The result was a new Mad Rock shoe, the Shark. The first thing I did was go tingly with excitement; they finally did it: they made a really awesome looking shoe.

Shaking out

 But the look wasn't what impressed me; the upper of the shoe is covered in thin rand rubber and is ultra soft is sticky, kinda like the Five Ten Team, just thinner rubber. I was intrigued to say the least. I slid them on and did a 25 with tricky footing for the first climb of the shoes. They didn't slip or falter, not once. Ok, maybe these are cool.

Setting up for the crux

Next climb was on the Violent Streak project (8b+ish). What impressed me most was that the shoes stuck to every smear (both on the bottom and the top of the shoe) and was able to edge really well out of the box. The previous week I was using other shoes on the proj and I was struggling to stand in one of the voids/corners in the crux. No problem with these guys. They are soft and supple and form fit instantly. Impressed is definitely an understatement.

Sticking the setup move in the Violent Streak crux, note the horrible foothold on the right

The crux iron cross on Violent Streak

Last weekend and yesterday I got on to my nemesis at Chosspile: the Shadowfax Project (hard 8b+ min). To my amazement, I could do all the moves in the crux for the first time in over a year. There are two contributing factors to this: firstly I'm feeling very very strong at the moment. New training programs have been helpful to the core and fingers. Secondly, these shoes stick like glue! I'm simply amazed at how well they toe hook in the crux.

Watch this space for more!!!

Monday, August 6, 2012

My 8b+ first ascent

The last two months have been crazy! I managed to send my long term project in Boven, now called Mutation. It runs at 8b+ and is my first. If I were in the States I’d be pretty excited since it’s my first 5.14! The worst part of doing this first ascent is that I have no photos of the climb save this one.

The weekend I opened the climb I was actually suffering from Golfer’s Elbow in my left arm. It had been a problem for the previous three weeks and I have taken the entire week off to let it rest (for me 5 rest days is psychotic). I started off the weekend’s attempts with a new high point on the Saturday. The result was catching the side of the finish jug in the crux. This hold is a square hold that I catch as a side pull but isn’t great to move off of; when I caught it I was so shocked I hardly knew what to do. The result of that was a foot popping off a smooth hold and me taking a 60 foot whipper, which is pretty normal on this line. I got the exact same result on my second try. Damn foot just wouldn’t stick.

The next day I gave it a poor attempt on my first go and fell off a lot lower than usual. My elbow was sore and I thought I would just call it a weekend and recover for the next occasion. But an hour later I found myself playing on this boulder 7b+ just screwing around and having fun. My elbow wasn’t sore anymore and I just thought I ought to give it another try, maybe figure out why my foot wasn’t staying in place.
I headed up to the midway point on the route. I wasn’t feeling great but I wasn’t pumped either. While I was shaking out in the finger lock I starting to focus just that little bit deeper. By the time I moved my left foot into position to leave the rest I just had a feeling that this time might be different. 

I moved my left hand to a good side pull, stood my left foot into the corner and set my right on the poor sloper for a drop knee. I stood up statically into the Africa hold and matched briefly so I could move my feet before the throw to the left hand side pull and the bounce to the slot. When I hit the slot I moved my feet into position and set my right heal-toe cam so I could clip then get the gaston with my right hand. I moved my left into the poor sloping sidepull set my feet and launched to the undercling sidepull with my right hand; I shuffled my feet, slapped my left hand into the good sidepull and set the left hand jam. Crunch time: jam feels good, move feet left; set right knuckle jam…

I lock off on the jam and reach left hand into the undercling so I can slap my right hand up the fridge block and shuffle my right foot on to a horrible hold. Ninja kick! Left foot above my hands and slap into the right hand gaston! Full power to move the left to the finish block… High point… FOCUS… Make sure the left foot sticks.

In this moment I find myself doing something completely new. I bounce the right hand to a horrible hold, move my right foot into a toe cam in a crack and do a deep drop knee. I find myself wrapping my hand around the rest jug. SEND. It’s not over yet. I don’t celebrate, I just focus. The next two moves are really tricky still. High left foot and sloping shelf, left hand to poor sloping pinch, right and to bad gaston, oh no, I’m slipping, hold tight! Rock up to crimp and grab jug! SUCCESS! Move right and clip chains.

This was an emotional moment for me and I’m pretty sure the entire valley knew it… I was psyched.

The next weekend I was back in Boven, jump on Rodan (8b+). It felt quite a bit like when I started working Mutation. I sorted out all my beta and left my draws up. I wasn't quite ready for another megaproject, so I repeated Vorpal Sword (8a+) second go and Jack of All Trades (8a) the next weekend to get some motivation and a sense of how strong I was. I'm really strong. Both lines felt like jokes when I struggled with the previously. Almost did Juggernaut, a bouldery 8a, second go as well but missed some micro beta and decided to call it a weekend before my finger started bleeding from the tiny holds...

My next series of blogs are going to be based on a brand new pair of shoes I was given to test out... I got them two weeks ago from Mad Rock and they won't be available till next year. I can tell you this so far: you want a pair of these... More to come