Trying to be a better alpinist, trying to be a better sport climber

PATAGONIA…

Tourist trip to Torres del Paine. Looks like nice weather? Winds of 70m/h on the valley floor

Tourist trip to Torres del Paine. Looks like nice climbing weather? Winds of 70m/h on the valley floor

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A gentle breeze.

I’ve put off writing a blog for a while, mostly because I’ve been struggling with what to say about my recent trip to Patagonia. It was quite possibly the least productive trip I’ve ever heard of. I didn’t climb a single peak. I climbed some boulder problems, did a lot of hiking (which trashed my knees) and tried two routes (one rock, one ice) but that was it. All the Patagonian regulars admitted that the season was a particularly bad one in terms of weather and the only real window they got was after I left. The small windows in which I tried to climb weren’t for rock climbing; it was just too cold with too much snow and ice from the previous periods of bad weather. Despite this, I had a really good time in El Chalten, largely because I had some good friends around me, the scenery is out of this world and the bouldering is world class.

 

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It’s hard to complain with a view like that. Peter Graham commuting back El Chalten

 

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Fitzroy gathering cloud

But sometimes when I think of my trip I ask myself whether I really deserved to climb anything in Patagonia anyway. I’m an experienced granite climber and I’ve climbed a reasonable amount in the mountains, but I’ve done very little mixed and ice. With the weather how it was, I was very ill-prepared to climb there.

There are mountains behind the cloud

There is a famous mountain behind the cloud

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It was going so well, and then the route fell on our heads. Ben Silvestre showing me how to climb an iced gully

The important question is whether I want to become a more experienced alpinist. If I was just transported into the Matrix and I could download ‘ice climbing’ then of course I’d sign up. But in the real world you have to spend a lot of time doing something to have the requisite skill set. Do I really want to go Scottish winter climbing every winter instead of sport climbing in Spain? Do I want to climb mixed routes in the Alps in autumn instead of going to Yosemite? The answer to these questions is probably no. So I wonder whether I do really want to be a better alpinist. Hard alpinism really is a game for the minority. From the good alpinists around me in El Chalten, the thing they had in common was patience. I am one of the least patient people I know, often preferring to give up entirely and do something else than hang around and do nothing. Perhaps I need to learn how to be more patient, and then the magic on the mountains will compel me to return.

Really? We're walking in to go rock climbing?

Really? We’re walking in to go rock climbing?

I extended my trip by a few weeks, but it wasn’t long enough. I went home a week too soon, missing the only rock climbing window of the season. Bad luck, or was I just not trying hard enough? Either way, I had fun and I still managed to scrape myself up some rock routes after I got home.

SPAIN! 

Me on Fish Eye, 8c. Photo: Peter Graham

Me on Fish Eye, 8c. Photo: Peter Graham

It’s been two months since I flew home and since then I’ve climbed my hardest sport route to date. Fish Eye, 8c at Oliana in Spain. It was a really enjoyable process and it got me psyched to try something harder one day. Hanging out at Oliana also made me really appreciate my ability to travel and climb lots of different sorts of things. I was at a sport crag trying an 8c every day, but I wasn’t getting bored because before that I’d been in Patagonia walking a lot, and I knew that after, I’d be in Yosemite big walling. Mixing it up so much means that I won’t ever be the best at any one of these branches of climbing. But when did anyone care about being the best?

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Thanks to Walker Emerson for the picture and for being my red point coach

It also gave me confidence in my sport climbing ability. I know there are harder 8c’s out there and that it being an endurance route suited me, but it didn’t take me too long (7 days of effort) so I feel like if I wanted to I could climb something a bit harder. It was a great feeling to clip the chains of a 50 meter overhanging route with only a few proper rests, and for it to feel easy when it finally went.

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I’d like to say I drank all those beers, but it’d be a lie.

What’s next 

It’s time to concentrate on something totally different – Yosemite. Although on paper I’m technically stronger than ever before, climbing 8c is a very different story to climbing El Cap. I would like to climb Free Rider in a day, but with a total lack of all-day-fitness I might have to save that for another trip – we’ll see!

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El Cap yeeeeaaaaahhhhh!

 

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One response to “Trying to be a better alpinist, trying to be a better sport climber

  1. That’s a great blog report Hazel. Your straightforward reporting and honesty is truly refreshing in this day and age of spin and self-aggrandisement! Your climbing does the talking anyway, and I am sure you have all the qualities and aptitudes to tackle any aspect of the climbing game you want – and wanting to is the key! Keep us ageing bumblies informed of your adventures – ours are less impressive but just as intensely personal!
    Dave

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