F5

Yup, another one of them climbing posts. F5 is a grade of sport climb – the grades go from 1 (stairs) to 9b (blank piece of overhanging rock polished to smoothness).*  For ordinary-but-decent climbers, climbing around a 6a-6c is the norm. For your novice (me) Joe or Joanna Blogs, 4+ through 5 is what you’d expect. For the last 3 climbing trips I’ve been on (outdoors – being indoors is quite a bit easier!) I’ve been climbing 4+’s, and not been feeling strong.

But now all has changed, for today I led not one, but two F5 grade climbs!** Not only this, but they were climbs that in the guidebook were rated as ‘stoppers’ at their grade – meaning, that they tend to get people who normally can manage to climb at that level. They had big, blank middle sections with horrible crimpy holds and technical, bendy movements, and I am not a flexible guy. Nevertheless – success.

I worked out what I was doing wrong, as well. I’ve not actually gotten any better at climbing. I can prove it, because I climbed an F5 the first day I ever hit the rock. I just thought it was a fluke, low down in the grade, maybe I climbed the wrong line, but no. I was just on a top rope, safe, with my girlfriend watching, and so I held the rock and up I went.

And that’s what I’ve been doing wrong. I’ve not been trusting myself to hold the rock. I’ve been clinging to holds for dear life but not climbing on them, which looking back, was not my brightest moment. I just had to realise that while these slivers of rock feel dodgy as they are still rock, and any hold is just that: holdable. I don’t need an enormous jug to haul up on, or footholds wider than my stairs at home to traipse up. The other week Partner in Climb dragged me up an HVS (see footnote!) at Tremadog (Meshach) which was the thinnest climb I have ever done. The second pitch ran up a tricky slab, and there was a point when I looked at where I was standing and realised I was suspended only by the friction of rubber on rock. Despite being second up and hence on a rope, I was feeling gripped by the mere thought of how easy it would be to slide off, and the only way I could continue was to put my mind aside and go, gripping on nothing, standing on nothing, and trying my best to think of nothing. I made it to the top without incident but still failed the route – I’d rested on the rope earlier and the frustrating thing is that if I’d just gone for it I’d’ve made the climb clean. It all comes down to this issue of trust – I can climb much harder than I do if only I could bring myself to.

As for Meshach, the more I think about it the more I retrospectively enjoyed the climb. Sure, it was grim and hard and I reached new levels of muttering under my breath but it was a genuine challenge, and challenge is awesome. It was grand. I will come back, and I will do it again, and I will succeed. In the meantime, I’m going to try and consolidate my F5 sport grade and reach on for harder things…5+ is next up and if I’m feeling bold, 6a. Wish me luck.

In other news, I also have new gear!

DMM Offsets! Each one capable of taking 1.2 metric tonnes of fall. And shiny too. (I know you’re supposed to love battered gear but there is something about the pure shininess that is soothing and elegant)

*I should add that the 1-9b grading system is only for sport climbing – trad climbing has grades running from Moderate to Extreme, and then you start racking up the numbers. They are quaint, old-school grades really and I like their style – Moderate, Difficult, Very Difficult, Severe, Hard Severe, Very Severe, Hard Very Severe and then E1-10 or so (I say around 10, because climbs that are that hard are pretty similarly graded anyway and whenever some famous climber does a first ascent of something outrageous, they have a tendency to put a new number on it to make it ‘the hardest climb ever’. It’s good publicity, but it’s not exactly conducive to standardisation). You also get some mixed grades – Hard Very Difficult, for example, and I do enjoy the fact that by the time you’re doing ‘very difficult’ climbs you’re still running up the rock on lovely, relatively simple routes.

**Willem and Jacob’s Ladder, at the Cheyne Wears area in Portland.

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