About me:

Originally from Hull, I now live in Llanberis, North Wales. Totally addicted to climbing, I work at the Indy Climbing wall and as a freelance routesetter to fund my dirty habit.

25 September 2012


'TAKE!' I shouted, halfway through trying. Not on one single occasion, but, everytime the membrane of my comfort zone was confronted for, at least, the last two years. It took me more than a year to realise/admit this to myself, then about 6 months to actually pluck up the courage to do something about it. Every visit to the wall would begin with the intention of falling practice, yet it's always much easier to just climb routes you know you can do, or pretend to try and surrender to gravity once the time to try comes and the draw is clipped above your head.

The ability to fight until the bitter end was always something I regarded as one of my strengths when I was younger, never giving in, clawing a path to the top. It was what made me able to break new ground and push past my current level. It is no suprise then that in the last two years only my bouldering has improved, comfortably dropping onto a mat once at breaking point. Routing this year so far has consisted mostly of relatively easy, dangerous pitches, neatly avoiding the need to try hard and find myself in a position where I may fall.

I guess it's not just the falling that scares me, it's the failing too. For a long time I have held getting to the top, onsight, in such high regard that if I didn't feel like I had a 90% chance of success on the days goal I would try something easier, avoiding the need to broach the subject; how hard can I actually climb? The more successes I gained the further compounded the desire to stay in my comfort zone became, the more at risk my ego became (e.g. after x consectutive onsights, a toss up between potential failure on something hard or another consecutive onsight became an easy, yet limiting decision).

A recent trip to Swanage sparked the revolution to usurp the tryanny of King Ego. Gripped by the possibility of failure whilst on The Conger (6b S0), the ascent became almost entirely unpleasant and a huge chunk of mental energy was wasted, enough to be too psyched out to try the awe-inspiring and 'top-of-my-list' route, The Mind Cathedral (E6 6b). I managed a 2nd go ascent of Temple Redneck (7c+), yet the ascent was tainted. Tainted by the fact that it was essentially a consolation prize.

The next day Dan Gibson and I tried Nowhere to Run (E6 6b); an inescapable 5 pitch girdle adventure through the wildest territory I have ever come across. Dan led the first pitch fairly nonchalantly, whilst I sat at the belay getting gripped by the magnitude of commitment involved in the route. My turn to second the pitch came and off I went wauning between confidence and terror, until a table-top ledge, which Dan had used, collapsed under my feet almost taking me with it. Terror reigned.
I reached a 20ft traverse line with two bits of gear; one at the start and one at the end, with a hanging slab right in the fall out zone, this did not seem like a time to fall off. My first forray saw the first apparently solid hold fracture as I began to weight it. I stepped back to safety and brushed the broken hold into the briny. I wanted to leave now, the holds were deceptively load bearing, waiting for your entire weight before shattering seawards. Mental conflict arose as the chant of a thousand doubts began.
The optimism and passion for adventure oozing from Dan was the only thing that kept me moving on. I removed the gear at the start of the traverse and committed. A few moves in and my heartbeat was the only sound for miles. I reached out for a big projecting knob hold halfway along the traverse, dropped my heel out of the break. Something happened. My left hand. The knob snapped and off I came.
I caught the break below with my passing hand and through a blurred moment, a scream of power and absolute life-flashing, pant-shitting fear I was at the belay. Safe, in relative terms.

I had a brief looked at the ever-deteriorating horrorshow of pitch 2, but, the brain guns had done too much blazing already. I doubted whether I even had enough left in me to even escape back the way we came. Fortunately, leading felt much safer, a viewpoint shared by Dan as he seconded back out.

Tiny versions of Dan and I escaping from Nowhere to Run (E6 6b), Swanage. © Sam Ferguson.
For the next two days I climbed with Tom Livingstone. Having lost a day to failing, I wanted to make sure I had successes, play it safe, trying only routes I knew I probably would get up. This led to me getting totally shutdown on Birth Pains of New Nations (7b), not deep water soloing in the sun and not doing Polaris (E5 6a). My mental strength was reduced to nothing and I was forced to confront myself.

'When was the last time you fell off? When was the last time you tried something you might fall off? Where have your balls gone? Why don't you get a job you lazy shit?'

I went to the wall, tied on, climbed up, manned up, sucked up, jumped off and it was AMAZING! I wanted to fall further. I climbed higher each time, taking more and more airtime. After 6 intentional falls I decided to climb until I fell off. At quickdraw 6 I wanted to shout 'take', but, it wasn't until draw 12 that I fell. I got 100% further when trying. So, 50% of my physical ability, whilst on a rope, has been locked away for a long time. Not only that, but, the climbing is so much more fun when I'm taking falls; happy with my efforts and no longer loathing myself for being such a wimp. I've become the liberator of my own mind, Che Guevara to my mental revolution, Robin Hood of my concsiousness, and most importantly, I am no longer a prisoner to 'The Comfort Zone'.

Getting used to falling again as I blow Boat People (7c) at The Diamond. © Owain Atkin

'I'M OFF!'