It was a classic case of winning ugly (read Agassi’s autobiography if you don’t get the reference, it’s incredible): the kind of send you’re not proud about, but you take to the bank anyway. I’d come really close to doing China Climb at the end of last year, throwing myself at it right up until our last few hours in Yangshuo.
In fact, it was the second time I’d come really close to sending 8c. The previous time was in Oudtshoorn, South Africa on the route Streetfighter. Grades aren’t everything but this one had become a mental barrier, cutting me off from further progress. Somehow, I’d been at the same level for ten years.
It was time to take a stand. To come back to China and forcefully break out of my rut, however long it took. I felt like Sharma when he said he couldn’t move on with his climbing until he’d completed Realization. It was a much lessor goal and something of a vanity project, but isn’t life just a vanity project when you strip it down?
It wasn’t hard to persuade Angie to visit China again (especially on route to the Trans-Siberian railroad), so after six weeks in New Zealand we traveled back to cosy Yangshuo to lay siege on my route. In just a few tries, I was back to where I’d left off. It seemed a matter of time before the defenses would crack.
I might have been close, but I seemed to keep finding new ways to unbalance the send vibrations. By miss-hitting and then over-crimping the crux hold, I managed to break off a part of it, earning a deep blood blister on the tip of my middle finger and doing some minor nerve damage. Luckily both my finger and the crux move survived the assault, although the nerves in my finger decided they would become a lot more vocal on the job going forward.
On the day it finally goes down, Valentine’s Day by chance, we’re treated with unusually warm and dry conditions. I know, not the most romantic outing considering… but luckily, I married a trooper!
Despite my damaged finger and steadily deteriorating high-points over the past several days, I can feel a send might be in the air. But first go, I miss-hit the crux crimp and treat myself to a world of pain before falling. The frustration starts to well up–will I leave China again having not sent this stupid route? I’ve now been up the climb 25 times and have fallen off caressing the finish jug (at try 13)–a high-point I seem incapable of getting back to.
Enough, I think as I tie in again. This time try harder. I sail up the first two-thirds of the route to the knee-bar–moves I can now literally do with my eyes closed. I spend a few minutes in the knee-bar psyching up. Then I hear myself yelling “climbing” down to Angie, and my body kicks itself into action.
It continues to feel like an out of body experience as I glide through the familiar upper moves. I’m talking to myself–imagining how I might explain what happened to someone later. Then I snap into the first person; no more narrator.
It’s feeling easy. The crux crimp is twice its usual size and the holds feel close together. A few moves later I’m at the final boulder problem and still feeling fresh. I skip the last three clips like usual (in the end I clip only six of the twelve bolts), but I’m not conscious of the potential fall, I have a lock on my target.
And that’s when it all starts going wrong. My mind has decided that it can’t be this easy, that I’ll have to work for it. For no good reason, I over-fire the last hard deadpoint and find myself barely hanging on to the bad part of a pinch. I bring my right foot up and clumsily miss the foothold. It takes a few ounces of precious energy to reset.
I latch an intermediate pocket and quickly assess my body position. Am I in a position to deadpoint the final jug or is the cause lost? It seems less than fifty-fifty, I’ve probably botched it again. But a new level of resolve kicks in. “Enough” my mind practically yells. Somehow I lurch upwards and my hand sticks the finish jug. A few more shaky moves and I’m clipping the chains. I yell. It takes a while for me to process that it’s over.
Moments later the sun breaks through the clouds, and we’re treated to our first blue sky since getting here ten days ago. Relief floods my body but it’s also an anti-climax. I’ve definitely reached a new level, but I seem to have adjusted to it already. In the end it’s just another climb, a valuable experience but just a small step on the never-ending ladder of improvement.
Thank you Angie for a great Valentine’s Day!
Steve and Angie are sponsored by Edelrid
Follow Steve and Angie on their travels on their blog: the stangie travelogue
Video of another climber, Keller Rinaudo trying China Climb last year