Motivation for climbing is an interesting thing, especially motivation for very dangerous climbing. It isn’t actually very normal to be motivated to climb very dangerous routes. Is it?
I have been planning to climb a route in Ogwen valley for the last few weeks, Gribbin Wall Climb (E9 6c). The route is hard and unarguably dangerous. If you fall from certain points the likely hood of serious injury or death is very real, I would go as far as to bet that the gear won’t hold and you will hit some rocks or the floor very hard and probably die.
The route is not at my physical limit, but it is certainly not trivial, the technicality, regardless of climbing ability, is high enough to mean that a simple foot slip, or a missed hold will result in falling off. The route is around F7c+ (add to this placing the very fiddly gear). My current limit for a ‘3 day redpoint’ is around F8a+ I would guess, although I haven’t redpointed a route for a while to check.
I had been physically planning how to climb this route – and my planing went like this: Clean the holds. Work out what gear goes where. Adjust that gear specifically for the route (filing RP’s, filing cam lobes etc). Top rope the route to learn the moves, but also learn potential mistakes and weak points (such as an occasional foot slip from a certain hold, a propensity to catch a certain crimp in the wrong place, as the eye can’t see the lip properly etc etc). Write all this knowledge down so I can read it occasionally when I can’t climb.
With this knowledge of the route I prepared my physical battle plan: Overall I was fine with the route but I got a little pumped when top roping the route placing the gear. I decided that I wanted to be just 1 sport grade fitter, which would mean I wouldn’t have too much lactic acid build up during my ascent, which would remove fear, give me extra vital seconds in case of a mistake and just generally give me a higher safety margin.
I am still in the phase of gaining that extra fitness. I will be out of that physical phase in approximately 3 weeks, then it will be a case of keeping the level up until the route is done (weather/work constraints may mean a few days wait).
The process is kind of similar to redpointing a sport route, except that you only get one go on the redpoint. More preparation, less attempts.
So what has this to do with motivation?
Well, I have approached this route in the mindset of “I want to climb an E9, this one kind of suits me, I’m not back up to fitness for Mission Impossible (a safer harder E9), I like the climbing on it, I do hard routes.”
My motivation setting defaults to “I do hard routes. I climb hard trad. I like it. I do it.” but now I am wondering if this route is too dangerous for me to justify, and I am asking myself, why do I want to climb this route? What purpose will it serve and what gains will it bring me? Is it really worth the risk?
A long time ambition of mine is to climb E9. Why is this? Why am I number chasing? Is it so I can see personal improvement in my climbing? Will this route mark an improvement in my climbing, or will it mean I have just accepted a higher level of risk than ever before? And is that a good thing? I’m certainly no fitter or stronger than in the past, although I might be a better climber.
How about this old classic:
“The greater the risk, the greater the reward.”
What reward will I get from climbing this route? A long term sense of satisfaction? I am not sure. And surely the best bets are those with minimal risk and maximum reward!
“It’s better to live one day as a Lion, than a hundred years as a sheep.”
Would not climbing this route make me a sheep? Even if I went to Gogarth and did three classic E5’s instead? I don’t think so. Will climbing it make me a lion? I also don’t think so.
I would like to think the reason I want to climb this route is not so I can have climbed an E9, but so I can climb an E9. I want to feel what it is like to make that hand movement, knowing that if I fall, I will die. Knowing I have one chance. Right there, right then, that moment.
Although the route is not physically the hardest I have ever done by quite a few grades, it is one of the toughest overall challenges I will have overcome. And I would like to think this is a motivating factor; to put all the skills I have together in to a 3 minute long piece of climbing, and kind of distil my entire climbing career in to one ascent (excuse the bollocks nature of this last bit fellow cynics..!)
But right now, having just flicked through the new Rockfax West Country Guidebook, a trip to Cornwall to climb the classic E4 Immaculate Arete sounds way more appealing!