Getting back on the rock

Getting back on the rock to try Wild West V13

New beginnings

Having pursued competition climbing for 15 years I found once I retired that I had a bit of a loss of direction. I’d always climbed outdoors during offseason and managed to push myself to a standard I had been quite pleased with however I found I was always seeking more. Within a year of retirement, I completed my long-term project of3 years – the first ascent of Ultra Instinct V15 but that only lead to morel ack of direction. So, I spent several months hunting out climbs around the UK that motivated me and inspired me to better myself. Some I’m currently still working on and trying to find the time to pursue, others I’ve thankfully finished already. This story is about one in particular that caught me by surprise due to the difficulty and the process it took for me to succeed.

Arriving at the crag one morning I was unsure what to really do. It was a social session, meeting a friend just to provide some company. Of course, I'd put some thought into things I'd be interested in trying, Belly of the Beast, a long V13 or 14 and Fat Lip Sit, another hard V13 or V14 always had a lure on me for some reason. But this time I escaped the temptation of moves I've done countless times but in a different order. Looking down the path I was tempted by the moves of Wild West, a highball V13 finish to an existing one move V12 called Wild East. The moves and holds where all new to me and that got me far more excited than the other problems. Thankfully I had my trusty ladder with me so I could skip past the hard start and really explore the higher sequence.

It was first put up by Dawid Skoczylas utilising a crazy long move that I discovered was all but impossible for me. Thankfully when Will Bosi made the 2nd ascent, he figured some genius beta involving one of the smallest holds I've pulled on at the Tor and a surprisingly technical heel hook to rock over to the next hold. It totally opened the doors for me and after a couple hours of fiddling around I did all the moves!

Unfortunately linking them after doing the hard first move seemed unlikely on the day, but the fire was well and truly stoked for a return soon. It of course didn't take too long for me to come back for a re-match and I found it surprisingly attainable, but every time something went wrong, be it fatigue causing me to slip up somehow, the sun coming past the crag and blinding me on the crux move, or the holds ripping open my fingers. This process somehow continued for 5 or 6 whole sessions, until I hit a total burn out at the end of summer which resulted in a tactical retreat until I felt ready again.

Back to the grind

My life has changed a lot since then with work commitments often coming first to support now having my own place with my girlfriend. So affording to get out as well as having the time to when the weather decides to play ball made pursuing this project surprisingly hard! Ianthe end it took 6 months to get back to it and after a winter of almost exclusively board climbing at Social Climbing I felt well prepared, but cautiously told myself I was only going for a recon mission to re-learn what needed to be learnt, ready for another day!

Once warmed up I reacquainted myself with the moves and was surprised when I did the higher moves on my 2nd try. So, I set to work from the start. It took a handful of attempts spread over 20 minutes, but I eventually found myself sticking the crux first move and setting up for the following big move. An internal monologue kicked in as I was about to match my previous high point - "trust the heel, you can do it if you actually *@%ing try." Not quite the flow state I had hoped to find, but something clicked. My fingers curled over the small edge and I began to float up the following moves, in my own little bubble of euphoric movement. I finished the problem in a daze, unaware of the situation I had put myself in - deceptively high up with nothing but a single stack of pads below. In my excitement I did a little pull up and dropped off at the apex of it, higher than I should have been! This was the moment the bubble popped and as I came falling down, I became aware of everything that had happened and braced for impact from the ground below!

A question of grade

Regarding the grade, I recognise in climbing, especially the British scene, upgrading is not a common thing. Everyone is so quick to downgrade a climb at a moment’s notice, especially it seems in the UK. But it does not seem to work the other way round for some reason. For myself, the experience and process I went through was far more comparable to any V14 I have done rather than V13. The only obvious dilemma is that the 2nd half of the climb is so wildly different depending on height. Can a climb have separate grades depending on its height? Or does this whole discussion just show how grades are not a perfect system and should be used more as a vague guide to aid direction rather than a statement of fact.

Thanks for reading and to Brett Fitch for the photos taken during a working session in summer 2023. You can find more of his photography on Instagram @brett_ffitch_photoprahy

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