If Big walling were an exam, then we’ve pretty much just sat done the equivalent of sitting up in a panic in the library the night before, downing energy drinks and writing the answers on our hands.
That’s not to say that we haven’t done plenty of practice in the last 6 months, but there’s something about the idea of your first big-wall trip looming over you as the flight dates get closer and closer – that creates a real sense of urgency.
Where else but the quarries again – this time returning to the the eerie, humming crater of Twll Mawr. It’s a big and quite intimidating place, continuously steep and littered with the noise of falling rock. Sharp, jagged slate flakes and edges, rotting slabs, and the familiar booms of Ian Lloyd Jones cleaning another new route with a sledgehammer.
We were here to do as many pitches as we could across the weekend, in true bigwall style. The main focus was on block leading and change-overs at Belay stations. Quote Leo Houlding “Avoid the clusterf*ck lads”.
I’d love to say that this ‘drill’ all went smoothly, filling us with confidence and leaving us gagging to get to Yosemite and smash out routes. But that just wouldn’t be realistic.
In the real world, you rarely ‘Smash’ things first go. Bags get stuck, people get frustrated, clusterf*cks remain unavoidable, things get dropped and ropes get cut. But amongst the many failures, lessons are learnt – lessons I’d much rather be learning now than 100 metres up El Capitan!
We’re still psyched out of our trees of course. That’s the funny thing about failure in climbing – it calls for a two-part reaction. For the first part, you can sulk as much as you like, blame the weather, or the rock, or your partner. But the latter part always follows, a renewed psyche to try harder, push further, and hold on longer. It’s a wonderful feeling, turning up for round 2, staring your nemesis in the eye and thinking ‘Not this time…’
We returned to Twll Mawr early the next morning, and continued our Big-wall drills, continued to deal with the clusterf*ck, and kept on keeping on.
Even if it takes us a week to get up anything in Yosemite, we’ll get up there in the end.