Saturday, 22 June 2013

Mecca Extension

Well some of the dust has settled since I finally managed to complete the extension last sunday so now seems as good a time as any to set down some thoughts. Hopefully the following will cause others to get psyched and get out there to send some things at their personal limit! This might be a bit long for some tastes but if so, just skip to the last paragraph! Ever since ticking Mecca in 2009 I had a vague notion of going higher and had briefly checked out the extension in 2006 when I could barely do a move. You need to put a lot of time in up there to get used to the snatchy and insecure style of movement on poor fingerholds and timebomb smears. Yes, the top half is in complete contrast to the lower part, which is essentially a power endurance fest. Instead, it demands execution of complex and tenuous, technical moves which, once learned, start to feel easier once the engrams become engrained. I had such a battle getting up Mecca since first trying it in 2006 that all thoughts of the extension went out of the window. 50 sessions and 4 years later, I eventually clipped the chains once I got back from the Dolomites in August on a trip with Ben Heason.

Over next 3 years, I moved away from Manchester to Jersey and Dorset before returning to my homeland in 2011. The Tor fitness was not quite there though and it took all of last year to get back up to scratch. I had a difficult decision to make because I had wanted to get on Make it Funky as I had done a good link on this from the end of the crux to the top after doing Mecca and wanted a completely new project. However, the best laid plans are sometimes blown to smithereens and I hyperextended my right ring finger on the famous 7c+ Mirage in Ceuse summer 2011. Having sent 8a on it on the last day of the trip, the finger swelled up and an xray back home revealed that I had an avulsion fracture! A fragment of bone had been ripped away from the joint by the force of the finger bending back...gnarly!! Luckily I was back in action after 6 weeks rest with no ill effects apart from my fingertip being a bit fatter. So, the Make it Funky bolt hole mono move is no longer so feasible, oh well such is life! This is what prompted me to try the extension seriously.

So last summer I went up there again after speaking to Adam Bailes who was close to ticking the route. I was psyched to be able to do all the moves that session. I kept going back up there and managed to gradually link from the pocket before the traverse to the top, a breakthrough at the time. Then from the Mecca belay to the top. It was this link that opened my eyes to actually climbing the thing. Before the winter rains set in, I managed to link from the base of the Mecca groove to the top, another big buzz as it was the first time I had skipped the last clip, which you need to do in order to tick the route, it being too strenous to clip. Sometimes, you need to man up! I knew then that it was on next year.

Gaining the base of the final flake (Credit: Guy van Greuning)

Another big change was embracing the kneebar for the moves up the groove. In the past I had been a little resistant to change but a change of heart made me check it out for the first time only to be blown away by how good the moves were using the knees, although it did make the top section signficantly easier. What used to be moves at my absolute power endurance limit are now much more manageable from the ground with the hands off rest. Having said all that, I can only stay there for 20 seconds or so as the core strength rapidly drains in such a strenous position. At the end of the day, its personal choice on this one....

As the top was wet for much of March and April, I only managed to get back on the route after returning from the Jura in April. Progress was slow in the first couple of weeks and I only managed to repeat the horn to top link after several sessions. Gradually, the moves began to feel easier and I started trying the last link I would attempt before trying it from the ground, from the 3rd bolt to the top (i.e. the old 'pocket link' on Mecca). This felt a lot harder adding in the crux part of Mecca and it was only after a few more sessions that this eventually fell with me pumping out at the base of the flake quite a few times. Shaking out on the big flake above the Mecca belay, I began to feel some fitness building with each session, it was exciting seeing the progress. This brings me to how to train for this route? I think it is really a fitness route for people who can do Mecca. So you need to be quite fit and it was for this reason that over the winter at Stockport wall I trained routes on the plastic (10 tie-ins minimum per session!) as well as regular bouldering sessions. There are 47 moves til the finishing jug (25 for Mecca) so you need something more in reserve than sprinting up Mecca only to slump on the chains.

Evening sessions after work were the key, this way you can get plenty of contact time, which is essential if a project is at your limit. The next problem was getting up Mecca again! I started trying again from the ground after the top pocket on the traverse got frustatingly wet and stayed that way for 3 weeks or so. Progress was slow and I began to fear I was not as strong as 4 year's ago and that I may have blown my chance by not having bouldering enough. Luckily I was wrong and it was a week's rest off the route in flying out to Pisa for a uni mate's wedding that gave me some much needed time off. Doing Full Tilt at Kilnsey last Tues, which I had been trying for years, I knew I felt stronger and this gave me added confidence and psyche.

On Thursday evening I managed to get to the last 2 moves after getting my heel on the flake and getting the next right hand crimp above, so close!! I was mega boxed though and the final British 6a moves to the final jug, which I had never fallen off before, transformed into seemingly impossible barriers and I was off skydiving back into space! 2 days' rest was called for and on the sunday, trying to keep nerves at bay, I set off on my redpoint. This time I was less pumped the whole way on the top section and had something left for the finish. Clipping the chains was a massive buzz I have to say with it being my first 8c. I would recommend the siege of a route at your personal limit to anybody, just as long as you are making progress, however gradual.

(Credit: George Carmichael)

So, thanks for sticking with the above ramble and have fun out there, stay psyched!

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