Friday, 31 July 2015

Hajj and future projects

Hi folks I thought I would write a few words about my experiences on Hajj 8c at the Tor. A UKC Report from a few weeks back has the details but I though I would share a few thoughts and reflections on top of that and show a few of the photos, video stills and some of my own tripod footage that I have accumulated. Climbing Hajj represented a big milestone for my climbing and was a culmination of a lot of effort spread over 7 years at the Tor in trying first Mecca in 2007, 2008 and 2009 then the 3 extensions to it (The Extension, Kabaah and Hajj) in 2012, 2013, 2014 and this year.

 David Pett's Video 'The Outdoor Office Part 1' of Hajj
Hajj closes a chapter for me and my involvement with Mecca, although I intend to keep doing it for training. Its time to move on to pastures new, even if that might only be 20 feet to the right to Evolution! I didn't like to think about what I would do after clipping the chains on Hajj as I preferred to focus on the challenge at hand. Now it has happened, the last few weeks I have been busy getting stuck into my next projects. These are True North 8c at Kilnsey and Evolution 8c+ at the Tor. It has been such a pleasure to seriously try such an amazing historic line as True North while fresh on my first day on on a saturday. For the last few years I have usually devoted my freshest climbing days to the Tor and while I don't begrudge that at all as it was all for my long term goal of doing the trilogy of Mecca extensions, the fact was that the years were going by and I wasn't getting a chance to try hard routes at other crags as much as I would have liked. Now I am free and it feels great!

Video Still courtesy of Jon Clark - the crux of Hajj
So, what made the difference to doing Hajj in the end after trying it extensively last year? Well, as always, the devil is in the detail. I will try and explain below the small things I found this Spring when approaching the route with fresh eyes after 6 months away from it that together put me in a position to send it.

 My own video of an attempt from last year

After coming back to Hajj in June off the back of my trip to Smith Rock this spring, I noticed it was easier to step my left foot up earlier before (rather than after) slapping into the first undercut for the left hand on the crux. This seemed to make the crux move feel a little easier going into and standing up into the right hand undercut. I had to press my feet a little harder into the tiny smears but once I got the engrams after repeated attempts, I was happy with the end result. Such a small change in beta but such a big difference! Also, I decided to sack off the long quickdraw on the crux and clip it short with my right hand off the undercut to the left of the Extension top pocket rest. As the foothold here is quite big, the position is not strenuous and you clip on your way up to the next handhold anyway. Suddenly the crux move felt easier as I found that before I was making it harder than it had to be by stepping round the rope in a position of some difficulty! My right foot now shot out quicker to the smear out right before I did the big reach up to the final crimps.

Video Still courtesy of Jon Clark - Gaining the 'Horn' on Mecca by the 4th bolt
Ally Smith helped me to put in a new dogging bolt on the top crux which enabled me to work the crux moves directly off the rope whereas before I always had to climb into them from 3 moves below as the bolts were all 1 metre off to the right. As soon as the bolt went in, I realised that it was possible to take the undercut slightly lower with all four fingers engaging directly into it and the index and ring fingers biting into the best bit. Again, this made the crux move feel a few percent easier, not by much though.

Video Still courtesy of Jon Clark - Getting into the first kneebar on Mecca

Also, I found that I could use the most miniscule of intermediate pinches for the left hand with a crucial, sharp thumbcatch to help get stood up into the undercut, which I had found on an earlier, too hard method of climbing the crux more to the right but had since discounted (we are talking tiny here, don't get your hopes up!)

Video still: The first crux on Mecca
 After failing at the upper crux from the ground five more times in June, I decided to try a new approach doing links from the top down. Two weekends before I did it, I had a massive breakthrough and managed to climb from the 4th bolt to the top and then from the 3rd bolt in the same session. I would recommend the top down approach to anybody looking to get past a sticking point on their redpoint project. I realised that in all my attempts from the ground last year and this year, I had never been from the 4th to the top. Doing this link was a big psychological step. I realised I was now getting fitter on the route, I could feel it on my link goes where I would flick hands between moves just to get a little bit back. By really looking closely and ticking up the best part of the left hand undercut on the crux (which is uneven and quite crozzly but with a better bit for 2 fingers at the bottom of the hold) rather than just getting it any old how was the key to getting the right hand undercut successfully. As you must semi-dynamically slap into the hold, it is tricky to get this right but it certainly made a difference.

Just before the first undercut on Mecca
Taking the first lefthand crimp on the main crux of Mecca
I found a funny, contorted double kneebar at the Mecca belay which took about 20% off my bodyweight I estimated, which all helps up there. I fine tuned my rest at the top Extension pocket and made sure I stayed there for only 1 chalk of each hand. Its not that great a rest as despite the pocket being massive, the footholds are off to the left and its quite draining to stand there for more than a few seconds.

Getting ready for the crux jump (for some!)

Catching the horn on the Mecca crux
So, what's next? Well I am excited to move on to new horizons and am having fun trying Evolution and True North. For the former, I may have to raise the bar bouldering-wise as a vicious V11 boulder problem over the roof left of Chimes of Freedom guards the top wall (which must be around 8b in its own right). Not even a spot to chalk up on the entire route, tough stuff! One thing for sure, this route is a considerable jump upwards in difficulty from Mecca, not many takers for this one. True North is a little steeper than most of my projects that I have tried but it motivates me to try and get better at this style, which is more Euro style, pumpy endurance cranking rather than straight crimping. 

Jerry Moffatt on Evolution 8c+, Raven Tor
I leave you with Jon Clark's excellent video from last year, which contains some earlier footage of Hajj from last year and sums up the psyche required for climbing at the Tor in December! Thanks for reading and good luck on all your projects out there!

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