14.The skin I am in
Its been a full day so far, and I can’t do the bloody move. Hanging on a rope just below the handhold, nursing my index finger.
I am on a hard rock climb in Glen Ogle called “Off the beaten Track” its an 8a route put up by a friend of mine and he has thin fingers. Whilst the grade of the climb will mean nothing to most, the issue is this. Its very steep it overhangs 4m in its 18m length. When you lower from the top of the route you spin around in space unable to touch the rock. Its also very complicated, and powerful. Climbing at this level is like learning a dance routine, every movement very specific, every foot placement has to be precise to the centimetre, every hand hold has to be taken millimetre perfect. But for each climber attempting the route, the dance is slightly different the change in sequence dictated by morphology. There are 60 individual, identifiable hand and foot movement required to be performed in succession, almost perfectly.
Although hard, this route is not at the super elite level but there are still only a handful of climbers able to complete this climb so it’s a very nice prize, and to do the route in a day a true test. When you are at your limit it’s the minutia, that start to matter, the temperature of the rock, the humidity content of the air the state of you climbing shoes, and your skin.
The hold for my left hand is the size of the top an iPod Nano, (quite good, really) my left on an edge the size of a small USB stick, I lift my left foot on to a pound coin sized dimple. I have to reach up high with my right hand and stuff the tips of two fingers into a small hole in the rock, there is a sharp crystal of quartz in this hole and it hurts as it presses into the joint of your index finger. It cuts into the skin.
For 15 years I have trained to get stronger to climb on bits of rock, I have driven thousands of miles to find warm dry rock, spent a fortune on flights, gear and rope and climbed in four continents in the pursuit of this 2cm deep hole. I forgot, the other factor here is of course gravity. Gravity sucks, literally on a good day you can pull into the vertical world and you feel light, bouncy and open. On a bad day its slow, heavy and your nervous.
The fear of falling is always there, sometime its very strong and it restricts your vision, compresses your movement, sometime its just a slight background noise an inconvenience, a waste of effort. However today I have another problem, the fallibility of our biggest organ (from Latin cutis, skin). It is the wrap that holds the bag of our body together; it lets us know many things. It is the interface between our soul, mind, body and our environment. It is crucial in our understanding of our state of being. It is both tough and delicate. On my right index finger in climbing parlance, I have a large flapper, the deep wide tear in the skin is now bleeding, the strain of my body weight on the crystal edge just too much for my to take. So that’s it, game over. No more attempts on this baby. I have known many climbers scream in frustration when this happens, years of training, pent up ambition, the competitive edge bursting out, just as the skin gives way to human fallibility. 5 layers of flesh between success and failure, the nice thing is though; it grows back and is easily healed, unlike the ego.