Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Badger badger badger - drawing motivation from dark places

I heard over the weekend that a new route I did the first ascent of last year has had its first repeats; Pete Robins and Ben Bransby thankfully confirmed the accuracy of my grade-ometer, though they did comment that if you aren't tall you’ll struggle with the loooong reach on the Font 7B crux. Pete and Ben aren't tall; but then they aren't your average 8a+ climbers either. Given the choice of being tall, or having 4 grades in hand - I know which I’d choose!

Badger Badger Badger 8a+ climbs the direct start to Dive Dive Dive on Upper Pen Trwyn. It was first bolted and attempted by Perry Hawkins in the 90s.

The first ascent process wasn't your normal tale of hard graft; working out the moves, slowly building up to bigger links until day upon day of red-point efforts grind the route down until that perfect day arrives where conditions, form and psyche all combine and the route succumbs. No, this came down to ONE SINGLE MOVE.

The Dive Dive Dive buttress at Pen Trwyn; Route 1 is actually the start to a banned E5 6b crack climb. Badger Badger Badger climbs further right than depicted. Taken from the Rockfax (A.K.A. wrongfax) press release for their shamefully parasitic new guide to North Wales

Day 1:
I dabbled briefly with the direct start after doing Dive Dive Dive for the first time; barely making any meaningful shapes and cursing the location of the bolts. I left it and thought no more about it. Or so I thought. But at some point during that one-day-stand it must have made an impression on me.

Day 2:
A year later, something clicked, and armed with gri-gri, jumar, drill & static rope set about replacing the two in-situ bolts with three in better positions. My work done, I played again with the moves, the new bolt placement making it much easier to try the difficult starting section with a shunt.

I was shut down - HARD!

Arse, at this point I felt like it I'd wasted the time and energy replacing the bolts. I should have gone bouldering instead; that would have been much more productive use of my Chester-climbing commute. Dejected, I wound some finger tape around the first bolt, more to show that it had been re-geared than any statement of ownership, probably… and scuttled round the corner to Pillbox Wall; where the shutdown was equally hard. I hate the box. (No, not that box Doylo; get your mind out of the gutter.)

Day 3:
"How-dare-you!" I screamed from within my head at the computer monitor - you can't declare my route! an open project.

Pete Harrison, guidebook man of the moment, had sent out a tentative graded list to a small number of locals for input to his forth-coming magnus opus (see and had provocatively listed a bunch of routes as open projects.

Tommy's project on the Diamond was the most obvious example; he'd climbed from 2 bolts to the top to create a superb 8a "The Empire State" but not linked in the V10/11 start. Yes, the original "yellow scoop project" had been originally equipped by someone else's hand, but it was Tommy that had put in the effort to re-install some proper stainless steel gear it and complete the 8a version. In everyone's mind but Pete’s, it was Tommy's project; don't touch.

Sitting half way up the 8a+ section of the graded was "Dive Dive Dive direct (open project)" - 3 months after my aborted attempt on the line my interest was suddenly piqued again. After the initial chimp response, the internal dialogue switched back to the human "Better-pull-your-finger-out-lad-if-you-want-your-name-in-that-shiney-new-guidebook-you've-been-hearing-so-much-about". After all, there is an ego that needs stroking in all of us.

Snap shot of Pete's old graded list - red rag to a fragile ego...

A few weeks later I was back, partnered by the ever-reliable shunt.

The section above the boulder problem start was worked out; some cunning hip swinging and a "nothing" pinch negate the need for a powerful lay-back move. The entree was dialled too; a sharp undercut flake allowing a direct entry instead of stepping off the DDD ramp.

THE move still felt impossible though. The most likely solution seemed to be a long reach up left to a distant edge, taken as a backhand, feet set high whilst wrenching the shoulder trying to span an almost insurmountable gap to the obvious flat hold.

Day 4:
…was over before it began. After a pleasant warm-up following Curly Chris up String of Pearls, the classic 6b+, I place the clips into the project. That moment the heavens open with a biblical torrent. Drenched in seconds, I aid back up to retrieve the draws and run away with my sodden tail between my legs.

Day 5:
A week later and I was now admitting to myself that this was a serious project. The internal dialogue was sharply focused: "get-through-that-move, and-you-should-have-a-good-chance-of-immortalising-your-minor-contribution-to-North-Wales-Limestone".

But what a sod of a move.

I must have been psyched as I accepted a belay from Dylan; the same lad who'd snorted coke from the screen of his iPhone to rouse himself, during what I then promised myself would be the last time we'd climbed together.

Dylan was thankfully sober and patiently belayed me as, time and again, I threw myself off the boulder problem start. A tiny intermediate for the right hand and a subtle twist of the hips was the new micro-beta and I got close a couple of times; touching but not holding the flattie which signified the end of the crux.

The next day my left shoulder was trashed from repeatedly trying the gaston move; massage got it functioning again ready for the next onslaught. Psyche wearing thin, body battered; this was a battle.

Day 6:
Following a quick repeat after belaying Peteon his new E6 arete, "At the Heart of It All" (, I suggested we retire to the Orme to give me a chance to try "the move" again.

Pete leading his new E6 arete at Llanfairfechan.

1st go: Gaston, digging deep. Micro-beta. The move has boiled down to my hip, occupying a single mm location in the matrix of space and time. Pull-up my trailing shoulder, little intermediate, slap for the good hold. Close!!

2nd go: BANG! "Shit-I-did-THE-move!" I've just a one point of contact, feet swing uselessly in the air but I'm still in with a chance and fighting. I fumble the next clip and drop an easy move above.Success quickly turns to failure and dark brooding.

3rd go: Gloomy now, nearly dark. Last go. It’s not going to happen tonight but I’ll be back; will I be back? Why? I know why.
- Gaston, set the feet, little intermediate, straighten the shoulders and … reach - STATIC!! - to the good hold. Come. On.
- "How-did-that-happen?’’
( almost impossible move made into something I just did statically…)
- Don't think…
- …push on.
- "nothing" pinch..
- more layback move, pumped now.
- Big hold. I’m moving on.
- Relax, shake out and..
- "Don't-cock-it-up-now" is the worst kind of internal dialogue – like staring at the fencepost you don't want to hit as you sweep a moorland bend at 80mph. Concentrate on the positive!
- crimp, reach, outside edge, another crimp and rock-up to the finishing hold,
and, it's all over.

The route is born, and I can finally acknowledge how much time and effort has gone into the process. Since I'd started playing with the route I'd mentally toyed with the idea of naming it "Badger Badger Badger" in keeping with the triplet "Dive Dive Dive" and much more importantly, as a monument to my late partner, Dr. Emily Goodman. 

Emily's PhD and short career had been devoted to wildlife study, and in particular researching the transmission of Bovine TB through badger populations. Emily succumbed to pancreatic cancer, 5 short months after her diagnosis in September 2010. 

Only once I'd completed the process did a dark and previously closed corner of my mind open up, and acknowledge that this is where I'd been drawing motivation to return, time and again, to this windy headland in North Wales. The same dark corner in which I'd repressed bitter anger at the terrible and hideously unlikely card chance had dealt out - in doing so denying Emily and I the future we would not have together. 

Now, standing there as the sun set orange below the sea, all I could think of were the happier times we'd shared together, and the silly flash animation she'd shown me whilst studying for her PhD.

Thanks to Pete Harrison for his input in writing this; even if though he added a bunch of typos to the draft - fingers crossed the new guide will be well proof read?!?

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