2 years ago, James had tried to flash Muy Caliente, a very bold E10 in Pembroke. For such a crazy goal, he prepared himself for 6 month, getting as fit as possible to minimize the risk of falling in the 8a bold part of the route. At the end, he made a quite good attempt, falling at the very last move, in a safe part of the route. I could see his disappointment the instant he fell. There is something very frustrating about preparing for six month for one single flash try… a bit like competition, I would say J
He did the route on his next attempt, and even if that restored  most of his usual happiness, I think he wasn’t that interested in reliving the challenge another time.

Earlier in the  year, we all read about Charlie’s great addition to Pembroke, and James watched the video. The route seemed like a compact proposition, and quite scary as well. For sure he, and I would be keen to try the next time we went to Pembroke…

Yuji called a few month ago, asking James if he would show him the “English trad” in September. There is no saying NO to Yuji, especially when he is your hero and your friend, so of course James reserved his early September to Yuji.  We were headed for Pembroke on the last days of august, without much special plans other than showing Yuji the best routes without killing him.

Thanks to Eddie Gianelloni for the picture!
Thanks to Eddie Gianelloni for the picture!

One day to kill before Yuji arrive, James asked me if I would abseil down Something’s Burning and have a look at gear and movements for him. I don’t think he was thinking so much about flashing it yet, maybe he was secretly trying to motivate me to do the route. On my first inspection, I touched a few holds, found quite a bit of little gear, but was more motivated by Mercia wall, the E8 just next to it.

I am not a very good trad climber yet, I struggle to assess the quality of gear, and especially lack experience of falling on micro gear J. With micro gear, you have to make sure the nuts are well stuck, and you never really know if bits of rock would break, freeing the gear when you fall.

I told James I thought the route was easy, unconsciously setting the ball rolling. I have seen James playing trad before, and I know that he can do some very hard moves, try very hard. Much harder than he would ever try when he is sport climbing. In Muy caliente, there were movements in the 8a bold part that I couldn’t do, but hoped he would be tall enough to succeed. At the time, he cruised through that part. Again in Something’s burning, there are 2 movements that I can’t do: a very long reach from the beginning undercuts that is protected by 3 good wires, and a side ways dyno that is only protected by 3 micronuts. Maybe I am overconfident with gear, maybe I trust in James’abilities, but I know he is miles better than me in dynos, and even if you arrive pumped, I believed he would be fine.

James trusts my judgement, and when I told him that he would be ok trying without practice, provided I showed him the micro gear, he decided he would have a go.

Zoulou wall, 8a, green climbed a few days before
Zoulou wall, 8a, green climbed a few days before

I share all of his climbing moments, I know James quite well, even if I am far from understanding all of him yet. For 3 days, James did push back the day for his attempt. I had the time to do my own project, Mercia Wall, and to refine the methods in Something’s Burning. Yuji had time to onsight his first E7, From a Distance. James was still waiting. Part of me wanted to tell him to go, an other part realised that he was mentally getting ready. It had been two years since he last trad climbed in England, even if he did “is not always Pasqua”, the E9 from Mauro last winter.

I think part of James was very worried to “mess up”, not worried at all about hurting himself, more about missing a good game. There are not that many E9 in UK, and maybe just a handful that you could try flash without  playing with your life. With insight, I don’t really know anymore if Charlie’s route is part of those safe ones reallyJ, anyway, there was no way stopping the ball anymore.

 

Finally James decided to go for it. I asked him to abseil next to me, so I would show him the micro nuts a bit closer, and how to place it, in a very strenuous position. I wasn’t really sure anymore that they were that good. James decided it was ok, lowered to the bottom. Just before starting he told me he was a bit nervous, I told him to accept the feeling of stress, to welcome it as a way to have better blood circulation… He placed the first bomer gear, reversed to rest… and started. From that moment, there is no stopping until the dyno is done, and from under him, I felt like he was in control most of the time, apart from a dynamic move where he was really close to fall. What he told me after, was that he was very limit on every movement, and very surprise to keep on going. There is a micro shake before the dyno, I watched him take quite a long time to find the foot placement that would allow him to jump… he jumped and caught the jug with one hand. It was quite funny, his other hand made a weird movement, half between a micro shake and a “yes” sign. He had done it, and that made everyone very happy!

I sneaked a picture while belaying James, once he had stuck the crux
I sneaked a picture while belaying James, once he had stuck the crux

Yuji seems to have grasped the weirdness of English trad now. I think he is quite surprised by how bold some routes are, and trying to find the balance between “being brave and not being kamikaze”. He has found his project. He is behind me at the minute, I fake that I don’t notice, but he is stretching, breathing. I can feel that he is reviewing his route, getting in a mind set that reminds me a lot the day he sent the hard pitch of Zembrocal (8C+).  This afternoon he will try his project, quite a scary one apparently… I told him I would belay him, we’ll see…

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