Everyone has a nemesis route – a route that on paper should go down fairly quickly, but ends up taking days, weeks or, in my case, even years. My last nemesis was 50 for 5 at Kilnsey. The siege ended on a glorious day in May 2010 after several years sustained effort to get it ticked. I can remember my first weekend trying it. I had a cold and wasn’t feeling great. This lulled me into a false sense of security that the route wasn’t actually that bad – it was just that I was under par that day. This is one of the characteristics of nemesis routes: to begin with a multitude of excuses crop up which lend support to your initial assessment that the route isn’t that hard, it’s just that things don’t happen to be going your way that day. Poor skin, bad conditions, feeling ill or hung over all fall into this category. So you continue in your belief that you will just turn up to the crag and get it ticked, ignoring all evidence to the contrary. Only after multiple days of failure does it finally begin to dawn on you that for whatever reason the route is actually really hard for you.
One of the fundamental laws of sport climbing states that a climber should have at least one nemesis route on the go at any one time. So with 50 for 5 finally in the bag, I needed to search out a new one. This time I managed to find one closer to home, at Raven Tor in the Peak District. Some time early last year I decided to get on a great fairly newly bolted 7c called Obscene Toilet. My hopes were high for this one – I was going for the flash. The draws were in and I had all the beta – how hard can 7c be? Very, very hard indeed is the answer. Needless to say I fell off the flash. No matter, the moves felt steady so a quick redpoint seemed like a reasonable expectation. 7c in a day. I’d be happy with that. How wrong could I be! Try as I might, I could not link the crux into the rest of the route. “It must be because I am tired. I’ll come back fresh and finish it off”, I thought.
Day two. Abject failure. On multiple attempts I fell on the first move of the crux. How can this be when the moves feel so steady on the dog? It must be conditions. Days, three, four, five, and six follow the same pattern. Day seven, success! I am through the crux, shaking out at the rest just past the hard climbing. I’m feeling pumped, very pumped. And now the nerves creep in. Don’t blow it Jules! As soon as I start thinking like that, I know it’s all over. I start climbing out of the rest but I am tensed up and crab-like, and it only takes a few moves before I am off. Aghhhhhh! Day 8 and I can’t get through the crux again. It’s the end of the year and I’m tired. This route will have to wait until spring.
I used to think that Obscene Toilet was very reachy and that’s why it was taking me so long. Although it is true that there is a massive move in the middle and it is a lot more powerful if you are short, the truth is that it was tapping into one of my major climbing weaknesses without me even realising it. Mulling it over from the comfort of my own home I realised that I am terrible at doing big, powerful moves in the middle of a route. Somehow my brain switches into overdrive and I try to remember how to climb, rather than relaxing and letting my body do the work. The result is that I tense up, over-pull and do the move wrong. Over the last few months I have been experimenting with various mental training techniques to see if any of them might help solve the problem, and yesterday I decided to try them out on the ultimate challenge – a nemesis route. So off to the Tor we went.
I feel pretty good warming up, and get through the crux first go putting the draws in. A good sign? I’m not getting my hopes up. Too many days of failure have taught me a lesson here. My first redpoint isn’t a disaster. I fumble a lot of the bottom wall through lack of familiarity, and still almost hold the jug at the end of the crux move. This feels like progress. However, then the sun goes in and the temperature plummets. After donning full thermals I decide to have another pop. I can’t feel my hands. No matter though – focus and it will be ok. I am quickly through the first wall, up at the crux, focus and bam! I’ve hit the jug. Feet up, can’t feel my hands, into the undercuts, can’t feel my hands but I don’t care, I’m not dropping this, into the shake and clip. Now I am in the rest and I am pumped. Uh, oh, I‘ve been here before! Nerves start creeping in, but this time I put them to the back of my mind and focus on relaxing. I relax, shake out and then climb to the chain and glory!
There is nothing better than having a nemesis route. The grade may not necessarily be that hard for you, but the feeling of satisfaction when you finally get one ticked is immense. And occasionally you can also learn a lot about your climbing from them too. Now, as the law states that a climber must have at least one nemesis at any one time, there must be another one waiting for me just around the corner. I wonder which it will be?