Garden of Eden, Malta
Before arriving to Malta my idea of climbing was very different. Nestled in the comfort of easy grades and top ropes I never really tried my hand at hard leading let alone projecting.
Sending was not on my mind. While I could proficiently lead at around 19/20 (6b/6b+), my highest send outdoors was 21 (6c) but I was strong enough to dog my way up 23 (7a). Of course, fear is the devil that holds me back in most aspects of life and while I had every desire to push my grade, my mental stamina was far inferior to my (existing lack of) physical.
Call it self esteem issues or simply the truth, believing in myself has been a lifetime raging war. I took with me the memories of a near fatal fall from France (that I will not recount) to Malta so I was cautious at first, but over time I became acquainted with the rock and my belayers.
That leads me to the story of how the send of my first project in Malta restored some faith in myself.
I had been working on Tufa Baroque (21/6c) for about a week at this stage. It seemed a lot easier from a distance, simple heel hooks and relatively big holds on an overhanging face.
When is life ever so simple though? The crux move consisted of a one-chance only powerful throw from a layback onto a relatively decent hold before clipping and traversing to an okay rest. It was one chance only or I would lose momentum and pump out: it was committing, exciting and a little bit scary.
By the third go, I was still confused about my feet placement on the crux. By the fourth – my last go of the day before the sun seared a burning impression onto our skin – I was eye balling the distant hold from the layback and made an instinctual decision to throw as hard as I could.
It stuck. I couldn’t believe it. Like fluid, I immediately clipped and passed the traverse in order to get to the rest.
“You’re going to send it now!” Claudine exclaimed, smiling.
“Yeahhh no.. I think I have to get past the rest first,” I lamented, aware that there was yet another traverse and a pumpy finish over a bulge before I could claim victory.
Arriving at my last rest, it dawned on me that perhaps I could finish it but by this stage my hands were crying for refuge. I threw a heel over the edge to take the weight off my hands and shifted my focus to my breathing. While shaking, I was exhausted but a voice said ‘go’ and off I shot, making certain my feet were high enough before reaching blindly over the bulge for some positive holds.
A messy mantle over the top and I was gasping for air. I stood, catching my breath in an entrancing mixture of exhaustion, disbelief and anticipation. It was near impossible to fall now, but it never pays to be complacent on the rock. When I finally recovered enough strength to clip the anchor, I was still in shock.
It was incredibly fulfilling to watch Claudine and Stephen both tick the route soon after. Progressing together helped boost my morale after climbing solo at my grade in Australia for so long.
And so the change began. When I think about my climbing milestones, each one has been characterised by something definitive. While Tufa Baroque was not a hard route, to me it was the limit of my mental capacity and once I broke through it I finally believed I could get strong enough to climb 24/7a+ by the time I leave for South America. The physical limitation can always be quelled by more climbing but this belief alone has already put me two steps ahead.