Contentment. A state of happiness and satisfaction. You know what I’m implying: the warm, orange glow which washes over the soul with a gentle flow of endorphins. It is one of the most elusive of emotions - anyone can be angry, but it takes something special to be truly satisfied - and can sometimes be found at the end of a long day climbing. The deep forearm ache, screaming heels and bleeding hands are all forgotten once you enter this elusive state of mind - the tranquil peace known as content.
This is something slightly deeper, more opaque, which is harder to pin down. Others can find this state easily, but for me it’s much more elusive. Just when you’ve given up all hope of finding it... it finds you.
In my experience, it has appeared most often as the sun sets after a day’s wrestling on The Holy Crag; The Big G. I mean to say: Gogarth.
Since I moved back to North Wales in mid-May, I have found a renewed focus. I saw obvious gaps in my climbing that had been neglected whilst at university, and set about improving those areas. Crucially: visit the hallowed grounds of Gogarth and Cloggy frequently; go bouldering more than once a year.
It has been a delight to return to Anglesey - again, again and again. The routes that once scared me have become transformed into fond memories. I can nod with a knowing grin when people mention the famous ‘Gogarth grip’ - we’re now firm friends. I have groped my way through the ‘beard’ lichen that clings to the quartzite, felt the relief when the elaborate guidebook descriptions finally make sense. Too bad my gear is behind those hollow flakes...
Even the approach down to Main Cliff feels adventurous. The cool, damp earth squeezes between my toes and flip flops struggle for purchase. We wade through ferns as they brush at our legs, pilgrims on a downward path. White waves crash, assaulting the cliff. At the base of the traverse my heart rate rises, the doubts circling in my mind. Another deep breath, careful not to show my fear to my partner, and we begin.
Sitting at the top of the crag, usually many hours later, I feel relief at first. We have only a death-heather scramble until unroping - success seems tangible now. The route has fought tooth and nail, but is nearly spent. I peel off chunks of the lichenous green beard and cast it out towards the sea, watching with childish glee as it floats downward, only to be plucked by the updraft of wind and blown up the cliff behind me. It amuses me to see this little anti-gravity trick and gives me hope that I can do the same - only slower and with much greater effort. I wonder if fishermen ever gaze in bewilderment as we slip and slide down the descent path to the base of Main Cliff, only to top out and do it all over again? What are those people looking for on those rocks?
It’s only once back at the rucksacks that I begin to relax. Sprawling on the soft grass by the bags, facing out to sea, I have the crag to my right, South Stack to my left. Straight ahead, centre stage, the sunset glows gently and illuminates the underside of the clouds, a pink and orange hue. This picture, despite being so frequent, is different every single time. It’s always unique, with a beautiful, calming result each evening. I look to my partner and we share the same satisfaction. Life is good. Here, right at the point of total relaxation and once success has been accepted, do I finally feel content.
Dinosaur, Scavenger, The Big Groove Direct, The Assassin, Nice ‘n’ Sleazy, Talking Heads, Positron, Electric Blue, Graduation Ceremony, Hunger/Citadel, The Eternal Optimist: this summer at Gogarth has delivered the goods - probably the best yet. Thanks for the belays, everyone. Roll on the next two months!
It’s easy to write about how good things are going - how well you’re climbing, how strong you feel. Perhaps this is human nature. Words come easy when describing a triumph - but nobody likes failure. It’s an ugly topic which ruins the Facebook image of a ‘perfect life.’ I’ve fallen off loads of routes and, once I’ve got over the frustration, or sometimes physical pain, I feel more determined than ever to succeed.
I’ve recently read some honest and impressive pieces of writing by Mina Leslie-Wujastyk and Tom Randall about their climbing experiences, and how they were not running as smoothly as they hoped.
With Part I of this post in mind, I thought it important to include a Part II. Writing about setbacks helps to ease the anger and shows we’re human, but is rarely publicised in today’s world of constant #updates.
I try to control my writing. It’s something I enjoy, but requires hard work in order to maintain interest (I hope) and to prevent a blow-by-blow account of just how great it feels to top out on today’s Top Route. The bitterness of failure must be embraced in order to be released, unshackled, set free.
Falling off Pretty Girls Make Graves (E6 6b) on the onsight was a painful blow. Yes, it was fiercely ambitious (as usual) but in hindsight I should have waited until I was fit enough to onsight it. Thankfully there are plenty of routes like that in the UK - but not many in north Wales. Still, I was happy with ground up, second go.
Heart of Stone (E7 6b) is another route to have evaded me. A rare gem: safe but runout. Hard, but not impossible. Tough on the skin and in a beautiful mountain setting, and described as ‘the best mountain E7 in the country.’ I have been unable to combine fitness, strength and skin conditions on numerous occasions. A rematch awaits.
There have also been a couple of days where I’ve found myself burnt out. Broken and exhausted, my body has shown clear signs of over-exercise and my brain has barely woken up all day. Thankfully, I’ve heeded the signs early on and taken plenty of rest as soon as I’ve noticed a drop from ‘normal,’ but I’ve been very cautious to avoid it again. Living at PyB, in a large ‘student-style’ house, it’s all too easy to stay up late, or head out with everyone when I really should rest.
Finally: Lord of the Flies still looms above me like a tombstone, ominous and unforgiving. I’ve put off even thinking about it, but I know the demons have already awoken. Fear grows stronger with each time it passes through my mind, irrespective of my counter-attacks. I do not know when I shall be ‘ready’ for the challenge, but I intend to wait until this happens. I don’t intend to blow the onsight.
We shall see. With a bit of luck and some large cojones for the run-outs, I might just find myself at the base of the Cromlech on a dry day...