Yesterday I climbed the Ring of Steall project at Steall hut crag. When I got to the belay I had to slap myself and confirm with Claire that it had actually just happened and I wasn’t dreaming. In fact, a dream like state was exactly how I climbed it. The whole thing flowed with effortless ease and perfectly focused effort, on the very first time I made a proper redpoint attempt. Ascents that happen so perfectly with no mistakes, no hesitation and no consciousness of self are so rare. Nevermind on a route I’ve been trying for ten years! I’d say that was by far the most focused moment of my life so far. It was so unexpected, but maybe it had to be to occur in the first place?
This project has been an inspiration simmering in the back of my head for ten years. It was equipped and tried by Cubby in the early nineties and he worked hard on it, coming very close to getting past the crux section before injury and work got in the way and the momentum was lost. I’ve talked with Dave about the project many times since and it was always a huge goal for either of us. If Dave had done it in ’92, it would have been one of the top five sport routes in the world at the time – an incredible effort.
Dave was (still is) a massive inspiration to my climbing, and climbing his hardest routes was a huge goal of mine, in my progression in climbing. Although I managed to climb most of them, the Steall project always remained as a huge test I wanted to pass, but that crux just felt brick hard. Every year I had a day on it, and every year it seemed above my level.
It’s about 8a+ to get to the big undercut in the centre of the wall, then you have to get an evil sloping crimp with your left hand, that is so smooth, it’s almost like its been buffed and polished – nothing but pure strength will do to hold it. Then, it’s the Egyptian. Over the past month I’ve walked down the path from Steall feeling that it’s the most beautiful move I’ve ever experienced on rock, and other nights been cursing it to hell. Last week I finally mastered the correct timing of how to drop the knee and then push in the exactly correct direction with each foot. It’s the ultimate move – when performed with technical excellence, it's easy. But if you don’t move the limbs in the correct sequence of subtle shifts, no amount of strength or psyche will make any impression.
This type of climbing suits Cubby’s technical mastery perfectly, so it’s a shame that he wasn’t able to finish it. It’s no surprise to me that the route left such a big impression on him as it has done on me – perfect movement in a beautiful place.
Having completed this route, if I had to give up climbing tomorrow due to some disaster, I’d be satisfied with my effort. It’s the first time I’ve ever felt that. Climbing it has confirmed in my mind something I felt for the first time after climbing Rhapsody; We can really do anything, and I mean anything we want. Circumstances are indeed barriers, but never impenetrable ones. We are limited only by knowing exactly what we want and having the pure motivation to find it. I always heard this idea from ‘motivational types’ in the past. As a sceptic I’ve spent over ten years trying to refute it by repeatedly trying seemingly impossible projects. Every time the result is the same – Tasks you are not truly motivated for may always remain beyond your reach, tasks you are deeply motivated for take you on a long and convoluted route around the barriers that circumstances create. Sometimes, in the thick of the maze of circumstances, you realise your motivation is not deep enough and its best to try something else. But when the motivation remains through deep frustration, the results are always… always… just around the corner.
How cool is that.