The ambitious part of me had set the target of doing 3 5.14’s this trip. The heat was mostly what had stopped me in Rumney and the New River Gorge, though at the latter the style was tough. Not that I actually got on Proper Soul to try it, so who knows, maybe that would have been right up my street.
The Red needs no introduction and the number of routes I’d want to try there would fill several years worth of trips let alone 4 days. I needed to do at least one 5.14a (8b+). Determined, day 1, The Motherlode, the crag for me. Long with a capital L, steep, juggy and right up my proverbial avenue. Omaha Beach “one of the best 5.14a’s in the country”. A logical choice.
I onsighted 2/3 of the way out the route then said take. It was all going so well, but I had no belief I’d onsight 8b+. Better to save some energy and get the quick redpoint. Crux moves sorted first time. “Hmmm”, I think, “I could onsight 8b+ like this, given the right amount of preparation”.
I belayed Helen on only her second ever flashed 6b+, The Snapper 5.11a (though she had pretty much flashed a 6c+ in the New) then went over to give my project a punt. And boy did it go well! I got straight to the crux move, 2 bolts from the top. The move? A head height heel-toe in a break, grab a small crimp and a terrible intermediate, bring your right up to level with your left and from this bunched position extend for a good but sloping hold.
I got there fresh as a daisy. The previous 2 weeks had got me in rock form even if they hadn’t produced the numbers. But I made 1 mistake. My heel-toe was placed a few inches too close to my body (how I wish I had marked the spot now!). My bum sagged out just that bit too much (a saggy bottom never helps) and I just couldn’t quite grab the sloper with enough to stay on the wall. I screamed some profanities to scare away all the local Baptists but new it would go. Next go.
The sun was sweeping round the cliff fast, and with the makings of a split appearing on my tips I thought I’d get my tactics right for once and sit the day out, come back early the next day and get the thing done.
Boy did my tactics, let me down.
The next morning, thunder storms rolled in to the Red. Despite the Motherlode being dry in the rain, the humidity was insane. Holds which the day before you could hang open-handed for ages, were now a crimped up fight against the clock. The pump set in in seconds. I didn’t even make my high point from the “onsight” attempt. I sacked it for the day and tried some onsighting. But even that was desperate. I knew the Motherlode was my ideal crag, the sort of place where I could potentially break into the next level with my onsighting, but in these conditions I was extremely lucky to get to the top of BOHICA 5.13b (8a) by the skin of my teeth.
Another night of torrential rain. Another early start at the Motherlode. Another Sauna. Omaha Beach wasn’t even worth the bother. We moved crag instantly, and just enjoyed some climbing on some of the other amazing cliffs in the Motherlode area. I won’t rhyme off the entirety of the stunning 5.13b’s and c’s that I tried and failed on. By the end of the day I was the grumpiest, sweatiest man at the crag. I knew that every single one, on most other days I would have done.
I had one route that I wanted to just try at least while in the Red, Southern Smoke, a Joey Kinder 5.14c (8c+) that I had been told would suit me. I wanted to see where I was compared to this level. So in the high 20 degree heat, I went for an adventure. It seemed that I couldn’t actually tick anything anyway, might as well just try something properly hard. The result was as pleasing as it was frustrating. I could pretty much do it all first time up; pleasing; I’d need to stay another month but couldn’t; frustrating.
Our last day was as sweaty as the rest, I failed a lot, got grumpy and felt embarrassed about it. There isn’t much more to say, other than the final day ended early with a near broken ankle. The causes? A high bolt that should have been stick clipped, a slipped foot, a ledge, the ground, the over-riding frustration of not getting what I wanted done.
Another fabulous place, another list of reasons to return.