Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Europe Trip: Chulilla

I really need to come up with a more original greeting than

Hey Everyone!

But today is not that day.
Side note: I'll try to make up for the lack of pictures in the previous posts by including extra in this one :)  Also, strap in and get ready because this is gonna be a lengthy one.

Last night in Siurana! #bagfwijba

Alright, here's the fourth and final blog about the trip! I'm currently back in Edmonton, and while being home for the holidays with my family is a pretty big change of pace from the Spanish lifestyle, the difference is not unwelcome. After parting ways with Becca when we left Siurana, Sara and I moved in to our new place in Chulilla, a small town about an hour west of Valencia. Our first impression of the apartment (which we were sharing with three or four other people who we did not know) was not ideal. The night we arrived, we walked in the apartment to musty laundry hanging literally everywhere, a kitchen that seemed as though a bomb had went off, and one bed where there was supposed to be two. Admittedly, those are all extremely first world problems, but initially we were pretty unsure of the quality of where we were staying. A night of restless tossing and turning brought the morning, and with that brought significant changes. Our roommates left that day, so we took over the room with two beds. They cleaned the kitchen before they left, and after airing out the apartment for most of the day, we felt a lot better about the situation than we were the night before.

The view from our apartment :)

We took the first day as a rest day, and as an opportunity to walk around to a bunch of crags to get a feel for the climbing options in Chulilla. Without a car, we had a 45 minute walk along the edge of the canyon to get to the areas we were wanting to climb at, so we set off to explore in the early afternoon. The walk kind of took our breath away- every place we had been to was exceptionally beautiful, each in their own way, and this was no different. A stunning horseshoe-shaped canyon cut by a crystal clear river, with bright orange limestone cliffs towering 50-70 meters the whole way, the lush bottom of the canyon complete with bamboo, palm trees, and orange trees. While planning the trip to Chulilla, I had heard about a route called "Mal de Isla", (roughly translating to "Evil Island"). The route certainly had a bit of a reputation as an ultra-classic, amazing line that attracted a lot of climbers to go try it. Climber, photographer, and filmmaker Jon Glassberg was documenting Emily Harrington's progress on the route earlier in the year, and I had heard rumors that a few other Canadians (Loick Martel-Magnan, Olivier Turgeon, and Alex Quiring) had tried and sent this route in the month or so before I got there. After standing at the base of the climb, and actually talking to Loick, I knew that it was definitely a route I wanted to check out.

Looking along the Chulilla-side of the canyon.

After we got back from our exploratory mission, we had received word from our parents that there had been complications with our visas, and were only supposed to stay in the EU for 90 days despite the fact that before our trip we had asked around and were told that it would not be an issue for us with Canadian passports. After talking with the embassy, it became clear that we would indeed have to leave Europe early, but it was up to us to decide just how early we came back. With an additional two months planned, it was pretty hard to accept that we would have roughly a week and a half left. Sara and I were both caught in a confusing storm of emotion at that point; disappointment, frustration, anger, and who knows what else.

Part of that frustration and disappointment was with the shitty situation we were facing, but I think more of it was directed at myself. I'd had three months in Europe to find something next level to try to reach my limits on, but the whole time I just thought that "I have so much more time, I can just find something like that later. I'm enjoying myself trying these other routes, so there's no rush to go find something super crazy hard". All of a sudden, I had eight climbing days left, and I felt as though I had been robbed of my opportunity to really push myself on one particular route. I also felt that I had been learning about myself and my climbing throughout the whole trip, and yet had little to show for it. As I'd said often times before, it was a major goal of mine to go and find my limit in outdoor climbing, and I felt as though the opportunity to accomplish one of my major goals for the trip had been taken from me. I felt down, defeated, crushed. I felt trapped, stuck in a situation that I couldn't get out of, and emotionally it was destroying me.

That only lasted until some back corner of my brain worked out an idea; just go try it. You say that you've learned a lot about projecting? Prove it. You have eight days. You wanted to find your limit? Well by definition, if you fail to send the route, you found your limit. You achieved one of your main goals of the trip. And if, by some unbeleivable turn of events you somehow send it, then you still found your limit and met your goals, plus you sent 14.

And from that moment on, everything was about getting to the top of the route. There's nothing like an imposing deadline to motivate you. All I could think about was how disappointed I would be with myself if I didn't invest all of my time, focus, energy, drive, and determination into this one task, this one route. All of a sudden, I was back in a situation I was familiar with; having some insane, intimidating task staring me in the face, and it was up to me and my willpower alone to rise to the occasion. So that next morning, we hiked to the crag, warmed up, and I went to work.

Making friends at the crag!

My first experience with the route consisted of taking about 10 minutes to figure out how to get off the ground. Two bolts later, it was apparently crux time. Apparently slippery V7 boulder-problems are hard with 20 draws hanging off your harness, and you have no idea where the holds are or how good they are. After a good 25-30 minutes, I found myself at the fourth draw, with only about 32 meters left to go! Undeterred, I pressed on, and was delighted to find a series of decent rests! Those went away awfully quickly though, and they threw another crux at me. It seemed to me that you could either trend left or right. Left took you through some awful one to two pad slopers with really low percentage moves, and heading right took you through some desperate side-pull "crimps" with brutally high feet, and then a massive stand up move to a two finger, quarter pad, vertical mini-pinch  that you bumped off of to a somewhat okay crimp. Regrettably, it was almost as low-percentage for me. Another move or two, and I was at the post-crux "rest" that I'd been told about. Unfortunately, it too was pretty awful. The next 20 meters was vertical, technical, pumpy, brutal face climbing with absolutely awful rest-positions. I didn't make it to the anchor on my first day- I was just too gassed to figure out a cruxy bump about four meters below the anchor. I got back on to try and refine the bottom section, but had to settle with only climbing the first three bolts because I couldn't get through the first crux again. Trashed doesn't quite do it justice.

Day two came, and I was psyched to go get back on it! My mission of the day was to get the top dialed in a lot better. The day before, everything had felt wrong- I would instinctively want to put my right foot on a hold, but that wouldn't work for the next move. It was an exhausting process of trying beta that always seemed a little wonky, but eventually I started learning the moves and finding efficient sequences through the top. By the time I worked my way up to the massive bump move up top again, I was terminally pumped, and despite sticking that move and the consequent few, I was way too pumped on the finishing slopers and took the fall, staring the anchors in the face. 60 feet and a lot of adrenaline later, I stopped falling. Too tired to pull back up, I returned to the ground. Wanting to do a bit more refinement, I returned to the route later that day and found myself unable to pull the first crux again. It was definitely time for a rest day.

Day three came with it an unexpected visitor; Emily Harrington! Total badass, ultra-experienced, insanely fit and strong. She'd been so close earlier in the season that she had to come back to try and finish it off. Basically, if she hadn't come back, I don't think I could have sent it. She gave me the low-down on which draws to extend, which draws to skip, what holds she rested on, what was the red-point crux for people, and she also brought a lot of positive energy to the crag each day. My third day of trying was a much more productive one- I was starting to find tiny little things throughout the whole route that allowed me to recover a little more in a rest here, use a little less juice in a sequence there, and so on. It was also on this day that I really started to try to get in better endurance shape; after getting so so pumped on this route just climbing draw to draw, I knew that if I wanted to have any hope in hell to send it then I would have to balance refining the route with getting really really ridiculously pumped to improve my endurance. I also managed to get to the anchors that day- not a very impressive feat but one I was proud of nonetheless.

Day four came, and while tired from the day before, I knew I couldn't let that affect me. The day went pretty similar to the previous, with lots of refinement, learning, and lactic acid. Unfortunately, I split my pinky finger. It doesn't seem like too big of a deal, but the split bled a lot, so I had to tape it. The issue with taping it was that I the key hold in the second crux revolved around being perfectly placed on my pinky, and with it taped that sequence became even lower percentage. Fortunately, I was no longer having issues getting to the anchor, but it was getting a bit tiresome having to clean from a mid-anchor (our 80m rope wasn't long enough). No matter how destroyed I felt on any given day, I had to find it in myself to just keep trying to link sequences together in the upper section. While the route was quite bouldery, it was also heinously pumpy, especially the entire top section, and I could tell that my endurance wasn't nearly good enough yet. I was terrified at the idea of getting through both cruxes, only to pump off at the top.

Bridge crossing with smiles because I did the route in only like 7 hangs that day!

Day five was another good productive day- since I was just off a rest day, I could notice a slight improvement in my physical fitness, and that helped keep me motivated and psyched to continue to throw myself at the route. At this point, however, I was starting to doubt myself even more that I had previously. Emily was still trying the route, and she would casually stroll through the first crux from the ground on four or five attempts per day (something I was still unable to do even once) only to fall on the last move of the second crux. She is so much more experienced, she has the route dialed perfectly, and she is in such better shape than I am. If she can't do it, how am I supposed to?

Day six, I did the entire top section in one go, I found beta that made the first crux easier, and finally got through the first crux from the ground! I fell on the big stand up move on the second crux, but was still psyched at the progress I had made. After totally burning myself out on the top again, I was psyched for a rest day.

Day seven, the last fresh day to try. We woke up to thick fog. The issue with "Mal de Isla" is that it is very condition dependent; if its hot or humid, it becomes exponentially more difficult to climb. As we hiked, however, I was delighted to see that the fog hadn't really set in on our side of the canyon, and it actually turned out to be a really sticky day. I felt really good on the warm up, and headed over to the base of the route to start trying it. I figured that if I was ever going to do it, it would have to happen within the first couple attempts of that day. I got on, and was delighted to cruise through the low crux on the first go! After camping on the rests above for a good long while, I started into the second crux. I took a bit of a gamble and decided not to tape my finger to help my chances of actually getting through the second crux. I felt that I had recovered a lot more than I had on previous burns, and set up perfectly. As I was pulling up to the awful mini pinch, I mistimed when I change my left foot from standing to flagging and hit the hold with my hips slightly too far out, and found myself pitching through the air.

The idyllic town of Chulilla, as seen from the Castelli.
After resting for about an hour, I got back on. For the first time in the process of trying the route, I actually felt that it might be possible for me to do. Once again, I pulled through the low crux easily, rested for what felt like an eternity, and launched into the crux. I felt super fresh and strong, and was just sort of floating through the moves. Calm and focused, I set up for the hardest move, and executed it flawlessly, keeping my hips super tight to the wall. I hit the mini pinch perfectly, readjusted, and stuck the bump. Two moves later, I was in the post-crux rest, feeling remarkably fresh, calm, and psyched. It's usually at this point on a send go where your mind starts going 100 miles a minute, where you're unbelievably excited and kind of feel like you're in a dream. Then you realize just how much climbing you have ahead of you, and you start trying to lower your heart rate, collect your thoughts, and NOT BLOW IT.

Anyways, the upper section of the route consists of a bunch of hard foot-moves, small slopey hand holds, and trusting tiny foot pastes for about 5-7m sections between crappy rests. I would start to feel the pump by the time I was getting to the next rest, but I would be able to relax and recover quite a lot on each rest before launching into that next section. Before I knew it, I was shaking out in the final rest, about 9m below the chains. I waited there until the moment felt right, and I proceeded to tackle the next sequence. Surprisingly, I didn't feel at all tired; I felt focussed, and fresher than I was usually feeling on those moves from the hang. Just before the cruxy bump move just below the anchors, I cam my back three fingers into a small pocket and do a really big cross to a decent crimp. Feeling strong and calm, I set up for the move. I got my feet in the perfect places, and as I committed to the cross, the top of the pocket started to crumble and my middle and ring fingers popped out of the pocket. Monoing with my pinky, I rushed the rest of the move and actually managed to hit the crimp, but I lost too much tension and control and barn-doored into open air.

Devastated doesn't really describe it; everything had fallen into place, I did everything perfectly, was mentally strong, and yet factors outside my control resulted in heartbreak. I forced myself to take the rest of the day off, knowing how tired I actually was underneath my adrenaline and frustration. Sleep didn't come too easily that night.

On day eight, the morning, breakfast, and hike were all a blur of visualizing sequences and trying to get psyched. I had found different and safer beta for the move that I had fallen on the day before, but just thinking about what I was going to put myself through was enough to get the nerves going a little bit. I felt quite fresh and strong throughout my warmup, and fortunately the conditions were sticky enough to rival the previous day. I had absolutely obliterated the skin on my pinky on the previous attempt; a split that turned into a flapper that really liked to bleed. I taped it for the warm up, and it bled through about four layers of tape, so I knew I would have to tape it for the route and just hope for the best. Given my previous days efforts, I also knew that I would realistically only have one good go, if that.

Feeling calm and psyched, I got on the wall and started to pull. Happy to have gotten through the first crux again, I made sure to rest a little longer than I thought I needed before committing to the second crux. I felt good, but not quite as perfect as the previous days attempt. I wasn't quite fresh enough to lock my hips into the perfect position, but I just had to play the hand I was dealt. Fortunately I executed the move as well as I could, and through a lot of effort and just as much yelling I reeled in the mini pinch. With another yell I stuck the bump, and like that I was through the second crux and trying to recover. I found myself in this kind of funny state of disbelief; how was I able to get through that crux again? I quickly pushed that out of my mind, and tried to calm down. I knew the top was going to be an epic.

I certainly didn't feel as fresh or good as I had the last day, but I still felt good enough to keep executing the moves and recovering partially at the rests. And then once again, I found myself at the final rest before the anchor, somewhat dreading the next few moves. Within one minute, it would be all be done, for better or worse. Pushing that out of mind, I started moving upwards again, and much to my relief I (mentally and physically) got through the move that made me fall last time. Sticking the hard bump move up top was quite challenging, albeit super satisfying, and then I had just four moves left. I could feel my body use the last drop of gas on that move, and all of a sudden I was running on fumes. I grabbed the next two holds, brought my feet up, and pulled the large stand up move to the finish sloper, and could barely reach it because it had become extremely difficult to fully straighten my arm above my head. One of the glorious things about climbing hard is how invested you get in a single set of moves, and learn to appreciate just how much effort and preparation it takes to get to a certain point. Once you manage to progress past that point, you develop an unbelievable ability to try so, so very hard. In hindsight, it's really quite funny that I had to tap into that fuel source to match my feet with my hands on the finish holds and the anchors in my face, but in the moment it was terrifying.

And then it was done. A twelve day, full commitment effort to climb 119 moves up 42m in about 45 minutes. It was so satisfying to take all 18 of my draws off that route, and to come down from the top knowing that I would never have to climb it again. I love the route and the line, but it made me suffer so much in order to send it that I am definitely psyched to not have to get on it again! It honestly brought me so much more satisfaction to put the route to rest than I had thought it would, which is partially why I think it is the epitome of what I am capable of; I could not have done one more move. And luckily I didn't need to.

Post send smile. I think my face says it all.
The next morning we started traveling home for the holidays. Although we were sad to end the trip earlier than we had initially expected, it was not a huge issue at all. Go home, see some family, get some well needed rest, work for a little while to make some more money, and then why not go for another trip? The world is wide open to me to me right now, and to not take advantage of that would not be particularly wise ;)

Until next time everyone! Thanks for giving this thing a read, and for everyone's support. I've really been feeling it over the past while, and it's helped remind me of yet another thing I love about this sport and it's community. Adios!

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