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The Joy of Climbing!

November 9, 2009

Since I arrived back in Portugal I have been bouldering bouldering bouldering.  This was expected because that is what I have always felt most comfortable doing and because for the past 7.5 years (since leaving Portugal to study in the US) that is what I have been doing.  However, somewhere in those last years something shifted.

When I started climbing it was always rope climbing, sport climbing, not bouldering.  I only took to bouldering after several months of sport climbing.  Those first months were great, I went to the crags with my brother or with Jonas and messed around on easy climbs, rarely eyeing anything more difficult than 6b.  Then I began to become familiarized with the climbing community and started to go to a newly opened climbing wall; a miniature thing in a miniature spot.  That was when the addiction really started.  I got addicted to being capable of doing a harder move, a trickier move; of inventing problems that were fun and involved intricate sequences.  I got so addicted that I managed to convince the owners to give me a key and I would go there alone and try hard on this 2.5×2.5×2.5 meter room.  I didn’t apply it to outdoor bouldering, only on a couple of occassions but I found that that was too hard still, but applying that to the rope climbing I noticed that I quickly progressed through the grades… however, it was all about grades for me at the time.  Not to show off to others but it was the grade that I was trying for.  The grade, the hard moves, and the fear of falling were the three most present things on every trip.

Skip forward 8 years, 8 years of bouldering and growing up, and somewhere in the end of those 8 years of sobering I found myself enjoying rope climbing in a new way.

Yesterday I went back to the premier (though recently rivaled) climbing spot in central Portugal: Fenda.  My heart was overjoyed to be back there and it was so refreshing to see it full of new eager climbers.  At the moment rope climbing for me has become a bliss trip.  I tie in and start to feel so much happiness, then I begin the route and do the first 10 moves and notice that I still have 30 more to go, or 40, and it feels so good.  It has become like reading a good book, but so much better because the interaction is fully somatic, full-body, not cerebral.  It’s like my body got so saturated of doing 3-7 move boulder problems that now it is in bliss to go on a long trip.  Like a sprinter who has been told he can leave the indoor track and go for a long jog on the beach.

Other than that bliss there is the challenge.  The challenge in climbing has, for me, become less and less about the grade and more and more about my inner fears.  In bouldering I have enjoyed going alone more often because I am frequently self-conscious and can get in a rut if the people I’m climbing with are not easy-going, if they are too serious (of course, all judgements on my part).  In rope climbing it is the fear of falling, the fear of trying.  Yesterday I felt that as I eyed the hardest route I had sent 8 years ago.  It had been the next step in my progression and those steps were coming fast; it wasn’t like I was established on any grade, I just wanted to go further, growing higher not wider.  It was a 5.12b/c and I was feeling the little voice telling me not to get on it.  So I did.  I said fuck it, said it was time for a new pattern and put the shoes on and went on it.  I gave it what I had and got through the bouldery crux section, climbing well, and fell after hanging after the crux looking for the correct sequence.  Then made it to the top, and came down happy as ever (and pumped as ever).

For the final route I decided to try an new 5.12b/c, a long route, knowing that this was too early to go into a 40+ move route at the end of the day.  I gave it a go and had to hang about 5 times; it wasn’t even a question of fear of falling but just that the forearms got overpumped and lost and strength and I had to wait a few minutes between attempts in order to do 5 more moves.  I finally made it to the top, lowered, and belayed a friend on it who showed me all the moves.  I decided I’d give it another go before leaving so after a good 20-30 minute rest and as the sun went down I got back on the route.  Somewhere about the 7th move I sunk into myself, got out of my head, noticed where I was, what I was doing, and my body relaxed.  I stopped gripping as hard, started breathing easier, moving more openly and the thought crossed my mind that with good technique I might send the route.  So I climbed smart, took good rests, stayed relaxed and lo-and-behold I got to the very last 2 moves with fatigued forearms.  Giving it all I had I stabbed for the holds in the last moves and made it to the anchors!

Before flying to Portugal I made a long tick-list of the routes I wanted to do, yesterday the first one got scratched off.  So much more than a name and a number… I’m really really looking forward to experiencing the other climbs, getting to know their stories, and doing it in the company of good friends as was the case yesterday!!!

IMG_5277IMG_5278IMG_5279IMG_5280IMG_5283IMG_5285IMG_5286A short but important p.s.

The word Fenda, in Portuguese, means a crevice.  This climbing area is located very close to the beach but from the beach you can only see the rising mountain side, not the climbing wall because the wall is located in a crevice.  There are several sectors in this area and most of the routes are overhanging. The routes are made of limestone rock in tones of orange to black and the holds are very varied: tufas, crimps, pockets, slopers…  The Fenda has been a climbing spot for about 2 decades now and despite this long time it has few greasy/polished routes since the climbing community has not been very numerous … Climbing is possible year-round; summer time you belay the climber as he/she drips sweat into your eyes, winter time is perhaps the most recommended as the holds are less greasy and the overhanging rock allows for climbing even during rain.

I’m really grateful to those who bolted these routes a long time ago and to those who have kept them in good conditions by replacing bolts and anchors.  This is definitely an excellent spot for climbing!

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