I’ve always been a very competitive person, which is not something I'm very proud of. I find it makes me compare myself to others far too much. Instead of using grades as my benchmark I've often used others, in competitions, in training and more recently outdoors. I have struggled to get past this competitive streak and become more at peace with my climbing. Only recently was I able to walk away from the addictive nature of comps and instead focus my attention outdoors. I had heard talks from people like Mina-Leslie Wujastyk about her journey from competitions to the outdoors and how it had completely changed her outlook. Although her strength to move away from it all inspired me, I had never considered that I would end up doing the same. It was only after completing my final year as a junior on the British team that I realised climbing outdoors might be an alternative option. Being on the team and competing in Europe meant that most if not all my holiday time at work was used in order to go to these comps, and at the time I saw no issue with that. Now that I'm using that time for trips that last weeks rather than days, and I'm walking away completely satisfied and happy every time, I realise that I may not have enjoyed competitions as much as I once thought.
It hasn't been an easy change for me, I've always put pressure on myself to spend as much time climbing on trips as possible. The idea of leaving the crag with skin left, energy left and rock still dry would give me anxiety. I was sure I would regret walking away while I still had time left. That feeling was often during the first days of trips that would last several weeks, so it was a rather ridiculous thing to stress about. I have however improved and on my most recent trip to Fontainebleau it was me that was deciding to walk away from unfinished boulders and ‘save them for next time'; something I could never imagine myself saying in the past. It was very clear before that the competitor in me had continued into the world of outdoors, grade pushing and list ticking was the highest priority, instead of actually enjoying where I was. To be fair to myself this may be the reason I had such successful trips last year, but I'm not sure I had really appreciated what I was doing or where I was. My Easter trip this year was one I knew had no space for my past attitude, I knew there was no time to worry about high grades, or even projecting. This time I wasn't going for myself, I was going to show others the magic of the forest.
My boyfriend Mike recently started 'Bigrig Climbing', which is involved with climbing, routesetting and most importantly coaching. He asked me if I'd like to get involved as one of the coaches and I was more than happy to do so given that my coaching reputation and experience has only recently started growing. Before things had really kicked off with Bigrig, Mike had the idea of taking a group of the kids we coach to Font. I thought it was a fantastic idea and quickly got myself organised for a week of coaching. Six of Scotland's top young climbers and their parents arranged to come along, and Mike and I were ready. The focus on coaching meant that my week in the forest would consist of two days for me to climb, and four full days of coaching the kids. I was not at all unhappy about this arrangement but it did mean adjusting my goals. Usually I would aim for one climb about 7a+ but I soon realised that would be unlikely given that I only had two days, and the weather was far from guaranteed! I think for this very reason, I enjoyed the trip far more than I was expecting.
The first 2 days I didn't even try anything harder than 7a+. I had a great time going round a blue circuit with Mike and got ridiculously happy after projecting a 6b and sending it. The second day we went to Apremont, where I fell of a selection of lesser climbed 7a’s and really got schooled by the rock. Despite this I was happy, as for the first time I had fallen off a climb that I really wanted to come back to: 'Deltaroc'. This boulder scared me half to death, because I'm a wimp and there was a rock I might hit, but although I fell from the last move several times, I was psyched! I knew I could do it but my skin was sore and very sweaty so I couldn't muster the strength to squeeze hard enough on the slopers to get to the top. The first addition to the ever growing tick list.
The next four days consisted of eight hour coaching days, which surprisingly flew by! We had never intended to run such long days, but when you're with such a strong and psyched group of kids it's easy to lose track of time. We were getting to show them around the wonderful forest and guide them through the huge learning curve this place can create. During this time I taught myself as well as the kids how to love climbs no matter what grade. We took them round the blue and red circuits at different areas, plus some of the orange ones for fun, and generally just got them climbing a lot. We of course joined in on the moderate blocs which taught me more than I would have expected. I loved the success I felt getting to the top of a lowly 3b, probably more than the kids! I did get to try some harder climbs; one of the older kids had a page long tick list of boulders 6c and up, including 'Beetlejuice' 7a+, 'Graviton' 7a, and 'Le Mur Cordier' 7a - all of which I had never tried before. Shifting my focus to teaching Emma, analysing every movement and technique to help her get to the top seemed to take the pressure off my own climbing. I think that's why I did them all in only a few attempts, something very new to me. Usually my head would get in the way but I had a clear mind this time and I really got to enjoy the climbing. They weren't all climbed perfectly, some looked rather messy, but I enjoyed completing them more than harder problems like 'Carnage assis' and 'Alta'. I even enjoyed falling off 'Pensées Cachées' more. My biggest achievement of the trip was being able to do Science Friction three times in a row, without fear and almost without hands, after spending two hours struggling on it last trip and being terrified.
I left Font feeling completely satisfied with the knowledge that I had more unfinished business there than I had arrived with. I also enjoyed knowing that my successes on the easier climbs now felt just as meaningful as my successes on the harder ones. I left knowing that this time I had really discovered the forest for both myself and the kids. I had spent eight hours a day climbing with a group of young athletes and enjoyed every minute. I had rediscovered what climbing should really be about; not impressing others, not high grades, but personal challenge and feeling success from the small achievements as well as the big. I had really fallen in love with climbing, all over again.