Lessons from climbing blind – literally

This week’s climb was interesting. And frustrating. But mostly interesting.

My climbing buddy and I made a new friend.

I was there super early, so I went around the corner to sit on the step and do some “work” on my phone. I can basically justify anything as work these days.

With about ten minutes to go before the climbing centre opened, I saw a guy who I’d seen there before coming towards me. He had a white stick and was getting very close. I said “hiya” and he very kindly didn’t sit on me. He hadn’t seen me. He sat down next to me and we started talking. I probably asked more personal questions than I should have, but he seemed happy to answer them.

He has an issue with his optic nerve which means he’s been gradually losing his sight since he was a kid. This guy is only 28.

But he’s surprisingly cool about it. He has what you might think to be unachievable goals and ambitions – except he’s doing them. I asked him how he climbs when he can’t see. He explained that he does a couple of things. First, he climbs with other people usually. Second, if he’s by himself, he’ll ask other people for guidance. And third, he remembers the routes, like, with his body. I find this third one amazing.

My climbing buddy turned up, we chatted and the doors opened. After warming up, we went and tackled the first of my nemeses – this is the last week before the routes are reset. The pink muscle up and reach of faith. Long story short, I didn’t do it. But I was so close it’s frustrating. The positive things from this though, are that I can get to the muscle up hold really smoothly now and I can hang and correct myself in a really controlled manner. Today, my forearms hurt. I dreamt about this route last night.

To break my funk, we went and tried something new. This is when my new friend asked if he could join us. I said yes.

The downside of this was that it meant my time on the wall was diluted, because now we had a rotation of three. I also realised later on that I was rushing things and making mistakes because I felt like I was holding them up. I wish I’d realised this a lot sooner.

Climbing with this new guy was really interesting. He did things in a different way, perhaps unsurprisingly. He was very smooth, slow and deliberate. And surprisingly strong. I watched him climb one of the routes and I have NO IDEA how he stayed on the wall. It was like magic or magnets or something. He had two tiny handholds and just walked his feet up the sheer wall – about three feet higher – to the next foothold. Then he carried on, seemingly fearless.

When he was done climbing (about 15 minutes before we were going to quit), he genuinely thanked both of us and went off to do some other training. We’d helped him finish off two routes he’d been struggling with and one new one he’d not seen (no laughing!).

At one point, when I was on the wall, I was reaching for a right hand pinch which I thought I’d never get. I was ready to give up and he shouted “YOU HAVE THE POWER!”

He was right. I have no idea how, it felt like I was reaching for about twenty seconds. It was all from my core until I gradually just grabbed it, hauled myself up and managed to get my shoulder into the corner. Staggered, I rested for a bit and then had to reach behind me for the next seemingly impossible hold. Which I managed. I hung from that but had nothing left to tap out on the last hold. I didn’t care, this was my major achievement for the session. Previously I’d not even managed to get my shoulder up. I was happy. And, I had the power.

Overall, I felt disappointed with my performance but I knew I’d learnt something pretty special. I’m still figuring out what it is.

I still need to get some shoes – I think that will help with my confidence. But I think the ultimate lesson is control and strength. I don’t mean bulky strength, I mean that lean, surprising, body-weight strength.

The good news is that I have already been working towards this, so I just need to continue and maybe step it up a bit.

Oh, and the other lesson is to make friends!

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