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The Chelsea Smile
I have spent the last two weeks here in the East Coast of the US. I go back to London tomorrow. Mostly, I’ve been visiting friends and looking at schools for the fall. I hadn’t planned to climb much, but I managed to squeeze in a couple days here and there, experiencing some of the worst indoor and outdoor climbing I ever have. However, 20 minutes from where Jeff lives in Providence, lies a diamond in the ruff. Well, I dont know about a diamond, maybe more like fool’s gold. The area is called Lincoln Woods and Jeff had told me of the so called ‘superproj’ for a while. He warned me of its sharp and intense nature, but I was always curious. Several years ago, Matt Wilder did a stand up on this problem, but the obvious sit start remained unclimbed for years. A couple months ago, a local guy did the proj from a move in, but the first move was yet to be conquered. Last week I went and got involved.
I was at first intrigued by the little gem and the holds did not feel as bad as expected. I did the stand start immediately and started to work the first two moves. After about five minutes on the problem I had already split a tip, and every other finger was in the proceeding stage. Soon after, I managed to stick the first move and climb into the stand, only to fall on the last move. This happened two more times over the space of about an hour, and by that time I was finished. I could no longer do the first move, and I chimed out with three split tips and the sorest muscles I’ve had in a while.
The problem is bouldering at its purest. A steep freestanding boulder, starting low, consisiting of four moves, each very demanding and sustained right to the end. The thing about this problem that makes it different from all I have tried before, is its extreme sharpness. The holds are razors and climbing on this problem requires an extremely high pain tolerance. I am the toughest critic when it comes to crimps and sharpness, two things I hate, but these holds go straight off the scale. They are tortorous to climb on, and not only necessitate extreme physical shape, but also psychological. However the appeal of a first ascent can overshadow these factors, and I was up for the challenge. Not only had I been resting for two weeks, but this problem was the complete opposite of those that I’d been climbing in Font. The holds couldn’t be crimpier, the rock could not be more rugged and the style relied more on brute power than technique. This was a test that I was sure I could pass.
After a shortlived second session due to tweaking my forearm while warming up, I returned on Sunday to attempt the line with my good friend Phil. It would be my last chance to try the proj, and I made sure to warm up thoroughly this time. The midges were out but the temps weren’t too bad. As the sun started to lower, we commenced. After a couple minutes of excrutiating pain, the classic words came out, “I don’t know how much more I can try this.” We were both making progress but the suffering was too much. I would get to the last hold and let go, not being able to fight the extreme discomfort any longer. It was so hard to continue climbing under such unpleasant conditions. Suddenly, Phil was at the last move. He kicked his foot up high and locked in on the right hand knife edge, he reached for the top only to come up short, flying back down to reality. He was devistatingly close and so was his skin. I raised my game and got to the same last hold. The top stared me in the eye as I rocked for it as hard as I could. I could feel my skin tearing but I was so close. My hand was on its way to the top, when BOOM! My right hand dry fired straight off the crimp, leaving me with two more bleeding smiles on my tips. Was that it? Was that my chance, over? In the space of five minutes, Phil and I had both come unjustly close but not close enough. I was going to the death. Why not? Last chance central. I would try it until I had no fingers left. I was not scared, but worried I would soon fizzle out. Realistically it would have to be next go or never. I took all the tape of my fingers, all or nothing. I pulled on and got primal. I tried to channel the finger strength of Johnny G. I climbed through the first two moves, blocking out the agony. Two moves left. I pulled close to the wall, and snatched through with my right hand to the last crimp. Here I was again. As cliché as it sounds, this was it. My skin could endure no more, nor could my motivation. It would have to be now or never. I put my left foot high, locked in with my right hand just like before, but this time, there was no more skin to tear. I was down to the bone. I reached to the top, and grasped it with utmost control. I was filled with 6 parts relief and four parts overwhelming torment. I seized the moment and parried the anguish. I would never have to return and what a lovely feeling that was..
I’ve decided to call it “The Chelsea Smile”, after a savage torture technique, that originated in the borough of London that I’m from. And the marks this climb leaves on your finger tips. As to its difficulty , it’s hard to say as I am not in the best shape I’ve ever been in. At first I thought it was hard 8B but I am starting to think it may be harder. Especially with the way grades are inflating today. I am reluctant to call it 8B+ because in isolation the holds aren’t rediculous and the moves aren’t outrageous. However, the psychological challenges that this problem as a whole presents, are major, and I think that any normal human being will struggle, due to the rock’s fierce nature. Who knows? But, for those who dare, the nightmare’s right there…
Look out for some footage on Phil’s blog – Phillipschaal.blogspot.com
Over and out,