It was a dark and stormy night…
Well… it was actually a rainy morning in Blackheath. Dirtbagjens and I were sitting in a cafe, drinking coffee and chatting about dry patches of rock we could climb.
There was another group of people near us. I overheard them saying things like ‘it’s pretty steep’ and ‘how long is the walk in?’. They were wearing down jackets. One of the jackets had a piece of duct tape stuck to it, to cover up a hole that probably came into being around a campfire somewhere.
We compared notes, drank a bit more coffee and decided where the day’s climbing would take place. Dirtbagjens and I settled on the Bell Supercrag.
We’d heard about this place for the first time the day before . It had been recommended to us by some other friendly climbing folk who we met at another fun sports crag called Boronia Point.
I remember giggling at the name. The Supercrag. It seemed a bit dramatic. And just intriguing enough to check out.
The trail to the SUPERCRAG follows a ridgeline with great valleys on either side.
On this particular morning, the valleys were full of swirling mist.
The rain made the waratahs and wildflowers pop with colour.
We soon reached a point where we could see down into the SUPERCRAG. From our little lookout we could see chalk in all kinds of improbable places.
Talking about climbing is much easier than actually climbing. So we decided to make a cup of tea and talk some more.
We didn’t have a guidebook that day. A few climbs had grades written in chalk at the bottom. We found some numbers we liked and ticked off our first routes at Bell.
On our way back to the car, we ran into a friendly lady with a kiwi accent who told us where to find a guidebook online. We chatted for a while and she waved goodbye. ‘Maybe you can come back next weekend and try some of my routes’ she yelled up at us as we walked out. It turned out that she had put up almost half the routes herself.
We followed her advice and went back the next weekend.
And the one after that.
And the one after that.
We camped in a cave each Saturday night. It saved us walking in and out twice and maximised our climbing time. It takes over three hours to drive to the Blue Mountains, so its always a mission to squeeze two good days of climbing in between the working weeks.
There is so much great climbing on beautiful rock with beautiful views. You should add it to your climbing wishlist. It’s pretty damn super.
So that’s how we got there. The story I really want to tell is about one particular climb near the descent gully called Jingle Bells. It’s a relatively short climb that follows a crack which zigzags up to a little cave. Above the cave is steep section with big holds and a big gap between the last bolt and the anchors. It’s graded 21.
Grades are essentially a rating of how difficult the climb is. Usually the first person to climb up a piece of rock gives the climb a name and a grade. Grades are fairly subjective but they help to give you a rough indication of what you’re getting yourself in for. In Australia we use an open ended grading system that basically starts at 1 and works up forever. If you’re really keen, you can find out more here.
For me 21 is a pretty big grade. For lots of people, its not that big a deal. But for me to even attempt to lead this climb took a big shift in my headspace.
I was introduced to climbing by people who were stronger and more experienced than me. I was often the only girl in the group. The menfolk would generously set up top ropes for me on the easiest climbs they could find and I would happily struggle up them. Leading climbs was something that other people did. I just tagged along and hoped I wasn’t too much of a burden.
Eventually, a radical thought to entered my head. Maybe I could do all that stuff myself. Maybe I could learn those skills, be bold and develop my own climbing skills. Over time, that started to happen. It was enormously satisfying to move from someone’s bumbling girlfriend, to someone who could take a group of people out climbing and know that I had the skills to keep everyone safe. I might not be the strongest, boldest or most skilful climber out there, but sometimes I have so much fun that I forget to compare myself to everyone else just for a little while.
Not so long ago, I wouldn’t have even attempted to climb this route at Bell. I would have looked at the grade, decided it was too high and settled for something easier. But there was something about this place and this climb that was really inspiring. It was so beautiful and so fun and just at the edge of my ability.
I tried it three times on the first weekend.
And I failed.
I had never done this before. Usually I just climbed for the sake of being outside and enjoying an adventure. I had never been motivated to pick a climb and work at it for as long as it took.
I tried it three more times the weekend after that.
And I failed.
Once I actually reached the last hold, only to peel off and take a big fall because I was too tired to hold on anymore.
I had failed again. But I’d never had so much fun failing before.
I’ve always been a massive nerd. I did well at school and uni, but I was always struggled with the fear of failing. The thought of having a number less than 50 scribbled across the top of a test was terrifying. In my head, failing at anything was literally the worst thing that could ever happen.
But failing at something for ages is actually the best way to get better at that thing. And that’s what happened with this climb. Each time, I would fail in a slightly different way, for a different reason at a different point of the climb. And I learned from each ‘failure’. I enjoyed them all.
I think it was the third trip when I just decided that I was going to do it. I tied in to the rope and I knew that I could do it. I climbed with a level of confidence that I’ve never really experienced before. My legs weren’t shaking. I wasn’t gripping onto the rock for dear life and wasting all my energy. I wasn’t thinking ohmygodohmygodohmygoditssofartothenextbolt. I wasn’t thinking about anything really, except where my next hold was.
I just climbed.
Before I knew it, I was at the anchors. I clipped myself in and looked down the valley, soaking up the beautiful views and grinning like a maniac.
This was the first time that I had set myself a goal in climbing, then fought to achieve it. It provides good ammunition against the self doubt that creeps into my thoughts every now and then.
In less than 48 hours time , I will be back at Bell Supercrag. I look forward to finding a new challenge, and failing at that for a while.
I hope you get to spend a bunch of time failing at the things you love. And I hope that on the day when everything falls into place, your grin is big enough to make you look kinda crazy.