Ambassador Rachel Carr writes on overcoming injury, fear and pretty much everything going wrong.
Rocklands, South Africa is a place loved by many. It often brings such joy and amazement to those who visit, they leave forever changed. For me, however, Rocklands seems to bring pain and disappointment. It’s as if the place itself is out to get me or constantly testing me, belligerently nagging me, do I love climbing? Are my intentions are true? And I can only hope that after everything, I have proven my worth.
When I first visited Rocklands last year, I fell in love. I spent two weeks running round like a kid at Christmas. I wrecked my skin and tired myself out completely every day but still had my most successful trip yet with a number of hard ticks and new achievements. All seemed to be going well, but that was quickly stopped by an unlucky fall resulting in a re-sprain of my least favourite ankle (third time lucky). As a result, I spent the next two weeks limping, walking incredibly slowly, reading my book and hang-boarding. It was miserable, but I tried not to lose hope. And I managed to pull it back with a send of the classic 7C+ ‘Caroline’ on our second to last day. My ankle was still swollen, I couldn’t actually fall off safely, and I definitely shouldn’t have been climbing, but I tried anyway and thankfully it paid off. It was my first of the grade and held such joy to me, given how little time I had to try and send it. So despite only being able to climb for half my trip I still left in love with Rocklands, but was incredibly eager to return and deal with all the unfinished business I’d left behind.
The first session I had I looked at it in disbelief, there was no way I'd be able to send such a powerful and intense boulder. Yes, it has good holds, but it's extremely overhanging and has such widely stretched moves at the end where your already tired, and have already done a finicky match with terrible feet and barely enough space for 6 fingers never mind 4. Despite all this, I somehow managed to work out the end section from the big move to the tricky bat-hang finish, all on my first session. I was feeling psyched, I was totally content with the idea of spending my time focusing on ‘Pendragon’ and not much else. Until it all went wrong, again. Rocklands is known for its bad roads, and we were unlucky enough to be staying 20 minutes along an incredibly holey dirt road. Normally this would have been fine, but like I said, Rocklands likes to test me. This trip was no exception.
I found myself less caught up in grades and more in the process; I sent some new blocs and had a few more sessions on ‘Pendragon’ when I could. I managed to link it in two overlapping halves and had made immense amounts of progress in the five sessions I’d had on it. On our second to last day, I’d hoped for a repeat of last year, I’d hoped that I could pull it out of the bag and get another last minute send. But it was not meant to be, I couldn’t fully believe in myself and therefore couldn’t give it my all. More unfinished business added to an ever-growing list.
But, we weren’t leaving yet. A couple days before, I had returned to my kryptonite. ‘The Hatchling’ is one of the most well-known and photographed 8A’s in the world. It's stunning rock and technical moves mean it has seen a lot of traffic and a lot of success, yet it continues to baffle and bemuse some of the world’s most successful climbers due to its requirements of size and mobility. To me, it wasn’t quite all that. It had been the year before, but now it was different. This year it was just the climb that ruined my 2017 trip; this was the climb I had fallen from and sprained my ankle. Even returning to this climb was a challenge in itself. I purposely left it to our last week in case I had a repeat of last year. Put simply, it terrified me.
As I approached the climb my heart pounded in my chest. I refused to touch it until we had at least three pads and a solid spotter. I forced myself to get back on with great difficulty. As more pads arrived my anxiety rose. After 5 attempts it was all getting too much. My hands were vibrating as I tried to hold the first holds, my chest felt tight and I could feel myself welling up. I had to walk away, I had to leave the crowd and just, cry. I sat on a rock so frustrated with my own emotions and thoughts, I cried for what felt like forever and then made a decision. I decided that if a car crash couldn’t stop me, then I wouldn’t let anything else. Bear in mind the fact that I have a terrible track record of controlling my emotions and thoughts in high-pressure situations, so to be able to return to the bloc and pull back on and control my emotions, was amazing to me. I don't know how I’d made it work but I had. I'd conquered my fear, I made it past the move that had hurt me before, I made it past the move after that, I made it all the way to the last move and fell from the top after my hand ripped. I fell long enough to take a full breath in and came smashing down, and then I got back on again. It didn't go that first night. So we had to go back on our last day. We woke up at 6:30, we packed up the car, we got back to the block but I continued to fall repeatedly at the lower moves. Frustration kicked in, I played some inspirational music, and I made progress again, to the last move and pop, there goes the other hand this time. Another big fall from the top, another obstacle I had to beat. It took hours of trying and the heat came with a vengeance, but I continued to get back up and back on every time until, finally, I did it.
I grasped the last hold and let out a scream of joy, of relief, and of pride. This had been one of the most trying experiences of my life. I had to fight physically and mentally to my absolute max. The trip itself had been hard enough and I just kept going. I wasn’t going to let anything bring me down and I am so thankful that my determination paid off. I’ve had a lot people ask about the crash, and follow with how amazed they were that we had managed to stay and continue to climb. To then get my first 8A on the climb that meant so much to me and send it. I didn't quite realise how big of a thing I had overcome. When you’re in it you don't really think about it, you just do it, you just keep going. Looking back, I see what I've done, and how far I've come and I am over the moon. Despite all the challenges I’ve faced, the journey of projecting and training has been so much fun and I can’t wait to keep it going and try to achieve my next goal of an 8A in Britain. Bring it on world.