posted by dpm on 04/26/2012
In light of Adam Ondra’s first try 5.14d and Sasha Digiulian’s six-day ‘mini-epic’ on Era Bella, it’s refreshing to hear that some climbers are still willing to work hard for their projects. Of course, for everyone there will be a certain grade that is attainable first try and harder grades that take more effort. For Adam Ondra that may be his 5.15c La Dura Dura project but for us it might be a route at our local crag that top climbers wouldn’t even be able to warm up on! The grade doesn’t really matter; it’s the ability to complete what was started regardless of the setbacks that is impressive.
Projecting a route that is truly at your limit isn’t for everyone. Some climbers get bored if they can’t do something first try and they move on. Others might give up after a few tries and retreat to the gym hoping to get stronger, come back and crush it quick. And then there are the obsessed; the ones that won’t give up no matter what. As the number of failures on the project grows, so does the refusal to quit. Martin Keller is one of those climbers.
Martin Keller. All photos courtesy of Angela Wagner/Martin's blog
Martin’s first encounter with the Fisch Project was many years ago. His first attempt at even the established stand start ended in failure. In fact, he couldn’t do a single move. After gaining some strength, he returned three years ago and was able to complete the original problem Einfisch/Keinfisch (V12/13) fairly quickly. The low start was obvious at that point and Keller dabbled with the moves, though again he couldn’t do a single one. But the low start, dubbed the Fisch Project, kept calling him back and after three years of effort and over 100 days on the problem, Martin topped out just before the season came to a close to establish Der Mit Dem Fels Tanzt (Dances with Rock). His proposed grade is 8c/V15.
Summing up the three year process in the single preceding sentence is absolute injustice to the epic Martin went through. He’s documented an excellent summary on his blog that I highly recommend reading if you need an inspirational pep-talk for your personal project.
Der Mit Dem Fels Tanzt (8c/V15) Photo: Angela Wagner/Martin's Blog
Like Martin, I too have been subjected to the rollercoaster of joy and madness that comes with a multi-year project. We chatted via email and agreed on the craziness that accompanies such an obsession: the sleepless nights, the manic checking of the weather forecast, the fear of cutting a finger while chopping vegetables during the prime season! Martin offered a few more details about his ascent:
The Happiest Moment: The best moment I had in the boulder was when I first figured out all the moves, when I did solve the puzzle. It was 11pm, dark, and I was all by myself in the woods and I had the biggest smile on my face you can imagine. To top it out was more of a "relief" then "victory". I already knew 100% since one year ago that I was able to climb it. I climbed it maybe 1000 times in my head and so many times up to the last two moves. So for myself I was fine, as I knew for myself that I would be able to climb it. Even if I would not have completed it, it would have had been OK for me.
"The start-crux and the hardest four moves i have ever linked. Some days i was just unable to link these moves." Photo: Angela Wagner/Martin's Blog
The Final Stretch: Many people say, “Oh yeah, I can do that.” But to really go for these last 10cm, from being able to actually do it can make ALL the difference when it is your REAL limit!!! It was kind of the ultimate struggle to really top it out. Despite being physically ready, every time something went wrong. Like my heel was sliding at the start and some days I was not even able to complete the 4 start-moves anymore. Then I came up to the mantle again just to dry fire off with my fingers 1cm before the rescue hold. 3 days later I slipped off a foothold in the middle part. Then I dry fired with ice-cold fingers some moves below the lip. Then it was too warm, too cold, too humid, too dry (yep that can happen as well). And then I finally got the "rescue" hold but was suddenly so trashed that I was not able to rock over anymore... and to deal with stuff like that you need a really strong mind... and I can be pretty stubborn, my head sometimes seems to be harder than granite....
In the meat of Einfisch/Keinfisch. Photo: Angela Wagner/Martin's Blog
After the Send: But still it was not depressing to send it. I felt happy that I really did something that 3 years ago seemed just truly impossible. And I was proud that I won against myself and climbed it from the REAL start and not from this one more move in (still a sit start) which I would have climbed already one year ago (and would have had been the same "grade"). It was really tempting to just climb it from there, but it was not the REAL start, not the full line and so I kept going for over one more year...for this one little move...
The mantle. Photo: Angela Wagner/Martin's blog
The Future: I have some more open projects on which I am very close. I also don’t feel empty at all. When I have done them maybe I will "retire" and start to play chess. ;) The ultimate goal for me is my 8 year-project up there at Sustenpass in the Swizzy mountains: the Highlander. There I fell for over 7 weeks on the last hard move, up to three times a day... every time with ice-cold-fingers. I climbed a logical and easier top out 2 years ago (Daedalus, 8B+/V14, which was repeated last year by Dai Koyamada). But the full line through this huge boulder that captured me 8 years ago still waits to be climbed... but first about 5 meters of snow have to melt.... So to stay fit over the next 2 months I have stuff like that to play with - Use Your Illusion-project... - already close... but at my limit again, so close is pretty relative...
The send. Photo: Angela Wagner/Martin's blog
Inspiration: I am well aware that this ascent is nothing "special" for the world, not even for the climbing world (boulders that hard are being flashed these days...). But this ascent showed me again, no matter what grade you are climbing, that if you really, really want to do something hard or over your limit, then don't put your head in the sand. Stand up and go for it. And more often than you might think you will be able to finish it up. But you may have to give a lot from you. Not just a two-day-mini-"epic", may you have to fight hard with yourself, you have to think, dream, and literally live it. That experience is something you can't buy anywhere and there is no number to express it. There are no shortcuts; you have to go for it by yourself - the whole way!!!
Congrats to Martin on his ascent! Are you a project climber or do you prefer to finish it quick or not at all? What's the longest you have ever spent on a single route? Share your stories in the comment field.