The Final Hold

by Scott Herrett

The words test piece sprung out of the guidebook page to describe Finale, a 3 star classic on Shepherds crag. It was early in the season for me, and so the easier graded classics would have been much preferred. However, Finale was free from other climbers, so the decision was made. I felt some apprehension, like most do when at the base of a route which comes with a reputation, irrespective of the grade. But I still wanted to be on it.

The start looked fairly stiff, but it was clear to see the meat of the route was in the steep crack further up. I left Neil Mc behind and began climbing through the short groove. My confidence grew as I moved fairly efficiently to get established at a comfortable resting position just below the main crack. From there I could see a good large cam placement about 2 m up at the base of the crack. I realised it was going to pumpy to place, so route management was the plan. I set off with the intention to place the cam, then climb down to the rest, but unfortunately the friend I selected didn't fit.

I climbed down for short rest, before heading back up again to replace it. When I did, the replacement cam didn't sit right, so again I climbed down for a rest before finally adjusting it. It was beginning to dawn on me the cards were becoming stacked against me, I was losing valuable energy which no doubt would be needed further up.

I was aware of the precious time spent being spent on the route, especially after Neil suggested not to hang around for too long. Dark clouds were appearing down the valley and I'm sure he suspected my depleting energy levels.

When I'm going well, I don't mind challenging climbing or being run out above gear, especially if the gear is bomber and the fall zone fairly clear of ledges and obviously the deck. But through a combination of early season rustiness and the faff of working the cam placement, apprehension grew and confidence shrank. I tugged the rope to check the cam, it was as good. So looking up at the rest of the route I decided to simply trust my ability not to fall, concentrate on climbing and not worry too much about finding gear.

I set off again, this time with more purpose. Even though it's far removed from the hardest of Trad routes, I turned the experience into my own version of 'Dynamics of Change,' and so began murmuring the mantra, 'Top rope, just on a Top rope…'. I think it actually helped and my confidence grew as I moved fluently up the crack. The crack itself was flared and it was difficult to jam, so good body position was needed to make best use of the available hand holds and the relatively sparse footholds. In what felt like an instant, I found myself two thirds of the way up the crack, with the focus on looking out for a final hold to pull over the top. I spotted what looked like a good hold. I decided to climb for another metre to have a closer look and test it. Not quite a jug, but good enough to get my fingers over it.

I took a step back down to a poor rest position, with the intention to soon move on again. However, at this moment I become more aware of my heavy breathing and pumpy forearms. I heard Neil disquietly call, 'Can you get any gear in?', I was run out, maybe 3, 4 metres. Under pressure, I spied a decent looking placement at hip height, and rammed a cam in, it seemed alright, it would just have to do.

With no decent footholds to distribute weight and energy levels in my forearms sapping at every moment, I knew I had to move. Again I climbed up to what I thought was the last hold before the final pull over. I reached up for it with my right hand, but instead my fingers simply peeled off, I tried again, but the much needed iron claw was not to be found. This was the moment, I knew it wasn't going to be, no matter how hard I tried, the fingers just kept peeling back off the hold. With that, I shouted take, and slumped back down onto the rope......

"Fuckkkkk!!!" is a common shout to be heard in this situation. Perhaps it's a release of the suppressed fear. But in that moment I felt simple frustration. For the previous 40 minutes I'd been doing everything mentally and physically possible to stay on the route. At the base of the crack I thought the route was beyond me, but then after getting so close to the top of the crack, I suddenly saw what I thought was the finish line and 'success'…..but little did I know.

When resting on the rope I shouted down, 'I was at the last hold!', 'Are sure it was the last?' Neil questioned………. I felt like being lowered down, my arms were gone, but a mix of curiosity and not wanting to be totally defeated re-motivated me. I backed up the cam (which had become cockled slightly from the fall) and continued up to the 'last hold'. Benefiting from the rest, my fingers felt much stronger. I pulled on it and up towards easing ground. However it soon became clear there was still climbing on this route, there was no easy jug ladder to the belay Tat, instead a patient and steady head with careful movement was needed.

Initially I was disappointed sitting at the belay, I thought this would have been a great early season tick and a real boost for the year. But the mind wondered about that final hold and what would have been…….eventually I felt happy, resigned to the fact it simply wasn't to be this time. But knowing there are plenty more to go at.

Thanks for the belay Neil, I owe you one.