It was a few months ago that I dusted the cobwebs off my climbing shoes for the first trip I had taken in months. I probably should have left the spiders to their webs for a few more days as the dusting did not do much good.
“Thanks for the ride to the airport. Can you check the boot of your car for my climbing shoes?” read my text just as the air hostess asked me to fasten my seat belt and turn off my cellphone.
“Yip they’re here,” came the reply. “Don’t worry. I am sure you won’t need them for the first ten pitches.”
Well, that is not exactly the conversation but it is the amended version, suitable for public consumption.
It turns out that smearing in borrowed, four sizes larger than usual shoes with peeling rubber is not really optimal, especially not in a featureless chimney crack on pitch one of eleven. Nevertheless I had flown across the country, driven another few hours and traipsed up a mountain for this route. I was going to climb it with or without my shoes.
Andrew Porter valiantly came to my rescue many times that day as I built stances where I could no longer route find (or find the courage). Wipke, who was climbing on a route nearby lent me her shoes that were considerably smaller than the ones I had originally borrowed. This was a saving grace.
Andrew and I summited in the dark and wound our way back through The Maze to The Cave where I had one of the best night’s sleep I have had all year.It was in The Cave that I started reflecting on how much I have come to trust and rely on my climbing shoes. It struck me how important fit has always been for me. I have a particularly narrow foot and tend to wear my shoes very small for the length of my foot to gain a tighter fit. This means I usually sacrifice comfort in a toe curling foot binding ritual. This is not possible on longer routes. Putting on Wipke’s shoes, which were on the tight side for an eleven pitch route, had given me a great deal more confidence and security in my foot placements. I could ignore the pain to gain some technical advantage. I was able to enjoy Blouberg for what it is; an amazing piece of rock. It is a long way from anywhere and the features I encountered on that wall will be etched into my memory as long as it remains upright.
The next trip I took was a little less adventurous. I spent a few days walking between the best camp site in the country and the God No! Wall, three months after my trip to Blouberg. In between I had not really climbed anything significant. I had one sole mission in Boven; a thirty five meter endurance piece that I had been on a year prior to the trip; Monster.
My friend Greg on one of the lower cruxes on Monster (29/7c+)
This time I did not have to dust cobwebs off of my shoes though. I had a shiny new pair, tested only a few times in the gym and on familiar routes. It was an ambitious project off of the couch but I had no desire to climb any of the other routes on the kilometers of sandstone in the area. So I hopped on the route, all odds against me and fell off of it more times than I care to reveal.
On the final day of the trip, the car was packed and I was working out how I could get back to Boven to send. I stubbornly tied in again. My new Sharks felt so good on my feet. They are tough to get on as they are a slipper fit. Once they are on though, the fit is amazing. They are tight fitting but they are incredibly comfortable for such a tight fitting shoe. This is what amazes me about them. There are no uncomfortable pressure points. Their flexibility in the midsole allowed me to smear on the most polished rock in the country countless times, only to fall off higher up because my arms gave in.
This time was different. I moved through each crux as if it were the crack of the headmaster’s cane, punishing me for every time I had fallen off. I berated myself through every sequence, telling myself that I WILL clip the chains. The downturn in my Sharks was perfect for the steep rock up above. I understood then that it was my familiarity with the Mad Rock rubber that allowed me to trust any foot placement. Just before the last 10 meters of climbing I noticed some blood on the rock. When I realised the source was my own hand I chalked up to stem the flow and pulled through the last three places I had fallen to clip the chains.
The Sharks were ideal for this longer route. They are great for overhanging walls and have excellent smearing ability. They have enough rigidity without sacrificing too much sensitivity, being much softer than the Demons. I am not saying that they are by any means suitable for an eleven pitch route but my experience of shoes that do not fit properly or are too uncomfortable assures me that their comfort level surpasses what you would expect from any tight climbing shoe, let alone from such a down turned and technically capable shoe.