A personal journey by Rhys Dobbs

Posted by Lucy Creamer on 01/03/2008
Rhys Dobbs competing

This is the first of a two part series about a personal journey taken in the ice and mixed competition climbing scene. Newcomer Rhys Dobbs gives us an emotional viewpoint on this unique world and how he copes with it's rigours.


This is my story about how two years ago I put on my first pair of rock shoes, to two months ago I was competing in the ice climbing world cup series –Rhys Dobbs

For anyone who is serious about a chosen discipline in sport, they are all too aware of the amount of work involved to achieve their ultimate goal. For many, the price involved can be all too much and people decide to wither on the journey to success. On the other hand, some may find this journey of exploration of not only the sport but themselves can come only to the travelling individual.

As a climber, I have often found myself in situations where the only rational thing to do is shout for putting myself in ridiculously dangerous situations. Sometimes I think that was a bit too close for comfort and see my life flashing before my eyes. Constantly interrogating my sanity and physical state after a good climb or training session I posed a question; is it all worth it? The answer; most definitely.

This year I was privileged to take part in one of the world’s biggest climbing events – the ice climbing world cup series. With three stages to be held in Italy, Romania and Switzerland, I was set to join and compete against 80 of the world’s greatest and most professional ice climbers.

The journey started two years ago. I found inspiration from photos of fellow climbers in magazines, constantly pushing the limits to be the best. This was their opportunity to make their name in climbing. I was questioned by a very close friend of mine, he said – “Rhys, why can’t we do that?” I tried to find an answer, for days it turned my head. I lost sleep and allowed those words to eat away at my mind and soul. The honest and true answer came to me; it was, yes, we can do that. There is nothing to stop myself or anyone else reading this article reaching their goals in life. All you need to do is believe.

Extremely new to the competition scene, I never really had anyone to guide me along the way. No one to coach me, the more I trained the more I learnt. I found solitude in reading books on mental training. Close friends soon became mentors and without them I would not be able to write this now, I owe them more than they can begin to comprehend.

 
Three nights a week I would drive the same mind numbing road to Aviemore. It was here I found some of the best tuition I could ever ask for. September came, I felt myself developing, getting stronger. Then I found out that in two months the Scottish Climbing Masters was taking place. My sponsors urged me to enter, not to win but to understand the mental demands required to perform in front of a crowd of awe inspired eyes.
I had learnt a lot those months, I was changing, not just a climber as a person. The urge to climb harder was consuming me, every time I trained it hurt. I was a masochist, an addict but I liked the way I was feeling. I had nothing to loose, I had extinguished my ego as best I could, I was not climbing for anyone else, I was climbing for myself, my satisfaction. I became so self involved nothing else mattered, consumed by the only thing I knew and was always learning – how to climb.

In November 2007, the fight for the title of the Scottish Mixed Master was up for the taking. I rested for a week before, my body was feeling battered and worn, and without this rest I would be nothing. Some of the biggest names in Scotland entered the competition. I felt small, intimidated and lost in a sea of nothingness. I tried to use this as a disguise in becoming the ‘grey man’ and remembering I was doing this for me. The echoing sound of the air horn blasted, I would not hear this for four more hours, and in this time I had to push my body harder, dig deeper and burn every last piece of matter my body had to offer, in order to even stand a chance of reaching the final. The horn blasted the end to what seemed to be the world’s hardest workout, the gaunt drained faces wandered the arena, unaware of their surroundings. My body flopped, thankful for the opportunity to rest.


It was an hour until the finals were announced (although it seemed like five simple minutes). My body craved food and red bull. No matter how much I ate or drank, it was not enough to fuel my exhausted body, I had worked hard and it felt like it.
The finals were announced and to my surprise I had made it in. Speechless, I didn’t think it possible. I was grateful for the opportunity to get to the final but also dismayed I had to climb again. The finalists were sent into a quiet room, known as isolation. We were guided as though we were prisoners about to face a firing squad. ‘Isolation,’ this word alone got my heart thumping. Like being taken out by a sniper, we were called one at a time to the final route.
The door opened, eyes fixed on me, I tried to avoid the inevitable, it was my turn. I looked for the route, I couldn’t see it. A smile from one of the organisers and a point upward quickly diverted my eyes to the roof. I was dreading it. 15 meters of climbing may seem easy but turn it upside down and that’s a different route all together. The hardest thing I had ever completed was a route called Fast and Furious, graded D11. It is one of Scotland’s finest test pieces and stands next to some of the world’s hardest climbs. That took six sessions to complete. I only had one shot at this.

 
I set off; hanging 70kg from one arm at a time I adopted a move that’s called a figure of four. You trap your legs over each other and pin them into one arm, this allows you to reach the next hold whilst hanging like a swinging bat helpless, upside down. I paid the welcome price for hard work this day. Having missed out on becoming Scotland’s mixed master by one move was devastating. However, being second was a goal and achievement I never thought I would get to see.

I couldn’t climb for a week; physically my body screamed at me, it told me to stop, shutting down every time I thought about holding my axes. I was forced to rest. My focus turned to Italy, I spent time looking over pictures from the previous world cups so I could prepare my self for what was to come...

Part two of Rhys's exploits at the ice world cup in Italy will be posted in two weeks.



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