Freja Shannon on pushing her grade and breaking the E8 barrier on Electric Avenue, E8 6c, in Bohuslän, Sweden.
Words by Freja Shannon. Photos by Sebastian Blyckert.
Headpointing. A word associated with runouts, razor sharp crimps, fiddly gear and a certain element of risk with the potential of insanity.
Luckily, none of the above is true.
What even is headpointing?
Headpointing is essentially rehearsing a traditional route on a top rope, checking out gear and working out all the climbing moves. The chosen route is typically around the climbers mental or physical limit making the experience challenging for body and mind, no matter what the grade is. It sounds pretty bonkers doesn’t it? But it’s so fun!
Climbing is a very down to earth sport and it's humble essence is both a blessing and a curse. More often than not you will come across climbers of all genders downplaying their abilities and achievements. To the untrained eye it can be an admirable trait - proving how the true joy of the sport lies within each climber and not as an extravaganza for the public. However, the curse of this noble attitude is when we stop believing in ourselves, when we shy away from thinking that we are capable and when we think we are not worthy of that route, grade or challenge.
I have certainly spent time as a victim to the above assumptions until recently when something changed. I got bored under the veil of self doubt and tired of quenching any bubbling feeling of “maybe I could do it too” with “that’s probably too hard for me”. I started trying things above my mental and physical limit and soon realized – all everyone is doing is trying too.
With this in mind, a few weeks ago I snuck back to a route which hadn't left my mind since giving my friend a catch on it a couple of years ago. She danced up it with ease while I scraped my way up the moves on top rope in some wild frenzy of being off and on the wall. Perhaps it must not have looked as disastrous as it felt or maybe it was a strike of friendly encouragement but Megan uttered the words “Freja you could totally do this”. I remember smiling to myself high up there where nobody could see me and said, “I think so too”.
Back on the route this time around the desperate moves in my memory went with considerably more grace and finesse. The harrowing runouts seemed to have shrunk. My heart racing out of terror at the thought of leading was replaced by a total calm and control, almost magic. This must be what climbing really is, I thought.
This particular route has for me been so much more than just a climb. It took me nine lead goes, including jumping off once because I got such a fright (maybe the run-outs hadn't actually shrunk as much as I thought…) to get through the crux and to the top. Each time I came flying off I needed to remind myself to not stop trying. Sure enough, perseverance always wins and I finally clipped the chains of my first E8.
Somewhere deep inside I always had a feeling I could do it, and this has nothing but proven my mantra that believing in yourself and your abilities is just as good a placement as a bomber piece of gear. It took a lot of energy to bulldoze through the elements of self doubt but now I will never look back. Somehow, climbing has become even more enjoyable!
My take away from this process and what I want to share is that you do not need to be capable of a certain grade, mental superpower or anything out of the ordinary to try hard or to break a barrier. I want to convey never to doubt yourself or what you are capable of, never to compare yourself or worry about what others might think. Listen to that inner voice of encouragement which no one can hear and most importantly: dare to try. All you can do is fall off, right?