Failure: A Trip to Maltatal, Austria by Eliot Stephens

Succeeding is always the goal, but sometimes we need failure. Sometimes we need it more than success. 

Going out to Maltatal to try Bugeleisen was a familiar feeling. Some travel, some flying, some driving, and a new place to experience. But many things were different. A new climbing area, but with only one real focus for the trip. Being in an area with very few world class boulders, perhaps only one, leaves you somewhat numb to the thought of trying other boulders, even just to acclimatise. Nevertheless, I pushed on, and made an effort to try some of the areas low 8th grade problems. 

To my frustration, my recently incurred shoulder injury was proving to be an issue, and I felt incapable of putting problems to bed, even ones in my style which I knew were not that difficult. My mind saw boulders I could climb in a matter of minutes, but my body wanted several sessions. This is always a frustrating thing to experience, but as this trip reminded me; the more I do it, the easier it gets. 

So to Bugeleisen. We arrive to a boulder that has only five of its 13 holds dry. Even wet, it looks incredible. Tall, undulating and viciously steep (60 degrees). The air is still, and the temperature is high. I suspect instantly the first move will be a struggle for me, due to several factors. I’m just excited to try it. I’m proved right, and don’t manage to do it in that first brief session. Two days later, the boulder only has six dry holds. Another two days later, the same thing. I manage to work out the first move, and the following three moves, as far as the dry holds allow. 

Finally eight days into our trip, the boulder is totally dry. 13 degrees with high humidity, and not a breeze in sight, but still, a dry boulder. I’m excited to join Niky for a session, and benefit from his experience, motivation, and rather large ladder. I’m able to climb all but one of the remaining moves, leaving me unsure as to where I stand on the boulder. I go home and review more videos of others climbing the boulder. I realise I’ve been trying the last move incorrectly, and not understanding the movement. What do I learn? Try and look past the hand movements, and dig into the body positions; visualise them, understand where the body needs to be. Use the magnifying glass. It’s a simple mistake, but one I’ve managed to make. 

Two days later, and I’m ready to tackle the move again. This time, armed with some understanding, I complete it in only a few goes. My motivations improve, but the conditions do not. Again I’m forced to walk away with bruised and sweaty fingers. Two days later (Wednesday) I’m back again, and can now finally put some good links together and feel like the boulder is possible. However, with only three days left of the trip, and a torrential downpour scheduled for Friday, I know my time is up on this trip. I know my skin can’t handle a second day on climbing on Bugeleisen, so I decide to try and make use of the Thursday by trying to finish some other boulders. Friday, with the rain descending, we hit the spa, and I relax my eating and resting tactics, with seemingly no hope of any dry rock on our last day.

Saturday, we awake to clear skies. We awake to a breeze, which feels like a gale-force wind when compared to what we’ve experienced thus far. We drive the 20-minute drive up the Malta valley, and I shake my head as I feel the breeze on the side of our car. I see the first boulders are dry, and I know, before I even leave the car, that Bugeleisen will be dry. I walk in to find it in perfect condition, and I audibly berate myself on the walk back to the car. I cannot believe that I have potentially squandered my chance, by not resting, and eating rubbish. What have I learnt? It ain’t over till it’s over. Until you’re crammed into your seat on your Ryanair flight home, there is a chance that the boulder could be climbed. My mindset is thrown, and my session is poor. My first go is my best. I find myself falling at the last move, and am unable to get there again more than once. 

The frustration ensues, and I instantly begin to process every little aspect of the trip, and what I could have done differently. There were, of course, factors outside of my control on this trip, but most were within my control, and I simply did not manage them effectively. But one question comes into my mind…

Had I sent Bugeleisen, would I have ignored the many glaring issues with my climbing on this trip? The answer is yes. The pleasure of success would have blinded me to the truth of what happened. I was not in shape, my shoulder was an issue (which I had caused), and my execution skills were nowhere to be seen. To be forced to accept these issues, is my opportunity to learn. 

I’ve taken it, and I’ll learn. Failure is refusing to try. I’ll be back at Bugeleisen, and things will be different.

Words by Moon athlete, Eliot Stephens (@eliotstephens)

Back to Blog
Share this post