Duncan McCallum: 'The rock is cool and I am hot'

THE rope lies on its own tarp protecting it from the dust in the cave mouth.

The midday heat is building and even in the shade of the overhang, the heat is getting too much. Working a route, rehearsing moves and sequences in order to refine the movements in an effort to find the most efficient way to complete a hard rock route is a fine balance between energy preservation and over-familiarity.

This is the longest I have spent on any route so far - ten attempts spread over three days. It's like learning a dance; every move has to be perfect, every hold latched well, every breath controlled. The grand finale of this piece of overhanging performance art, however, is a huge dyno, a jumping move on a wall that overhands 35-40 degrees. The jump is also complex as the hold I have to catch is a sloping smooth ledge with a tiny, two-finger dimple at the back of the hold that has to be hit, just so.

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It's also a blind move and I can't see the correct position to hit it from below.

So here I am on the hardest route of my climbing career. Fifteen years of progress, seven hundred routes, thousands of hours of effort. I have saved for nearly a year; in fact my overdraft is stretched to the max to be free for these eight weeks of climbing. We have driven over 1,000 miles to get here and this is the last two days of the trip. So no pressure then.

I pull on to the roof and fumble through the first few moves. Too much adrenaline, calm down. Soon I am below the crux move and it feels good. The rock is cool and I am hot with power to spare. OK, now the set-up. I move my right foot on to the 1cm edge. It's positive and good. My left foot goes high up on to a tiny dimple no more than the size of a 10p piece on the overhanging wall and I ram my toe into it. Pulling up, I set my left hand into a sharp, crisp-shaped hold. It digs hard into my fingers and hurts. I breathe into the pain and accept it as part of progress. Jump, not too hard to overshoot, not to weak and miss the sweet spot.

I launch myself up the wall. I hear the sound of my hand slapping the hold above, I let out a massive shout, releasing the pent-up emotional power. It's perfect. My feet are now off the rock, swinging in space. Regaining control, I bring my feet back on to the wall for stability.

Now the last hard move. I move up to catch the next hold and it's a good one. As I pull up, the rope at my waist is tight, no slack. It's enough to pull me off the wall. I am totally at my limit. I fall into space and am slammed into the wall below with a bone-shattering force.

What am I supposed to feel? Pain? Yes. Anger? No. Disappointment? Yes. It's a crushing let-down. A waste, all of that energy, failure.

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I suppose it comes to every athlete, sports person or performer, an apex, the point where you just can't go any faster, higher, longer. For some it's a sport-killing moment, the point where ambition and failure collide. Many climbers stop here.They give up because they did not love it enough. For me it is a love affair for life, with the rock, smells, textures of the cliffs, mountains and movement. For me, it is not about arriving. It is about the journey.

• This article was first published in Scotland on Sunday, August 15, 2010