For all that New Years and Solstice posts are really useful for goal setting and the like, you can never really count on the weather around here. No matter what you’ve got in mind, there’s always a chance the weather will throw you a real curveball and knock your plan out of whack.
Throw in the uncertainty of the self employed, and the months of October and November have been a little bitty. Another national lockdown removed a load of work but didn’t seem to free up much time and before i knew it, it was early November before i stumbled on a rare day off with half decent weather.
Eyes on the Pies
I say half decent, it was still cold; much colder than i’d realised. I’d been at work on the Friday, cleaning out gutters in a factory (i’ve diversified quite a bit since the coronavirus threw the world into disarray) and looked over at my employer/colleague/friend and made a throwaway comment about sacking it all off and going climbing. It must’ve been a slow day as he was more than happy with the idea of our short day being that bit shorter, and was more than happy with my running off to go play. After a little deliberation, i ended the working week early.
At home, on the decking with the sunshine beating down, it felt pretty good as i waited through the day for the rock to dry out a little more. All seemed good and with time ticking away – and our new planter-bench now built and in place – i packed up quick and ran off up the pass. Back at the end of September, i’d climbed Plinth Eyed 7b/+ at the Pieshop boulder and felt the proper start shouldn’t be that much worse. I’d mentioned this to Dave Noden, only to find an interesting little video on his Instagram a few weeks later… [See below but scroll right]
Parking up, there was a small group of boulderers next to me, one of which, Felix, opted to join me under the giant Pieshop roof. He was keen for some Humble Pie Disorder 8a, the start of which actually turned out to be a great warm up for my intended target of Pie Eyed 7c/+. Felix quickly got engrossed on Love Pie 7c+ or the insane exit move to HPD but, with previous experience on that problem, i was more than happy to leave him to it. Instead, i kept placing the (very) high left heel, grasping the slopers and thrusting myself at the decent slot.
Eventually, after tiring of the one-move wonder he had been trying, Felix came to join me. Given the beta i’d acquired, it didn’t take him long to send and start a mini-send train. Next go, i walked it, finally getting my feet and body position right. It was my hardest send of the year, my first 7c since Nazgul’s Traverse at Rhiw Goch last October and in fact, technically the third hardest climb of my career. It didn’t feel it.
I alluded to the softness of the send on Instagram but Chris Davies – a local climber i have the utmost respect for – commented:
Easy when you get it done, tough when it doesn’t work – same old story!
As much respect as i have for Chris, it still felt overgraded for me. Nevertheless, i’ll take it.
Developing a Style
While Friday was an extra, the following Monday i’d been given day release to go playing and, especially given i’d been to Pieshop the week before, opted to go check out somewhere new; as in, i’m not finished developing it yet so i’m not telling you where.
After a family walk, i’d spotted a boulder that looked too good to be true and had half assumed it would be too good to be true. Turns out it was true and is very good indeed. The only downside is the walk in…
Tim Peck got in touch after i’d posted the video, recognising the boulder and correctly asking about it’s location. “Good effort walking up there with a pad!” was one comment. You see, i’d walked in with Rosie and wildly overestimated how much faster i’d be without her with me. After forty minutes, i arrived, puffing, panting, sweating and knackered.
To make matters worse, for the entirety of the walk, it had drizzled lightly on me; not enough to make me turn around but enough to make me question every step further forward. This is a proper mountain venue too and i had gone armed with headtorch, map and compass, so as to avoid any embarrassing issues if i ended up walking out in the dark and couldn’t see the path to follow (i did walk out in the dark but didn’t need the compass). Thankfully, the drizzle was very light, the rock cleaned up nicely and to my surprise, the route fell in one session, leaving me with another classic first ascent; one of my best to date: Unlocked 7a+.
Looking at it now, i can understand why Chris Sharma famously stopped grading his first ascents. While i still don’t agree that’s the right way to go, offering a grade on these sorts of climbs is frankly the hardest part and it has crossed my mind. However, i feel that first ascentionists have a responsibility to offer some indication of how hard their climbs are.
The problem is that you are naturally swayed towards overgrading. Finding holds is harder, and then they’ll need cleaning too, while finding the optimal beta is much harder when you don’t have any indicators already in place. Furthermore, first ascents take much longer than established climbs, giving more bias. Unlocked could be anything between 6c+ and 7b+, i really don’t know. It felt tougher for me than Pie Eyed but i don’t think it’s that hard. So i’ve plumped in the middle, happy to be corrected as and when the location gets released.
I would like to make a point to the keyboard warriors out there though: before you get deep into heavy discussions on whether something is 7a or 7a/+ sat at home on your laptop, spare a thought for the guy or gal who climbed it first. Get too obnoxious with your comments and you risk there being no grade at all (imagine not knowing if a climb was 6a or 8a) or worse, not finding out about them at all. I’ll not deny that some first ascentionists smell glory from their actions but many merely wish to develop new areas and climbs for people to repeat. So next time you’re slating them for getting their grade out, even by a long way, bear in mind it’s really not as easy as it seems.
Finally a quick bit of related news: late on Friday, my phone pinged with an Instagram message request from @innosantonagara:
Thanks for your article on bouldering in gripped
My article in Gripped? I submitted something this time last year that they said they were keen for but never got back to me… Where’s that Google app again…
Sure enough, there it was! Is it Highball Bouldering? Or shoulder we be calling it Free-Soloing. Other than the lack of question mark at the end of the headline, i was very pleasantly surprised! I genuinely didn’t expect this to ever make it to print and was pretty thrilled it had! The article uses the famous article Games Climbers Play by Lito Tejada-Flores to examine whether the Bishop highball ascents of Nina Williams in Reel Rock 14 should really be thought of as solo instead of highball.
It’s certainly generated much debate on the Facebook groups it’s been shared around [49 comments on Climb Smarter, Not Harder at time of writing] and has certainly been well received. I’m now hoping there’s a connection there and i can continue to write for them again.