Tuesday, 24 February 2009

A few days after Gerty Berwick, I headed back up to Ilkley with a few other personal projects in mind. Onsight/flash/ground up was the plan of attack, and all seemed good until I unpacked my bag and found I was missing a rope – bugger. Surprising the urge to drop to the floor screaming and pounding my fists, I decided on plan B, which turned out to be much the same as plan A, just without the aforementioned string but a load of foam instead.

With my choice of routes altered, It was time for the worst 20minutes of the day. My boots felt extra tight, which I hoped may take away from the pain I knew was on its way. No such luck; as my fingers touched rock and took my weight, all feeling ran for cover and was replaced by the oh so familiar stingy-numby-ache. Drop off, stuff my hands in my armpits, bounce around, do it again...

It feels as if it will never get easier, but you know it will, and you tell yourself this, and eventually you believe again – time for the main event. Route number one was to be Cindy Crawford, a john Dunne route on the back of the Calf from 2001. After warming up on the start, I began to find a sequence through the strange and chalk less features and after a few goes, and a lot of drop knees made it to the rail right at the top. It was here all previous knowledge of the route vanished and I had 2 choices; a move out right to the right arête, or a few more moves up and left through blank and green rock.

I dropped off, gathered my thoughts and climbed back up. I thought I had spied an edge in the green blankness during my last attempt and this was my goal. Arriving back at the rail, I looked up at the distant mystery hold, and down at the distant floor. Sadly the edge turned out to be nothing, but happily I managed to fall in control and decided to return to fight another day armed with some beta straight from the horse’s mouth (update: turns out you go to the arête – ho hum).

Route number two for the highball treatment was Desperate Dan. First climbed by BIG Ron in 1979, Desperate Dan is a funny little affair. The whole arête looks stunning and on first glance there appears to be no holds on the lower half and it looks highly improbable! It is only when you find out the actual route starts half way up, by stepping off the adjacent boulders that things begin to make sense. Once you leave the boulders, the route comprises of about 3 to 6 (depending on your sequence) insecure moves to reach the sanctuary of good holds and a few more steady pulls to the top.

I jumped on the route and climbed excitedly to the top; the moves were fun and the holds were really pleasant and unusual for Gritstone. Light rain began to fall and so I quickly hopped back on for some pickies, and tried an alternate sequence which was fewer moved but a bit less secure – still fun non the less. Turning to spotting duty, I watched the rain get heavier and the ground get wet. Whilst spotting friends, I couldn’t help but look at the lower arête and eventually noticed bumps, which turned into holds, which turned into a potential sequence.

Fortunately, the route was just about staying dry, but the dampness now so obviously present, would certainly not help matters. On went my boots, and I huddled in the corner beneath the route in an attempt to keep my feet dry. The holds were slopey and awkward, but I imagine this will be due in part to the conditions. After being spat off a few times, I figured out a slightly different hand position on the crux sloper and slapped into the start of the original, only to fall due to poor footwork.

What is this all about? What is the point? I looked around at the now deserted crag and over at the small group of friends still laughing and joking in the ever increasing drizzle. I am sure from an outsider’s viewpoint, this would appear absolutely pointless, even to the extent of being a bit silly, but to us it made perfect sense. I squeaked my boots, chalked my paws, and climbed from the floor to the top, nearly killing myself on the way down as a pidgin flew out of its nest making me jump and squeal like a girl.

Climbed as either a route or a highball, the direct start to Desperate Dan makes the experience much more complete. The climbing on the lower arête was quite a lot harder than the upper section and would be pretty fun in its own right, if you left your balls at home. I don’t know if it has been climbed before, the usual suspects say not, but you never know. If no one steps up to claim this monumental prize, then I put forward the incredibly imaginative name of Desperate Dan Direct. Shika ding!

Monday, 16 February 2009

Copyright David Simmonite

Time to move on...

The last few months have been a mixture of being rained on - which has been frustrating, getting snowed on - which has been invigorating, and occasionally climbing in between.

I dread to think how much money I have spent on diesel driving to look at dripping crags. To me, this winter seems like one of the worst I can remember and I could count the number of good grit days I’ve had on one hand. However, this time I am partly to blame for being out of the country when we had all the freak amazing conditions.....

In years gone by I would have found the thought of missing a good day on the grit too much to bear and for that reason rarely left the Peak from October to April. Whilst maximising the amount of days I could climb, it also maximised the days I could not, and so motivation levels were often rather low and I imagine I was not the jolliest person to be around.

Nowadays I realise that whilst climbing is a huge part of my life, it is not the only part and dare I say it, not the most important part either. I owe it to the people I care about and who care about me to be as positive an influence as I can be, by a combination of trying to make them happy, and also being happy myself.

I have been fortunate enough to spend more time skiing this year and have loved every second. The feelings of being so excited to leave the house in the morning, and not wanting the day to end, reminded me of how climbing felt many years ago. I guess it is inevitable that one’s initial excitement will subside a little once something becomes a regular occurrence. Over the last few months I felt I had become quite disillusioned with the whole climbing thing. The excitement I felt from skiing helped me to realise that it wasn’t climbing I was disillusioned with, but the climbing scene. All the things that I love about climbing were still there, I just needed to look a little harder.

And that is why I may seem to have gone off the radar a little, I have been getting back to basics, down and dirty, filthy even...

For anyone that followed my blog last year, you may remember I had briefly tried a former project at Ilkley known as ‘the wall left of The New Statesman’. In short the route tackles a big blank wall via four giant moves (one static, one dynamic slap and two all out dynos) between five holds (some quite good, some not so). I managed the individual moves on my first session and began to link some together on my next, but since I wanted to eventually climb the line without pads, I knew I was a long, long way off feeling confident enough to lead the route, and so put it on the back burner.

Fast forward to 2009 and my friend Ryan turns his attention to the route. For the benefit of anyone who has never seen Ryan, he is pretty much built for climbing. 6ft+, slim build, floppy dark hair that hides his boyish good looks, big brown eyes you can loose yourself in, a cheeky smile... Sorry, I got a bit carried away; just give me a minute to calm down!

Seriously, Ry is 6ft+ but with an enormous 8inch ape index, or at least that’s the word on the street, so they could have been referring to something else? Those figures basically mean he can reach between holds that are miles apart, doesn’t weigh much and is not too bunched on rock-overs.

I can’t think of anyone who is more suited to this route and so it came as no surprise when Ry made the first ascent after just 3 sessions on the route, climbing two of the dynos as static moves in the process! What did surprise me at the time, was that Ryan fell from the last hard move and walked away unscathed. I struggled to understand how a fall from so high could have such minimal consequences, even with pads, but Ry assured me that it was no problem and encouraged me to repeat it.

Gerty Berwick and The New Statesman

I guess at this point I should quote one of my recent postings explaining my views on the use of pads. Hopefully by repeating what has been previously said, I might avoid unnecessary comments from miss/ill/uninformed parties.

I think refusing to use mats is pretty stupid- without a good reason for it... My reason always seemed good enough to me to justify the risk; trying to repeat and put up new routes in the same style...

I decided to repeat Gerty Berwick in the same style as Ryan had climbed it. Ryan got there first; his vision defined the route and therefore the challenge to others, and I feel that future ascentionists should be mindful of matching or improving on this style. This way there will be progression in the sport.

It was a really enjoyable experience and was a pleasant change to test myself physically on a route without having to worry about the consequence of failure. By using pads to protect the route, you are able to comfortably fall off any point up to the first gear and thus I think it is perfectly possible to climb ground up. However, since I used pads, I don’t feel able to comment on the grade.

Hat’s off to Mr Pasquill for getting it done. She’s a feisty little lady is Gerty

Saturday, 14 February 2009

My apologies for the delay since my last post, I have been out of the country quite a bit playing in the snow, which has been amazing fun. Anyway, I had planned to publish this particular post a few weeks ago but never felt 100% sure what I wanted to say. However, in light of a few recent occurrences, my head is a little clearer and the time has come. After this post, I hope to be able to move forwards and begin to write again about the things that make climbing enjoyable and special.

The Nitty Gritty

I guess this is what this has all been boiling down to. I climbed some routes, gave them grades, various things happened; now do I still feel the same?

There are many many tactics that if employed, will alter the overall difficulty of a route. Obviously the most difficult style to climb something in is a pure on-sight with no bouldering pads, every other style is simply easier, to a greater or lesser degree. We could argue the toss all day and night about these other styles, it has been done before, it will be done again but in reality it will get us nowhere because they are all a personal choice; we decided to do something in a certain way and because we have decided it, to us it seems sensible.

To move forward and stop our grading system becoming a farce, I think everyone needs to be playing by the same rules. By that, I mean understand that routes should only be graded for a certain style of ascent and any up/downgrades should only be applied in line with this style. To explain this point better than I probably could, here are the words of a wise old goose...

Grades are, or should be, given for a theoretical pad free onsight lead, regardless of whether the route has ever recieved such an ascent or whether this type of ascent is even likely or appropriate. Why? Because it is, as you point out, impossible to factor in unquantifiable variables such as pads. A pad free onsight is a clear and simple baseline. It is a useful line in the sand.

Ok, back to my original point “There are many many tactics that if employed, will alter the overall difficulty of a route”. If we use the above rule of thumb, then we need to re-asses grades based on changes that are relative to the theoretical pad free on-sight. Reliability of gear and a better understanding of what will happen in a fall are two things that are directly relative.
So what do we now know about my routes that was unknown at the time; and how would I grade the routes today:

  • The Promise – The gear has been tested and has held numerous falls so not as dangerous as first thought. If I were to offer a grade based on my knowledge today, E9 7a would be my probable answer. Jumping the gun a little in the hope of answering questions before they are asked – maybe Superstition requires an upgrade to E9 7a?

  • The Groove – By only using one rope you minimise the chance of flipping upside down making it safer. You may also be kept off the gound after a fall from the break but this is still untested in a lead situation and all down to the reactions of the belayer. E10 7b?

  • The Walk of Life – I don’t really know any particulars about the gear on Daves ascent other than he used mainly wires and a few Peckers. Thinking about it, you may be able to place a Pecker where I placed the first rubbish micro-wire. Its the kind of placement they work well in, but I don’t know as I never thought to check. If you can, this might make the start feel a little less deadly. Its frustrating how sometimes you can be so oblivious to things staring you in the face. Anyway, regardless of the gear situation, the other routes that I based my original grade on have come down a little, and so surely The Walk of Life should follow suit in response to this? Perhaps this means it is only E11, which would actually fit in nicely with Steve McClure’s recent thoughts on Rhapsody. Who knows? At the end of the day, grades are just educated guesses to one extent or the other.

So what have I learnt from these 5000 words and numerous hours spent pondering? Let’s look at each section, and note down the problems:

  • Bouldering – A certain problem perceived differently by different people due to conditions, body shape, personal strengths etc, causes differing opinions on the grade of the problem.

  • Actual vs Perceived Danger – The seriousness (danger) of a certain climb may be perceived differently than the actual danger causing an apparent discrepancy in the grade once the actual danger is known (usually tested by a lead fall)

  • Use of Pads – Routes can be made a lot safer by the use of pads. Problems arise when repeaters claim the same grade, or even downgrade routes that were originally climbed and graded without pads.

Do you notice any recurring themes? Yup you got it - Grades, grades, grades, grades, grades. The route of all the above issues seems to lie in the thing we spend more time discussing than any other, not really a surprise is it.

Am I alone in thinking that the subject of grades has grown into a bit of a monster? There seems to be so much emphasis on them that the actual climbs often take second fiddle or are even forgotten completely. Surely if we used them as I imagine they were always intended to be used – as one of the many “guides” you can use to select a route, then all of these troubles would fade away?

Personally, at this moment in time grades are as un-interesting and un-motivating as they have ever been and I’m not sure how big a part they will play in my future.