Sunday, 17 June 2012

"The Apprenticeship"

Some traditional Seconding at Highliffe
The North York Moors is a bit of a time warp, with a hugely active local climbing club, the nearest climbing wall 40 miles away and generally pretty archaic ethics. As a result it's a pretty special place to learn to climb.

I was first introduced to the idea of a climbing 'apprenticeship' by Luke Hunt and his dad Mike.  Luke had obviously had a good grounding on the crags, with a traditional approach being promoted from his dad.  At the time a few of my friends of the same age had also taken the step from wreckless adventure soloing in trainers, to an attempt to find some form of organised climbing. Vague bits of info on ropework, the odd grandparent-bought book on technique and perhaps the discovery of an old issue of 'Climb' somewhere would act as hints that we were not the only people who climbed in the world.
"Pushing the boat out" as a youth

So when we met with Luke, and later Ian Jackson and Rob Askew, it was really rather bizarre. We didn't really want to let on that we knew very little about anything, but what we did find amazing was that these people, only a little older than us, had such a good grounding. The Guisborough lads had benefited hugely from the wisdom of the school teacher Chris Woodall and they too spoke of 'the apprenticeship'.

The problem for us was that we were 16- we didn't like to accept help from those 18 year-olds who were better than us. And our parents, whilst very generous with lifts and huge enthusiasts of walking in the Lakes, knew very little about climbing. So we suffered a fair bit!

I was reminded of the idea of the "moors apprenticeship" my Sam Marks, who seems to be one of a breed of youth that is expanding in number these days- the wise youth (perhaps a recession-based need to adapt?). Anyway... He loved the idea that older climbers showed younger climbers their knowledge and tried to give them tips on how not to come a-cropper.  Needless to say that Sam's willingness to embrace this relationship will no-doubt help his climbing 'no-end'.
The wise youth having a crack at Mane Vision
So it's an interesting one; I'm sure this occurs in other areas as well, but mixed with the retrophilic ethics of the moors, the system really appears like a time-warp. Of course the 10 year-long apprenticeships of old are extremely different to the quasi-apprenticeships alive in the Moors today, with bouldering and new training ideas quickly percolating through the thin protective shell of the Moors time capsule. Who knows how things will progress, but with the rise of university clubs and climbing walls, they are bound to become pretty rare.


Anonymous said...

Interesting piece, What are your thoughts on the introduction to climbing offered by university clubs? In my experience many prospective climbers bypass the apprenticeship (which I agree is at the heart of traditional british climbing and is the best way to learn) with indoor walls and little appreciation of real rock, the ethics which we hold so dear seem lost and most of all the tales and traditions which get passed down through apprenticeships are sadly forgotten :(

Franco Cookson said...

I think university clubs play a really big role in getting people involved in the sport. These people aren't all alcoholics and druggies who dabble in and out of the sport, a lot of them are very keen to learn about the history of climbing and are the sort of people who will go on to really help UK climbing- in positions in the BMC etc. There are of course a lot of people who are members of uni clubs who do only really go inside, and when they do go climbing outside show a total disregard for their surroundings and other people.

So it's a tricky one really. You can't really generalise, but I do think university clubs lead to a sort of 'fast food' approach to climbing, where people who have been climbing for less than 2 years are seen as 'the experienced ones'. I think chipping, over-chalking, top-rope hogging etc. are of a substantially lesser concern as the novice climbers' safety, which they endanger by being often a bit clueless. That was a bit of a generalisation I know, but every mountaineering club is littered with appallingly dangerous stories.

One thing's for sure, climbing is going to change beyond recognition in the next 10 years.