Saturday, 11 April 2015

Starting To Feel Like A Route

It's a fantastic feeling when your project starts to feel like a route. The crux section is now well and truly dialled. The post-crux bit is cleaned and sorted - a bit interesting that bit and possibly the most scary section. I've managed to find a bit of gear that has taken the route out of "certain death" and into "12m ground-scraper if the gear holds". Most importantly of all however; I've found a way to start it!

I was originally intending on starting the route from the ledge on the right. I was keen not to follow the pointlessly convoluted line out left that the original line of bolts followed and really tried to interpret the features in their most natural way. I struggled with this.

Over the last two weeks I've had holiday and been lucky-enough to be joined by Matt and Dave on the line and they've each brought something to the project. Matt's been really useful in working as an inspiration for climbing the moves. He tried a lot and reckoned it was hard - which was just what was needed for my pondering about the route - I need to feel like I'm doing something outrageous. Dave brought his own little bit of traditionalist bigotry to the line, arguing that it should follow the line of bolts. Whilst I knew Dave was wrong and that he was being a grumpy moron, the centrepiece of his argument was that starting on the ledge was a bit crap.

I wasn't so sure. The line of weakness started on the ledge and although the traverse off it is dirty and vegetated, that's the simplest way to climb it. My underlying issue was that I didn't want to add an arbitrary extra 6c move to the project that would waste time, add danger and just be a general annoyance. Luckily though, spirit of the Moors provided a compromise.

After declaring a move that me and Matt thought around 6c to be "6aish" and saying everything was piss, Dave ordered me to lower him a little on the top rope and he found a flake on the lower wall. This lower wall was fairly dirty and so a lot of the holds couldn't be seen. I'd always wanted to start up it, but it looked like the kind of impossible thing that was just a waste of time. It's an impressively big bit of rock however and Dave found a long flake at the bottom, right below the gear that you use for the upper section. Unfortunately this wall is undercut and between this long flake and the gear is a fair few metres of more or less totally blank wall. There was one tiny crimp and we joked about a future "font 8b" up it.

I decided to have a look and agreed with Dave's prognosis. Blank. Shortly after this though, I found a deep and very good mono/two finger pocket way out right. It looked ludicrously infeasible to get there from the flake, but (to cut a long story short) it ended up working out. It was a class moment in the end, with it not only being possible, but also that rare breed of move that allows seemingly impossible spans to be achieved. The escapability out right after this move actually enables this problem to be one of the best boulder problems in the Moors. I think this has been one of the best discoveries so far on this climb and I'm ecstatic that at the very least, a class new boulder has been born.

It's back to normality for the next 7 weeks now. Hopefully I can lose a bit more weight, carry on with finger strength gains and pop in for the odd session before the next half-term. The only factors that could really hold me back now are temperature or injury. Conditions have been bad over the last few weeks and I've still managed to slip my way though the crux, so a cold spell should sort me right out.

Saturday, 4 April 2015


What's your motive? How do you justify it? This has become such a common question in Trad headpointing that it's almost a bit of a superficial question now. The answer is invariably "I don't really know", or occasionally some platitudinous fun-propaganda. This isn't going to cut the mustard with me though. My climbing is risking actual death, or (what I fear more) paralysis. No UK trad route that I've been on presents anywhere near as much risk of dying for the most able climbers as the line at Kay Nest. To set out on that route, I can't just ignore the risks like I did on O' Gradey's, nor remain reassured by the reasonable landing like with Psykovsky's, nor have a moment of delusional insanity as per Sky Burial.

Perhaps my experience with Sky Burial (H9 6c) is the closest I've been to the frame of mind I need to be in for this line. I had a maturity of purpose on that route - a knowledge that this moment was the most important of life so far. I also had an intimate knowledge of the route and a belief that I could do it. Despite this, Sky Burial was not as hard as The Kay Nest Wall and on much larger holds. The insecurity that 8th pad crimps and high feet bring means that the mental aspect of the climb is brought to the fore. It's no longer good enough to believe I'm better than a route; to rely on a comfort zone. I have to take delight in the risk.

The only time I have felt enough love for a line to not mind the outcome is at Danby. The enormous personal meaning of this crag, twinned with the natural splendour of the venue allowed me to reach depths of passion I've not experienced elsewhere in climbing. On Psykovsky's (H8 7a) and Fly Agaric  (H8 7a) I just wanted to do it: loads. With the drying up of Danby Crag's new routes, perhaps this part of me has dried up as well. I do feel, however, that this love for the line and venue is something perhaps attainable at Kay Nest, with it's very obvious beauty and isolation.

To get down to the barest of motives, you have to ask "why?" over and over again. This process has led me to identify the motives driven by social context. "Would I still want to do this route if no one else in the world existed?" If so, why? What do I think is so fundamentally important about the process of doing these routes, as to take this 'risk'?

It was in the asking of these questions that I realised that this was the wrong way to ask the question. The question assumes a 'risk'. But what is the risk; a threat to what? - "my life" seems the obvious answer. But I realised that the end of my life is not something I particularly fear. I fear the effects my death would have on others and the very real danger of paralysis. I would also miss the every-day ecstasy of good food, nature, friends and family, but these things I assess in quality not quantity. I have already had insurpassable moments in all of these and so with that I can be content.

So at the end of this thinking, I arrive somewhere nearer being able to set out on this route. I have a hold that I love. I have a crag of magnificent spirit. I have a happy life that I am not afraid to leave. Strangely it is only the imagination of future springs that holds me back.