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.

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