Monday, 13 May 2013

Lists and That.

There is some bouldering in those hills.
Lists and order seem to be an integral part of the western cultural cannon. We crave order. Categories are created and the intangible is indexed in an attempt to understand the fuzzy complexity of a reality that constantly evolves around us. This process of comparmentalising the unquantifiable seems to be a necesssary action, something we do to passify ourselves so that we may get on with our lives. Many groups round the world use different devices to do this: mysticism, myth and even magic, our obsession with 'measurement' to map reality robs us of the wonder of looking at the world in different ways. There is a large part of me that feels this is a shame, but then again befuddlement is my default state.

Lists play an important role in Bouldering: tick lists in guides, lists of personal projects, lists of grades and grading systems, lists of problems completed so far this season etc etc. Lists give climbing a faint wiff of competitive conformity; grades and the aroma of quantification open the door to the influence of Sports Science, training regimes, resistance, reps and rests. It's an intoxicating scent; one that promotes motivation, knuckling down and progress. Steps up the ladder of your grading system of choice can be hastened by applying a little logic. There's no magic here, the equation is simple:

                                 Perspiration = Gratification (if grade-based progress is what you seek)

Lists have played an important role in my efforts to scratch a path up steeper and steeper sweeps of rock over the years. Lists have informed my training. Wish lists have been written and re-written in an attempt to motivate; lists of desert island climbs or boulders I would like to have in my garden have been seriously discussed, at length, deep into the early hours, thus rendering the chance of climbing a problem that features on a list in the cold morning light next to impossible.  Lists have also been used to entertain.  My favourite climbing lists were the ones that Showtime Farley would create on the twilight drives back from The Peak in autumns past.  On these long drives the excitement of the day would fade to browns, oranges and yellows as our overworked adrenal glands stemmed their flow, the car's collective blood sugar bottomed out and strange shadows were cast by Tom "Fat-hand" Sugden lolling deep in slumber, held up by the tension of his seatbelt alone.  A hush would descend despite the million decibels of bass shaking  the fatigued bones of those incarcerated in the car. At this point Ben would banish the twilight chill of early winter by demanding the 'Best' from us all: best problem, best move, best hold.  Excitment, enthusiasm, and in Tom's case basic motor functions, would return.  In the pantheon of climbing lists, "Best" lists are definitely the best.

Why does climbing seem better when there's snow on the horizon
How can we quantify 'best'?  Well that's the beauty of the concept, you can't, it's just something you like the most at a fixed point we will call 'now'. As the sands of time inevitably shift it will change to something completely different.  Just like the grading systems we use to measure our progress in climbing, 'best' is subjectively constructed around the experience of the individual.  I can't really tell what 'best' is in the same way I can't definitively define what 7b+ is. What I can do though is tell you what my 'bests' have been so far this year: best problem, best move, best venue, best area.  Yes this is a futile exercise and yes these 'bests' will probably change as soon as I experience something else, however, as proved by Showtime Farley in the car on the way back from a kaleidoscope of venues, best lists are a good game. Best gets the adrenalin flowing, Best enlivens leaden limbs and injects colour into the climbing experience washed out by seemingly endless, wet winter.  So let's play Best, get your answers ready, and be ready to shout at mine.

Best Move - above Pwllglass near Ruthin sits Butterfly Buttress.  The steep front-face of this crag is adorned with a myriad of positive holds that make this an ideal link-up venue.  One link moves from left to right through the steepness, it's called "Lead Rain" and my best move sits halfway along its sinuous path.  The move involves kicking up a high heel onto a shelf in front of you allowing you to bump from a tiny hold to a thank-god sidepull.  This slight of heel gets you through the steepest part of the problem efficiently saving energy for the brutal moves ahead.

Best Problem - I had been to Rhiw Coch before and done a circuit of easy problems.  I had a look at Poppy's Move and the other problems in that particular cluster and discounted them as being too hard for my skinny arms. I went back this year with the test pages of the new North Wales Bouldering Guide, and I noticed the problem Moria. A 7b with two stars, I gave it a go and the rewards were exponentially greater than the grade given to the problem.  The line may not be the most asthetic but the moves are stellar- you just can't quantify this quality; go try this problem it really is magic.

Moria in all of its glory
Best Venue - seriously just go with this one.  My best venue so far this year is Pex Hill!!  Yes this hole in the ground, steeped in dog muck and decorated with broken glass is my favourite venue at the moment.  Climbing here this winter, doing eliminates on Pisa Wall, writing about them and spreading the love has saved my climbing from the monotony of training and the inevitable injuries that being serious and scientific brings.  I have visited Pex a lot this year and every time I have left with a smile on my face; if we could grade enjoyment Pex for me would be cutting-edge.

Best Area - without doubt it's North Wales. Words can not capture the feeling of moving across rough, dolerite slopers with a chill in the air and a dusting of snow on the mountains. It feels such a privilege to be climbing in this environment when the conditions are good and the sky is powder blue. When you're high up on the pass, away from the sound of the traffic, looking across at Dinas Cromlech, clouds casting shadows on the valley bottom as they drift lazily by, you feel like you're sitting in an alternate reality, a simpler one, one that makes sense, one that's almost - well mystical.

Moves like these help to generate Bests for everyones lists.
Well there's my Bests, how did yours measure up?  We could negotiate our various Bests, and come  up with a consensus. We could make our Bests definitive, fix them in time and share them with others! To be honest what would be the point, we would simply kill fun.  Sometimes it is better to relax, sit back and enjoy the randomness of things.  I have no idea why I chose Moria as my favourite problem of the year, or why I think Bouldering is better when framed by snowy mountains.  I do know that in a culture obsessed with quantification, and a sport that is quickly being seduced by science, that the game of Bests doesn't really have a place.  For me though that's the point; we should stop trying to quantify fun- let the game of Bests take over, let excitement and enthusiasm flood into climbing. Have your best-ever training session, campus because it puts a smile on your face, give into the magic, get out there and experience more! I reckon that would probably be best for everyone.

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