Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The Very Tall and the Very Small.

Skinny Dog turning to run from a good argument
Debate has always been the lifeblood of climbing. Grades, sandbagging, ethics, mistrust and sheer pig-headedness have driven us on, motivated us to try harder, and led us onto the path of discovery and perceived achievements. It could be argued that this discord has had more influence on the increase in climbing standards than either the invention of the campus board or climbing's flirtations with the status of being a "sport" and the aroma of measurement and science that follow it! Every bar brawl, every tall tale told on Malham's catwalk, every wall and edge claimed by a Master; the unstemable torrent of doubt pouring over the achievements of others have motivated us to "prove em wrong."

These dialogues and discourses were traditionally presented and explored in the vicinity of warm beer and salty snacks. Fleshy fists would often support salient points mooted on the style of ascents made on the moors and mountains that fan out from the pub's front door. Today the rhythmical tapping of letter embossed plastic cubes, or the creation of codes which resemble language on illuminated screens, underscore the discordant melody that is contemporary climbing culture. Forums, posts, blogs and tweets now burn with the passion once stoked by fists, whisky and ale. We are now driven by what is written. We may not punctuate our points with blood and sweat, but the passion, drive and consequences are the same.

One debate that echoes around the Bouldering sphere is that of 'aesthetics' vs 'the move'. Is the strength of the line more important than the feel of the moves that make it? This argument often morphs into one that can encompass locations, environments, rock types; even the use of holds. Whilst not particularly contentious, these debates fill the bellies of those involved with fire. It leads to derisory comments about Parisella's Cave with its fragrant carpet of goat shit and the primacy of granulated, sedimentary rock types on one hand, and the idea that gritstone is a "luck-based rock type for punters who can't be bothered training", (a moment of brilliance from Crouch 2010) on the other. I have no desire to delve into this particular dialectic other than to be utterly entertained by the rhetoric it creates. What it shows us though is that, where aesthetics are concerned, passion can lead us to irrational positions that stop us from experiencing things that could be really rather good.

This summer, in an attempt to keep myself ticking-over for my winter projects, I went 7b hunting on the moors and mountains of Wales and the Peak. I was drawn to the Wavelength hillside by the problems I had not yet tried or overlooked in the past. One in particular had caught my eye, not because of its sweeping line or its towering reputation; its name attracted me, I mean who could resist doing battle with the "Beef Growler''?  Enquiries made about this problem did nothing to enhance its reputation. It's found on the diminutive roof of the Pie Shop boulder. A low-slung affair with high dab potential and a grinding finish to boot. Conversations with the first ascentionist should have put me off but I was deaf to phrases like "close to the ground" and "utterly crap'': the name alone continued to pull me up the hillside.

The allure of the Wavelength hillside.
On inspection the problem looks poor- close to the ground with a huge pile of sheep shit underneath it to enliven the experience and sharpen the senses. This problem is an aesthetic black hole from which lovers of the line would never return but, my word, it climbed well! I'm a tall man, and I usually laugh at such short walls, but each arse scraping move drew me in. From the heel- toe lock at the start, through the tenuous heel hook in the middle, this problem made me pay attention. I had to think of ways to keep my body high and hold swings. Right up to the final mantel I could not believe the quality of experience afforded me by this low- hulking piece of crap. As I reflected on climbing Beef Growler, bathed by views of one of Britain's most beautiful landscapes, I realised that although the problem I'd ascended was anything but aesthetic- the experience of climbing it certainly was.

The view from the Growler; doesn't get much better than this
So, although debate and strong opinion have driven climbing onward over the years, we should learn a lesson from the Growler experience. If we polarise ourselves into tribes that worship particular rock types, holds, or even climbers, we might miss something really good. The question 'is it the line or is it the move' should not even be asked - It's all climbing. Others may say a move, problem, or venue is rubbish; don't believe them, find out for yourself. You may find your perfect problem. Remember the old adage, "one man's rag is another man's cape"; let's face it, we all want to wear a cape deep down!

Beef Growler 7b from Pavelsky on Vimeo.

Thanks to Paul for the use of his video, you should watch his others, they are really rather good.

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