Friday, 28 March 2008
I stumbled into The Arch for a look ‘round a couple of weeks ago after a night out with some friends. As my shoulder was seizing up with pain at the mere thought of lifting another pint glass, climbing was out of the question. However this reckie mission provided fuel for the idea that The Arch could be The Promised Land of Indoor Bouldering.
On first acquaintance, The Arch was relatively small in size, but made up for this by having far fewer crowds clogging up the wall. This was a refreshing escape from the maddening herds to be found at the other major London walls. The place felt informal and the upstairs chilling area was almost cosy. Thanks to a huge ventilation fan, the air was very clean (for a climbing wall in London). I suppose my standards aren’t that high though since every time I visit the Castle I seem to develop a sinus infection brought on by a particularly evil combination of Victorian dust and chalk. Despite not trying any of the problems that night, just eyeing the line sparked my interest. Finally, they had a proper, grown up grading system – V grades. I think both Font and V grades have their own merits and I’m slightly partial to V grades, but in the end I don’t really mind. Either system is vastly preferable to British technical grades.
Yesterday my physio decided to cancel my appointment and in an act of rebellion I decided to give The Arch a try. Registration was straightforward and I was soon off bouldering. There were quite a few warm-up V0 - 1’s on the slab area and some on the vertical walls, however much to The Arch’s credit the place didn’t seem overly bogged down with massive jugs adorned with associated punters hanging off them taking photos for Facebook. The temperature was cool enough that tons of chalk wasn’t necessary.
Most important was the problems themselves and this is where I feel that The Arch excels. They weren’t ultra contrived slapping to abstract volumes as so beloved by a certain London wall; no these were properly thought out, interesting problems that I was dying to try. After warming up, I found a pleasing moderately overhanging V2 and a more fingery V3. Both were spot on for the grade and fun to climb. An airy V1 up and high level traverse soon gave way to a few more problems in the V2 –V4 category. I found an orange V5 problem that went up an arête which I should have flashed, but didn’t want to commit to a feet off dyno on my bad arm. I eventually summoned up the courage and cartilage; however I did feel that it was soft for the grade. The adjoining blue V4 confirmed this suspicion. In all fairness though I have to say that I was quibbling over a grade or two, which isn’t exactly the end of the world. I then flashed a Dawes V5 (Johnny being one of the current guest setters along with Gaz Parry) before retiring for a coffee and a recap.
All was going well, a bit too well actually. I haven’t been climbing for nearly two months excepting a few random sessions here and there. I am still injured so I’m very hesitant when using my right arm. Despite all of this I was still flashing most V4’s and a V5. Something is wrong here. Either I greatly benefited from a lay-off (unlikely) or the grades are soft (grrr). Being the ever pessimistic person that I am I calculated that if I had my act together I would soon outgrow this place. Where were all of the sick moves on heinous overhangs to be found? Where were the non-existent crimps, the stupidly small holds, the tweaky pockets, the willing your feet to stick, the…
To be fair, there were a few V6’s and V8’s which I didn’t try because I am still after all injured, but where was the Promised Land of Hard Bouldering? The potential built up in the easier problems fizzled out after V5. Which leads me to question who is the target audience for The Arch. I can imagine that complete beginners would feel like a fish out of water, but regulars would be left wanting more.
All and all it’s a great place with a good vibe and a lot of potential. It’s reminiscent of a smaller Southern version of The Climbing Works. However, I would go so far to say that they need to have more hard problems, with the precedent set by amount of interest in the easier problems. I can imagine The Arch might fall victim to its own success and become over-run, however I heard they have room to expand. For now it’s a great environment and I’ll be back. Even if I never find an appropriate project above V5, the problems are interesting enough to make me feel that I have come quite close to The Promised Land.
The Arch Update - 05/ April / 2008
I paid The Arch a second visit last night. This trip confirmed my initial observations about the excellent quality of the problems, with one exception. They have reset the problems on the overhanging ‘wave’ wall at the back. Wow, is all that I can say. The idea of The Arch being a soft touch venue has now been completely erased from my mind. Lots of inspiring problems up to V10 (!) were to be found.
Now if only I could get some strength back…