Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Classical Elusions

Since I had an injury induced 4 month layoff from any serious form of climbing, I decided that going after all of my hard projects as soon as I felt better probably wasn’t the best strategy. Instead I decided to have a look at some of the easier classic problems that I initially wrote off because they were a. too reachy b. too high c. too slabby d. an arête e. on grit or f. all of the above. Also as I mentioned in an earlier post, when I go bouldering I normally like to find areas that indulge my sociopathic side since most of my life is spent in the company of 7 million others.

I will admit that I have an ultra-narrow focus in my climbing, that being overhanging problems with positive holds. I am complete rubbish at anything requiring technique, balance, head for heights, etc. I can pull hard on small holds; that’s about it. I’ve exploited this to my advantage when choosing problems that were at my limit, however this approach left me feeling as though I missed out on something along the way; like I was a bit of phoney.

Given my lack of strength and limited ability to send interesting, erm… hard stuff, I decided to spend my energies tackling a few of these problems as a form of therapy (or maybe self-inflicted punishment?).

First to be crossed off the list was Banana Finger. As I’ve said time and time again, I just don’t get grit. I’ve only ever been to the Peak once or twice when the conditions were good, which might of course be a large factor. I find the rock to require very subtle technique and I’m not subtle. It always happens that when I am there for a while I start to learn a bit of technique, but I immediately forget it when the next grit trip comes ‘round. Anyway, Banana Finger is to quote the guidebook “listed by English Heritage as a national monument”. I tried it ages ago, but after doing the reachy traverse gave up due to the complete un-inspiring nature and lack of bouldering mats. This time, I wasn’t going to slunk off and take no for an answer; after all it’s just one rockover and not even a bad one at that. The problem is that typical for grit, there were no footholds whatsoever to speak of, not to mention the slight issue of being unable to reach the upper break until the very last minute. I decided that I can climb something that is barely V3 no matter what and with that attitude in mind it went. I was happy to reach the break, but if it was just a few inches further away, well it wouldn’t have been pretty.

Boysen's Groove

Boysen’s Groove, the low-grade classic of North Wales which was first climbed by Paul Pritchard way back in the Dark Ages of bouldering, 1997. Although I am a huge fan of the gas-pocket ridden rhyolite found on the Cromlech boulders, I hadn’t enjoyed the dolerite problems found further up the pass anywhere near as much. After a few chilled-out sessions on the rock however, I was soon to change my mind and with this new found interest, I sought out the area classic. It packs quite a lot of climbing into a few meters, a crimpy face, an arête and finally jug hauling. It went, but not without a fight. I didn’t trust the friction on the arête, but once I committed to it, all was fine and I was left agreeing with the guidebook’s three star designation. It was nice to be able to tick off this classic.

The Ramp

Further adventures on dolerite included a somewhat-high-for-me problem, The Ramp on the Braichmelyn Boulder just outside of Bethesda. It is given V2 in the guidebook, but was upgraded to V3 in some climbing magazine. Regardless of the grade, it’s a good problem, a crimpy traverse and up. The top out was um… 'a little unnerving on first acquaintance', but it was all there. You just had to trust in your ability, which isn’t something that I am familiar with.

The Ramp served as an enjoyable warm-up for a problem that I did later on I the day. I wrote off the entire area of the Pont y Gromlech slabs as being too high and rife with polished, marginal holds born from years of groups practising abseiling down its face. After perusing the internet and much to my dismay, I found that this crag contained a must do V3 classic, The Seam. Ugh, it was reachy, slabby, polished, and high – not exactly my type of problem. I wasn’t giving up though as I was able to tick of all of the others on my list. It took a few attempts to get a reachy move up to the initial flake down pat. Then it was a matter of keeping it together at the top. I fell off the middle section a couple of times, but on about my third try I was able to make further progress and the top was insight. The only downside being of course that I had gained significant height and I was now facing a worse fall. I tried for the top only to sink the world’s most glassy, non-existent sloper. I couldn’t reach anything better from where I was. Exposing my former sorority-girl self in an ‘oh-my-god’ shriek, I panicked, then out of nowhere I heard a calm voice in my head which said to stand on the initial flake and it worked. The top was mine.

So did all off this working my weaknesses make me want to be kinder to furry animals and children – no. Have I seen the light and am I going to become a slab expert – definitely not. Was it fun and do I feel more rounded as a climber – maybe. Was it worth it given that I couldn’t do much else – definitely yes.

What’s next on the easy classics list? Well I had a fight with Joe’s Arête at the Roaches on a wet January day and it won. That’s on the top of my list. I am starting to find myself drawn to Not To Be Taken Away, but I don’t suspect it’s that easy. Mid-grade classics anyone ;-)

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