Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Big Sam's Short Haul

If you’re really into the history of sport climbing there are some venues you have to visit. The Mecca’s we must make a pilgrimage to at least once in our lifetime. Maybe you don’t feel this way, but everyone takes something different from climbing and I’d guess that your indifference over seeing Hubble in the flesh (although probably quite a healthy thing) shows a certain indifference to the sport of climbing’s historical progression. Chimpanzodrome at Saussois, Punks in the Gym at Arapalies, La Rose and Agincourt at Buoux; these are all iconic routes. Iconic in the sense that they capture in some sense the personality and vision of their authors. Maybe that sounds a bit like pretentious gibberish but take for example Ben Moon’s Hubble, for all intents and purposes a shit looking route. Perhaps it is this in itself which goes some way to highlighting Moon’s obsession with pure physical difficulty and perhaps his drive to climb harder than anyone else.
The routes I listed above are also icons of a level of difficulty. They are the benchmarks of difficulty in sport climbing, as opposed to grades. Chimpanzodrome may have been downgraded but it still represented the cutting edge of French sport climbing at one time. Shamefully I have never visited any of the routes I mentioned above. Clearly I’ve spent too much time enjoying the good life on the finest Catalan play-doh and not enough time screwing my fingers into sharp polished pockets.
Anyone who isn’t a complete idiot will have noticed Wall Street and Action Direct missing from my iconic routes selection, perhaps the first 8c and 9a in the world put up by the legendary Wolfgang Gullich. As if authoring the first of two grades as round and fun to say as ATE SEE, mincing about in the Karakorum and breaking his back on Master’s Edge wasn’t enough to seal the deal as legendary, Gullich did what all real legends do- die. L.E.G.E.N.D.
*As an aside, has anyone else noticed ‘legend’ overtaking ‘love’ and ‘random’ as the most overused word in the English language? If we’re honest mate, that boring bastard you go drinking with is hardly legendary and will be forgotten about soon after his death.
AND SO i went to the Frankenjura!
I wasn’t really sure what to expect and I’m still not sure how I felt about it as a climbing area. That makes it sound like I don’t really rate it but that’s not the case, it’s just more musique concrete than easy listening. Also I should stress that 9 days isn’t really enough to really form an opinion on the Frankenjura’s 20,000+ routes (yes I did mean over 20,000 routes which is fairly remarkable when compared with Ceuse’s 350).
My attempt at describing the style of climbing in the Frankenjura, which is very distinct despite devotees saying otherwise:- It feels a bit like climbing routes that are too hard for you, the moves feel desperate and doing a route feels a bit like doing a good link on a long-term project at a proper crag. Rob Mirfin described the climbing as a bit like climbing a route at ceuse but without any of the easy moves. In other words the routes are often short enough that every move can feel desperate even in isolation and so redpoints require you to totally get in the zone and battle blindly without the usual switch from relaxing on the jugs to crushing on the crux, it’s just crush crush crush.
So is it just bouldering with the added inconvenience of having to tie on? I’d say no. Clipping makes them feel like routes even if it’s just strength sapping in the same way it would be to stop constantly on a boulder problem. This maybe sounds a bit of a nuisance but I quite liked it as it leaves you with a greater feeling of the effort you’ve just expended than the same route as a boulder problem would.
Another thing I like about it is the fact that you aren’t going to the same crag everyday. You’re not doing the same walk in over and over. Each crag has a different ambience and outlook and the Frankenjura is a beautiful place. A criticism of the Frankenjura I’d heard before which I thought totally unfounded is the idea that the lines there aren’t impressive. The crags themselves are basically just big boulders and so you get all the wonderful and weird features you get to climb bouldering- striking arĂȘtes and prows are not uncommon which is more than can be said for the vast majority of sport crags where ‘the line’ is simply the line of bolts.
Don’t go to Frankenjura if:- you don’t like pockets (they’re everywhere and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise)
- You like soft grades.
-You like long routes.
-You want climbing in a supermarket. I didn’t really see any crags that were chockablock with awesome routes and it’s quite easy to get lost in the forest looking for crags.
Do go if:- you can do 1-5-9, or at least like routes with hard moves.
- you like routes with history (they aren’t all desperate- fight gravity put up by Kurt Albert as the first 7a in the forest, although it’s allegedly a total sandbag and I avoided it like the plague)
- you get bored of the same crag quickly
-you don’t mind redpointing on your holiday.
Verdict:- More Redpath than McNair but better looking than either of them.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

I Love North Yorkshire!

Everybody slags British sport climbing off all the time but for me at the moment it’s exactly what I want to be playing on. Maybe I’ve gone mad... I think I’d rather have Malham and Kilnsey as my local crags than Ceuse and Terradettes.
The routes in Yorkshire are all just so unique. You’ve done a 7c at the cascade of Ceuse? Which one? Who cares, they’re all the same (except Blanche Fesses which is nails). Don’t get me wrong, when you have a good experience there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the same experience again. The routes at cascade are mind blowingly good. The rock is perfect, the views amazing and the style athletic and pumpy (i.e. great). But unlike Ceuse where there is very little to distinguish between the routes on each sector, take a look at the classic 7c’s at Kilnsey. Nobody gets Comedy, Dominatrix or Biological Need muddled up. These are routes with names rather than numbers (not that there is anything wrong with numbers).
The routes have history, and a reputation for stiff grades, the hold types are more varied than those on continental limestone and the routes have more character. The routes in Yorkshire have moves, and not necessarily desperate ones, but memorable ones.
Weather permitting I want to climb an 8b this year. I’ve mainly been scratching away at Kilnsey but when it cools down a bit I need to get back to Malham to try Magnetic Fields. I had a day on it about a month ago and did all the moves, maybe with a bit of a siege I could do it? This might all seem hypocritical after my spiel about routes with names not grades but doing Magnetic Fields would be more than a grade. John Dunne’s route from 1986 was one of, if not, the first 8b in Britain and put up during the original sport climbing boom. For me that makes it the most exciting to try. As Jerry said, “if you want to know where the sport of climbing was in 1993 you can always go and try Dominator”. This is why keeping it old school is where it’s at. These routes are the benchmarks of their difficulty and time.