Saturday, June 26, 2010

Climbing for the Enlightened?

“At 9 o’clock the next morning I sat in Omar (Bakri’s) living room while Omar played with his baby daughter.
‘What’s your daughter’s name?’ I asked him.
‘It is a difficult name for you to understand,’ said Omar.
‘Does it have an English translation?’ I asked.
‘Yes,’ said Omar, ‘it translates into English as “The Black Flag of Islam”.’
‘Really?’ I said. ‘Your daughter’s name is the Black Flag of Islam?’
‘Yes,’ said Omar.
‘Really?’ I said.
There was a small pause.
‘You see,’ said Omar, ‘why our cultures can never integrate?’
(pp4-5, from ‘A Semi-Detached Ayatollah’ in Them, by Jon Ronson)

Climbers are a funny bunch, the way we split into different clans and slag the others off. I wonder if road cyclists slag downhill bikers off in the way that boulderers and traddies go at one another. I don’t know, maybe they do. I think that climbers behave this way because each sub movement is still struggling to form its own identity. Bouldering and alpinism are essentially completely different sports but they share a common heritage and it wasn’t so long ago that all climbers were all rounders; Jerry did the hardest cracks in Yosemite, won world cups, put up cutting edge sport climbs and boulder problems, soloed, headpointed, onsighted....
This is fine and perhaps a natural progression of the sport but it leads to some confusion over what a ‘good’ climber is. They gym rat is a training monster and is unlikely to be impressed but rather be jaded by his much weaker counterpart ripping it up on the boulders. Meanwhile the weak traddy thinks it’s sad that the training fiend has sacrificed so much to get where he is, and if the said training fiend happens to have the said traddy on a route the common response is ‘well I could’ve done that if I trained as hard as them’. Climber’s become stuck in Kuhnian Paradigms of what ‘good’ is. They’re reluctant to change their method and the moment the traddy starts serious training his excuse for failure looks weak.
Climbing is often seen as a selfish pursuit for personal gain but I think this is a misconception. Getting stronger (either mentally or physically) can be an egotistical wank-fest but genuine improvement comes only through tackling weakness, weaknesses often overlooked by X who surrounds himself with a pier group working from the same paradigm, and I think this embrace of weakness can be linked closely to one’s growth as a person. It’s hypocritical I know that I’m writing about personal growth and the abandonment of ego in a blog of all things, but did you really fail because you lacked strength in an obscure stabiliser muscle or just because you didn’t grit your teeth hard enough?
Last week I went to Pabbay and Mingulay and didn’t climb my hardest grades but really pushed myself. Before I left I really wanted to on-sight the Bonxie and some other E6’s but the truth is that while I’ve done about a dozen or so E5’s I’m not really an E5 climber. Put me on choss, a multi-pitch, or something with complicated ropework and route finding and my grade plummets. Instead the 10 days I spent in the Barra Isles ended up being about intimidating myself everyday on big E3’s and 4’s and I felt a noticeable improvement on big stuff by the end of the trip. I will onsight E6, perhaps even this summer but equally I really want to push it on the stuff that doesn’t suit me; Cougar, Voyage of the Beagle, Titan’s Wall, The Prozac Link, Big John...
It’s funny that on-sighting E6 should be such a big deal for me; I have friends who onsight E5 who only onsight about f6c, on a recent trip to Spain I onsighted 7c, maybe even 7c+ so am I just being a pussy? Well undoubtedly I am a pussy but I think it’s more than that. When you onsight your first 6c it tends to be around about vertical and technical, much like the majority of E4’s and 5’s. The 7c’s in Spain were all massively steep bucket hauls, really fun but with little bearing on your average trad pitch. Secondly the climber who exclusively trad climbs would obviously up his sport grade if he focussed on that for a bit just like how I’d improve my trad grade if I focussed on that, so the 6c-7c climber comparison that I regularly hear regurgitated is kind of a skewed one but watch this space, scaring yourself is good for the soul.