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2015 (Dan)

Posted on January 06, 2016 by Dan Varian

Well it’s now or never on the blog front i think. I’ve left it for as long as i can but like peoples tax return it is starting to become a thing i really should’ve gotten round to by now, but it’s been pretty busy in the work and personal life in 2015. Regardless Its nice to glance back at what has certainly been the best year of my life both on and off the rocks.

 

On the rocks i’ve been pretty busy locally this year just getting out lots and getting stuff done, there’s been loads of great things keeping me entertained this year and its only now, in january after 3 months of the BBC “storm personality of the year” contest that i’m finally beginning to feel the weight of all this rain. On the whole the weather in 2015 was fantastic, it just really, REALLY, let itself down in October. Thanks a lot El Nino, you meanie. This was supposed to be a blog about another nonsense number. Establishing my hunderedth UK 8A-8B+ but thanks to the abysmal weather i’m stuck on 95 straight ups (no traveses no link ups) and am into another year. For some relation, there are 126 straight up 8’s in the latest 7 and 8’s guidebook for all of font (although many more exist now). Thats a decent amount to try and catch up to for any hobbyist i think.

 

Photo4 (61)

 

What keeps me inspired, and actually blogging, is seeing others getting out and pushing standards in new areas of bouldering. To me pushing standards will always be completing new gaps that have never been managed before as it poses a much different question of is it possible? rather than can i do it? I put up 26 grade 8’s in the UK this year but i reckon i failed on just as many projects (see above for just one example), those are what keep me interested and wanting to improve in climbing. And whilst i repeated over thirty "8’s" too (i think a balance between FAs and repeats is really good for ones climbing. If you look at the best globe trotting boulderers they do this well on a world stage) Its mostly the new stuff that sticks in the old scrap book for me this year. Here’s a few highlights from my year on the rocks.

One of my favourites

 

Font: I’d had a jittery start to the year and was questioning my form when i went out. I’d been getting shut down on the prow at high crag as well as a project on the bowderstone and was definitely losing perception of how i was climbing and some confidence. Confidence is often key to getting things done and trusting oneself in a sequence. After two weeks in font i came away with a very healthy ticklist, but more importantly i was confident in how i was moving on rock again and what i can do. It was also made all the more special as Katie and i got to catch up with some great friends as well as meet some new ones.

Magic Circus 8A

 

April: This was a month i’ll never forget, If its the best i ever do then that’s fine. Establishing twelve straight up 8s (8A-8B+) in the UK in just over 30 days would be a good run by anyones standards (its more than a lot of good boulderers in this country have done in their entire lifetimes, a pointess comparison but some context nevertheless) but when i look at the problems i got to climb on and the dots i got to join there were some crackers in there. I even felt moved to blog about it at the time, so theres more there if you’ve somehow missed that being on our webpage all year!

 Pics: Mark Savage

Fairhead. The trip that broke me!

 

Tourists...

I went out to fairhead on my last holiday before being a dad. I was in good form and was really looking forward to trying loads of projects. On my first day i got massively side tracked deadlifting huge boulders and trundling bigger ones. By the end of the week my back was properly knackered, Ricky had almost mushed his finger and there were some tired legs about but we had successfully turned some leg eating talus into nice places to be forever. https://vimeo.com/133606931 6:43 onwards for the size of some of the things we shifted (you’ll have to visit to see where it ended up). Ultimately this was a really nice get away, kicking about with some of the nicest people i’ve met in climbing and what to me is the best scene in the UK, really grade A banter and try hard scenes. I managed a few new things that week, almost none of which were on my project list from last time, but they were great fun. On the first day i almost did a really fingery hard thing that might have been desperate. Fairhead is full of basic hard moves on the boulders, a refreshing change from the beauty and subtleness of font. Its a place for pulling and squeezing really flipping hard on stuff, often with leg break potential if you miss the pads. It was very satisfying to do things like the Clangers after sorting the landing (left sit to hyper moon) as the quality of the moves and sequence reminded me why its a great venue to travel to if you want to boulder at your limit. The trad is still better though, I always feel like a sneaky little pad rat scuttling about down there, cowering when i look up, the Irony is that the boulder field has most of the most serious trad routes nowadays! Thanks to Ricky, Michelle, John, Paul, colm, lolo and Dave for a great trip, i’ll try and pop back next year with ma' pal Jimmy for some more rock wrestling

Clangers FA 8A+/8A Pic: Rob Hunter

Brimham: Somehow it’d escaped and i hadn’t visited until September this year. It was pretty warm and still but on my first visit. I ran round like a nutter in between holding the baby. Time was short as we didn’t have our routine ironed out so i actually tried to flash things for a change. I managed the excellent slapstick 3rd go i think and topped it out. Flashed the fonze 8A and to you too (7C) amongst other easier problems and got a better sense of the place. two more visits after and i had done most of the established lines at or above 7C+ and many below and was getting the feel for it so i started looking at the odd gap and did the two below.

Nanny StateKittens Galore

 

It’s been great fun climbing at Brimham and i’ve never been so perplexed by a major venue. There are amazing 8’s left totally ignored like Pinky SDS. and over graded eliminates like To You Too which get lots of attention. Scrittly lowballs get hammered and one of the best 7B’s i’ve done in yorkshire (Belly Porkers Progress) seems relatively ignored for how many people operate at that grade nowadays. It might be because they are a little further from the car but it seems more like many peoples only way to make sense of the jumble of rocks is to find whats popular and try that as its clean and a certainty. Regardless of the disparity its my favourite venue in yorkshire at the minute, although i think much of that is because i like to solo the trad routes there in combination with bouldering as they lie side by side. One minute i’m having a memorable time on an E3 top out and the next i can be fiddling about on a hard problem, great fun.

Pinky SDS

 

Torridon. With Storm Abigail on the Radar this five day trip looked like a washout. If we’d ben going in the van i reckon we’d have bailed. We’d booked a cottage though and, regardless of the weather, it was a nice place to read a book by the window. In terms of climbing it was pretty all over the shop as i didn’t know whether i was coming or going with the rain squalls. We had to pick steep stuff that faced the right way and bez to the pub or cafe when things got a bit much.

 

wave arete ss 7B

On the first day i managed to lift my heaviest ever rock before i restrained myself and got back to the climbing. Help and hindrance came on the third day with the arrival of Richie and Bronwen respectively. Richie sent me up a rock whilst Bronwen set to work on my socks. A cunning double act which has left many a cold foot in the Gairloch area and beyond. Richies project was Phoenix Nights, and as luck would have it mine was the weatherproof sit. The day before i’d sorted the upper landing so we needed less pads, but we didnt think to put one down the bottom as a fall down there was unthinkable. I got through the sit fast, cocky in that i’d remember the stand from 5 years before (as you do) well i did until the last move where upon belting for the top i found myself at least six metres below. I’d flown off backwards, straight over the mezzanine and straight onto my back. This has got to be one of my luckiest ever falls as i narrowly missed a back breaking rock and landed on a squidgy bilberry patch. after about 45 minutes of regaining my wits and massaging some whiplash, as well as actually sussing the top again i blew its bleeding doors off. It was rather good comeback after a big KO. Phoenix fights, 8A+Richie was close to phoenix and was just ripping off the drop in at the last minute. Alas it wasn’t to be that day but he turned up with Gaz on Saturday to make himself feel better about sieging it. Gaz was trying Malc's. I’d last seen Gaz 3 years earlier; when he was trying Malc's… I think Richie thought he was safe amongst disconsolate friends by accompanying a tried and tested siege weapon along. but Gaz was packing something in the trebuchet that no one saw coming that day. The big fat rock of Success. In a few swift tries he’d whisked his way to the top, stepping through a massive glass ceiling and onto the top floor, awesome. No one knew what to do except congratulate him with a well done. Richie must have felt the pressure of his excuses crumble from below him and the next thing I knew he was on top too on the second known ascent of the stand.

local hotshot crushing his proj

 

To me this was a brilliant sight and really what climbing is about. It was incredibly inspiring to see these guys getting out and getting things done despite busy lives and bad weather. It’s thanks to people like them and others in Ullapool that the scene in the north west is really exciting to me. They have excellent rock up there and are getting out amongst it and finding some brilliant challenges.

The Lakes: For much of my life i’ve had the dirty little secret that despite being a Marra, born and bred, I’ve not really put much time into the Lakes. I’ve done quite a bit of trad, but when it comes to bouldering i was pretty bad for just going to St bees, the Stone and Kentmere. This year i started setting this to rights and pulled my finger out a little. It was only my small mindedness that had it pegged as being limited.

The limbic system 8A+/B

 The Limbic System 8A+/8B best without sound!

Much of that attitude comes from when i was 17 and looking for the Mandala but not finding it. Looking back i didn’t even know where to look. Now that i’m 28 and a bit more grounded i decided to look for what was there and try to climb it. Some of the projects i found this year in the lakes were lucky finds. And before half of it washed away in December it was the place i was most keen for in the UK. If it dries out in 2016 i’ll be cracking on looking for stuff in a really active local scene, lots of people bouldering in the 8’s. It’s been nice to see just how popular the lambrini boulder has become thanks to Greg’s efforts, we had a great afternoon putting those up.

 

 Aidan getting close on Flow Motion 8A+, the sit to this is a really inspiring project for the next generation. Or maybe the next next generation...

Binka

 I’d like to put an addendum in a few links to some new stuff other people have put up this year that i think are inspiring. Whilst globally its easy to pick projects and book a flight its always nice to know there are new projects in the UK after work or on the weekend or for those who want a project closer to home.

so heres just a snapshot of what really inspired me this year.

The Cunninghams, Two young lads from ullapool found what looks to be one of the best quality, wall style, bouldering crags in the uk. Knowing how good sea washed Torridonian sandstone is i am really inspired to go and check out their hard work sometime. 

Ned and Jon Boy put up a bunch of new classics in the peak with Heavy Sky 8A+ being the hardest, but stuff like Crich On a Bike look equally good additions, if the peak isnt climbed out, then everywhere else has a long way to go. 

Liam Fyfe and Alex Mannion have been developing a steep limestone cave that looks like it should be in spain, but its in the UK, their other additions look good too. 

Ricky Bell put up the incredible Gentlemans arete and added a sitter to john 3:16 along with a clutch of great new sevens at the head, Northern Irelands first 8B and a world class one at that. 

2015 FA’s

8A: Stretch and Glide, Lotus Feet, Northern Territory Direct, Atilla SDS, endless rain, Kittens Galore, prow direct, space jam, grimfangdangle, an honist man, the cashmere cat, downstairs mix up, bing pot, The beast of succoth, notorious BLP

8A+: Call me david, Phoenix fights, The Clangers (in retrospect i think could be 8A+), second fiddle, officer peabody, Tsar pushka, flip flopera, Sideshow (8B?)

8B: The limbic system (8A+?) Northern Time?

8B+: Star power (8B)

All the above was made much more fun thanks to these two this year.

Many many thanks to MBC. Scarpa, organic and friction labs and Eden Rock for the support this year and of course to anyone who bought a beastmaker.

good luck on the projects.

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More Burbage Moor Action

Posted on May 19, 2015 by Ned Feehally
The winter season is well and truly over now. It had a good innings this year, giving us some decent conditions well into May. I thought I'd try my best to make the most of this and managed to pick off a couple of stonkers.
Heavy Sky - the much eyed sit start to Intense at Burbage South. This is one of those that always gets mentioned as a Last Great Problem of the Peak. It's not the best line out there but it's basic granite style, shady outlook and proximity to town should hopefully make this a popular problem. 
The crux move is great, a huge lock off to a tiny slot while your foot flaps about in a baggy heel toe cam. I was pretty pleased to finish this one off after first eyeing it up almost 10 years ago.
Photo: Shaggy
Photo: Shaggy
Black Asteroid - Guplets Wall. The prow left of Guplets on Toast is a real corker. Pull on from low holds and blast up the bluntness to a spicy top out on some great holds.
Photo: Shaggy
Photo: Shaggy

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thinking hard and climbing less hard

Posted on April 19, 2015 by Dan Varian

i’ve just been to Scotland and ticked off a really nice problem that i’d found whilst boulder hunting. My mind has mainly been on a prow in northumberland though after a close call last week.

On Thursday morning whilst at work I listened to a podcast Interview with Ben Moon where he said some really interesting points, and also some pretty blanket statements that i didn’t expect from a man in his position. Here’s some quotes from Ben, which out of context probably look worse than they really are as he was fairly positive about the UK on the whole. But they still struck me as odd and i couldn’t shake them.

 

“i think theres still a good tradition of training in the uk but we’re not really producing climbers out on rock.”

“we’re not producing world class climbers at the moment”

“its an interesting question why at the moment british climbing isn’t producing “Björn: Ben Moon” the best climbers in the world” “we haven’t been for quite a few years”

Edit: Ben Got the point, and qualified that his comments were just about uk male sport climbers.

regardless these words rang through my head whilst i walked into my project on Thursday afternoon, and nevertheless helped spur me up it.

 

I hit the board again for two weeks and made sure i had two rest days before trying it, i then started getting close again after mentally restoring myself to home game rather than away game. Regardless of whatever reasons why, that just seems to be the way it is in the UK for myself, maybe i was just tired off my holidays, who knows.

 

Picture by Steve Blake, Steve's put up a 3 star classic 7A+ at this crag and he was putting up lines like hitchhikers in the 70's, not a bad innings!

 After dropping my prow on the last move to a half pad mono in the arete last session 3 times i was quietly confident i could get it done on thursday if things swang in my favour, I’d had 2 rest days and i had the added bonus of motivational umbrage bestowed upon me from Ben’s words. To top it all i found a slightly better foot position on the upper section that made it a few percent easier, so i ended up doing the stand up first try and the sitter first try that day after a big rest. Star Power represents a nice break away from the traditional crimpyness and power climbing that much of our 8B and 8B+s in England adhere to, whilst it is still reasonably fingery it is more of a compression and long power test piece being 13 hard hand and tricky foot moves, it hasn’t got any 8A moves on which is why i’m reluctant to properly guestimate it in the 8B+ grade as i think those should have 8A single moves but it does have loads of moves almost that hard and it ends with a 7C ish single move to a blind half pad mono, which after you’ve done an 8A+ to get there is a bit of a sod. To me it seems harder than monk life which is roughly a 7C into a 7C+ move (but sharp so go limiting) but easier than The Rail which felt like it had an 8A+ move on my sequence. I don’t think its a dead cert for 8B+ and that grade is very much tentative in the UK...

 

Picture courtesy of Mark Savage, a man as psyched on his photography as i am on bouldering. 

On paper there are 2 climbers in the UK who have established and repeated climbs of the 8B+ grade in the UK Myself and Mike Adams, and i certainly don’t have a clue where the boundaries truly start and end. If Gaskins’s post 2003 problems are included its like throwing a flipping brick into a tumble dryer going at full speed and asking it to carry on working. 

Ben pinned 6 tails on the 8A and above donkeys as his markers for where the benchmarks are. Nowadays there are over 430 and it takes some getting one’s head around as to where the tails are exactly. Of course there are mostly benefits to this process. In sport climbing its looking like hubble is more and more likely the worlds first 9A, like star wars remastered it just gets better with age whilst realising how far ahead of its time it was.

As ever i'd like to thank the really impressive development work of the true grafters like Jon Fullwood, Steve Blake, John Watson, Bob Smith, Greg Chapman, Lee Robinson etc etc People who often wont make the headliines for lack of big numbers but are often the reason why guidebooks for outdoor bouldering are more than a pamphlet about stanage plantation and almscliff. To me it’s people like that that truly add the backbone to our sport, they tend to be less about the #tbts and throwbacks and more about the crack on and get stuff done. Without Steve and Bob Star Power might never have gotten climbed.

`Many thanks go to Scarpa UK in this respect too, as they let me crack on with developing and repeating lines and they've got a great supportive attitude towards the sport.

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The Thick end of the Wedge

Posted on April 19, 2015 by Ned Feehally

It’s always tricky to come back from a climbing trip abroad and keep the momentum going. The excitement of being somewhere different and being able to climb on new stuff day after day can make your home climbing areas feel mundane.  After some down time I was struggling to think of what I wanted to do locally, and the season was drawing to an end rendering all but the shadiest crags out of bounds.

Once again Jon Fullwood (not one for thinking inside the box) had a suggestion. Johnny Dawes’ old route Home Cooking needed a sit start. It’s a beautiful, soaring double arete that tapers to a lovely sloping finish way up high.The existing start always felt like it missed the point, pulling on just above the meat of the feature, in a juggy no man’s land above the clean cut prow below. The low start makes the most of the whole feature, squeezing through it’s blankness into the glorious highball romp of a finish.

As the seasons rumble on, the changing of the clocks brings about a short magical period (very short this year!) where the days are long but the temps stay low. It’s great to be able to hold fire and take your time, heading out in the afternoon but knowing you have hours of daylight and conditions to play with. 

The sequence is great, the crux being a tricky foot move off some sloping nothings and some karate chop slapping into the original route. Great fun...

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Wrapping up

Posted on January 06, 2015 by Dan Varian

2014 was definitely peaks and troughs. It started really well with things like Capability Brawn 8B, and a trip to Ireland in February where I had loads of fun mucking around and climbing in every kind of weather. Glenn Ross 8A+/B was the highlight of this trip, it is one of the UK's nicest power problems. no messing around just big drop clutch board moves with a dabble of technique for one move. I climbed it on my first day there as the rain came in. The rest of the trip passed by with some great banter.

 

Katie and I headed to font the week after Ireland. Climbing at Fairhead couldn't be more different to font and the first day or so in font was a shock to the system. I had a brilliant trip though with there being some great days despite it being a little warm. It was the type of trip you get very rarely and it's one i'll remember for a long time. Made all the better by the company we kept out there.

After font things went pretty rubbish for a few weeks after getting the flu and something seemed to linger on for months meaning i needed lots of rest days throughout the summer to keep a half decent level up. Despite this i tried hard to keep things interesting and just made sure i stayed on reasonably subtle and finger friendly rock types. This was a tough time for me after climbing so well at the start of the year and i felt like it took quite a bit of resilience not to get really frustrated with what was happening at times. Luckily i'd found a few lines which were still possible for me and put some others on the back burner for a while. One of them was a line i'd tried last year but written off as too hard at height. I decided to work it on a rope quite a bit and see how it felt, some big links came quite quickly and i sorted out a strategy for committing to the top out. Highballing is something i like to push myself on every once in a while. Highballs can be deceptive though as it's often the height of the crux which determines the true difficulty of the boulder. Pushing the height of highball cruxes is something i've been sporadically keen on over the years, as well as ground upping highballs and trad routes in that style. Of all the UK hard highballs and short solos i've had a good bit of fun over the years. Things like superbloc GU 2nd ascent, careless torque GU, the prow, 2nd ascent, lanny bassham 2nd ascent, the darkside, GU 2nd ascent, Empty the bones of you FA, queen kong GU FA arc royal FA crack in the shadows FA, as well as easier climbs like The Young 2nd asc, Earthboots GU solo, Unfamiliar GU, toyboy GU, and many more 7B+,7C highballs and trad routes (living in oxford, navana and nefertiti all GU same day as voyager). There are still plenty of great 8's i'd love to do like Sampson, Pebbledash, high fidelity) etc.

With the crux of what became Hobbie Noble at 9m it was ultimately the hardest highball i'd ever approached (the crux of things like living in oxford and unfamiliar are 7B+ish with their cruxes at 3-4m and they are well protected near the top, Darkside and the prow are font8a ish with unprotected cruxes in the 5-6m zone, Empty the bones of you (8A+ish) has the crux in the 7m-ish zone for hands.) Hobbie felt like slopey font 7B+/C top out and 7m of font 8A/+ climbing to get to the start of that. It seems like people just assume that everything is safe with pads if it is given a highball grades when that's not truly the case, they just give a better impression of overall difficulty to the modern climber.

For example New satesman and Gerty Berwick both get E9 yet one is ~7B and one is ~8A/+ both have good landings with enough pads, (provided you are spotted off the block on NS) I've fielded a fall from ~9m off new statesman and he only landed on one pad and walked away with a bit of whiplash. The crux of NS is at 4m and the crux of Gerty is around 5m. By comparing these side by side routes to me a ground up ascent of Gerty would be a much better effort yet in E grades there is little way to tell that difference. I'm just trying to illustrate how things have moved on in highballing as on both climbs a groundfall is pretty much guaranteed up to 7m-ish

Anyway it's something to be aware of when ground upping a climb. As i learnt this year when i badly bruised my talus bone from only a 2m fall. If you're 100% guaranteed to hit the ground. At some point the odds of a perfect fall will stack against you and something will end up hurting for a good while. I was really glad to get Hobbie done safely on a really nice breezy day just hanging out up there with Micky and Dexter. It's in nowheres-ville but it might just be the most perfect problem i ever do. Hard, commiting, good rock and great moves from start to finish, good landing. Definitely the highlight of my year all in all. 

 

After doing Hobbie and things like Wilson at st Bees, along with Establishing and repeating some lovely 7&8's in Scotland. The highlight of which being Veinglorious 8A+ at Reiff, a close compression line of marginal pinches. I did some exploring around the Arrochar Area and Dumfries. I found some incredible projects which i'm dying to get back to. this one is all of 5 minutes from the road and the huge 55˚ front face has one perfect line snaking across it. I managed the moves on it whilst Katie was at the Womens symposium at TCA and am looking forward to heading back.

 

General round up/ discussion of UK bouldering this year (exclusive material! thanks to not a single sentence being mentioned about it in the BMC or UKCs wrap up of 2014s climbing highlights) i've squashed it into a paragraph.

Pete Robins put up lots of great looking new 8's in wales, Jemma Powell putting up the hardest UK boulder problem FA by a woman and becoming the third to climb 8A in the UK (http://northwalesbouldering.com/index.asp) Mike adams as ever putting up some great looking things in the east peak, scotland (https://vimeo.com/user7044532) and NYM. Dan Turner's really cool looking new 8B in the North York Moors looks to be a stand out line (http://instagram.com/p/txxwCXkQZA/?modal=true), Ned, Tyler and Tom Newman putting up great looking grade 8's in the peak (beastmaker blog and toms vimeo https://vimeo.com/user17752633, http://tv.thebmc.co.uk/video/tyler-landman-first-ascent-of-smiling-buttress-curbar), Alex Gorham getting out and exploring hard lines in Scotland (http://stonecountry.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/driest-september-2014.html). James Squire putting up a brace of great looking 8's on Dartmoor granite (picking up where Mike left off after a flying visit). Peckitt finding some classic grade 8 lines in yorkshire right under everyones noses (http://www.ukclimbing.com/news/item.php?id=69238) Lakes hard developments (lakesbloc.com)

After looking at all those I'm left thinking, bloody hell this has been an impressive year for hard bouldering development and repeats in the UK, and i've missed out quite a few ascents there i'm sure. One thing which is obvious is that there has been a really noticeable ground swell of ascents in the 8A-B area.

It seems to me there has been a decent amount of bouldering development in the UK this year in all corners. new 8Bs in Northumberland, Cumbria, North Yorkshire, Wales and many interesting repeats. Really cool new 8's in the peak. 2 new guidebooks to North york Moors and Lancashire. Maybe it's because 8B isn't news outside the UK anymore with people flashing them and kids climbing them. To maybe put things in perspective i've done a little numbers exercise below.

There are currently 50 independent straight up grade 8's in my home climbing area of Northumberland, of which i did my first one in 2005. This year it'll have taken me 10 years to hopefully tick those 50 and maybe a few more can be added (~thirty of them are my doing already so i'm not doing myself any favours by saving the last 3 repeats for years) In a twenty day climbing trip to font this year i climbed 21 8's from 8A-8B which going by some very crude calculations, in a perfect world, that really means that in those last 10 years i could potentially have climbed 3832 grade 8 climbs! In reality in the UK i've climbed over 150, v few of which are link ups or traverses, a figure which looks quite crap next to the theoretical one yet it looks to be the most in the UK of all time on paper. Obviously the calculation is a totally flawed number but maybe it gives some sense of theoretical potential given endless rock, good weather and full time climbing and the actual effort it can end up taking to repeat and establish things sometimes.

 Something else tells me that if the Big Orange had been given E9/10 and Hobbie Noble had been given E9/10 they'd be seen as more of a big event. Smiling Buttress a grit LGP of the highest quality is a real stand out point in the year too. To me this is maybe one illustration of how much of bouldering is lost in the translation of general news reporting. Things like the Big Orange and Smiling Buttress getting given 8A mean it is all to easy for people to overlook them by not fully understanding what that grade means at height or in a single move at the top of a problem. Hopefully this quick few paragraphs can give a better sense of how active and diverse our climbing population has been this year.

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