In my mind I approach bouldering development like a giant easter egg hunt, whereby 300,000 to 3 billion years ago nature ran round and hid loads of the best bouldering lines in the UK into bizarre little nooks and crannies with very little logic behind it.
The other day i managed to climb a total dream line of mine. The type of line i always hoped would exist but never expected to find. Expectations can be disappointing in that even in the best areas in the world its rare to find something that ticks all the boxes for what i imagine is the perfect problem. For me its things like, hard and varied moves from start to finish, nice rock with a flat landing. All too often a minging hold, lumpy landing or filler moves section creeps in. Even lines like Lanny Bassham (sharp pockets and palm gouging pebbles detract from the experience) and Partage (samey moves) can be nit picked. Until last year i’d say the best problem i’ve ever done in the UK is Lanny as it ticks all the boxes for me. It has fantastic moves and is reasonably varied, employing heels and toe hooks, pockets and slopers, the location is stunning and its still tricky after the crux.
Highballs are a funny thing in that they often embody the zeitgeist of bouldering over the generations (Mandala, Careless Torque, high fidelity, evilution, partage, merveille, livin’ large etc) For me a true highball should embody the bouldering spirit of it being really hard to take a hand off, whilst not quite being a solo. Lines like Lanny, Superbloc and Londinium fit this ilk well, you just keep heading upwards until you’re on top. Movement wise IMO these are a class above lines like Careless torque which has a no hands rest after the bottom section and is escapable. Of course strength and fitness can render most moves “chalkable”
Last year I decided to pay another visit to the “waste of cumberland” -a rather cruel historical name for what is a beautiful forgotten part of the county. As there is a crag out there which crowns the hilltop in splendid isolation. Once a landmark for the borders it now sports one of the most overgrown footpaths in the UK. A place people seem to only visit to carve their names for the last 400 years. Its nearly a scottish crag but for a mile and a northumberland crag but for 500 meters. Such is the history of the area it feels a little bit like all three; Scottish standards of isolation, Northumberland’s rock and Cumbria’s views.
Of course the downside of that for most people is that its in the arse end of nowhere, then again most crags are. Last year on a summers day when it was in the high 20s in carlisle i realized this wasn’t just a fantastic crag, it also enjoys great conditions in summer as i battled with the top out in a light thermal. It took me 30minutes just to figure out the top out on a rope that day so i wasn’t overly optimistic about taking huge falls from the last moves. Everytime i shockloaded the gri gri i just thought, splat, splat, splat and a long crawl back to the car. It is the type of slopey top out where every sequence is a dead end except one, which involves about four foot moves and four hand moves to move 50cm upwards. I was thinking i’d prefer to have rataplat up there than something so specific as at least on rataplat there is a point where you can just keep mauling the top. I gradually pieced together the lower moves and it just kept being an unrelenting bit of climbing, super varied, pockets crimps and slopers, and all powerful, there is one hold on the whole problem where you could chalk a hand ok but it tends to tire your fingers out for the font top out so i felt it was better to just climb fast through it.
Its certainly the hardest crux i’ve ever done at height and i feel i have a decent record to draw from on highballs. What kept me going was that it was too fun, working the moves on a rope i was left grinning each session from the quality, i was constantly having little chuckles to myself as to why the best highball in font had turned up 30mins from my house in Cumbria, such is the brilliant randomness of life. Combined with the fact that the crag doesn’t really exist save for a page in the eden valley guide. It was a much needed boost to the part of me that says “keep looking, they are out there”. A rhetoric which is hard to positively reinforce sometimes especially in the eighth grades.
So following some serious pad logistics and a good amount of help from Micky Stainthorpe and my Dad we had enough pads up there for me to fail miserably from high up and take some big falls. The next week, and some forethought with regards to rest days, saw me struggling to get warm in June! luckily i did get fired up enough and after a scaredy jump off i carried on through the keyhole on autopilot. Watching my ring finger pop out the tiny pock (leaving me mono crimp hugging a very slopey top) just before my foot landed on the slopey lip is a moment i can only be thankful went the right way.
It was a beautiful experience putting up this one, a complete package and everything i could wish to find in a highball. The grade is on the soft side if you get it wired on a rope (i only ever abbed the top section, so never top roped the whole thing as that always takes away a bit of the magic for me). I do think the grade may be on the hard side to anyone who steps up to ground up it as that would be an incredible effort, as ground up climbing always is, far superior and far harder.
Hobbie Noble is named after a local reiver who was a bit of a rogue with morals who divided the locals depending on whether he was raiding your Bastle or rescuing your nephew from the Law, his is a great story and worth a read , The abridged version is that he grew up pretty much at the base of Christianbury and would have passed through it on his way to bust Jack o’ side out of Newcastle’s gaol. Jack o’ side was a Scottish armstrong and Hobbie was loyal to that clan, famously solving the Armstrongs Dilemma of what to do about Jack getting locked up by saying “give me 5 good men and i’ll sort it”. He was later tricked by an english armstrong clan who’d betrayed him for gold and as a result he was captured and hung in Carlisle, most likely on Harrabee hill, which is pretty much where Eden Rock is today. The guy who betrayed him; Sim of the Mains, got his comeuppance when the Scottish Armstrongs found out and tracked him down and hung him in Carlisle too.
Proper history rather than fannying about on rocks. You can still feel a bit of the Reiver feel in the borders in a few places and wondering round the timeless stone corridors of christianbury is certainly one of them, its nice to be born out of their world and to still feel what those bleak times might have been like sometimes in these days of blogs, tweets and likes.
Climbing takes me into these landscapes and knowing a bit about the history of them all adds to the experience.
Hobbie was immortalised in Walter Scott’s ‘Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border’