Fun in the north.
Climbing for me seems to have a way of aggregating aims from seemingly chance events as time passes, a quick flick in an old magazine here or a flick through a guide book there. A conversation with friends about some crag i haven’t even thought of for years. Sometimes the aims build to become a solid one or sometimes they just drift by in the background. Slow burners. One such project for me was a line of veiny rock at Reiffs bouldering cliffs. Last year i spotted this incredibly obvious line the day i climbed helicoidal flow and Rubha Dubh Dubh. I felt the holds and suspected it’d go. Quite why nature felt like producing a wall with all these perfect holds i don’t know but in my eyes they are some of the best lines in the uk because they exploit incredibly subtle features that hardly ever occur on overhangs. I didn’t know if i’d get back there to try it but i logged it in the back of my mind, ready for serendipity to build it into a reality if everything conspired.
Reiff was a lovely breath of fresh air that comes from ranging further afield, out of my local crag comfort zone.
As i’ve got older i’ve got fussier as to what to spend my free time on. I still love bouldering on hard lines more than ever but as i climb more and more, i’m inevitably left with those 2 choices that face you in local areas. Change tack and climb different lines/ styles or get stronger for the bigger gaps. A number of projects in Northumberland are currently that bit too testing for me and they are of radically different styles which aren’t necessarily what i’m great at, one involves at least 8B slab skills and mono pock crimping and the other involves wild compression on slopers and obtuse angles. Interestingly the UK’s hardest proven slabs are in the 7C+ region on boulders and there are few of those about. True compression wise our hardest problems max out at 8A+. Font has loads of compression climbing upto 8C so why are we so far behind? well partly its the rock but mostly it is our history, Compression has never really been in vogue in the UK, it was all about crushing small holds 10 years ago and in many respects it still is now. The same goes for slabs, in Font there’d be far fewer hard slabs without the LeDenmats passion for the mighty Dalle.https://www.flickr.com/photos/beastmaker/14027745607/
Its with this in mind that makes me really happy to go out developing with other climbers. Everyone is looking for something different that inspires them when the rock is a blank canvas. Tom “Gangle” Newman has turned his hand to putting up new problems in the peak since moving to Nottingham with much success. He’s been hoovering up old projects all over the spot.
Tom was my raiding partner for a quick trip north of the border in May and upon arriving at Reiff he immediately spotted a line between the obvious ones i’d seen. Wide moves off few holds. At first i was a tad sceptical that it’d go as it’s a line i would never have spotted immediately, its the type of thing i’d have ended up playing on after being at the crag for ages. Yet it ended up climbing superbly, taking a line through the blankness that was super impressive in it’s board style and pureness. Tom got very close on our day trip but the rub of the green wasn’t with him for the full send. It’s always the way in climbing. I can say this smugly as i was fortunate to just be on the other side of the coin on my chosen project. Just scraping out an ascent which felt much like chucking a dart through an open letterbox from 20yards away. Mainly because i’d been off form for close to 3 weeks with a bad flu bug and cold which i was only just coming out the other side from.
All in all it was a brilliant day at one of the best bits of bouldering crags in the UK for side by side quality 7’s & 8’s.
On a tangent the other day some people i know were miffed when Jemma Powells new sandbag 7B+ was reported on UKC the other day, because of its "lowly grade” (and yes UKC’s ultra basic reporting didn’t help convey the overall important message here). Yet i was really chuffed to see that getting reported for a few reasons. The main one being that to my knowledge that it is one of the hardest boulder problems ever put up in the UK by a woman, something which is well worth drawing attention to (Nia Fletcher put up a 7B in the lakes recently and there are quite a few other female developers who have put up many a classic in the uk, Karin Magog Tess Fryer and Veronica Hunter to name a few. For some reason bouldering development in the UK is a very androcentric past time. Even though Trad and Sport climbing in the UK has had more female FA’s close to the cutting edge for their time (granted sport climbing has abated a bit since Ruth Jenkins and Karin Magog's 8’s) Yet at the minute we have many of the worlds most famous female boulderers operating in the UK. Obviously there are oodles of reasons for this, but it’s fantastic to see development reporting on the rise in the UK by Women (Leah and Shauna have put up harder boulders abroad) . But that isn’t the main reason to be out putting up new climbs, the main one is that its really fun, you don’t have to have climbed everything to develop new climbs, you simply need the desire to go into the unknown and find roughly what you’re looking for. It takes a different skillset and mindset to do this and i think it's very commendable when it happens. whether people share it with the world or not is up to them, but i am always glad when they do. There is a huge onus on international development at the cutting edge of the male sport right now, mainly because they warm up on last years test pieces nowadays and the more that development equals out between the sexes the better in my eyes.
Anyhow, back to me. there’s a fantastic project near me at the minute that i am pretty sure is one of the problems i’ve been looking for my whole life without knowing it. It’s bizzare where they can turn up and i was smiling from limb to limb doing the moves on it the other day. 9m high 8Bish and everything on it, crimps, slopers, a pocket and subtlety with a 7B+ slopey font top out. Middle of nowhere, yet only a short drive from my house. A slightly harder, sandstone Lanny Bassham is a good summation, with a similarly involved approach. This is what gets me excited to be fettling away as a boulderer. Sometimes i develop things for both myself and the community and sometimes its for myself, this is a me line. That for me is why it’s worth heading out and sifting through all the crap crags that can be nearby. Once you’ve done the classics it’s worth trying to find more lines which are as good if not better. Of course a day has to come when they run out, but when you take places like Scotland into consideration that time is a long way off. It had seven new font 8’s added to it last year (possibly more if Mike Adam’s ascents on Skye get graded, i think Venom Jag had been done by Dave Mac before but Darken down is new). More than Wales and they roped Megos in for the best one... , it looks like it was the most new 8’s added in one year ever in the history of Scottish bouldering and it’s main (pretty much only) native hard bouldering developer was injured most of the year. Dave Macleod has put up some amazing problems in Scotland over the years. Triangulation is just one example of a benchmark classic power problem three star climbing and situation and 10 mins walk from the road and basically perma dry.
Here’s Gangle on the second ascent four years after it was put up. He uses pretty different beta but i couldn’t image two more contrasting climbing physiques. I got up it after tom with slightly different beta again.