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.