Tuesday 16 June 2009

The search

Although I am doing some more onsight climbing again this summer, I’m feeling more and more strongly that I’m missing a hard project. I’ve written about this before here, but it never fails to surprise how big an effect on me this has. Many people ask me after lectures if I feel pressure from outside to do more big new routes, because this is what I’m ‘supposed to do’. But this pressure is nothing except a need from within, and an extremely strong one it seems.

This strength of feeling to find a hard project to focus my efforts and bring the best out of me can feel like a magic feeling when you have a project. But when you don’t, it can feel like a source of insipid torture. In a nutshell, right now I feel kind of restless, but at a level rather more than I can just shrug off. To be perfectly open, it’s getting me down a little.

Naturally there is one simple way out of this; to go out and find a project. This is a search I have been intermittently starting over the past month and will be doing a lot more of in the next couple. But this is not as simple as it sounds. I often feel that it should be, given the abundance of unclimbed rock about. But it doesn’t seem to be so easy to find the right projects. Perhaps this is why they are so captivating when you do find them. Achemine, Holdfast, Rhapsody, Sanction, Metalcore, Ring of Steall and Echo Wall were all examples of perfect projects and I was so lucky to have them. But I have to admit that life without this drug is difficult for me - I need to find more.

This thought was brought into my mind after talking with Arnaud Petit while at a film festival in the Pyrenees last week. Arnaud recognised how hard it is to find a project that is impossible at first acquaintance, in order that it forces you to reach a new level, but ultimately possible to make progress and maybe eventually climb it. This and with good quality rock and line too. It’s rare. We saw this with Rhapsody which is a brilliant and rewarding climb in many ways,  yet imperfect. Echo Wall is probably the most perfect project I’ve found yet, hence I could give more to it than ever before.

Now I am searching the crags for something bigger, harder and if it’s possible; better than Echo Wall. I might find it next week, it might take years. Doesn’t matter too much I guess. The longer it takes the keener I will be when I find it.

Looking west from Binnien Shuas past Ben Nevis and Aonach Mor. Maybe somewhere out there is a really hard project?

Maybe it's Glen Torridon? Turns out it's not. Spent a couple of of days here and found a brilliant E7, E8 and E10 to do, which hopefully I can do sometime soon. But nothing harder found so far.


  1. Hi Dave

    Since I remember a similar comment re. some potential alternative lines on the 'Hell and Back' film, I'm intrigued by the 'brilliant E7, E8 and E10'... So perhaps you could expand sometime on how quickly you size up unclimbed routes as such-and-such a grade, and how often that changes or doesn't change if you subsequently climb them?


  2. Interesting you've got a picture taken from Binnein Shuas in this post - there looks to be some serious potential left up on The Fortress?

  3. How about some really hard onsight projects?? Although you might struggle for that in Scotland given the really hard routes are, err, yours. So you'd have to travel elsewhere... On the subject of which, there are loads of very hard projects, on, say, gritstone. Some obvious and known and some not so known. Maybe not your cup of tea and obviously not for summer.

    I look forward to seeing what happens in Glen Torridon, especially if it's on the sandstone. Really lovely rock to climb on.

  4. Anonymous17 June, 2009

    Hi dave, there's a load of E8's and E9's up on Scafell's east buttress that are in dier need of a repeat!!

    Dave Birkett's routes are legendary and i'm sure you could knock a few off in a week!!

    I think Scotland is the place to look for projects though as nearly all of the good stuff has been done in England now, however Mr Birkett said there is a 9a/b project left on Scafell?????????


  5. Anonymous17 June, 2009

    Dave, the Scottish Climbs guide by Gary Latter mentions a huge unclimbed prow above one of your routes on Arran, did you ever take a look at it?
    Happy hunting!

  6. Anonymous17 June, 2009

    How would you feel about having a sports climbing project? There are a few 9a/9a+ routes in yorkshire begging for a repeat. A bit of a commute though i guess.

  7. Great to hear you back again Dave, best of luck with finding THE project.

    Sounds like a tough job having to spend time in places like Torridon just looking ;-)

  8. Anonymous17 June, 2009

    Dave - if you try a new E7 on-sight from the ground it's bound to feel hard!

    Don't you think?

    Happy climbing


  9. your comment about the restlessness really hit home to me.

    I love the first lines of the book Moby Dick:

    "Call me Ishmael. Some years ago--never mind how long precisely--having
    little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on
    shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of
    the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating
    the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth;
    whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find
    myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up
    the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get
    such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to
    prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically
    knocking people's hats off--then, I account it high time to get to sea
    as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a
    philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly
    take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew
    it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very
    nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me."

    Good luck with your search. I'm looking for one of my own too, but nothing as hard core as yours!