Interesting recent comments from Stevie Haston, back on form (and very inspiring) in his climbing, and also in his habit of taking a shot at just about anyone on the radar in the sport. He does it in good spirit though! This time he was defending himself against his own detractors of his recent excellent climbing performances of 9a and a new E7. What triggered this post was Stevie shrugging off our poor weather and citing it as a reason not to come and try a route like Echo Wall.
It’s an age old feeling among some climbers. English climbers I’ve met say they won't come to Scotland “because it’s wet and midgy all year” and international climbers mostly just about consider the grit because it’s roadside and there’s only 10 metres of it to climb before the next shower.
I totally understand this feeling. About one quarter of the year, I have it myself. I live in pretty much the wettest place in the UK, and sometimes I just think ‘what is the point of having to wait and wait for the climbs to be dry? Why not just go somewhere where they always are’. So, a couple of times a year, I do. Most likely to Spain to sport climb in the Catalunyan winter sun. It’s great - a lot of metres of rock get climbed I two weeks, and my sport climbing standard goes up very sharply.
Sure, the climbs in on limestone are hard. You have to be fit. But then, getting fit here is not hard. You just turn up, uncoil your rope, give 100% on the rock (the rate limiting step) and you can’t fail to get better at climbing. The reason that a climb like Echo Wall is so much more of a challenge than the most difficult sport route I’ve done (either Ring of Steall or A’ Muerte) is that not being able to just go and do battle with it when you like is the tough part. The patience for it’s awkwardness is the rate limiting step.
It’s nice that climbing is accommodating enough to satisfy those who would say “life’s too short to wait for good conditions, I’m off sport climbing” and those who would feel that the fact that they did have to wait patiently and choose the right moment to strike was a large part of the enjoyment.
Does it make sense if I say that sport climbing trips are pure pleasure, but not that fulfilling? The idea of my next sport trip gets me psyched, but not excited. The idea of my next trip to Orkney fills me with unease but gets me very excited.
When I wake up in the morning on a sport trip, I pretty much know what’s going to happen. If I’m feeling strong, I’ll onsight some good routes and get a tiny bit further on the redpoints. I’ll enjoy every minute of it. It’s predictably enjoyable. When I wake up for a hard trad day in Scotland I think “what is going to happen today?” If I do the route, I’ll love it. If I fall, I’ll probably love that too after the event. If I just get caught in an atlantic storm and spend the day marvelling the forces of nature, I’ll love that too. It’s unpredictably enjoyable.
Some people need one or the other. Others, a mix of both, including me.