Friday, 10 September 2010
After I did Rhapsody at Dumbarton in 2006, I pretty quickly packed up and moved to the Highlands of Scotland. There were lots of reasons for doing this, climbing being just one. The ‘climbing reason’ was largely to find the most adventurous, arduous new routes I could lay my hands on, and try and do them. To Hell and Back, Echo Wall and more recently The Usual Suspects. All climbs where the actual climbing is only a small part of the deal. I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time walking into Scottish coires in the rain with three ropes and two racks in my bag. I buy cleaning brushes in packs of 24. I’ve given myself three overuse injuries from cleaning new routes. On The Usual Suspects I think I spent 10 days on the rope on Sron Ulladale with my rockshoes just dangling from my harness before I finished finding, rigging and cleaning it and could actually start to move on it.
I’ve been doing first ascents for 12 years now and still I love it. Not in a count ‘em up ticking kind of way. It’s the creative expression of every stage of the process that I’ve enjoyed so far. Over the past few years I’ve really revelled in the inaccessibility, the awkwardness and the pure endurance factor of time and effort needed to open new routes on trad gear in the remotest possible places.
But climbing never has been about one channel for me. When judging the value of experiences, people often refer to how ‘memorable’ they were. This makes sense. I was reading Steve McClure’s column in Climb today and he was talking about how he found his long redpoint battles most memorable for him. I feel exactly the same. For me also, there is no substitute for the detail, the intricacy of the moves and the tactics and the totally enveloping focus of the redpoint effort, with all extraneous thought and movement distilled out by a thousand rehearsals in body and mind. Every bit of time, effort, sweat and will that goes into it, all add to it’s value.
I don’t think my memory of the smell and the summer sun on Echo Wall sessions will ever diminish. Or glissading down Observatory gully at 11pm in the sunset feeling totally at home. Or the roaring wind throwing me about on Sron Uladail, ropes rubbing on sharp edges, soaked to the skin as I looked for lines to climb. Mountains and mountain trad climbing inevitably make a deep stamp in your memory by their power. So is that an argument to forget everything else and go trad climbing all the time? No!
Memories are important, but they are not everything. We have to live in the moment too. Everyday needs and pleasures are also important. You might not remember your regular walk to your girlfriend’s or school or work on a particular day several years ago. But the everyday act of walking is something really important to lots of us. To say you’d soon miss it if it was taken away from you is a bit of an understatement.
This everyday routine of climbing movement is the other side of climbing for me, and I know it is for lots of people, even if they don’t necessarily think of it that way. Whether it’s the exercise, or the emptying of the mind for a while, or the movement or whatever - it doesn’t matter. If you look at it directly it seems mundane. But the bigger picture shows that it becomes important to you. Especially if, like me, you’ve done it for 17 years.
I often feel like this in September. A long ‘summer’ of labour intensive mountain new routing leaves me counting the hours of being wet, walking with large sacks, shivering and hauling about on ropes and realising this comes at the expense of actual metres of hard moves climbed. This season, like all the previous, I have some fine adventures to show for it. If the last warm days, dry mountain crags and partners collide, I may yet have more. Now though, the pendulum needs to swing the other way and I need to climb some hard moves again.
Short term plan: time to boulder