Friday, 18 May 2012
At the end of March, a week before I left for Switzerland, I completed a long term boulder project in Glen Nevis, the roof on the Skeleton boulder. I was ecstatic to finally finish such a fantastic line, and one which I’d had a good struggle with. I didn’t mention I'd actually completed it until now (here at least) as I thought it would be good to first see how it compared to some boulder testpieces in the famous Swiss venues.
John Watson showed me the boulder not long after I moved to Lochaber in 2007. I first worked on it for a handful of sessions in 2008. One of those sessions you might remember from the movie ‘Committed 2’. All in all, it’s pretty much a perfect boulder climb - it’s a great roof feature with a straightforward but high headwall finish. It’s in one of the most scenic spots in Scotland, but I’ve never once seen another soul there apart from folk I’ve gone up there with. It has obvious holds the whole way, so you can be sure it’s possible. Yet the method that worked for me didn’t show itself until two weeks before I did it, with a eureka moment while lying in bed daydreaming.
After those early sessions in 2008 I had injured elbows for nearly two years and couldn’t really train strength with any sort of commitment. So I knew there was no point going on it. In the meantime, I trained my technique. When my elbows were at their worst, I would probably struggle to do F7a at the climbing wall without pain. At that time, I went and climbed a lot of slabs - The Walk of Life, Indian Face etc. After a while I got back up to about F8c+ standard, but only if I just went climbing. I still couldn’t train. I missed bouldering a lot during this period, hence I’m having my fill now I’m healthy again! I still went bouldering as much as elbows allowed, and I became a little obsessed with finding super technical ways to do hard boulder problems. It was a fun experiment to see how hard you could boulder on fingers that hadn’t seen a fingerboard in two years. Eternity’s Gate was probably my best effort during that time, although it probably doesn’t count as it’s 25 metres long!
Of course it had limitations, but I definitely feel a much better climber for it. I’ve noticed that I can more consistently find sequences that provide that killer advantage on the hard moves. In winter this year, my ‘100%’ twinge free sessions were getting more and more consistent, at the same time as doing more and more hard 45 board sessions. I even managed the odd fingerboard session, although deep lock offs still awake sleeping demons in my elbows.
So I went back to the Skeleton boulder. For a few weeks I wrestled with so many potential sequences, eventually having a bit of brain-crash and losing my focus a little. Then, the right sequence popped into my head while daydreaming. It took a couple of sessions to morph what I had imagined into what actually worked. But one attempt I suddenly found myself holding the swing on the lip after climbing through the crux. I walked down to the car 6 feet off the ground after that session.
The final hurdle to sharpen up the fingers were some foot-off bouldering sessions at the Ice Factor. It turned out that entering the crux was actually slightly easier if you’d done the starting moves rather than pulling on at half way to work the moves. The day I did it, I’d had a really crap morning and was feeling fed up and not fully concentrated. So I had no tension of anticipation of success. I just found myself standing in the warm sunshine on the top and had to double check with myself that I’d actually climbed it from the start!
Like every hard project, It felt really easy when I actually did it. In fact I did it again a few days later when getting a few pictures with Cubby. Because I don’t boulder that much and when I do it’s always first ascents, I have no solid idea about bouldering grades. Before I went to Switzerland I thought I should give it 8B. But now I think maybe 8B+ is fairer. That is on the British-Font scale which I sense is a little (!) different from what I read and the odd Gaskins problem I’ve tried on visits to the south. In Switzerland it would be a harder grade! There are quite a few problems around Scotland now which are a lot harder than both New Base Line and Mystic Stylez which I climbed in Magic Wood recently. The disparity in grading scales isn’t something I’d like to get too involved in, except to acknowledge it’s there.
It’s called ‘Natural Method’ as a nod to George Hebert who was one of the earliest proponents of Parkour as a method to gain specific fitness that was useful for real life tasks, as opposed to relying too much on basic strength work like weights. My experience of bouldering while injured showed me that although my technique wasn’t bad from my Dumbarton apprenticeship, I still was seriously undervaluing it even as a much more experienced climber. That said, although the natural method of trying to climb harder and harder without training was invaluable, the basic strength work was still essential to make it work at the limits of my ability. Like so many things, it wasn’t one or the other, but both in spades.
Feels like it might be time to tie onto a rope again...