Thursday, 31 July 2008

The Importance of Looking Weak

* I wrote this ages ago but didn’t post as I thought it sounded a bit preachy. Perhaps climbers aren’t as egocentric as I’m suggesting. As with any snapshot philosophy it ignores and glosses over lots of details and exceptions. But I haven’t blogged for yonks so might as well stick something up*

What I really mean is, the importance of not letting the idea of appearing weak/ineffectual in front of others hold you back.
To my mind this is a big obstacle to improvement faced by some climbers. As climbers, rightly or wrongly, we are prone to defining ourselves and each other by reference to our greatest climbing achievements. These are the things we have put greatest time and effort into, which probably suit our strengths, which happened when we were on top form, when conditions were mint and everything slotted into place. They might be super hard boulder problems or redpoints, bold leads or soloes, winning comps or doing 1-5-9. While these might be our most cherished efforts, these defining moments can become millstones around the neck if we can’t learn to deal with the fact that 99% of the time we will be performing well below the level of these finest hours. The harder these climbs are won, the harder they may be to replicate or improve upon.
If you have a reputation built on a few titanic efforts you will almost always look weaker or a worse climber than you or others might think you should. This might be hard to bear for the fragile ego of the average climber, especially if said climber has kidded himself he’s as good a climber as someone who’s top level is the same but who’s climbing CV is less top-heavy. The greater the disparity between a climber’s average level and their top level the greater the reality shock. Naturally it’s often the climbers who are least able to bear looking weak before their peers who suffer the greatest disparity, because insecurity leads to feverish grade grabbing. By grade grabbing I mean getting the number by the quickest means possible i.e. finding a soft touch that plays to your strengths then training specifically for it and siegeing it until it goes down. Most of us are guilty of grade grabbing now and then. Most climbers if asked would say they climb only for the joy of the climbing and that the grade was much less important, the mass popularity of some low quality soft touches whilst the three star sandbag next door returns to nature would suggest not everyone is as zen as they say/believe.
Pride is a serious obstacle to proper improvement in climbing. It can lead to too much emphasis on trophy bagging at the expense of real improvement which can only be gained by getting volume done within your grade and on a variety of terrain (you only have to look at the true heroes of the sport to see the truth of this). This disparity can then lead a climber to feel embarrassed by his performance out at the crag on stuff well below ‘his grade’. He may then react to this embarrassment by further avoiding easier stuff or stuff that doesn’t play to his strengths. Obviously this creates a feedback effect whereby the climber gets worse at what he is already not so good at and stronger within his self imposed pigeon hole. In the long run there is only so far you can go within a narrow niche and only so much fun to be had therein .
What’s the alternative?
• Understand that people with half a brain i.e. the one’s who’s opinions are worth bothering about, appraise you on your overall ability as much or more than on your trophy ticks.
• Accept this fact and try not to get hung up on other people view of your ability. Realise that the only way to improve how people view your climbing is to get better at it and this you cannot do if you’re too scared of looking weak to get properly stuck in. Consider the long run, some amount of humility now will lead to future glory.
• Accept that whilst climbers can be judgemental the majority are on your side and want you to do well. It’s cringe-worthy to see people kidding themselves, it’s easier to be empathetic to people who are honest with themselves and others.
• Do not be afraid to look weak/inept, it’s self defeating and pointless. If you consistently shy away from attempting stuff in company they will assume the reason behind it is weakness or ineptitude anyway.
• Accept the fact that everyone’s climbing goes through peaks and troughs and nobody worthy of consideration should expect you to be on top form all the time.
• Learn to enjoy being crap on your weaknesses. We all have them and might as well have a laugh flapping about ineffectually on this stuff and hence get better at it.
• Think about the bigger picture. Is jumping from one protracted siege to the next the quickest way to get better? Seigeing has it’s place but is just one aspect of the game.
• If peer recognition really is a major factor in deciding what you choose to climb, consider the fact that climbers may well be as or more impressed with you climbing a notorious sandbag 7c+ as they are with you bagging the same soft 8a/+ as everyone else.

And so endeth my pompous rant. I hope nobody thinks this is directed toward them, it’s not, it’s just an expression of frustration with a common malady within the climbing populace.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008


Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh! Back on project at Rubicon last night, but thwarted by warm greasy conditions and general wave of weakness. Saturday’s attempt was no better either due to the base being flooded making getting onto the rock something of an epic.
Getting a project at Rubicon has not turned out to be the most sensible use of my new six day blocks of days off. Basically it doesn’t come into decent nick typically until about 7pm so most of the day is wasted. The best sessions at Rubicon so far have been the after work hits.
To date I’ve had four sessions on the line. First was a recce whilst hanging off bolts on adjacent lines. Managed most of the moves with some tension during this session, but was usable to access the first bit. The second session was the day that Mr Harris did Barracuda. On this occasion I bolted, and cleaned the line. Very minimal gluing was required the rock being very solid, but I did back up a couple of things which looked like they might work loose in the future. I believe that if you are going to bolt up a line you should make the effort to back up any potentially dubious holds so that the route survives in a climbable state. You’ve only got to look at nearby Eugenics and Tribes to see what happens when holds aren’t fixed properly. This opens up issues of route manufacturing, but that’s another topic altogether. After prepping the route I figured the moves properly but had no juice left to try for a redpoint. During this session a key hold crumbled a bit making the route significantly harder, but also better I think. The hold seems totally solid now. Session three was the very wet Saturday mentioned above and session four was last night’s poor show.
The line dubbed Cake of Power (from the root words for caviar chav-jar literally meaning cake of power) for the time being, starts with the first couple of moves on Caviar then continues direct/right where Caviar goes left. It rejoins Caviar at the break, but there is scope for an independent finish. I guess it’s a direct version of Caviar but it contains more separate climbing than first appearances would suggest. It feels a fair bit harder than Caviar (which I did a couple of weeks back) but I’m not sure if it’ll be a full grade harder.
Next attempt will be Thurs eve. Hopefully the conditions might be a bit more conducive to success.

Friday, 4 July 2008

The Gravy Boatsmen

A sea as rich and brown as this
Through meaty mist by cabbage sail
To shore of pea and carrot bound
We gravy boatmen all

“Ahoya, ahoy an onion whale!”
A spout of gravy spume aloft
Astern the smooth black body sinks
To depths where fork folk dare

But “Never over the side!” they say
“Sink fast in thick brown brine” they say
“And nerry see the sun again”
“A fate most foul of all”

“But whither are we headed sir?”
“To ‘tato hills all crisp and brown.”
“And soft carved acres, folds of fowl”
“A tasty promised land”

Oh sea as rich and brown as this
This meaty mist, these cabbage sails
My shore of pea and carrot dream
We gravy boatmen all