Thursday, 30 April 2009

Trad musing

Spring has been kind so far, with fairly uninterrupted good weather for weeks now. It’s been getting a bit warm for the usual grit crags, so rather than jump on the limestone bouldering/sport climbing band wagon I’ve decided to continue with the tradding which I’d been getting into in autumn. At this time of year some of the most elusive crags come into condition (Wimberry, Hen Cloud, Kinder, Ramshaw, Black Rocks, plus loads of Yorkshire places). Most of the year crags such as these can be either too cold/green/wet/bleak or too hot/midgy. It’s a window of opportunity that a lot of climbers seem to miss out on, either persevering at grit crags which are too hot to enjoy or assuming the grit season is over and jumping ship to the lime. I guess part of this is down to how few of the serious climbers I come into contact with regularly want to climb trad on anything approaching a regular basis. Why should this be? Looked at objectively, out of trad, sport and bouldering, the UK’s trad resources are easily our greatest treasure in terms of quality, quantity and diversity. At first glance it makes no sense. I’ve often pondered on the subject and will attempt (by the power of bullet points) to outline why I think this situation exists.
In this context I’m primarily referring to traditional (ground up or there-abouts) trad climbing, though to a lesser extent some points hold true for highballing and deep water soloing and some for headpointing. In no particular order:

  • Trad climbing is an increasingly expensive game. At £50 each for a camming device it’s easy to see why new climbers coming out of the walls, looking to do some outdoor stuff might go for cheaper options like bouldering and sport climbing
  • Many new climbers start out climbing at walls. Walls most directly replicate bouldering and sport climbing. There is a skill gap which has to be crossed before a wall strong climber can become a good tradder, a gap which is much smaller for bouldering or sport climbing.
  • Trad climbing has a lot of faff per minute on the rock. Long walk ins, racking up, placing gear, removing gear, belaying trepidatious leaders/seconds, getting back down again, etc. It also generally lacks the weather proof alternatives that are available to the sporter/boulderer, further reducing the climbing to faff ratio.
  • Unless you’re willing and able to stick your neck a long way out it’s a very hard discipline to get ‘impressive’ at quickly. Anyone motivated by a desire for kudos may soon loose heart in the face of slow progress and/or real life fear.
  • The harder it gets the scarier it gets as a general rule, but for most people boldness doesn’t improve at the same rate as finger strength! Different people will accept different levels of real and perceived danger. For some the fear, be it justified or not, is insurmountable and takes any pleasure out of the actual climbing. The reckless/unlucky might also be put off by an accident or near miss.
  • The modern approach to climbing is characterised by a pre-occupation with power/stamina levels. Many climbers are to varying degrees paranoid about letting these slip. Whilst bouldering and sport climbing can be seen as having cross benefits for most other types of climbing, tradding is not likely to improve either bouldering power or sport stamina. A climber shifting seasonally between disciplines is likely to feel relatively week/unfit when moving from a period of trad climbing.
  • For climbers with some level of trad aspiration the above point often leads to the logic of “climb hard while I’m young and mop up the bumbly stuff when I get too old to crank”. From what I see at the crag this is flawed logic. In my experience people tend to get more rather than less risk averse as they grow older, which in turn funnels them into sport climbing. People don’t stop trying to push themselves on relatively hard stuff when they get older, far from it. As often as not the sport crags have a disproportionately high number of veterans. A youth of sport climbing is not, in most cases, a great training for a trad based dotage.
  • For the average money rich (by world standards) but time poor British climber bouldering and sporting perhaps represent a more ‘productive’ use of limited time. Train during weekday evenings then do targeted intense climbing at the weekend. Nothing is worse than spending a week in the office then walking in for miles only to get rained off and getting bugger all done. Maybe tradding only makes sense to people with lots of free time. Unfortunately the time rich are often cash poor, obviously a big problem for someone looking at putting a rack together from scratch.
  • The above factors make for a change in the old traditional progression of a climber. Where once it was standard for a climber to serve a trad apprenticeship, nowadays your strong youth is more likely to follow their peers into bouldering. It’s natural for a beginner to do what other more experienced climbers they meet are doing, which for said buff-youth-down-the-wall is unlikely to be trad. Hence the trend is further perpetuated.
All in all if you agree with my reasoning you’ll also agree that it’s not actually very surprising that more serious effort, I’d even go as far as to say ‘the majority’ of serious effort above a certain difficulty level, is put into bouldering and sport climbing in the UK, despite these being less well resourced at the crag.
Essentially I’m saying that while I think trad is massively rewarding I can see why it’s not everyone’s bag. And while it’d be nice to tempt a few more of my friends to get into it, if only to get a better supply of partners, the likelihood of this happening is slim.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Molly vid

Went back and added the sitter to Molly. These lower moves really add to the problem and make for an excellent 7b/+. More info to follow on other stuff done.
You'll need to log on at to see it BTW.

Molly Moocher sit start 7b/+ from Jon Fullwood on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Molly Mooching

Hello, I’m not dead after all, just not recently inspired to blog. Actually that’s not true (well the bit about being alive is), I often think of stuff I mean to have a ramble about, but by the time I happen to be back at a computer the thoughts have gone back to the places whence they came.

Molly mooching is an American term for the hunting of Molly Moochers and a Molly Moocher is of course a morel, be that Morchella elata, Morchella esculenta, Morchella vulgaris or any of the other ill defined sub-types. Yes it’s morel time again. Time to check my regular spot and spend fruitless hours searching hedges, woods and gardens in the vain hope of finding some further magic places. This year I’m psyched to have discovered a new magic place which I will now check every year. Strangely the moochers at this place grow on moss covered lumps of rock, which is something I’ve never heard of in books or seen any other fungus doing. The night after finding these I had a fevered dream in which I found hundreds of grotesquely mutated morels growing everywhere around me. With the previous days finds and my odd dream in mind I drove out to my main place the following day and was blown away to find 16, that’s right SIXTEEN big black morels. A dream come true indeed. Seriously good food was prepared with the majority of these and a few are sautéed and frozen for a rainy day.

Molly Moocher is now also the name of a new 7b-ish boulder problem I climbed on Sunday. I’ve got a few more fish to fry in the area so I’ll hold off on the full details. So far I’ve done five problems of substance in the area and a handful of decent warm-ups. Here’s a couple of pics from the story so far. I’ll post up the full details in the not too distant future.

Other than that I’ve been out climbing loads, nothing harder than font 7b+, mostly on the grit, plus a week in the County and a couple of sessions lime bouldering. I could wax lyrical about quite a few nice things done but time doesn’t allow. One thing which really stands out as worthy of special mention however is the supremely fine highball problem A Northern Soul at Hepburn. I had wanted to try this problem ever since seeing a photo in the original (log) Northumberland Boulder guide. The line, setting and rock quality are even better in real life than the photo suggests. This block feels like a corner of Fontainbleau forest teleported into an otherwise mediocre crag. A bit of a soft touch at 7a+ but still rather exciting as the crux is all about navigating a path up poor slopers at a thought provoking height (I’d have felt more comfortable had I not been sporting a badly sprained ankle at the time!). That said the landing is perfect and it’s not high compared to many modern highballs. The crag is not far from Bowden etc and I’d urge everyone to go do it next time they are up that way. This thing deserves more attention as it’s as good as anything else of the grade in the UK or even font for that matter!