Thursday, 4 June 2009

Trad 2

Here's something I started writing a while ago and never got round to really finishing:

So the last post covered why you might not want to go trad climbing, but what of all the reasons plenty of people love doing it anyway. Why do I do it?
Well it’s not because I’m especially good at it, that’s for sure. Whilst I take some pride in being able to punch a little above my weight in sport climbing, where cunning and doggedness has scraped me up a few 8bs without resorting to extended seiging, in trad climbing, fear of getting on bold stuff and to a lesser extent fear while on routes mean I’m not really pushing the boundaries of my on-paper capability. Rarely, if ever, do I feel actual bona-fide terror, it’s more like the old mental wall preventing me getting into situations where this might be a possibility. My climber’s mind tells me the wall is built too far back from the actual terror threshold, that I can stamp down the creeping fear when the need arises, but moving the wall requires a leap of faith, a trust in gear, rock and ability which can be hard to persuade the self-protective subconscious mind to take. I’ve always admired the apparent pure logical calculation of good trad climbers who can rationalise getting on routes which perhaps have potential for huge but safe falls. While to an outside observer what they do may appear risky, even reckless, in actuality the chance of getting into trouble has been totally thought through by the climber and accepted as the logically small risk it is. Your accomplished tradder has mastered the art of accurately assessing most of the true risk at ground level, then fixing a resolve to proceed in a certain manner and sticking to this plan with a head clear of internal conflict. As with any other aspect of climbing, I think this ability to trust your own rationalisation is half gifted natural propensity and half hard earned through continuous graft. I’ll never be able to go hell for leather on big runout E7s, and to be frank I don’t think I even want to get into a position where I’m comfortable with that sort of risk. But that doesn’t mean I can’t get better and better the more I try and what gains I do make are all the sweeter for being against the grain of some inherent timidity. If my enjoyment were tied up with measuring myself against my peers in trad climbing I’d have packed up my ballnuts a long time ago. The fact I persists in the face of slow gains is for the simple reason that it is brilliant, addictive and endlessly varied. While progress can be slow I enjoy these incremental gains made in the ability to ‘man-up’ and unlike sport or bouldering I have a fair bit of excess strength/stamina to play with in the quest for improvement. It makes a real change to swap a largely physical challenge for a largely mental one. Having done a lot of sport and bouldering I’ve now largely picked and eaten the low hanging fruits of the area. On the other hand the boughs of the trad tree are still heavily laden with fruitsome delights. As a discerning tickaholic it’s obvious to me where the high quality easy fix is to be found.
As discussed in my last rambling, trad is just not physically intense enough to be of much strength training benefit and as such I find myself moving backwards on the get strong/stay strong treadmill. To enjoy trad I have to let go for a while of this endless mission to stay strong. Having spent years on and off said wagon I’ve seen some of the benefits that dedication to the beef can bring, but I’ve also undoubtedly seen other opportunities pass me by. While the rat-race to stay strong opens up one world of potential rock climbing pleasures it can also lead to a narrow ‘progress’ obsessed outlook which effectively closes off another world of experiences.
I guess it boils down to the specialist versus generalist dilemma. Which strategy is going to give the most fun/satisfaction, realising potential in one field, or sacrificing excellence to become a decent all rounder? I think I could still squeeze some improvement in sport/bouldering grades out of my carcass if I really tried, but at 35 it would be a hard fight and ultimately I think the fun/satisfaction I’d get from it would not merit the effort put in, especially when being less narrowly focussed means I can get a lot of fun/satisfaction from biffing about on ledges, fiddling with bits of metal in beautiful places and still do enough sport climbing/bouldering to have fun and get stuff ticked. Still, it’s hard to let go and it takes a degree of humility to accept performing at a level you know to be beneath your best, i.e getting burnt off by your specialist peers in all disciplines. It helps to remember that the same must be true even for the best generalists. Whilst the likes of Bransby may be truly impressive as boulderers, trad climbers and sport climbers, they don’t often climb the very hardest grades of any type. It must have crossed these climber’s minds that they might have been the very best in the world at any one of discipline had they been willing to specialise. It’s probably for this reason that the climbers I have the most respect for are often the generalists, because it is most obviously these who are in the game mainly for the love of climbing. And this I can empathise with, because I've always loved the climbing more than I’ve loved being good at climbing.

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