Friday, 13 December 2013

New Age Grade Slip

As a teenager I climbed HVS at pretty much my top grade. The legends soloed Vector down at Tremadoc and Ed Ward Drummond put up Great Wall on Cloggy. They were legends and god like in their fearlessness and we were mere mortals bumbling around the lower order higher grades.We bumbled around so much that I used to say that “if I could lead it, it was HVS, and if I fell off it was Extreme”.

The only bolt in the UK at that time as I recall, was somewhere on Cloggy- someone correct me if this wasn't the case- and there were no climbs on Malham Cove because there was not any pro that worked there at all. In fact, cams had not yet been invented and a well placed Moac was something that you could moor the QE2 up to.

Time shifts; I move to hot Australia and the decades pass. On doctors orders I return to rock climbing and buy a new pair of climbing slippers- high tops are no longer cool- and a new rack of hexcentrics and cams. Wearing a helmet that doesn’t protect the nape of my neck (what happens if I get hit on the head by a rock when looking down?) I venture forth to the cliffs and begin stumbling upwards again.

Several years and many hundreds of dollars in gym fees later, I stagger gloriously up a ring bolted Ewbank graded 21 and then look at the grade comparison - E2? Blimey dandy, that’s two grades harder than my best at the age of nineteen.Is the 5.10 rubber on my resoled, low cut climbing slippers that much stickier? Are my resin hardened and white chalked fingers that much stronger than my brick wall trained teenage fingers?

Somehow my geriatric free teeth, wigs, glasses and bus pass mind will not accept this. There can only be one answer - New Age Grade Slip. Now there are lots of grading systems around- USA - 5.11 and all that,  Ozzie numeric and the extended British E system- but none of them really compute for me because they don’t reflect the personal reality of my distant climbing past.

In my youth the legitimate ascents of climbs were achieved in a number of ways. Sometimes by combining several of the methods detailed below.....

The Sewing Machine - (Now largely renamed as Elvis Leg) this technique is self explanatory and is typically the result of either fear, malconditioning, prior over indulgence or a combination of all of the above.

Shagging The Rock - As the name implies, much grunting and pelvic thrusting was involved in this technique as verticality rather than horizontality was slowly and very inelegantly achieved.

Upward Cycling - A method of ascending that saw legs and feet being used in a panicked, scrabbling fashion that gradually propelled the leader towards the top of the pitch.

Falling Upwards - Yup, similar to the above but including arms desperately windmilling towards the next safe ledge.

Steadily Ascending- Cumulative Terror - Fear, gradually increasing in direct proportion to the distance from the last stance and / or the last piece of decent trad pro that was inserted into the pitch.

Sometimes Steadily Ascending Cumulative Terror often switched into the next condition of the leader’s mental state:

Ledge Amnesia - On arrival on a stance there occurs a sudden realization that the previous pitch had been climbed with absolutely zero recollection of what was included in the pitch due to the active mind blanking out the awful terror that it had just encountered during the preceding minutes of leading the climb.

There may be more techniques that fall into to the above portfolio that have been lost as a consequence of the ravages of time,  but I think that you begin to see the general picture. Most of the time on bigger, harder climbs,my peers and I were in a heightened state of certainly fear, and sometimes terror during the act of ascending a climb. It’s different now, the pro is better, there are often bomb proof bolts everywhere and we delicately point our ballet dancer toes onto holds, cooly ascending our way upwards in a beautific and controlled manner.

In the past, my meager pocket money and wages enabled the purchase of just a set of four Chouinard Stoppers, two Clog Zero’s (one hand filed down) and a miniscule brass hex on a wire. I now carry perhaps 30 beautifully sculpted, anodized, drop tested and serial numbered wires that will fit just about anywhere, and a sequential rack of shiny cams that fit into previously hopeless parallel cracks with stunning geometric precision.

I guess the unprotected monster climbs are still out there waiting with dripping fangs festering in a gaping maw. (Has anyone done The Black Spring on Dinas Mot recently?) 

It’s perhaps just that a significant number of these horrors have probably been tamed by modern pro - or just plain vanilla glued and bolted-so, maybe you got conned into reading these words by the title of the article. But I leave you with just one simple thought:

Is there a place for a grading system that includes a narrative that highlights or brings to the attention of us mere mortals that there are still some climbs out there that are still truly “Trouser Filling”?....“HVS, 5b TF anyone?”
Michael Combley:2013