24 August 2012

Why climbing indoors is rubbish but not a waste of time



...The snow was turning icy now, I needed a second ice axe out. I cut a ledge and faffed about, my youthful inexperience making me drop a mitten, it quickly rolled out of sight into the mist, at least I had a spare in my sack. Eventually I got sorted and set off up my first bit of steep snow-ice with twin tools. 

Andy had gone off ahead into the murk his boundless optimism and natural athleticism beating my caution hands down. I started swinging the axes and worked my way up a steep ramp that headed left as far as I could see. The axes made a satisfying thwack as they bit into the ice, like hitting a nail well with a hammer, this was fun. I was on Boomerang on Stob Corrie Nan Lochan high above Glen Coe passing the time between Christmas and New Year. I was 23 and mad for climbing. As I gained the ridge the angle eased and I was back to more of a snow plod than proper climbing. Best of all I had climbed above the cloud and the sun was blinding me. The all enveloping mist of the morning gone, just 50m of the snow covered summit cone was out of the cloud inversion and you could see maybe a dozen mountain tops peeping out from the cloud, it was some view. I joined Andy on the summit and as we looked back where we had come from we saw our shadows on the clouds below with circular rainbows round them. We waved at our Brocken Spectres and knew we were seeing something many climbers never see. My luck was in and on my first proper ice climb to boot. 

The sun was losing its power rapidly the day was short and we needed to get down. We made rapid tracks down Broad Gully which was in the same fantastic condition as Boomerang had been. in less than an hour we were back at the car as night fell. Another hour later we were in the Clachaig engaged in the vital but ultimately futile task of drinking our way across all the Malts above the bar to provide central heating before our Arctic night in the tent in the swamp at the back of the pub...

Wednesday night and I'm in the cafe at Harrogate Climbing Centre Its raining again and I'm pulling on plastic. Karrie gets persuaded into joining the blog, It will be good to have a women's voice amongst all these men I think. I say she can write about whatever she likes as long as it not climbing indoors I say I'll delete these posts.

...Last nights half bottle of whisky is leaving me feeling dehydrated and vague as we climb down to the rocky beach at the start of Wreckers slab. We look up at 350 ft of  slab starting steeply and then curving away out of sight. The first pitch is easy maybe Severe, good job its loose as hell every other hold wobbles every sixth comes away and gets tossed down onto the beach. I stand to one side as football sized lumps rain down. I think there is maybe one decent runner in the first 100ft. I lead the next pitch the alleged crux the climbing more VS then on pitch one. The moves  are all the same after a tricky shuffle left at 40ft where I get my first runner, a good cam that sits in rock unlike the pegs on the belay which seem to be driven into soil for the most part. Each move is a high step and rock-over each move taking me further from that cam. I try and focus on just the next move forgetting the run-out above the gear figuring there will be another runner soon. The moves stay the same as does the lack of gear and when I get to the belay below a short wall I have run out 65ft of rope. Pitch three starts with a jamming crack of all things and as we are grit savvy its soon despatched and we even get runners in it. After that the angle eases and we are soon talking about what a great route it was.

 Stuart starts to defend indoor climbing and I rapidly get into one of my rants about indoor climbing doing nothing for me and well its better than going to the gym but it leaves me cold inside. I talk about how the outside is more real and than my mind overheats and I can't remember what I say but I want to explain why climbing outside is better and I can't explain it in one concise sentence. I remember saying that I sort of wished that indoor walls had never been invented. In the past when it rained you had no choice you either went out in the rain or went to the pub. This led to some adventures and a few fat heads when the easy option was taken.

...I get a good runner in the corner and make the awkward  traverse left out to the arete on Brown's Eliminate, A Joe Brown special from the fifties that modern gear has done little to tame. As I stand on the ledge on the arete there is gear at my feet and then I'm looking up at 20 feet of unprotected slab at 5b in old money. That's why it gets E1 I tell myself. I take a moment to get my head together and then set off up the crux sequence, it flows thin edges but in-cut secure, a few more high steps and I'm on the rib at the top placing a runner, my first Extreme in the bag. 

I get to thinking about how we have courses now to teach people who have only ever climbed indoors how to climb outdoors. I'm relieved I took my kids outside climbing before I took them to a wall. I think about Dave Barrans's the UK leading and bouldering champion, a fantastic climber  but who seems to have no great first accents outdoors. Where are his Indians Face, his Cypher, His Careless Torque? does chasing results mean there is no time for pushing the boundaries in the sunshine?

....It had been a nice day in the valley but Cryn Las faces north and its cold this early in the year. We solo up the easy first rocks and then rope up for the first pitch. Its wet but climbable and we are soon belayed  and committed on Main Wall one of the UK's finest mountaineering routes. Pitch two is wetter yet, running with water in places but we push on, the pitches flow until I'm belayed below a 30ft pinnacle of rock partially detached from the main face in the shade and sombre. Ben climbs up the outside and drops a sling over the pinnacle's top and clips it as a runner. He needs to fall over from the top onto the main face to regain the gently overhanging wall. As he stands on the pinnacle's top the sling lifts up round his knees. Scared that his runner is now useless he climbs back down a move, I shout encouragement though I can't help  laughing inside despite the cold and our predicament. He tries this two or three times, each time the sling rides up round his knees. In the end he just gives in and falls over the gap, grabs the greasy holds on the wall and does the move with no gear, brave. I get the famous exposed slab pitch which I scamper up not really savouring it as I should as Ben is complaining how cold he is and his feet do seem to have gone quite blue. We head back to the valley having finished this most classic of routes and spend the evening playing pool.

You see you can take a handful of super sized midget gems and wine gums throw them at some plywood and you have a climbing wall. With its unrelenting flat fluorescent lighting, its climbable in all weathers, skin friendly, clinical blandness all walls are basically the same.

All the routes I have just written about happened 15 to 20 years ago, I have could have written about dozens and I remember them all like they just happened. I can remember the quality of the light, the conversation, the moves even the runners I placed and what I had for tea. This heightened reality doesn't happen to me when I'm on an indoor wall its just practice. Useful but pointless at the same time. I don't think I will remember Wednesday night's tricky green in 15 days let alone15 years.

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