A Fine Line

This weekend past I went out for a sample of some peak limestone. We had been hoping it was going to be cool enough to get out on the grit but the sun was shining and it definitely wasn’t down jacket and thermals weather yet so Rubicon it was. 

My lack of knowledge of climbing history is embarrassing and seriously needs to be improved but I know that Rubicon is known for its crimpy style, hard routes and beautiful scenery and also its contrived, hard bouldering. It is also full of history. Ruth Jenkins pushed the boundaries and became the first British women to climb french 8b back in 1995 at Rubicon (when I was just 2 years old). 

The concept of having rules on boulder problems is a little alien to me. I am a competition climber and yes sometimes there is black tape that you can’t pass but never rules such as no matching, no heel hooks or banned holds. Climbing on rock is something I thoroughly enjoy and have a lot of passion for but my experience is still very limited and my understanding of some areas is lacking. I remember climbing at Crag X once and being psyched to get to the top of a boulder only to be told when I dropped off that it didn’t count because I used a heel hook at the start and I was supposed to campus. I did’t really understand this so much but this man was rather upset with me so I did as he asked a repeated it the ‘right’ way.

Last Saturday I tried ‘A Bigger Belly’ at Rubicon. It has the tiniest holds I have ever held onto and some of the most powerful moves I have ever tried. It was quickly evident that I wasn’t able to climb the problem using the original beta. I am used to finding new beta on climbs as its rare that I climb with people my size and very very rare that problems are put up by people my size. I enjoy the process though and find it quite liberating when I figure something out that had initially felt so impossible. 

 Totally unaware of the rules on this boulder problem I did what I normally do. I figured out a way to get between the holds that worked for me. I didn’t actually realise I was using a hold for my foot that was technically not in. It’s not like it made the boulder super easy. I was on a bad, tiny, little hold with my right hand and a backhand with my left kicking my left foot above my head to get my heel on. I think it could be the single hardest foot movement I have ever done. 

I guess thinking back it totally makes sense that it isn’t ‘in’ as you could easily grab the big hold I put my heel on with your hand place your foot perfectly making the boulder problem significantly easier. To be honest I just knew where my hands had to go and put my feet where ever I could to make the moves between the hand holds possible.

 I can’t do the original method to ‘A Bigger Belly’ so I guess I didn’t climb the original boulder. But I climbed something that I found insanely hard. Anyone who has ever felt the starting holds can appreciate  the difficulty of just pulling on! I often surprise myself when climbing by doing I move that I thought impossible or really hard but I don’t think I have ever impressed myself before. I do not mean to sound arrogant at all but on saturday I learnt what it felt like to try hard on rock. To pull on holds that were barely there and really push myself. I am proud of this and happy with what I achieved no matter what the name or grade of the boulder problem is. 

I think this could have been the hardest thing I have ever climbed and if it wasn’t a known line I guess it is now so maybe I can call it something else… ‘ A Smaller Belly’? or ‘A Bigger Belly – Coxsey’s Varian(t)’  what do you think? 😛





Photots thanks to  Nick Brown – Outcrop Films 

Video from Nick Brown and Ben Pritchard soon! 😀


4 Responses to “A Fine Line

  • The nature of bouldering will always have these awkward encounterings with rules from the original ascentionist.

    It’s a necessary mess to spare the ego’s of people who climbed it before in the ‘right’ way so that the problem isn’t downgraded from the ‘wrong’ beta.

    It’s an unnecessary complexity that bouldering could do without. But how do you have fun if grades don’t matter?

  • Bouldering isn’t necessarily about grades but it is for many it’s about seeking difficulty. This is why boulderers sometimes differentiate versions of problems as they try to raise the level of difficulty. It’s a game that is actually at the heart of the pursuit, doing more with less.

  • I hope this is something we can discuss at the Women’s Climbing Symposium next month. I was discussing gender, sport and climbing in relation to something at work and when I explained this issue (which is replicated indoors where the same problem for an average built man may require much more technical moves from an average built woman) a colleague commented the old adage that ‘women must try twice as hard to be considered half as good’. Of course this isn’t a black and white issue because Evan’s point about the problem being considered to have been ‘downgraded’ still stands – I just think it’s worth examining, not taking at face value that the way things have always been done is unproblematic, and that we can’t think of a better solution for the future.

  • Frankly, I don’t think a good line needs any rules about the moves you can and can’t do. Apart from anything else different body shapes and sizes mean people will naturally climb routes in different ways.

    As evan said, this is more about people who think they have set hard routes protecting their egos.

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