On Watching the Achievements of Others.
Its that time of year again: The Big Flash. One of the three best climbing competitions in the UK. And I am not there.
Now, don't get me wrong. This is not some protest against competitions or indoor climbing. I've got plenty of misgivings about climbing being in the Olympics, I find it harder to relate indoor bouldering to climbing outdoors, and I ain't never gonna win NOTHIN'.
No. The reason I am not going is because of a series of fuckups, which go like this.
1. Me and Garry decide we NEED a weekend on the slate: fuck yeah!
2. The only weekend we can do is the weekend of the 13th, 14th, 15th. We book it with my partner and his spouse (not the same person).
3. That turns out to be the weekend of the Flash. Fook!
4. Tom Smith turns to me in Highball: 'Speaking of volunteers, are you going to run isolation, which you do each year, in an incomparably professional way?' (words to that effect). I look embarrassed and go quiet. 'Is that a yes then?' It is not.
5. Then, Garry backs out, for the un-understandable reason of having to be around for the imminent birth of his sister's child. I respect Garry's priorities, but they are wrong.6. I find out that a plan b is possible. The Brothers Slarke are going bouldering to Northumbria. I resolve to gatecrash their party.
|Kyloe In. Nice eh?|
So I do, and we have a good couple of days: Kyloe In is closed for shooting, presumably red squirrels because we don't see any. Back Bowden is not as sheltered as it should be from the howling wind: which to me is nowt due to Scottish Winter. Johnny and Bob? not so happy.
Through all this time, hundreds have people will have been passing through he Highball doors: many will be competing, at any level, Nu Kids for lower grade climbers, the comp proper for the talent and the graft. Lots of people will be coming along for the first time, having delicious coffees and generally enjoying the vibe: which, fair go, is festival-like.
We keep following the updates. Even in the data wilderness of the Northumbrian backwoods we can watch everything unfold over the FaceAche posts, live stream and general Twittery.
|Sadly, Bob wins a tenner which is the|
EXACT PRICE of a round.
Anyway, after finally getting to Kyloe- hungover- and having a good day there (Johnny Slarke especially comes away with the four prize tick of the crag), we go back to Back Bowden to meet the Brothers Lawson. Sam and Joe Lawson are a pair of wads (note to non-climbers, this is a Good Thing), and Joe wants to do County Ethics, a f7C+ highball problem, while Sam films him.
What do we bring to the party? extra pads and spotters, humour, and a stove for making coffee - which is so trad. Joe gets on a semi-static rope and cleans and ticks the holds, works the moves and sorts out his beta. There is a lot of laughter, and the atmosphere is super fun. Sam gets ripped for his apparent unfamiliarity with dangling from a rope with a camera: silky ninja skills they are not. I am enjoying myself immensely, the crack is good (verbal not rock), and it feels really light and nice to be there.
Joe is so casual, he turns from a minor gossip about a mutual friend's Hil-aaaiirrriiiouuus financial dilemmas, and suddenly changes into a climbing machine: none of the psyching up I need, or angsty heavy-shouldered worrying. He is up! and then he is off and landing on the pads.
Joe has a few more goes that night, but ultimately it is not happening. What IS happening is that I am getting a lesson in how to climb hard. Yes, I'm sure all the strength training and board work is important, but just as crucial is the attention to detail. For stuff at this level, tiny fractional differences in skin conditions ('connies') are critical. Joe is also hyper-aware of his own physical reserves, and knows when he is low on energy. So he stops. Tomorrow will see another go.
|Lights on, cleaning into the night.|
By this time, people have finished competing in the qualifiers (over 300 enter) at the Big Falsh and know whether they have made it through. Only twenty men and twenty women qualify for the semis, with some surprises from the local climbers, but generally the travelling pro and semi-pro climbers book their places.
A huge crowd will turn out for the finals to see the final six males and six females. These are some of the best competition climbers in the UK, climbing on blocs set by the best setters in the UK. This style of setting doesn't reflect rock that you might find in nature, it has become its own beast. A good climber makes hard stuff look easy, but in competitions this doesn't work: no tension would build up to thrill the crowd. Instead, blocs are set on bulbous volumes, often with dynamic moves and leaps, which look great and are legitimately difficult.
I'm sure the watching crowd will be thrilled, the atmosphere will be like a football match.
|The technical way to eat a flapjack,|
and the non-technical way to take a photo.
While this happens in Norwich, we are back in front of County Ethics. 'Its all about the connies,' sings Joe, brushing and re-ticking the holds, figuring out better beta for critical moves coming out of the crux. Bob looks strong: he has been using bulk powder with his training and suddenly we are all talking about getting him sponsored by them. I declare that Trad is Over For Me and rip off my shirt to become a proper boulderer, but haven't got a bobble-hat. We have a laugh.
We eat flapjacks, and I learn there is even a technical way to do this: you don't grip the flapjack with your fingertips because this could impart a tiny bit of grease on. Oh no. You wedge it into the gaps between your fingers where it won't matter.
The breeze blows, the gods of the skin connies smile down beneficiantally, and Joe starts up the climb. He has everything dialled and in its place, and it looks easy, so easy, to do such a hard thing. Within three minutes he is topping out, and everyone congratulates, and thanks and grins about it. Like the audience at the Big Flash, we have watched someone else achieve something, and we are the better for it. But it is not enough just to watch. You have to get your own ticks too.
|I find an off width boulder problem. I am mentally unwell.|