Saturday, 1 August 2009

A Matter of Style

From the outside, the sport of rock climbing looks pretty straight forward: you find a bit of rock and make your way to the top. What could be simpler? Well, what the casual observer doesn’t know is that it’s far from simple. Once you get sucked into this small, incestuous world you begin to realise that climbing is actually a hotbed of infighting, one-upmanship and ego, and for one reason: style.

Climbing is all about style (and, alas, I don’t mean trendy branded jeans or luminous lycra). By style I mean the way in which a climb is executed. Climbers, being self-obsessed pedants (me included) are keen to try to be the best they can be, and this means climbing in good style. Any old loser can get to the top of something in poor style, but it takes a good climber to climb the hardest routes in good style.

Getting to the top without falling off, placing all the protection on the way up, without prior knowledge, is the Brad Pitt of climbing style. Anything else comes lower down the scale, including working out the protection, watching someone else climb the route, pre-rehearsing the moves or falling off and trying again. Some would argue if the route is at a level of difficulty that makes the Brad Pitt style impossible then you shouldn’t bother with it, that by climbing in a poorer style you’re just reducing the route down to your level – beating it into submission. For me, though, trying the occasional route that’s miles above my current level is a great way to improve my Brad Pitt style climbing, and so long as it’s a route that I won’t one-day want to climb in better style, and that I’m not damaging the route for future climbers, everyone’s a winner.

"Hey! Look! It's Brad Pitt. Oh, wait. It's not."

Over the last few weeks I’ve done all four of the above-mentioned cardinal sins on the same route; I’ve worked out protection, watched someone else climb it, pre-rehearsed the moves and fallen off and tried again. In the end though, after a few failed attempts I managed to lead The Art of Course Climbing (E5 6a/b) at Farletter Crag on Wednesday night, and it was bloody great fun. It’s a short, very gently overhanging schist crag, and being steep and fingery is not a style of climbing I’d profess to excel at, so it was all good training for something….

Mid-flow on The Art of Course Climbing

High Five!

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