Saturday, 14 December 2013

To pad or not to pad...

...that is not the question. Any more than to cam or not, to RP or not, to chalk or not, to Stealth rubber or not. Pads are default, de-rigeur protection, I use them and so does everyone else...

I'm still standing on the slopey ripple, as I have been for over 20 minutes. I could reverse down and jump off at any time. I could retreat and walk away at any time. I could bring the pads over and boulder it out. I look across at them stacked beneath Tris. He is getting close to Sithee Direct, pushing through day 6 tiredness from the undercling to an overhead press, a brilliant move. It provides a welcome distraction whilst my brain refines the sequences above, slotting together information gained over several tenative forays. Left foot edge - no. Right foot smear - no. Left hand gaston - no. Left hand over to top sloper - no. Right hand to sidepull pebble - no. Exploring options, discarding dead ends, running out of excuses to not do the remaining optimised moves.

The conditions are pretty much perfect - hovering around zero at dusk after a fresh sunny day - and the rock feels great. My skin feels less great. My tips went numb at first, now they are glowing and rippled from the grit grains. Each time I'm surprised I can stick onto the top slopers without pinging straight off - I have no intention of doing so and need to get this right if....when I do it. I look down at the flat pile of my rope bag and down jacket. My tips are still sweating so my swiftly-discarded hoodie adds a few millimetres of cushioning. I keep my beanie on, I just got it in the Hope Spar for £1.70 and it's muted stripes would go well with grey, purple, or blue. I'm wearing a blue t-shirt so the beanie gives me confidence.

A couple of climbers appear with several pads to join in the fun. Would I like their pads thrown down beneath me? No, I want to do this the way I had always desired. They happily pile them beneath Torture Garden, but I don't want to hold too many people up so get back into the crux position with a few percent extra motivation. Smear my hands on the slopers, dig my foot into the pocket....and this time take the handbrake off and step up into the subtle left foot pocket. Calm and committed, left hand into the flake, right hand to the good edge, left foot onto the flake and scamper with glee to the top. The climbing is delightful as is the pleasure of doing it in this way, it's possibly the highlight of several days and a dozen good routes on the grit.

So I did an easy micro-route without pads, just like a million climbers before me in the bad old days. So what?? Except for me, it IS a challenging style of climbing. I'm short and sweaty and sketchy on smears and slopers, I land with the grace and impact of a pissed hippo and the skeletal resilience of a balsa model. I also had the very sensible option to do the climb as a highball with good pads and spotting - which in my experience makes a lot of difference to my safety and confidence - just like a million climbers do in the good current days. Except I chose not to....


Or maybe:

Was it more enjoyable at the time doing the climb in that style than doing it in a highball style??

That's an easier question because the answer is a simple yes. The increased focus, the precision, learning the moves, dealing with the mental challenge by becoming increasingly familiar with the physical situation - all were more enjoyable for me than if I'd felt safer and more comfortable above pads. The sweaty skin from a lot of up-and-downing wasn't but that was a minor detraction.

Is that justification in itself??


But at the same time I'm always interested in the issues of motivation, and the issues of climbing style. Highballing is the new, normal climbing style. Micro-routing isn't. Pads are the new, normal climbing protection. It takes a particular effort to conciously ignore and actively avoid using them. So why would anyone bother to choose the harder, more dangerous, more time consuming option?? When the convention seems a very natural approach to shorter protectionless routes, increasing the safety yet still retaining some of the feel and committment required, it seems ridiculous to fly in the face of that convention - even when top climbers like James Pearson do it (from what I understand his motivation was partly to have clarity about the nature of the challenge in comparison to other grit trad challenges).

For me personally, I take all the opportunities I can get to deal with trad challenges, and I take my protection rack of C3s, RPs, Peenuts, Superlights, Ballnuts, HBs, Tricams on most bolder routes. So why don't I put the protection of pads beneath my feet??

It boils down to inspiration (god, not THAT again!) - how I was originally inspired to do a climb. Most of my inspiration is old inspiration - I'm a crap climber so it takes me many years from first desiring a route to actually feeling ready to try climbing it. Old, deep, entrenched inspiration. If I was inspired by a climb in the old red-spined Stanage guide, then chances are I'll still be inspired by it now (and might have avoided it for decades due to being too scared). If I was inspired by a route as a micro-route and/or a bold solo, chances are I'll still be inspired by THAT challenge and THAT style now. Which means although it will be harder and scarier, it's how I actually want to do it - for the reasons of the enjoyment listed previously.

I have quite a few routes I have always wanted to do in this way. I might relinquish my inspiration and throw a load of pads down in a month, or a year, or a decade. Or I might stick with what I want and do them without. Or I might never do them, I might just accept I can't do them how I want, and just walk away. Is it silly to deny myself the climbing?? I don't know, I've got a couple of decades to change my mind if I want to. Conversely there are many similar climbs I was never previously inspired by that I'd get inspired by now purely as highballs, and never consider doing them in a different way.

There is no conclusion to this, there is no point I'm making, as the issue can be as simple as it first seems: It's now a rare and esoteric choice to solo rather than to highball, but it is still a genuine choice and can be undertaken for genuine reasons.

No comments: