Friday, 28 September 2012

Another one bites the dust! Sending boulder problems in the Peak District

With just one week to go until I'm on another bouldering trip to the famous Fontainebleau forest, it feels as though my rock climbing has taken another incremental step upwards, after dispatching what I would say is my hardest problem of late. I have battled harder and spent more time trying to send boulders of a lesser grade in previous years, but this latest must be hardest in terms of the strength and technique required. If it has taught me one thing, it's that I have come on leaps and bounds over the past six months.

The boulder of which I speak is named A Case of Mistaken Identity, which is situated in Stanage, at the far right hand side of the crag, where a few disparate boulders are slung along an embankment and the last remaining walls lay scattered and broken. There are some superb boulders to be found here and, I'm told, some rather good trad climbing, but it doesn't see too much traffic with regards to the latter due to Stanage's much more popular 'popular end' crag, which is but a stone's throw further left.

A Case of Mistaken Identity is a traverse, which followers an obvious low line along the bottom of a huge slab. Unfortunately, you never get more than a foot or two off the ground, but the climbing requires an unusual amount of balance, matched only by the required burliness. Throw in the necessary finger strength to hold some pretty darn slopey slopers and you've got yourself a decent boulder problem. A strong core is a must, as you shuffle heels along the lip of the rock to stop yourself from twisting in the wrong direction, and then it's a case of realising when you should move your hands and when to move your feet.

The slopers on A Case of Mistaken Identity

The first session I spent on the problem was mostly working out the moves. Each individual move had to be figured separately and then I could start linking two of them together, changing the beta slightly so they linked more fluently. Then it was linking three moves, then the second half, then the first half into an overlap of the second, and eventually going for burns on the whole problem. Unfortunately, due to the exertion of figuring it all out, I only had two good attempts at sending on my first session and then it was time to call it a day.

A few days later it was time for a second session and I set off into the day thinking it was going to be cold - ideal for holding those heinous slopers. Unfortunately, by the time I got to the boulder the sun had come out to play, the day's rays beating down on the grit stone, making the holds feel ten times worse than before. Despite the difficulties, I decided to have a few goes. The holds are not dermatologically friendly at the best of times, but when its warm it just shreds your finger tips within a few tries. I managed 4 attempts before I decided it wasn't worth it in the heat. I linked the problem through to the very last move, however, which was encouraging - even if I did completely tear the skin off the back of my ankle in the process.

On the third session, I made it out to crag on an evening after work (yesterday, in fact). It had been sunny all day but cold and windy, as I sat in my office, longingly looking out of the window towards Baslow. When it hit 5pm, I was out like a shot, so excited to take advantage of the cold temperatures and ready to finally send A Case of Mistaken Identity. Clouds had covered over the sky, causing the temperature to drop even further, and I was feeling confident and strong - it was the day to send. I picked up a friend on the way, then it started raining, but only lightly so we carried on in the hope that the rock would be dry. Thankfully, when we arrived, we discovered it wasn't only dry but deliciously cool as well.

After a quick warm up on the Cornflake boulder, just left of A Case of Mistaken Identity, it was time to get on my 'project' (I'm hesitant to call it this, because in my eye a project is something you try for months, not a few days). The rock felt unbelievably sticky, compared to the other day, and I knew this was going to go down. I got excited and could feel my heart beating ever faster, before I had even pulled onto the rock. My friend had to give me instructions: put your climbing shoes on before taking your coat off; now chalk your hands. I was so keen to climb I pretty much forgot all my preparation. 

Before I set off, I said: "This is either going to go really badly for a first try or really well." And then it was GO TIME. The first move is probably the hardest individual move on the whole climb, but because it's the first you have all your strength to dispatch it with. Then it's just a case of remembering your sequence and executing perfectly. Which I didn't do. I fumbled towards the end, readjusting my hand while in a precarious position, and then I forgot to bump my heel along again, but I held on tight and went for it all the same, making the last big throw for the finishing jug. I let out a power scream, my feet swung off the rock but, to my amazement, I held on. I wrapped my leg back around the rock and pulled onto the slab. A Case of Mistaken Identity was dispatched.

I spent around 10 minutes babbling inanely after this about how good the rock felt, how awesome it feels to send boulder problems, and the elation this induces being the whole reason for going rock climbing. I was sure I was starting to get annoying, so I tried to calm down and move my mind on to other things.

Having done what I went out there to do so quickly, we moved on to the classic of the crag, Hampers Hang. Such a beautiful feature, it can be seen from the road 200 meters away. The climbing is fantastic too. I had done it several times before, but I wanted to get as much climbing in as possible while the friction was so amazing. I dispatched Hampers in two or three tries and then tried the extension. 

Hampers Hang, Stanage Far Right
I was avoiding talking about grades but I have to get this off my chest. Apparently, the extension to Hampers Hang adds a 6C start into the original traverse, which is 7A in itself. The whole thing then becomes a 7A+ of some 25-30 moves (at a guess). In my honest opinion, this is the BIGGEST sand bag in the Peak District if it's only 7A+. Maybe it would be suitable of this grade if you have sport climbing type endurance, but as a boulder problem it's incredibly pumpy and hard. I had a couple of decent burns on it, but could only get half way through the orignal Hampers Hang after adding in the extended start. When I came off, my arms burned so much from the lactic it took me a few minutes just to catch my breath. There is no individually really difficult moves, but there are so many moves that it suddenly becomes a whole different beast. I've never done the full link and I think I'd need to get it wired if I was going to do it, but I feel pretty confident in saying that I think the extended Hampers Hang should get at least 7B if not 7B+. My frame of reference here is a 7B traverse at Churnet Valley (I can't remember which section off the top of my head... maybe someone can tell me?) which is of similar length, maybe even a little shorter, but much easier than the extended version of Hampers.

Anyway, after that little rant, I can tell you now that it is superb nonetheless and worth climbing if you think you've got the endurance. I will certainly be going back to give it another blast.

It quickly became dark after this and, despite having a play on yet another traverse, it was time to call it a day, head to the pub and get some good grub in our bellies. Another good evening on grit.

Back out tomorrow morning for another grit session, taking advantage of this cool, dry weather while it's with us, and then two or three climbs next week before heading off to Fontainebleau. I cannot wait for that!