Having watched Winter Sessions years ago, there was always one particular boulder problem that stuck in my mind. It wasn't a "test piece" or some nails hard undulation in the rock that some beast had managed to gecko their way up. However, it is a stunning looking feature and it stuck in my mind because of that - but also because it was attainable. It is graded at 7A - which when I first watched Winter Sessions was at the limit of my bouldering abilities. Finally, however, on this weekend just passed, I sought out The Alliance at Burbage South Edge.
Anyone that has climbed at this stunning venue knows that it can be a bit of a pain in the arse finding boulder problems that you haven't seen or climbed on before. However, The Alliance is a monolith, an obvious looking feature that you can spot from a mile away (not literally). If you're a climber, when you see it your immediate thoughts turn to climbing it. A double width fridge with an inviting slot near the top of the wall - it just cries out to be climbed. And so, years later, I set out to Burbage South Edge to do just that. I suppose the reason it took so long was because I had always stopped further down the crag to have a go at other problems - but also maybe an element of fear; knowing it was high kept my enthusiasm in check.
I'd be the first to admit, high balls are not normally my forte. Although The Alliance is described as a high ball in the guide, it turns out its not too high, at least by today's high ball standards. I had just two pads, and my girlfriend spotting, and I felt safe enough. As I wandered up, I didn't get nervous staring up at the lip that looked so far from the ground. Instead I got excited. I wanted to pull on and climb it. I hadn't climbed a single thing that day, so I chose to warm up on the boulder problem too. Probably not the best decision, but I was too psyched to find some piddly little traverse or knee high rock to do laps on while my muscles awoke.
I wolfed a warming coffee and then began pulling my Anasazi's onto my cold toes. I shook my hands a little bit, rung them together and blew some hot air into them. I performed the famous Dave Birkett warm up (a shoulder shrug) and then began feeling the rock and the starting holds, figuring out how to get off the floor. As soon as I found something that worked, I began making a few tentative movements, finding my way, slapping around blind aretes, feeling for the best angles.
The friction was great, but I was too timid and took too long, feeling my body's recognition that it's required to do some strenuous movements. I hopped off and tried to stay warm for a few minutes while I let my muscles acclimatise to the situation. Another go and I got a few moves higher but dropped because, again, I was trying to find my way and performing three moves where only one was required. Next go, I reached the slot and grabbed the top, only to find no holds and waning biceps due to the sloth like pace I had employed to get there. I dropped from the lip and gained speed quickly, thumping into the floor with a violent thwack, thankfully hitting the mats, but jarring my knee.
To give my joints a rest, I put my shoes back on and ran around to the top, to inspect what holds I could find. Thankfully there were some, just two feet back from the lip. If I could get my body high enough, they could be reached and it would be over. Back to the bottom of the rock for another coffee and to steel my nerves after a hefty fall. Climbing shoes back on, control my breathing, pull on and execute the moves quickly and efficiently. Suddenly I was at the lip again. I matched, got my foot high into the slot, pulled the lip to my chest (or my chest to the lip) and reached for the good hold further back. I pulled over into high winds, barely able to hear myself blow out a self-congratulatory puff of air, as I relaxed my breathing into a normal rhythm.
While The Alliance is by no means the hardest thing I have climbed, it is certainly one of the best, living up to the expectations I had. Brilliant fridge hugging on excellent holds. A true classic of the grade and the crag.
And now for something else
I decided to have a go at the Climbing Works' winter bouldering competition on the Friday just gone. Why not? I had been training quite a lot and had no other plans, so lets have a go. Should be fun.
Firstly, I was a little annoyed it started half an hour late. Whilst most of the competitors were seemingly teenagers, there were a few working stiffs (me) that had popped in after the 9-5 to have a little go for fun and had to wait an extra half hour for the thing to open. Annoying.
Secondly, the boulders turned out to be quite fun and easy. Balloon around on big holds, tufas, volumes, the odd crimp, and a few technical slabs. Due to how busy it was, I got on 16 boulder problems (out of 25) before I decided to leave and get my dinner, and before I got too tired to climb the following day, at Burbage. Out of the 16, I climbed all of them, and should have done so on my first try, but dropped around 18 or so points.
Still, it ended up being some fun. Not that I'll be doing it again, mind.