Monday, 4 May 2009

The Pits

A good few years back now I did a few various bits of work for Beyond Hope over in Delph, back when Sam Whittaker was doing the day-to-day running of the place. In the evenings we'd get to the local crags before scooting back over the moors to Leeds or Sheffield. Usually this meant Running Hill Pits, not a well-known crag but one of which the locals are justifiably proud. I spent enough time up there to understand why, but its a ballache to get to from Sheffield and you drive past a lot of good crags on the way. So its probably six or seven years now since I was last there.

The central goal of these evening sessions was a Dougie Hall route from the early eighties called Scoop de Grace. The Scoop itself is a great feature that just begs to be climbed, but is guarded by a fifteen foot wall of essentially blank rock that is the local byword for impossibility. Just leaving the ground is difficult, making progress is harder, and there's precious little to aim for above. Sam eventually did it using the most brutal basic sequence of pull-ups on tiny edges that I knew was a non-starter for me. Some consolation though was the photo I got of him on it.

It was one of the first climbing photos I took which I'd venture to call definitive; as in I think it will be very difficult to improve upon, either by myself or anyone else. Quarried grit isn't generally a sculptural rock, but waiting until the sun was at the perfect angle brought out something pretty special.

So on sunday when Nige suggesting heading over I was pretty keen. Seven years stronger; I'd be all over it. The reality was a little different. Sam's direct sequence seemed as impossible as ever. The footholds were even worse than I remembered. The tiny crimps are harsh on the skin but I was loathe to abandon the way I knew could work for fear of wasting it getting nowhere on an alternative. However Jon and Nige got no further and I really felt like pulling any harder would be injury, so I had a go at the right-hand start. I vaguely remembered a cunning sequence but couldn't recreate it and resorted to a jump start.

All this only served to further confirm one of my pet theories, which is that I haven't improved as a climber over the last ten years, I've only become more accomplished. That might sound like like my typical half-glass-empty grumble side coming out, but its something I believe in. I could pull out the excuses, like my boots being worn out when you need new, it being May (though 6 degrees and windy...) and general poor form. But the fact is I was doing no better, and on the technical invention front had got worse. As an aside, I'll admit I have made some gains - more comfortable on big trad than I was back then, a good bit fitter, and along with the accomplishments has come experience. But to a large extent I think experience makes you more conservative technically. Climb carefully, statically, wear it down you learn. Back when I was in my early twenties I would usually pull some crazy sequence out of the bag and it would work more often than not. Nowadays it seems the bag may be empty. This being the side of climbing I most value, its a worry. How do you train for invention?

The others had lost interest. Si asked if I fancied a route. "Yeah, once I've done this," I replied. It wasn't so much PMA as stubbornness. Realistically, if I didn't do it today it might be another seven years. I'd be pushing forty, no chance. Thank god, the next go was progress. Jump off the floor, just catch the crimp with three fingers, swap feet, udge left hand to make room for a stretched match, left foot high, pull-up, out to tiny crimp, change feet, big lunge left for better crimp - a hold that is the key to the route. I'd stuck it. Left foot on fast, sag under, through to next crimp with right... back on the mats. The next hold was terrible. Another five goes got to the good crimp but no higher. I was struggling to stay warm and feeling tired.

I walked over to the others and had a snack. Looking back over, the chalk marks looked like footholds. Too small, and with worse feet. In a wider context this is also a pretty significant route. By the mid eighties this, Walk on By and Monoblock were probably the three hardest problems in the Uk. Our Big Three. I don't think anyone has done all three to this day; there's a red rag for all you strong boys out there. Gradewise I suspect Scoop is the easiest, but it will test your head too, and as a line the others do not compare.

Jog about to warm up, then back on. Miss the jump start a few times, then catch it. Back through, feeling a little better, this time I get the better crimp and can use it. Left foot high, right hand through, its bad but I'm ready for it, through to the next, its better, some weight on my feet finally. Not quite the good hold I was after though, time to move on... left hand comes through, another tiny slopey crimp. Shit, I'm coming off, paste right foot into scoop, big rockover almost into balance. Shit, no handholds. Nothing. The others have noticed, Jon runs over to spot. I'm teetering, left foot onto the slopey intermediate, left fingertips by my knee, right hand nowhere, I stab my right foot across onto the lip, it sticks. Lean into balance, exhale. Thank fuck for that. The top is a delight.


Jack said...

Good effort Adam.

Fiend said...

Nice one Adam.

Very interesting write-up about progress (or lack there of) over time. Perhaps because your skills are as much due to natural talent and intuition as they are to learning??

Adam Long said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adam Long said...

No, I'd love to think it was but it actually took me a long time to become any good - as a youth I put as much time in as any obsessive trainer, just mine was all on rock.

I think that experience tends you towards a more conservative approach. Now that I'm fairly strong and have a solid technical repertoire I get up a lot of stuff; but when something stumps me I struggle to be genuinely inventive. That used to come easy.

Fiend said...

Maybe just a plateau overall then? As much a technical one as a strength one (although I'm sure there are people who would argue that if you're reaching the limits of technique, you need to start training seriously ;)).

Swilson said...

'but when something stumps me I struggle to be genuinely inventive'

Can you not just whack a fucking heel on?