Thursday, 11 June 2015

Whose line is it anyway? Closed projects in bouldering

This is a question Dave Flanagan asked on The Short Span’s forum. I tried to answer it there but the forum login would simply not let me in (Sorry Dave !) So I’ll paste it here instead.

I think it simply comes down to the question: where’s the glory?

Explorers don’t ‘own’ the rocks they find but I think it’s fair to say they should enjoy some sort of ‘priority’ given they put the efforts to explore and clean rocks.

But we’re also touching at what makes the essence of climbing: is it a proper sport, i.e. are we competing against each other? Or on the contrary, is it an art, i.e. are we climbing for the sake of it, to perfect our moves, to seek the most beautiful/powerful/technical moves we can achieve? See The Boulder: a philosophy for bouldering for more on that matter.

In both cases, sport and art, the glory comes from climbing something harder than expected, i.e. harder than what you would usually climb, or harder than what the people at your own level climb.

So whether a project is ‘closed’ or ‘open’, the climber’s glory in climbing it only comes from those projects which are in our own league or above.

In other words, there will be glory for you if you steal one of Ondra’s known closed project (if he has any), but there will be little for him if he steals one of our projects – no offense meant to your ego dear reader, but I suspect you’re weaker than Adam…

I don’t know if the person who stole Dave’s project was much stronger than Dave, but from what he says, it sounds like it did not take the guy a lot of efforts.

So if someone deliberately sends your project in a couple of sessions, where’s the glory for that person?

Unless the location of the said project (like the Original Route in Glendalough) makes it a 5 star problem, or unless it becomes a local testpiece (like Le Toit du cul de chien in Font), there’s none in my opinion.

Working on Ìosal, one of my own secret 'closed' projects

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Jaizkibel - only fools and horses

The Jaizkibel is a beautiful hill range in the Basque province of Gipuzkoa (the home of Josune Bereziartu and Patxi Usobiaga, to name just a few) near the Spanish-French border.

Though the hills are surrounded by the industrial harbour of Pasaia-Lezo to the south-west, the city of Irun and the touristic town of Hondarribia to the north-east, they are well preserved and face the Atlantic sea.

They have retained an isolated character - the only life you'll meet here apart from livestock are cyclists and climbers, i.e. only fools and horses.


The rock is a high quality hard sandstone with lots of big round dishes and holes. It is a bit rougher than that of Fontainebleau. People climb mostly on the outcrops but some areas, like Cerillas, have proper stand alone boulders too. There's plenty for both sport climbing and bouldering.

Mar de romos, 7a+


Several sectors have been developed. The most famous, perhaps because it’s the closest to the road, is Cerillas, but there are plenty of other areas worth a visit and plenty more to develop.


There are lots of type of accommodation available in Hondarribia, but the cheapest and most practical (unless you have a van) is to stay at the camp site, located down the road that leads to the crags. Prices here.


Online Topos

Some Videos

Ireki ateak, 7a

Some classics of sector Cerillas

  1. Luzea***, ('long'), 7a. Really nice overhang with rock-over at the top. Bad landing though.
  2. Arista kanto gabe**, ('arête eliminate'), 6b
  3. Espolon romo** ('slopey arête'), 6c
  4. Ireki ateak eskumatik*** ('Open the doors, right hand'), 6c, easy version without the horizontal rail. SS low at the bottom right and follow the arête all the way up. 
  5. Ireki ateak eskumatik***, 7b, same SS low at the bottom right but this time cross through the roof and climb up Ireki ateak.
  6. Ireki ateak*** (Open the doors'), 7a. The nice overhanging face through a horizontal rail.
  7. Eskailera**, 7c. Sharp prow.
  8. Zuzen*** ('straight up'), 8a, Mar de romos direct sit-start.
  9. Mar de romos*** ('Sea of sloppers'), 7a+. Awesome traverse on slopers and crimps. Tricky finish - mind your head!
  10. Trikuarria* ('Dolmen'), 7a. Hard mantelshelf.
  11. Greenpeace***, 6c. Tricky slabby wall.
  12. Cool unknown SS overhang***, 7a?
  13. Tsunami***, 5+. Easy but high. Beautiful honeycomb wall.
  14. Pijorik ez***, 7a. The arête's lip without the big holes of its upper side. The crux is at the top!

Unknown 6b
Espolon Romo, 6c

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Coastal bouldering

Because it's that time of the year again.

1. Latha saor, 6b, sit-start
2. Tha mi nam shìneadh, 7a, sit-start

To be continued...

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

An t-Eilean Sgitheanach

I made the mistake of visiting the Ghrunnda* Boulders near Coire Lagan (Sron Na Ciche) on the Isle of Skye.

I should have gone to Carn Liath instead, on the northern part of the island, but the pictures and vids of Coire Lagan that I found online made it such an irresistible venue.

In fairness, the surrounding landscape is worth the walk-in (about 30 mn), for climbers, boulderers and hill walkers alike:

But the rock is a very coarse gabbro, much rougher than that of the White Bog in the Irish Cooley Mountains for instance.

I climbed some of the classics at the Venom boulder. Snake Attack (6c) and its sit-start Bite me (7a+) is definitely the best line there - in the 'accessible' grades, that is. Bass Line Venom (6c/7a) is good too but its sit start had my skin well tenderised.

Working my way up Bite me

The lines of the 'It's Over' boulders, however, were even sharper. Let's just say that compared to it, your average granite is as smooth as my daughter's bottom (who's less than a year old, I'm no perv).

Thunderhead (7b/c), Howling Gael (6b) and the 'Wings' (6c and 6b+) in particular are skin shredders. I eventually split two finger tips. In such conditions, it was hard to enjoy the rest of the trip.

That's a pity because I found a lot of rocks around the Island (and not everything is as rough as the gabbro of Coire Lagan):

*By the way, it seems that 'Ghrunnda' (with a 'h') is the lenited orthography and would therefore probably require to be preceded by a particular Gaelic word. Used on its own in English, we should probably drop that 'h'.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Bouldering at Agassiz rock, Agassize XL

Agassize XL

An undocumented L-R traverse that follows the line of least resistance of the entire crag.

Start at Rock-over (6a). 
Follow the High Traverse (aka Louie-Louie, 6b) until it runs out and move into the high groove (resting is cheating!).
Then follow a line of good crimps above the shield and settle on jugs. Make a long move to the crimps of Passing the prow (7a+, first crux). A technical sequence allows to drop onto a juggy shelf.
From the shelf, easier moves allow to step onto a big solid boss shield.
From the shield move around the corner and drop into an overhanging crimpy traverse (second crux) till you reach a big jug on the lip of the black slab. 
Match hands on the jug, rock on the slab and finish it up.

Grade is roughly f7b/+. 

Since it's roughly 70 moves, it's probably worth F8a-ish in sport climbing money but I don't do sport climbing so I wouldn't know :-)

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Bouldering at Salisbury Crags - Devo Max Traverse

Devo Max Traverse, 7a

Undocumented Line - Eliminate of 'Non-Juggy Traverse'

Traverse left to right as per 'Non-Juggy Traverse' to reach the sloping boss (no jugs allowed). 
Stay on slopers and move over the lip of the small roof till you match a bore hole rail (small crimp, crux). 
A knee bar allows to reach the higher part of the sloppy arete up (no jugs allowed on either side).
Finish standing above in a groove corner.

7a+ without the knee bar? ;-)

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Dumbarton, Scottish mecca of modern climbing, to undergo a town planning “charette”

A consultation will get under way in Dumbarton and will focus on the future of the rock and its surrounding waterfront.

BBC news reports that "Dumbarton Rock has a long history. It formed part of a volcano that was active 350 million years ago and in more recent times - the 1500s - Mary Queen of Scots stayed in the castle built on it"…

… and fails to mention that Dumby is also the home of Rhapsody, E11 7a, the world's hardest traditional rock climb (it has received only 4 clean ascents so far), and of over 20 bouldering problems in the 8 grade, including the world famous Sanction, 8b, Pressure, 8b or Gut Buster, 8b+, to name just a few.

Given there is only seven boulders at Dumbarton Rock, speaking of "concentration of hard climbing" would be a euphemism.

Yet, there wasn’t a single piece of climbing info in the BBC news article – I suspect they have not yet discovered that one can climb these rocks with their "bare hands".

Apparently local people, businesses, landowners and historians are being asked how best to promote Dumbarton Rock as a tourist destination.

While we can assume that Glasgow climbers qualify as "local people", what about the rest of the climbing community?

Unesco, help please! We’re talking world climbing heritage here!

Admittedly, tourism rarely is a threat for climbing, but what happens if they decide to make a nice landscaped promenade round the boulders?

There will be safety issues: some climbs might simply get forbidden (or worse, damaged!) to protect the passer-by.

I’m not sure if the architects, Anderson Bell Christie, know anything about climbing, but let’s hope that the design team and the town council are aware of Dumbarton’s value for us.

P.S. (27/02/15): here's today's and tomorrow's programmes (to register, visit West Dumbarton Charrette website

Friday 27 February, Dumbarton Burgh Hall - Open to the Public from 9.30pm - 3.00pm

  • Project team working on proposals and drawing up: 9.30am – 12.30pm* *NB There are no active public sessions during this time but the public and 
stakeholders can drop-in to view what is going on. 
  • Public and Stakeholder Drop-in Session: 1.30pm – 3.00pm 
The public and stakeholders can discuss and feed back on proposals to the project team and in one-to-one sessions if requested.

Saturday 28 February, Dumbarton Burgh Hall
 - Open to the Public from 10.30pm - 1.00pm 

  • Public Exhibition with Feedback / Questionnaire Sheets: 10.30am – 1.00pm 
The exhibition will display annotated plans, drawings and illustrations of proposals developed from the charrette event for comment. 
March 2015

Final Presentation and Feedback event, further details in due course.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

More bare hand activity...

With the freeing of Dawn Wall, the return of journalistic masturbation was inevitable:

“Of course, with just their bare hands to guide them, bloodied fingers and bruised, broken finger nails become the painful norm.”
(The Independant) 
“Three thousand feet of some of the hardest climbing in the world. And just their bare hands and sticky-soled shoes to get them up the granite-faced monster known as the Dawn Wall.”
“Could every inch of the blank, vertical face of the Dawn Wall be climbed with nothing more than bare hands and rubber-soled shoes?”
(New York Times) 
Kevin Jorgeson attaches clamps to the sheer granite face of El Capitan with his bare hands during the epic climb.
(Daily Mail)

The list goes on... 

I leave you to it, I'm off to find something to keep my bare hands busy.

Come to think of it, wearing gloves might not be such a bad idea.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

The Boulder: a philosophy for bouldering...

I was less than half way through Francis Sanzaro’s The Boulder - a philosophy for bouldering when it struck me. This is the best book I’ve read about bouldering so far (I haven’t read many mind you).

At last, here’s someone who sees bouldering as something more than just a sporting challenge, someone who looks at this art from various points of view, with all their complexity and contradictions.

Of course, the title can be misleading. This book is neither about bouldering tricks, nor about training – not from a purely practical point of view anyway, unless you consider that reflecting on what bouldering means to you should be one of your training goals.

Indeed, Sanzaro’s 'philosophy' for bouldering is not American (it does not propose a 'guiding principle' for your business activities...). His philosophy does what it says on the tin. His book intends to study the fundamental nature of bouldering. This will inevitably sound tedious to those who hate the buzz the brain produces when it works.

Personally, I like it. I’ve always been interested in how my body related to its environment, how it perceived space (void or conversely, materialised), how my brain analysed these perceptions and made use of it. I’ve always taken a great pleasure in touching, and anticipating the feel of a hold. When I see a piece of rock, my brain starts reading it and I imagine myself climbing it. And indeed, I take pleasure in visualizing the potential moves.

Most boulderers will intuitively understand the feelings and thoughts I’m talking about. But it is so difficult to put them into words, perhaps because we lack the time to do so, but more certainly because we think we do not have that time. You see, this is not serious matter. Society has taught us what is vital and bouldering isn’t part of it.

These are the kind of topics that Sanzaro touches but when I checked online to see if this great book had been reviewed or had had any success, I found very few references.

The first review Google pointed me to was an appalling rant by self-proclaimed “outdoor writer” John Appleby. I do not know if Appleby is a frustrated boulderer, but he seems to be a frustrated writer. I suspect Sanzaro succeeded somewhere he must have failed.

I think, however, that one condition should apply to both reviewing and good criticism: critics should like – or, better still, love – the medium they are reviewing. These are not my words by the way, but those of a famous editorial writer, William Zinsser who I shamefully plagiarize here (see On Writing Well, 1976/2006 for more).

If like Appleby, you “haven’t got a clue what this guy is on about” because “it was really passing over my head”, then move on! Don’t waste your time writing about it, write about something else you liked. Better still, if you think that “to succeed is to bring about a sense of achievement and satisfaction” then focus on what brings you that: get out and climb!

So new year's resolution folks (pretty please!), do with books what you do with boulder problems: Forget about those you didn't like and share those you enjoyed.

I'll start:

The Boulder - a philosophy for bouldering by Francis J. Sanzaro, Glasgow: Stone Country Press, 2013

PS: Interview of the author is available on Robinclose's blog.