Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Who's the True First?

The making of authenticity requires mysticism.

Roots cannot be authentic without legends, heroes and Gods, figures who newcomers can look up to.

As early as the 1940s, kids were riding boards on each side of the Atlantic.

This is a fact. 

There are photographs and written reports - US army auxiliary Betty Magnuson, for instance, reported in her letters having seen children in 1944 Parisian Montmartre riding boards with roller skate wheels (info sourced on Wikipedia).

That's what kids used to do. They'd screw the wheels of roller skates to a wood board, like this:

Actually, four-wheeled roller skates were patented in 1863, so it is likely that kids started to build skateboards even at the time of the rinkomania.

But such activity is not perceived as ‘proper’ skateboarding by today's skateboarding community because, authenticists argue, these kids were children'. 

They were not skateboarding for the sake of it. They were ‘messing
. They were ‘just’ playing. 

Authenticists claim that skateboarding ‘as we know it
’ or as an end in itself, was born when adult Californian surfers decided to invade the urban realm while sea waves were flat. 

In the authenticist discourse, the people who give the legitimate birth to the practice are often called ‘pioneers’. They’re usually described as the ‘first’ to have done something.

Here are the actual words of an authenticist, John Severson, publisher of The Quarterly Skateboarder, in his first editorial in 1964:

Today's skateboarders are founders in this sport—they're pioneers—they are the first. There is no history in Skateboarding—it's being made now—by you.

The authenticity of skateboarding had been forged i
n a couple of sentences. The coronation of 1964’s skateboarders as ‘founders of the sport’ forged the myth and initiated a cult. 

Even more striking is the denial of any pre-existing skateboarding facts – 
there is no history in Skateboarding - which means that any previous recorded skateboarding activity, such as that of kids having fun in the streets 20 years earlier, is considered as pre-historic and therefore illegitimate. 

By writing up history, the authenticist forges history, n
ever mind the facts.

To conclude, here's an inspiring video archive from the 1930s (maybe?), featured on Gizmo!, a documentary by Howard Smith, released in 1977. Among the daredevils could be John Ciampa, the ‘Human fly’ from Brooklyn, and the German stuntman Arnim Dahl.

Does this qualify as authentic buildering? Or as parkour, perhaps? Gosh, no, wait... They're not doing it as an end in itself, right? 

Well, never mind, let's call it ‘fun’.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Bouldering near Vigo - Parque da Penacova

While civilized celebrations were going on at home at the Edinburgh festival, I was enjoying myself, abroad, at a primitive fiesta.

Stones and rocks were to primitive people what cats and dogs are to us. I was bound to find boulders.

Unga Unga, 6b+/7a

The event was held in a clearing among the woods. The woods were full of big stones, many of them holding prehistoric marks, which gives the locals an excuse to get stoned:

They also use babies. They throw them at each other or use them as cushions. Some females even use them as fashion accessory:

The local granit is as rough as its primitive masters, but I survived anyway. 

Here's the climbing info:

Reta Cromañón, de pies, 6a

Matapiollos, sentado, 6b

3. Lance, sentado, 6c 

4. Saida proyecto

5. Proyecto eliminante, fenda
6. Unga, de pies, 6b+
7. Unga Unga, sentado, 7a 
8. Variante Unga, de pies, 6b+ 
9. Piel de troll, 6b+

Otro proyecto a cepillar

Our local guide, Bob the boulder:

Can you fix me?

Hai moitas pedras entre A Gándara e As Regadas no campo de festas prehistoricas do Parque da Penacova:

Usted esta aquí

The traditional gogomap locator:

And finally, the flyer of the Festa da Prehistoria:

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Bouldering in Galicia - Corme

 Sector Gulich

El Gulich, SS, 6c+

 Sector Cerebro

Levitación en movimiento, 6c

Boulder en Galicia, Guía Zona Norte, (in Spanish), 
By Alejandro López Sánchez, 2013, 
Published in A Coruña, Galiza (Spain) by Campo IV 
Available at: Terra Deporte Aventura, Pi y Margall Street, no 53, Vigo 36202  (Tfno: 986 439 431) 
and also at www.libreriadesnivel.com/libros/boulder-en-galicia/9788493990718/

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Bouldering in Galicia, near Vigo - O Galiñeiro

Home de Pouca Fe, 7b

Sesión Vermouth, 5+
Requiere Atención, 6c+
Topo and info on Ovos de Gneis (a bloque no Monte Galiñeiro/bouldering at Monte Galiñeiro).

The Galiñeiro hill
The Galiñeiro's gneiss

Friday, 10 July 2015

Feedback on ascents and grades

The Second version of the Pedra Rubia guidebook has been published in June 2013. The first version was published the previous year (June 2012) but did not include a section about Portocelo.

If you’ve followed my blog, you might remember that I had climbed a few lines in Portocelo back in 2010.

At the time, I had looked for info everywhere, but had not found any either online or on paper. The only thing I knew was that it wasn’t a proper discovery. On a Galician forum, a guy called Luis Vigo had told me Portocelo boulders had been a climbing spot for the last 15 years and had even seen the first Galician bouldering comp in 1998.

So in an effort to share what I knew, I had post up some info online, via my own blog, YouTube, the web platform UKClimbing, Facebook and the likes.

Five years later, I find that some of ‘my’ problems (for more on ownership, see previous blog post) have been recorded in a guide book under different names and displaying different grades.

My first reaction was that of a six year old. I thought it was not fair. But after second thoughts, I realized that the people who had published the guidebook could hardly know about my FAs.

After all, my blog is written in English and only a handful of people reads it (thanks for your patience if you’re one of them), so I probably don’t rank very high in Google relevance charts.

Besides, 'my first ascents' were probably not proper FA anyway.

Nevertheless, it’s very interesting to compare the grades:

Pierre Fuentes, 2010

César Alvarez, 2013

Difference of grades
El Zambulidor
El Dragón
El Gigante verde
Super Tanker
Super Tanker
El pesa’o
O Electronico
Techo izquierda
Corner Ongui
La fisura del techo de Portocelo
O Fendeteito
Techo derecha
Corner Etorri

Interestingly, some of the 2013 names are in Galician (the local language) rather than Spanish. While I can speak Spanish, my understanding of Galician is limited and I could have hardly found many problem names, so I’m actually quite glad these problems have proper local names.

Although some other lines also show striking similarity, the lines shown in the table above are all the exact same. This observation points towards the existence of 'natural' lines, i.e. problems that are not just the result of one person's imagination, but that seem obvious to people who have not been in contact at all. Do 'true' lines exist? I believe so.

Yet the grade difference is substantial. In all cases but one, the difference varies from 2 to 4 grades, the maximum difference being from 6a to 6c. Either I was sandbagging, or inflation is rampant in the 6 grade sector.

I doubt that I was completely off the mark though. I have climbed a lot of boulder problems in the 6 grade, on granite, in different places and countries including Ireland, Scotland, France, Spain, and in various conditions, from bone dry windy days to miserable drizzly days, and from -5°C to +30°C. So while I could be wrong with 5s and 7s grades, I think I’m fairly accurate when it comes to 6s.

Another interesting fact - for social media addicts anyway - is that the only boulder problem that has the same name and the same grade (Super Tanker, 7a+) is also the only problem that I’ve named and graded on YouTube for this area, which would imply that YouTube is more visible that the other social media I used - but we all know that watching vids is easier than reading info, right?

In any case, I thought this really put in perspective the power of the Internet - It’s not sufficient to share info online, people have to be able to find it easily!

Also, we should not underestimate the power of languages. Not everyone speaks English. Or want to. The same goes for Spanish. Some people speak and use Galician for bouldering, which means this minority language is well and alive.

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'.