Saturday, 24 January 2009

Shades apart.

If grit was a colour it would be pink. Fact. 

There's no special name for green when you mix some white in. Well, there is - it's called Paradise Green according to Dulux, but I bet you didn't know that. If you're not going to get technical, then green is always green, no matter how much white you put in. All the colours are like that, except for red, which suddenly becomes pink with the addition of some white. 

It's called an anomaly.

Someone, somewhere, obviously thought that 'pale red' wasn't sufficient a monicker, and came up with the word pink. I don't know who that person was, but I do know who first used the term Millstone Grit: it was John Whitehurst, and he wasn't a rock tapper by trade but a mechanical engineer from Cheshire. Like pink, gritstone is something of an oddity, just a shade of sandstone with a special name. Lots of sandstones have their own names, just like Paradise Green, but none of them are quite as ingrained in our language as the ubiquitous 'grit'. It's a climber thing really - the sticky, abrasive brown stuff seems to deserve it's own name, it's definitely worth it.

Red, the much celebrated colour of danger hasn't suffered from pink's separatist tendencies. Probably because it makes you go faster. Poor old sandstone, mother rocktype of the much celebrated gritstone gets a pretty hard time in Britain, unjustifiably so. Frequently dismissed as soft, crumbly rubbish, many climbers forget that there is more to sandstone to the soft, crumbly rubbish down South (I jest...). If you visit the excellent sandstone of Northumberland you'll find something not too dissimilar to grit, to mention nothing of the brilliant sandstone around the world. So next time you're bearing down on some boulder problem at Stanage, or climbing splitters at Millstone, just remember it's all just sandstone. More love for the sand.

Torridonian sandstone is maroon, in case you were wondering.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Deliberately Dangerous?

Bouldering mats are a piece of gear, just as slider nuts and micro cams are. Using any gear changes the nature of the route, and leaving out gear to make it more dangerous and justify a higher grade seems pretty dumb. If I deliberately don't take a crucial number three cam on a route it doesn't increase by a grade, I've just made it more dangerous, and I think the same principle applies in a slightly different way to James Pearson's no mats ethic. 

The problem with ethical stances is that they often conflict with one another. There are many hard climbers doing routes in the mountains who are ardently 'free only'. Aiding is cheating and that's bad. And yet here they are, taking multiple falls onto bolts while redpointing a pitch. As far as I'm concerned if you're putting bolts into mountain crags then you're on pretty thin ground ethically. By all means go for it, (I've had some good times clipping bolts on big mountain routes) but try not to preach to others. 
James Pearson's approach is to use no pads, to draw the line between trad and 'pad trad' right there between the hard ground and one mat. And fair enough, that's an admirable ethic, but if you then go onto spend 10 days on it on a top rope you slightly lose the ethical high-ground.  

The idea that danger=ethical is a strange one which seems (from my experience of climbing around the world) to be a very British thing. Clipping that rusty as fuck peg on quarried grit is fine, but clipping a stainless bolt is somehow sacrosanct? Because you might die if you fell off? That's pretty stupid logic if you think about it. Both are damaging the rock, both make the climbing experience less natural, and yet one is tolerated because it might just kill you. How jolly British. 

In my opinion, a one day ground up ascent of a little padded out route is purer than a multi-day headpoint siege on the same objective. It just makes more sense, it's doing what climbers have always done - starting at the bottom and ending at the top, making it as safe as you feel comfortable with in the mean time. Deliberately taking a more dangerous approach, but then practicing enough to make it safer again seems illogical to me. 

I've kept out of all this grading furore until now, when my dissertaion deadline is 48 hours away and I'm embracing procrastination like never before. James Pearson seems like a genuine and really nice person, and it's a shame that there's been so much debate about such brilliant looking climbs. It should be admitted though, as good a climber as he is, the bottom line is he just can't grade routes very well; there's nothing wrong with that. 

If only he'd padded the hell out the Promise and given it Font 8a, I doubt any fuss would have been kicked up!

Thursday, 15 January 2009


I'm stuck in a black hole. Geological hyper-gravity is sucking me in. Revision that must be done lies between the window and me: outside the window is fresh air, sunshine and climbing; inside I sit in the middle of a swirling mass of notes, papers and textbooks, all orbiting my sluggish brain.

I must work, but I need to climb. From all directions come tales of good times to be had. Perfect friction at Caley, sunshine and powder in the alps, even bloody ice in South Wales. Photos pop up. Albums of denied fun fill my facebook news page. People's cameras in a state of constant upload, me in a constant state of jealousy.
The dissertation looms, not far off, in the shadows of late January. Behind it, freedom seems a lifetime away. 

Bring on February.