Saturday 20 November 2010

Action Man33

The pheasant hit the windscreen with an alarming thud and exploded into a thousand feathers. For an instant, in that moment of impact the world stood still as Subaru and hunters’ target collided. One bred to provide the tweed-clad with a kill trophy, the other built to transport at high speed 4 hand-handed boulders (climbers) to the crag with road sucking handling. Thousands of well-bred birds lined the A68, oblivious to the dangers of flying into the path of metal machines and getting in the way of the small bands of late autumn cold rock hunters. Northumberland is a very special place, tens of sandstone edges break though the moorland heather all over god’s county, providing some of the best bouldering (climbing without ropes) in the UK. After the ubiquitous cafĂ© stop to indulge in fruit scones, cream and jam washed down with strong coffees, the four of us piled back into the car and headed to “Back Bowden” crag. After a short walk across the moor, we arrived at the sun lit cliff. It a perfect morning, the puddles are ice capped and frost on the grass is waiting to be released from the night’s icy grip by the first kiss of the early morning sun.

And so the ritual begins, a slow warm up both mentally and physically. Its time to loosen the drive from the neurons and engage in a world of ice cold rock, power and friction. The finger tendons are supported by rolls of zinc medical tape and climbing shoes are squeaked and rubbed clean. The rock is cold and bites into the skin, the pressure and the cold squeezing the blood from the fingertips. After a minute or so the hot aches begin, painful but welcome. They herald the start of the day’s full action.

Bouldering is about learning what you physically can and cannot do. It’s about pulling on the smallest holds you can imagine. It’s about attempting the hardest movements you will ever do without the encumbrance of rope and gear. It is the essence of climbing -pure movement. It’s raw because it comes down to skills and strength, nothing else. I think that is why it’s such a fun and fabulous volume in the mountaineering library. Unlike tramping up an alpine peak which is a macro experience in so much as it involves thousands upon thousands of individual movements made over great distances, a bouldering problem may only have 5 or 10 body movements made on a 3-6m high lump of rock and in a field full of sheep. It’s a chance to get involved in a world of micro subtleties. It’s the millimetre perfect placement of a foot. It is the ability to use a minuscule outward slopping hand hold where the ancient individual grains of embedded sand have to be caressed, or crushed into success. It’s about trying and not being put off by failure, it’s the Robert the Bruce spider, refine, refine, and then flow. Ultimately though its not the climbing that I remember with the most fondness. It’s the crunch of the frozen grass under foot. The sharing of the coffee flask, the encouraging others to push to their limits and being pushed myself to attain what a first may have literally seemed out of reach. It’s the joy of shared experiences, laughs and the banter. Oh yes and the speeding tickets and the green unmarked police Volvo……

No comments:

Post a Comment