I’ve never been the best climber in the world and never will be – or maybe I have? It depends on your perspective. Climbing is many different things to different people and is generally such a personal experience, so who is to say one person is having a more or less fulfilling time than another?
As climbers and mountaineers we sometimes get pushed, either by our own ambitions or the influences of the climbing media or friends, to think that climbing the hardest or most dangerous objectives should be the main goal and we celebrate the latest rise in standards just as happens in many other sports. Yet, although there is nothing wrong with that, some people will never then achieve what they strive for.
We recently had a mid fifties new climber on a course and he seemed to be overly troubled by the fact he would never reach the levels he aspired to. I spent a lot of time trying to convince him that it didn’t really matter and, although he could and should aim to improve his grade and ability (there is a lot of pleasure in that as a goal), one of climbing’s big strengths is also that you can have fun at whatever grade you climb.
Many years ago a friend of mine, who at the time climbed at a very high grade, went to join his university climbing club. He became frustrated by the fact that the only question he kept being asked as he introduced himself to people was what grade he climbed. So frustrated, in fact, that he started giving a stock answer that he had climbed a great Vdiff recently. He felt that the only thing deemed of importance to the others in the club was grade. I would love to have seen the shocked faces when his peers first climbed with him, and yet the point is that it still wouldn’t have mattered to him because all he wanted to do was to go and have some fun with like minded people. The last thing he was bothered about was what grade they climbed.
Over my climbing career I have scared myself on a few E5’s and got wobbly knees on grade Vl ice routes and yet those climbs, as I look back, aren’t the biggest highlights for me. The highlights usually boil down to the company I shared the experiences with, the quality of the climb, the situation and factors like the weather and overall adventure experience of the day. Usually, I would say, those factors get best distilled together on long mountain routes.
I remember, for example, a great day in torrential rain on Craig Y Ysfa’s Great Gully in Snowdonia as my friend Al and I swam our way up on a day when no one else could be coaxed out of the cafe. Great Gully is a moderately graded Vdiff and yet, on that day, Al and I had to aid a section and even use some combined tactics on the upper chimney, but it was such a laughter filled day that it will live with me forever. Our whoops of joy on the top were instantly carried away by the wind and yet the memories live on.
Another memorable day would be the first time I climbed Needle Ridge on Great Gable in glorious sunshine with Sandy and Dan. We had come up to solo Napes Needle and yet, once that was finished, we still had plenty of time and thought we’d head up the Ridge. The route is again moderately graded and yet, as we moved comfortably along the ridge with the stunning views of the Wasdale Valley and Wastwater below us, I really wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.
Solos on Arapiles Sandstone at sunset with a bunch of characters from the campground, climbing in Eldorado Canyon, at Rocklands, my first Alpine PD, leading a grade 2 on my first visit to a wintery Ben Nevis, standing atop a Himalayan trekking peak for the first time and then, as time has passed, beginning to introduce my children to these type of delights. Grades are important and yet it isn’t all about the grades.
Of course I have vivid memories of sketchier moves on run out pitches too, but it is undoubtedly the overall experience of the adventure that ticks my boxes most. These highlights can come on hard routes but can just as easily be sought on easier options. I have, since my his vearly experiences on single pitch gritstone, taken the client mentioned above on a multi pitch Snowdonia Classic and I think he is beginning to see what I mean.
The late and great climber Alex Lowe, when asked who was the best climber, famously said the best climber was the one having the most fun. I am the best climber and I hope you are too.
Posted by Paul