"Alex who?" I hear you ask. Alex Honnold. I hadn't heard about him either. Turns out he's the free-soloist of the moment, and is pulling off climbs that most people wouldn't tackle with a ladder and a skyhook. He's already free-soloed the Half Dome in Yosemite and there's a rumour going around that he's going to have a go at El Capitan.
Personally, I think you have to be a special kind of crazy to be into free soloing, and the article about him seems to reinforce my opinion - but, best of British to him. Also, I can't help but have admiration for anyone with the mental fortitude to be that kind of athletic.
I haven't climbed as a habit for a few years now. Back in the days when I was dagging 600 sheep a day and could do a one-armed pullup, clilmbing was pretty much my life. Well, actually bouldering was.
For those who aren't up with the terminology, climbing is ascending a rock face, usually using a rope/harness and various means of attaching yourself to the rock such as bolts or things you put in there yourself as you go up, to break any fall you might have. Bouldering, I've best heard described as "Clinging to a rock face 30cm above the ground as if your life depended on it." There's no rope and you don't go very high, so generally you can take on far more difficult moves when bouldering.
To me, it's the movement that attracts me to climbing. I ended up randomly MCing a climbing competition one time and watching these people move on this rock face, balanced and graceful like spiders (and with teh Orsome bodies), just mesmerised me. Like shearing, I saw it and wanted to do it. So I did. I discovered that while I'm not much into chugging myself up to airy heights, I get a huge thrill from pulling off a move that requires perfect balance and enough strength to reach beyond what you'd normally do, and doing it smoothly and seemingly effortlessly. So, bouldering.
The photo in my icon is a good example of the definition of bouldering. It's me on the crux move of an unnamed V4 at Baring Head. From the layback in the picture, you have to pull your whole body to the right with only two points of contact - a vertical finger-edge for your hand and a smear for your foot - get your left hand onto where your right hand is, turn completely the other way around, foot-swap, and move across on the smear while making a similar-sized right-handed reach to a one-finger ledge. The last part of the move is completely off-balance and you can only finish it by a combination of strength, control and willpower. Last time I was at the Head the sand had moved and all the footholds were gone. Shame.
At my peak I was bouldering about V6. In the climbing world this is no big deal, the scale goes, I believe, up to about V15 these days. But it's still up there in terms of what level most people get to. And my climbing partner was as into it as I was. For climbing, we were a perfect match, more or less. He's the same height and weight as me (although he's got an ape factor of +1 and mine is dead even so he had that advantage, plus the extra muscle mass that goes with the Y chromosome), and his talent is for things that require upper body strength whereas mine is for pulling off impossible balance moves. Consequently, we'd have more than one way to approach a problem and between us we'd work it out. Importantly, he was as obsessive about it as I was - so we'd be climbing a minimum of three times a week.
Then life happened, he left the country, and I pretty much stopped climbing. I carried on alone for a while but failed to find a partner who was as well-matched - at that point there were few people in Wellington who were climbing at the same level as me, and among those, most either already had partners or didn't have the right schedule or whatever. And without the egging-on of a partner, I just sort of fizzled. But I have never lost interest in it, I've still got my shoes* and chalk bag, and I'm still mesmerised by the grace of it. And if that level of enthusiastic person comes along again, I'm in like Flynn.
Anyway, bouldering requires a completely different mentality from young Alex up there. It appears he's into the headgame of knowing you could die at any moment. Bouldering is more about the headgame of seeing something that seems impossible and doing it, training yourself into the stillness you need to reach that extra inch. One of the long-running 'heroes' of bouldering is Chris Sharma. Here's a video:
I have really struggled to find a video that captures the grace of bouldering in a way that matches what I feel. But this guy comes pretty close.
Another thing that happened the other day is that another friend of mine managed a flag. What's a flag? This is a flag:
That guy is Dan Osman. He was also a free soloist, in the late 1990s. He died doing a static bungy in 1998, but before that he managed to do some pretty impressive things, some of which can be seen in Masters of Stone IV, which as I recall includes a tribute to him because he died while it was being made.
Anyway, I've never been able to flag, and now I've decided I'd like to. I'm pretty sure I have the upper body strength but the key to flagging is core strength and I'm not sure my sides are quite up to it at the moment. So, this winter's mission - Tats Learns To Flag.
* Climbing shoes are instruments of torture. Mine are about 6cm shorter than my feet are.
In more important news, NO MORE SLEEPS!
lalala possibly see you all at Fidels, if we're not still *CENSORED*