Matt Burns on ‘Slim Pickens’, Hueco Tanks Pic by Nuno Monteiro
The mighty Bowderstone, Lake District, England
Bob Ewen on ‘Science Friction’, Apremont, Fontainebleau Pic by Tim Morozzo
Bernd Zangerl on Slashface, Hueco Tanks Pic by Sandra Studer
It is strange how boulderers claim that a cutting-edge problem is ‘futuristic’. What they mean, despite the fact that the problem has paradoxically occurred in the present, is that the climbing represents a clairvoyant vision of standards in the future – it is a kind of faith in an endless progression towards some truly futuristic climbing impossibility… and this particular climb by this boulderer has somehow time-warped into the present, such is the jaw-dropping improbability it could be climbed. It is as if we had been given an example of a God at play, or some higher alien bouldering intelligence is visiting for the day, but despite the evidence we still find it indistinguishable from magic. Will this always be the case, or will boulderers hit a glass ceiling of possibility and will grades simply accordion into a raucous symphony of meaninglessness?
Bernd Zangerl in South Africa Pic Zangerl Collection
Parenthèse – Something New I’ve been trying the same problem for three years now and the closer I get to doing it, the more success seems to elude me. Is it the promise of a new level of difficulty, is it the incredible line? As usual, I can not explain what it is that gets hold of me and gives me the irresistible urge to climb that problem. Is today yesterday or tomorrow? The sense of time evaporates; I’m totally absorbed in the challenge posed by this boulder. This morning, here I am again at the bottom, each move indelibly burned into my consciousness by my desire. “I should have done this thing at least 10 times by now!” I’m in a dream now and as soon as I start moving I feel the strength coursing through me, filling me with a gentle warmth. There is no doubt any more, just happiness when I look at the line and joy at trying to reach that magic state you only achieve when you are finally ready to do a problem, where everything feels easy. As soon as I do the opening moves it all feels easy and I enter another dimension. I have the strange sensation of watching myself attempt the problem. Like a wisp of smoke, weight no longer exists and I float like a butterfly, beyond the reach of gravity. The moment I’m up I begin to feel regret at reaching the end of this particular story because I know that success has erased the doubts that made me feel so alive during my attempts. A number, a signature and, for me, the picture is already fading. It is up to others now to come along and try it and to decide if it is going to be a new masterpiece in our gallery of classics or if it is to be consigned to oblivion. Whatever happens, nothing can take away the experience I have been through and now leaves me feeling a little empty. So what’s new then? Just that little alarm bell that rings insistently inside me, reminding me that maybe today is the day when I will do that new problem, that it is time to go climbing. Happy in the end that I have turned my dreams into reality and that the story can now continue. Maybe the story will never end? The rock still has not given up all its secrets. I still feel the same hunger as in the early days, the same surge of excitement when I set off bouldering – what a beautiful madness! Jacky Godoffe
Jacky Godoffe on What’s Up at Fontainebleau Pic Godoffe collection
The True Nature of Difficulty Many older climbers tend to view bouldering more as a personal challenge, a path of accomplishment - of enlightenment even - than as a formal competitive sport with international rankings. They are concerned with personal progress and skills and perhaps use the V-scale as a convenient (though inconsistent) measure, and experience bouldering as a life-style, not merely an athletic competition. The meaning of bouldering is a function of commitment, and can never be adequately articulated. But intensity, total involvement, and challenge premised on difficulty are usually parts of the personal equation, as is some degree of exploration.
And what is the true nature of difficulty? Can there really be a uniform code describing it? Does it exist in some abstract, objective way? If so, can you distinguish where genetics ends and difficulty begins? As the pool of bouldering athletes grows those at the far right end of the bell curve are more genetically appropriate for the sport, and what was once perceived as very difficult simply doesn’t seem all that hard for them. Climbers now warm up on 5.10 – the top grade in the late 1950s. Furthermore, apart from genetics there is a phenomenon seen frequently in educational circles: the power of expectations. Each act of climbing is an individual act, unrelated to someone else’s performance. There is no single “climb”. When you truly understand this, you free yourself from the strong currents of mainstream practice and philosophy and appreciate the simple, unexploited experience of controlled movement on rock. Nevertheless, bouldering – in its current guise - is exciting and enormously energizing, and it compels us to be the best we can be - regardless of numbers or letters or what others are capable of. It’s personal and deeply rewarding… John Gill
John Gill, Pueblo Colorado, Fatted Calf dyno mid 1970â€™s Pic: Gill Collection
Space Baba, Hampi Pic David Balcells Collection
Discovery I have a problem with newly discovered bouldering venues, wherever they might be. It is a fundamental dichotomy of emotions, a win/lose dynamic, one for the karma mechanic to ponder. The doubts kick in after completing a new problem that I deem to be hard, or good, and thus worthy of attention. The mental turmoil is born of insecurity, compounded by my childish desire for recognition and approval and yet modified by my inherent selfishness. Inevitably, the ego comes stabbing through, and I accord my â€˜discoveryâ€™ more importance than it actually merits. It is me that requires the attention, not the boulder problem. Sometimes I am so arrogant and deluded that I use my bouldering as a metaphor for all that is pure and real and true in life, when in fact it is merely the act of doing small things in big places. Tim Carruthers
C’était demain The name of my first major new problem was C’était demain (Once Upon Tomorrow) - a name that, for me, sums up perfectly what bouldering is all about: a continuum stretching between a past created by others, which helps shape your identity, and a future that you help to construct for the next generation. If it is romantic nonsense to view the rock as a living thing, then how can we explain the incredible importance it assumes in our lives?
Time and time again, we are seized by that sudden irresistible compulsion: we see a boulder and we are left with no choice other than to go and climb it. Maybe it is a remnant of our childhood; that impulse to attempt the forbidden, to climb onto the sofa or the wardrobe even though you know you will end up getting a hiding. The rock helps us to overcome boundaries; our personal limits, sometimes absolute limits, but also the boundaries of language and culture, and even the boundaries of time. Over more than a century of climbing here in Fontainebleau, generations of climbers have created problems that have existed outside time. I am always amazed when I climb a classic problem, first done so long ago. It is a wonderful way to travel back in time. You can imagine yourself in the role of the pioneers, who set down the rules of the games we all know so well. Sitting starts, scary highball problems, traverses, classic problems…. For me, climbing has always been a unique force for uniting people around a shared passion. Pacifist, free and ultimately human, in our profit-hungry world. Jacky Godoffe
Bouldering on Echo Rock, Polldoo, Ireland Pic Dave Flanagan Collection
Modern Bouldering With the advent of indoor training walls and a growing popularity across the globe, the late 80’s and the 1990’s saw another leap in standards and a plethora of new bouldering venues across the planet. Climbers became aware of names such as ‘Cresciano’, ‘Hueco Tanks’, ‘Bishop’ and bouldering decided to see how far it could go in the realms of the possible. In England, the outré but talented Jerry Moffatt climbed Superman (Font 8a+) at Cressbrook in 1988 (a limestone venue which gave its name to overhung training boards), the hardest moves in a British scene then obsessed with sport climbing and physical training. It seemed the eighth grade would go the same way as the seventh grade… Jerry Moffatt crossed the water in 1993 and Yosemite’s Camp 4 suddenly had a new testpiece: Dominator (V12/13), the same year saw Jacky Godoffe levitate higher with Fatman (Font 8b) at Cuvier Rempart. Mal Smith climbed Leviathan at Kyloe-In (Font 8b+) in 1994, in 1997 we had Klem Loskot’s Berchtesgaden Nanuk (Font 8b+) and Werner Thon’s Frankenjura Zerberus (Font 8b+), Fred Nicole kept raising the bar as well (Slashface, Font 8b+, Hueco Tanks, USA 1998). Other boulderers were beginning to reach these levels and the ‘impossible’ grades kept falling…inevitably the first Font 8c was climbed in 2000 as Fred Nicole linked the clean desperation of Dreamtime at Cresciano, Switzerland. Sport climbing and bouldering grades moved closer together with ‘extended’ boulder problems such as The Wheel of Life by Dai Koyamada, in the Grampian mountains of Australia…an awesome achievement and given V16, but raising the old chicken and egg question as to where a boulder problem ends and a route begins! Now we live in a world of condensing possibilities and repeats of such hard problems are relatively commonplace, though the arguments are louder and more extended, and the boulderers simply want to boulder more and more...will it ever end?
New Zealand bouldering Pic Mark Watson collection
Bigger & Bolder At the top level, future bouldering will really be all action. Moves and sequences will be go! go! go! No stopping to recover or chalk up – the hardest problems will be far too sustained for resting on, even a flick of the wrist. If you take a stroll around Cresciano and look at the hardest problems of 2007, the first thing that occurs is that they have ‘real’ holds! Incuts, even the odd heelhooking jug. But in between there are boulders with features all the way, but nothing incut and nothing to recuperate on. Being more of a brute will only be part of the story. Today’s boulders can be cracked by being a mutant in just one of the elements – strength, fitness, body awareness tactics and bottomless determination. In the future you will need more of all the ingredients, not just the ones that come naturally to you. 144
In the field of exploratory bouldering, there is so much work still to be done to fully realise the potential of the places we have found already. The past five years have been a blizzard of new places to boulder – too many to visit or even to have heard about. The fact is, that wherever you are on the planet, there is almost certainly good bouldering not too far away. And wherever there is bouldering, even the most popular venues have new lines to discover. Anyone who has been climbing long enough to see venues develop over more than one decade will know that it takes many waves of activity for boulders to get clean and for people to see and realise all the lines on offer. Future bouldering still holds many discoveries right under our noses.I also reckon that boulder problems will get bigger and bolder as mats get chunkier! Big bouldering is a good thing! In every area, bouldering is still so young. Dave MacLeod
Barbara Zangerl highballing it in South Africa Pic Zangerl Collection