A friend recently commented that she thought climbers can be too obsessed with grades, pushing themselves and how this held no attraction for her. The idea of constantly trying to improve would reduce her enjoyment of climbing. There was also a suggestion that pushing your limits might increase the chance of injury.
While I acknowledge that it is true some folk are obsessed with grades and improvement for improvement’s sake, there are many different reasons for wanting to improve. I will however state my reasons. It has nothing to do with ego or being competitive. It is simply that I enjoy the challenges of bouldering. I enjoy the movement and linking together sequences of movements. It is a joy to watch really good climbers make a hard sequence of moves look effortless and almost artistic. It makes me think “that looks fun to do”. You may enjoy watching the movement on display here.
I enjoy the lessons I learn from falling off. Analysing why is always helpful. I often ask questions like
Which way was my body position causing me to be pulled?
How can I counter this to make the move easier/ less strenuous?
How can I position my body to get closer to the next hold?
Was I approaching it in the correct way?
Would it be easier to move back from the hold, reposition my feet, then move closer?
Did I use the hold in the best way?
Was I holding too tight?
Getting better allows me to experience different things and employ different techniques – like a double toe hook (below). This is where the reward lies for me.
Does improvement increase the risk of injury? Well, you will fall more and that’s always an injury hazard, especially if your feet are higher than your head. However knowing how to fall will reduce the likelihood of this happening, as will having good spotters and exercising good judgement about coming off on your terms. You can also choose a safe route to break a new grade.
Heel hooking an unnamed project
Below is a photo of Chris after sending his first ever 6a (La Narine , Roche au Sabot, Fontainebleau). Note, it is low ball with a good landing. He also had spotters (out of sight) above and below.
There is also the risk of training injuries, as you try to get stronger or more flexible, and there is something to be said for listening to your body – something I’m very bad at – “of course I can do this heel hook and knee bar with a torn meniscus – OUCH!”. Campus boards should also be treated with caution. Gaz Parry on one of his TCA training sessions recommended not campusing (on boards) unless you are easily climbing 7s. Campusing on jugs is much less damaging.
I also still enjoy easier routes. Especially if I have to think my way throught them – there’s always something to learn no matter what the grade. My favourite route at Font recently was not my hardest. It was one that required some nice footwork (below). There is a video of me sending it which I’ll post when I work out how without creating a youtube account for it 🙂
Unnamed route at L’Elephant, Fontainebleau
Having said all that, I am definitely not saying that you must do things this way or that way. This is just my personal attitude and response to a friend’s comment. I hope it generates some discussion and thought about your own climbing and opens up new options for you. Feel free to join us sometime if you haven’t already done so.
Paul working out a sequence on the fun that is Magic Bus, Buthiers, Fontainebleau by torchlight