Sunday, April 27, 2014

To boulder go where many have gone before.

Driving back and forth twice a week from north east to north west Wales, my usual route takes me through Llanberis Pass with occasional deviations through Ogwen Valley or Beddgelert. As regular trips go it sure beats the commuter trip around the M25 or gridlocked at Sandbach services!  Driving up and down The Pass, I’m always at risk of taking out a section of stone wall as I crane my neck to see if anyone is out on the crags, or take in a buttress high above the valley which, who knows, might have some new route potential? One thing that has struck me recently, despite north Wales having enjoyed a pretty good spring so far, even on a balmy spring evening when the crags on the sunny side of The Pass are illuminated, it’s remarkable how devoid of climbers they are. On one evening last week as I drove up at around five o clock on a perfect warm sunny evening, I saw just one team on the Grochan, and they were the only ones climbing in the entire valley!

By contrast, as per usual the Cromlech boulders were teeming with activists and around the corner, on the road to Capel Curig, the RAC boulders were doing a roaring trade. Although bouldering has been practiced as long as people have been climbing, it was always practiced as either a bit of post or pre crag fun or as training for ‘real climbing’. It's stating the obvious to recognize that today, bouldering is often practiced and enjoyed as an end in itself, with many of its participants not going anywhere near a rack or rope from one month to the next. How did this state of affairs come about? Is it ‘just the moves man’ and the fact that the most popular boulders are literally road side or at the most, a short amble from the car? 

You can certainly see the appeal. Lumping a heavy rucksack full of ironmongery and ropes up to a high cwm which sees few visitors is certainly a dying art and you can understand how so many crags in the less popular areas like Mid Wales are slowly returning to nature. Even classic crags like Llech Ddu in the Carneddau are becoming vegetated and hence, attractive to winter warriors who will almost certainly be making more winter ascents than those making pure rock ascents in the future.

To get back to bouldering; I wonder how percentage wise, the figures break down between those who purely rock climb and those who purely boulder? Yes..I realise that there is a sizable cross over between those who practice all disciplines, but it’s still quite striking just how dominant bouldering activists are in relation to trad rock climbers when you see both groups in their native habitat. Is it just a generational thing? Most boulderers scampering up and down The Cromlech boulders look under 25 while those odd teams I see heading up towards Wasted, Dinas Mot, Cyrn Las and Ddysgl, with ropes tucked under their rucksack flaps, all look 40/50+.

I seem to recall someone posting a thread on UKC entitled ‘Is trad climbing dying on its arse?’ Maybe not dying exactly but certainly evolving into something different from what would be recognized by activists in climbing's post war heyday, as mountain activists embrace not just bouldering but mountain and road biking-the roads in Snowdonia are chock full of Wiggos these days! Many climbers I know hardly ever get on the crag,preferring to don their lycra and jump on their expensive road bikes and spend the day head down,arse in the air and pumping the pedals like their life depended on it. But then,that strange phenomena is worthy of investigation in itself.

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