Graham Gedge (Horse) Interviewby Mick Ryan Jul/2005
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Graham Gedge is a 44 year old father of two boys who has been climbing for over twenty years. He lives in Warwickshire, works as a consultant metallurgist, rides a 2001 Triumph Daytona 955i, and loves a pint of Timothy Taylor's Landlord. He rope climbs, mainly trad, boulders, and ice climbs. On UKC's Rocktalk Graham is more well known as 'Horse' and even more well known as an articulate defender of the true traditional faith of climbing and has been known to roast alive those who insist on taking the easy option. If he was a Camp 4 resident in California's Yosemite Valley he would be known as a 'soul climber'.
If there's a thread about Top-roping Horse is likely to be in the vicinity and over the years has come out with some of the best arguments and one liners on this touchy and always controversial subject.
My favourite must be, "To me top-roping can be likened to the Village Pub taking on Manchester United and winning, but all the United players have to play blindfolded and with their legs tied together", but there are many more some of which can be found at the end of this brief interview, including a useful list of places to top-rope in the Peak District.
I caught him midweek after a hard day at work, when he had just finished putting his two 7 year old boys to bed and just after watching the Le Tour highlights.
I noticed you didn't contribute to the latest top-roping thread "Top-roping bastards" on UKC. Have you lost some of your fire in the top-roping debate?
I did follow that one but that one was really about apparent bad management of groups and the arrogance of people who think that to have paying clients gives them some sort of privilege. I didn't seem to have anything to add, I think most people agree that sort of thing isn't on, including me. My joining in wasn't going to change things or alter an opinion. I don't think I have lost the fire, just that I prefer to keep it a bit in reserve to puncture some of the nonsense that gets trotted out on the Ethics and Style threads. Perhaps I am learning "less is more".
You've been quite constructive in your criticism of the top-roping plague recommending that climbing instructors encourage leading and the onsight ethic, that guidebooks recommend where top-roping might be suitable, and that those who are critical of top-roping get to air their views. Has there been an increase in top-roping and if so what do you think the reason is for it? Is there anyone to blame?
Well you have to go back in time. Twenty odd years ago when I started out I never knew what a top-rope was. In fact it was only when I had been climbing several years and had the misfortune to go to a wall that I found out. I think that is where the root cause is; the way people come to climbing nowadays. It is seen as an activity to be done in large parts of The Peak, no more than an outside wall, convenience climbing where anything goes but much of it is done out of ignorance and perhaps innocence. You are not going to change that by telling them they are "poofs", "whimps" or "not proper climbers", you have to persuade them there is an alternative. That is why I think leading should be part of any climbing course, let's face it, if you can't get up a Peak Moderate or Diff at the sharp end on your first weekend, then you ain't ever going to be a climber. When I started you learnt that sort of thing from your mates, it was taken as read.
I am not sure I have ever recommended guidebooks saying where top-roping is suitable, what I have said is that guidebooks should state that certain areas (Stanage Popular End, Froggatt Great Slab for example) should be top-rope no-go areas, and also say that if you go to Crag X, Buttress Y, then here top-roping is an established practice so don't be surprised to find a rope in residence.
As to the pro lobby, I encourage it to find out what the case they have is, beyond the usual boo words of "fun", "rights" and "elitism". Most haven't a clue what those words mean in a climbing context but with one or two (and I mean one or two) I have never heard a case that has any rigorous foundation or stood scrutiny. I find that strange because personally sorting out why I take the stance I do helps, in some small way, to understand what the hell motivates me to go out there and do what we do. I also think that stance has a degree of rigour to it.
As to the increase, I think it did dramatically about 5 years ago. Now I see signs the tide might be on the turn. The other Sunday afternoon I was at Stanage around Christmas Crack and Rusty Wall. I was there most of the afternoon and, although there were quite large groups about with inexperienced climbers, none were top-roping. It gives one hope.
Ever been sport climbing and if so what did you think of it?
In the spirit of trying anything once, I did give it a whirl a couple of times in The Alps about 10 years ago. Did a few of routes and then retired to the bar over the road, the highlight was taking bets on whether the other two would get off the route before the lightening got them on the bail out, as both of them made it I lost an expensive round of beers.
More seriously, it didn't float my boat. I think part of the problem is that there is little low-to-mid grade stuff here in the UK to get going on. That and the fact that I can't be bothered to work a route to death (or a boulder problem, two goes and move on) or spend the time to "get into it". Why should I when there are large proportions of the Peak, Wales, Lakes and Scotland that I haven't yet been to. No doubt someone would argue my general climbing would improve but frankly given the choice of a weekend at Portland or a few days at Reiff, Esk Buttress, Cloggy or some such, it is a no contest. Besides I like the ambience and atmosphere of the moorland edges and mountain crags, climbing out of some hole or old quarry in The Peak doesn't really conjure up the wider climbing experience for me. Having said that I have always fancied having a go at clipping those bolts and climbing out from behind the cave/waterfall at the top of Gordale, thankfully I'll probably never be good enough.
If the sub text of the question is what do I think of Sport Climbing, I am for the most part ambivalent. It has a place and if that's what people want to do then fine just so long as the bolts never appear on mountain crags or gritstone then fair play.
You've climbed up to E3, what about bike riding, what equivalent grade do you ride?
I ride a bike as a means of transport more than anything else, I am not a biker as such and I have never been on a track. Generally I probably ride at Scottish Grade V taking account of the objective dangers that lurk around. There are sections of road I know well where a rehearsed sport grade might be more appropriate but I haven't a clue about them, so let's say about E5 6a. Occasionally one goes bouldering and a short burst of 6b might be in order, but at that speed there is no dropping onto the mat!!!
What's your local crag? How far is it and how quickly can you get there?
The Peak, seriously I can be at most of the venues in about one and a half hours by bike, two or so by car. It usually takes longer as my mate lives in Chesterfield and he runs a good kitchen.
There were 11 fatal motorcycle accidents and 87 serous injuries of bikers in 2004 in Warwickshire. Think you'll ever be one of them in the future?
I hope not, grabbing the nearest bit of wood. I am not a weekend warrior and don't go out riding with groups trying to race. If you ride a lot you realise the risks and try to avoid them, bit like climbing but I put a lot of that awareness to spending ten years commuting to work on a bicycle in London, far more dangerous than anything else I have done.
Still smoke? Ever tried giving up the ciggies?
Yes. Yes and managed it for about 6 months.
What would be your dream climbing trip outside the UK? Any chance of realising that dream?
I used to dream about Ama Dablam but I doubt I will ever do that. I found in The Alps that I suffered quite badly with the altitude and I couldn't imagine sliding up fixed ropes on a commercial trip. More realistic perhaps would be the Paine, Patagonia - amazing bit of rock and I recall one of the guys from the 50s and 60s saying there were some fantastic VS standard routes down there. Looks like we might be involved in a Bridge in Southern Chile sometime soon so maybe I can sneak a visit and go AWOL for a few days and nip over the border. On a smaller scale I have always liked the look of some of the stuff at places like Joshua Tree doing a few highballs might not go amiss.
Do you wear a helmet when climbing?
Always ice climbing, usually when on mountain or multi-pitch routes, rarely if ever on grit and I refuse to wear any sort of head gear when bouldering
No, and I only had a front brake which worked so well it hoiked me over the front on my first big hill. Plenty of blood.
Do you have a bouldering mat?
No, I use Sloper's but miss it all the time and land on an old bar towel, remember them?
Your most recent book read?
Scottish Winter Climbs, just before we started this lark. Work related the exciting title "Developments in Duplex Stainless Steels", last novel was probably "Catcher in the Rye" last year.
What's on your iPod?
I usually just turn the thing on a let it play. Groove Armada, U2, REM, Ryskoop, Massive Attack, and a lot of dance type music mixes the names of which escape me.
A quick game of word association Graham. Say the first thing that comes into your head. (Graham's responses on the right.)
England Rugby XV Bring on the Celts
Bastard Practice If I never see it again it will be too soon
Ben Nevis The meanest and the best, a bloody long day.
Tight Rope Please God no!
Onsight Climbing pure and simple
Stick Clip Here kids look what I have found.
Via Ferrata Staircase
Jude Law Who
Freshers Meet at Stanage I'm off to the Far End
Climbing in the Olympics No thanks.
Roman Polanski He's in court
The BBC Tries hard
The BMC Should try harder
First Lead Severe Three Cliffs Bay, Gower, the only route name I can't remember
Woman Yes please
Jude Calvert-Toulmin Mad as a hatter
Paris Hilton Who?
Yosemite Warren Harding
Marmite Where is the toast?
OK. I'll give you a choice of two words, you choose one.
Lakes or Wales? Lakes
Mallorca or the Verdon? Verdon.
A large friend or a No. 10 Hex? Hex.
Alan Hinkes or Joe Simpson? Joe.
Johnny Dawes or Don Whillans? Hard, but Johnny just.
Pete Livesey or Ron Fawcett? Fawcett.
John Dunne or Steve McClure? Dunne.
Airlie Anderson or Lucy Creamer? Don't really know.
Rockax or Climbers Club? Rockfax.
Planet Fear or UKC? UKC.
Plumber or an Accountant? Couldn't care less.
Pembroke or Malham? Pembroke.
Climb or Climber magazine Neither.
Mac or PC? PC.
Broadband or dial-up? Broadband.
TV or Radio? Radio.
Pete Tong or Terry Wogan? Pete Tong.
The Times or the Guardian? Telegraph.
Angelina Jolie or Jennifer Aniston? Jolie.
Harley Davidson or Ducati? Ducati.
Emmerdale or Coronation Street? Channel Four News.
Big Brother or Celebrity Love Island? A bullet.
New Labour or Old Labour? New labour.
Bob Geldof or Kofi Annan? Kofi.
Green Tea or Yorkshire Gold? Yorkshire Gold.
Grilled Salmon or Sirloin Steak? Salmon.
Some of Graham Gedge's classic quotes from UKC.com Rocktalk forums.
"My point is that you should at least respect the rock and give it a chance to repulse you if you are not good enough. I simply cannot see the point in reducing a climb to linking up a sequence of moves by pummeling the problem into submission by practicing it with impunity by dangling from the safety of a top rope."
"Climbing to me at least is not just about a sequence of moves linked together, it is about accepting the risk and dealing with what the rock throws at you. Sometimes you win sometimes the rock does that is an important part of it. To stack the odds hopelessly in your favour just seems futile, unrewarding and meaningless to me."
"To me top-roping can be likened to the Village Pub taking on Manchester United and winning, but all the United players have to play blindfolded and with their legs tied together"
"My concern regarding the evil of the Topper is mainly with those coming into the sport, the rest of us should know better, and the way they are taught leading to the proliferation of the Topper. As John Cox has eloquently argued previously the reliance on the TR pays scant regard to the history and traditions of UK climbing and I find it a sadness that people turn up at a crag solely with the intention of top-roping something rather than having any aspiration to competing with the rock on something like equal terms. I saw a party earlier this year do exactly this at Paradise Wall, Stanage - a nice steady VS - and proceed to lob off the start of it with impunity. What is the point? "
In response to this quote:"It doesnt matter what you think if the majority think the exact opposite. If you don't compromise why should they?"Horse replied, "That is the classic position of negotiation, or Mexican stand-off and there is nothing wrong in taking a different stance to the majority remember only dead fish swim with the tide. As I have said before I appreciate that some form of pragmatic solution is what is needed even if personally speaking I don't particularly like it, question is how far does the compromise go?"
And here is part of Horse's pragmatic solution:
"You may be surprised that I am making these suggestions given my views on the subject, at times one has to be pragmatic and if this evil is going to be practiced then lets at least get it out of the way."
"As far as the Peak District is concerned the following should be complete no go areas for top-roping at any time but especially weekends:
1) Popular end of Stanage – say from Wall End Slab to the Cowper Stone.
2) High Neb buttress area
3) Chalkstorm area of The Roaches
4) The whole of Burbage North but particularly the section from the start to beyond Banana Finger (see exception below).
5) Froggatt – Long Johns and Great Slab
6) Birchen – particularly controversial as this often regarded as a beginners crag.
7) Lawrencefield – my experience of top-roping at this place is that it requires a good deal of care not to piss off other climbers and also not to put them at risk from falling objects. Personally I wouldn't get that bothered about this place but I have suffered some real bombardments in the past. Also avoid the Gingerbread area, polished is putting it mildly.
If you must top rope then try areas such as:
1) Crow Chin area of Stanage – bit of a walk but a good spot with some nice friendly routes on it there is a really good severe up the middle of the slab.
2) Stanage North – the initial slab should provide some entertainment and is out of the way there is also a nice grassy bay to the right (facing the crag) of Old Salt.
3) Burbage North – Overhanging Buttress. The problem with this one is that it seems to have sprouted a top rope naturally so is usually mobbed which means that the nieghbouring bits of crag end up getting dangled off.
4) Windgather – can't really complain about the TR at this place because most of the stuff is easy and recognised as a beginners haunt. Belays may require imagination.
5) My mate who does a fair bit of instruction takes groups to Horseshoe Quarry. Not been there myself but I would just his judgement.
Hope these are useful/helpful suggestions.