British climber Ned Feehally has been consistently performing at a very high level within a number of different bouldering disciplines for several years now. Ned's list of achievements is very long and includes ascents of hard boulder problems such as; The Ace, 8B, The Dagger, 8B+, Boogalagga, 8B, and flashes up to 8A. Ned has also made highball ascents of many high and hard boulders/routes including Samson, 8A, Careless Torque, 8A. On top of these performances, he has consistently placed 1st in the British Bouldering Championships, and has seen good results on the World Cup scene.
UKC Chief Editor Jack Geldard caught up with Ned to find out a little bit more about him, what makes him tick and how he manages to perform well both outside and on the competition circuit:
Jack: You studied in Sheffield right? What did you study, and when did you graduate?
Ned: Yeah, biology at Sheffield Uni. I kind of decided I wanted to go to Sheffield then picked a course that was interesting. I graduated in 2009. That makes me feel old...
Jack: Do you think living and studying in Sheffield at that time in your life was influential on your climbing? And did you meet any other climbers at that time who have impacted your climbing significantly?
Ned: Yes I guess moving to Sheffield did influence my climbing quite a lot. I am from Leicester originally and although we had a great scene there it was nice to move somewhere close to so much rock and to be surrounded by really strong climbers who were always keen to train and get out. I was totally into climbing back then and i spent hours training at the wall or getting out in the peak. I learned loads and felt like I improved really fast in the first couple of years living here.
I met Dan (Varian) at Uni and climbed with him a lot. He was permanently motivated and burned me off all the time (still is and still does!) which was great as it made me bust a gut to keep up. I remember he got a car so we all piled in and went out climbing as often as possible. He was into highballing so that's what we ended up doing, ramming 4 or 5 bouldering mats in the little Cosra and rallying to the crag. I was usually totally out of my depth, too weak and too scared to do much but I learned a lot and it was a laugh. That time definitely opened my eyes to highballing – it suddenly made bouldering way more exciting and meant we could get a whole lot more mileage out of the local gritstone.
It was around this time that we started thinking about making fingerboards, which eventually led to the creation of Beastmaker.
The Promise© Nick Brown
Jack: You are focussed directly on Bouldering right? What is it about this aspect of the sport that draws you specifically?
Ned: I suppose it seems like that. I never really decided to focus on bouldering but I guess I was never so good on a rope so it made sense to push on with the bouldering. Route climbing is very impressive and I wish I was better at it, but for me bouldering is just less hassle and therefore more fun so I usually end up choosing to do that. But I still tie in and do the odd sport or trad route from time to time – it's good to mix it up.
Jack: And highballs seem to be something that you are in to? What draws you to these, but not to dangerous climbing with a rope?
Ned: I love going high – it's much more of a challenge to do hard moves when you're scared than straight off the floor and I like that. I guess highballing goes hand in hand with ground up climbing and I really like the purity and simplicity of that style.
I never feel comfortable on a rope and this stops me from climbing at my best which can be pretty frustrating. I know where I stand on highballs and I can climb a lot better on them and therefore enjoy the whole process a lot more. Although I have done a little bit of trad over the years and enjoyed it loads. I really enjoy doing easier routes, but I guess I like to save the hard climbing for when I feel a bit more in my element, above bouldering mats.
I wouldn't say any of the highballs that I have done have been that dangerous. If things had gone wrong I might have broken some bones or something, but I don't think I have ever been in a totally grim life or death situation. I get way too scared for that!
Jack: Do you have any thoughts on highballing, gritstone and how the boundary between route climbing, bouldering and highballs all merges together?
Ned: I love highballing. It's a great style of climbing and it is really satisfying to bust a hard move when you think you are too scared to push on. Old routes that used to be headpointed are now getting done ground up because of the highball ethic, and surely this is a huge improvement in style? Bouldering mats have improved loads and people have realised that they can climb higher and higher while still staying relatively safe. Gritstone is usually very short, there are so many sub 8m routes that are fairly safe as highballs which would have been death routes back in the day. It's great to climb these things in a fun style (ground up) without risking serious injury.
The line between highballing and route climbing is pretty blurry and I don't really see why things need to be categorised as one or the other. Many routes could be climbed as either a highball or a route or as some sort of hybrid - highball the bottom half then put some gear in for the top. Personally I would rather climb things ground up above a sea of mats than headpoint them above a terrible landing. The traditionalists will argue that this spoils the character of routes. Fair enough, the challenge of the route is slightly different but it doesn't make it any less fun to climb. Or any less of a challenge, it's just different.
Ned Feehally, youngest ever BBC champion© Keith Sharples, Jul 2008
Jack: What have your most memorable climbing experiences been? And what do you look to get out of climbing?
Ned: Most of my best days out have been pottering around on easy stuff, soloing, tradding, easy boulder problems or whatever. If you're with the right people you have a great time. Yes it's nice to feel like you are climbing well and to crush something you really want to do, but for me that isn't the be all and end all of climbing.
In terms of achieving goals I think some of my more memorable days are from when I was younger and climbing was much more important to me. Doing classics like Brad Pitt and Deliverance for the first time was really exciting. And when I won the BBCs in 2008 I was buzzing for days. I just couldn't believe it. I think the older I get the less excited I am about the little goals, but the more I appreciate just going climbing with friends.
I really like the challenge of comps too. It's not that I want to be better than people or to beat people at all, I just love the way comps make you try so hard and the way you have to climb perfectly to do the problems. They are a great test of your overall ability which makes them a great motivator for training. It's satisfying to know that you climbed to your very best and tried as hard as you possibly could and whether you came 1st or 30th isn't really so important.
Jack: Are grades important in bouldering/climbing, and in your personal bouldering?
Ned: For me, no. I couldn't care less. If something feels hard it's nice to get it done, but equally it's nice to climb things that feel easy. The grade of something doesn't necessarily reflect how hard you will find it. This is true for bouldering grades, sport grades and especially the E grade!
I think for many people climbing is a numbers game. People seem to want to prove themselves or show off how good they are by chasing some numbers and shouting about it to everyone else. That's fair enough, but it just doesn't interest me. It's great to see people climbing hard and getting stuff done, but it is a shame when they seem to be motivated by the tick in the box rather than the enjoyment of the climbing.
Also big grades often encourage bad boulder problems - things like link ups, lowballs and one movers, which are done for the sake of difficulty over everything else. Seems kind of lame. I want to hear about people climbing amazing lines and putting up new problems for others to try. That's inspiring.
I guess the difficulty of things is important to some people, and it's nice to see yourself progressing over the years but the closer you get to your limit the less you can quantify it. And amusingly, by going out of your way to tick a certain grade you're almost guaranteeing that the piece of climbing you eventually manage won't be that grade because you have found something that's easy, or suits you or whatever. The more I climb the less I understand how grades work so I have just stopped trying to get my head round it, or caring about it.
Jack: If you could recommend 5 boulder problems what would they be?
Ned: Oof. That's hard. Off the top of my head, in Britain:
Ned Feehally repeating Will on the Mallory boulder© Nick Brown
Jack: And what would you consider to be one of the ultimate boulder problems in the world - like a 'King Line'?
Ned: Nalle's thing in Rocklands, livin large looks unreal. Hard and very high! Bishop looks like it has some mind blowing lines, too many to name actually. In Font, things like Partage and Misericord are up there but closer to home I think Careless Torque is one of the best things I have ever climbed. It's just perfect.
Jack: Who's who in UK bouldering right now? Is there a different scene between the competition boulderers and the outdoor boulderers? Do the two disciplines cross over well physically?
Ned: Wow that's a big question. In terms of rock climbing we have some really strong climbers at the moment. Loads of people are out crushing stuff all the time but I think some of the most impressive boulders are the ones that you don't really hear about. Mickey Page has climbed most of Europe's hardest boulders. Dave Jones and Tim Palmer have climbed very hard boulders without really trying. I am way more interested in the people going out and crushing stuff quietly than the latest exploits of the people who you hear about all the time.
The comp scene in Britain is pretty small, there are only a few regulars but they are all very strong. I guess there is a distinction between those who focus on comp and those who focus on outdoors, but this doesn't mean the "indoor" climbers aren't good outdoors and don't get things done. Competitions and training for competitions takes up a lot of time but that doesn't stop comp climbers getting out and climbing hard. The 2 disciplines aren't mutually exclusive, they cross over really well. You get strong and fit for comps over the summer then you chill out over the winter and use your strength and fitness to get stuff done outside.
Comp climbing has a bad reputation in Britain. People don't really understand how hard it is to do well in comps. Anyone (almost!) can climb hard outside – especially if they have the time and money available to travel loads. It is so much harder to be a consistently good comp climber.
I don't like using numbers but as an example, to be a good international comp climber you have to be able to climb at least font 7C, in less than 5 minutes, when you're tired with bad skin while a thousand people watch you. It isn't easy!
Personally I think some of my best achievements are my comp results. It is just so hard to get everything right, peak at the right time, stay light, read the problems correctly and not mess up when you're scared. You only get one chance but outdoors you can always just head back another day.
This season we have a really strong comp team and good support from the BMC. It looks like we could get some decent international results this year.
Jack: What else is big in your life? Work? Study? Any other hobbies?
Ned: Although I climb a lot it is only a small part of my life. I think the older I get the less psyched I get for climbing. Don't get me wrong it's great fun and I have met some of my favourite people through climbing and I still love it, but there are many things in life that are more important to me now. I hate the idea of being much older than I am now and having nothing but climbing so I try to keep myself occupied with various other things.
Work is very busy right now...
Walk On By© Nick Brown
Jack: Are you still involved with Beastmaker?
Ned: I am still involved with Beastmaker. It's been busier than we ever expected over the last year and we have been updating our production line to enable us to make enough fingerboards to fulfil the demand. We have some new products in the pipeline right now. They won't be available for a while as we are just so busy but we are plugging away at them bit by bit. There are only 4 of us in the company so it takes a long time get anything done, but we all really enjoy it and we are so proud of what we have achieved so far.
Jack: How much training do you do compared to just 'climbing'?
Ned: It depends what you would class as training and what is just climbing. I tend to get out a couple of times a week (less in comp season) then climb indoors/train a few times a week as well. Usually i do 2 sessions a day, so in total i do about 6 or 7 sessions a week. Usually finger boarding in the morning, then more climbing orientated training in the evening. So I train more than I climb, but I also climb a fair bit.
Jack: What do you think is the most important aspect to consider when training for climbing?
Ned: The most important thing to consider when training is what you are training for. Is it an objective you have like a particular problem or a trip? It is easy to train when you have specific goals in mind, and much more difficult when you don't know where you're aiming. Also training should be seen in terms of long term goals. A few weeks of panic-training won't make any real lasting difference to your climbing, but a structured and well planned year's worth of training will bring big, lasting rewards.
Jack: Any more training advice?
Try really hard, work your weaknesses, and use the right equipment obviously...Beastmaker
fingerboards come under this category!
We have been working on a video about how the fingerboards are made. It shows the whole production process, from a plank of wood to a lovely fingerboard. I think it's a really interesting process – hopefully others will to! Keep your eyes peeled...
Wild Country have produced two videos with Ned showing both basic and advanced training methods on steep boards:
Ned Feehally is sponsored by Five Ten / Big Stone, Blurr, Beastmaker and Wild Country. Ned is also supported in competitions by The BMC.