by Tom Dixon Feb/2008
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It was a tough task choosing the best boulderers from amongst Britain's bouldering elite. Many UK based boulderers have been active at the highest levels and I believe that this year the bar has really been raised. It's simply astonishing the regularity at which 8b is being climbed all over the world now. The climbers I have chosen for the UK's best boulderers, are the those who I believe have not only climbed a high volume of problems, at the top level, but have done them across the world away from their home turf - the true test of talent. All of the people regarded as the best climbers were prepared to travel and stake their claim on more than one patch of soil, climbers like Jerry Moffat, Ben Moon, Wolfgang Gullich and Chris Sharma. The climbers featured below have all shown this quality. In no particular order, you choose the ranking, they are:
Tyneside strongman Andy Earl has had an impressive year both on plastic and off. Like other top UK boulderers Andy has been climbing problems across Europe starting the year off in Font with an impressive tick list including Tigre and Dragon 8a, Verdict 8a and also Never Never Land 8a, but not before one of the comedy moments of the year after falling from the last move.
Never Never Land 8a
Earl was also able to make incredibly short work of some hard problems in Switzerland tallying six 8a's three 8a+'s and five 8b's including the stunning Vecchio Leone, which isn't bad going. If you think that's a good effort check out and typical Earl summer holiday tick list in Targasonne, from his blog:
12-Aug Nazgul 7c 2-Go Clem Rit 7c
13-Aug Sing while you may (du fond) 8a 2-Go I shot Sarconazy 8a Flash Psoas Hole 8a+
15-Aug Tarite de demonologie 7c Flash La beaute de la chose 7c+ 2-Go
16-Aug La beaute de la chose (da) 8a+ Flash Black bloc 7c 2-Go Black bloc 8a Flash
18-Aug Orgasm Machine 7c+ Jump Flagellun Daemonium 7c Jump
Andy was also active on home soil investing some time in his love of highballs, notable ascents included the pristine arête of Careless Torque 8a, ground up (Ground up is attempting a problem from the ground without practicing any of the higher moves with a ladder or top rope). In Yorkshire, Steve Dunning's testpiece Hi Fidelity 8b had seen only one other ascent from the “Energizer bunny of Grit” Ben Moon. After a quick look on top rope Andy dispatched this and celebrated quietly.
Hi Fidelity 8b
On his own turf in Northumberland Andy made quick work of The Magician 8a, which could weigh in at E8 in old money.
The Magician 8a
Also new to the County courtesy of Earl this year is Blood Sport 8b, located on the ever popular Turtle Rock Boulder at Shaftoe. This is an awesome block in itself jutting straight out of the hillside creating the big roof which Blood Sport tackles. The quality of the line was confirmed by a series of raids from hopeful parties looking for the second ascent, but to date this remains to be claimed.
In amongst all of this Andy also managed to achieve one of his great ambitions, a World Cup win. Andy's name has been synonymous with competition bouldering for years now and he's consistently been top of the boards on UK bouldering ladders. Find an account of his win on his blog andrewearl.blogspot.com and at www.e9climbing.nl
Aside from assuring his position as one of the best Trad Headpointers (leading a non-bolted route having practiced the moves on top rope) James Pearson has also had plenty of time to pursue his other love, bouldering. This year as opposed to climbing loads of the very hardest grades out there Pearson has been climbing some of them in incredible style. This year he has managed to flash (climbing a problem or route first go without prior practice of the moves, but with knowledge of how to do them) three 8b boulder problems.
Now let's get this into context here, most people will strive to climb maybe a few 8a's in their career of bouldering if they are lucky and can avoid injury (I'm writing this with my hand in a bucket of cold water after straining a pulley in my finger). The hardest confirmed boulder problems are around the 8c/+ mark so it's only a grade and a half off, and there aren't many of those.
James's quest started in October 2006 when he was close to flashing a few 8b's but did manage one Secret Splendour. However some short-changing was soon to happen as a few members of America's bouldering community Paul Robinson and Matt Wilder downgraded the problem to 8a+, this despite the grade having originally confirmed at 8b by Daniel Woods.
Fast forward to February 2007 and during a trip to Switzerland, which included a repeat of Vecchia Lione Font 8b+, Pearson decided to go a for the flash on Ganymede Takeover because of all things, his hands were cut too badly to try anything else.
James Pearson on his second flash of a font 8b, Great Shark Hunt at Chironico.
"On the last day I decided that I needed to try something really crimpy because the tops of my fingertips were the only parts of my hand that were not cut. We headed to Brione for my friend Seko to try Frogger and I decided that I would try The Ganymede Takeover which is just to the right. It was originally climbed by Dave Graham from a low start at 8b+ and repeated by a few people including Zangerl. Being on a beach, the level of the sand changes and often buries the starting holds meaning you can only climb half the problem (missing out a hard move). Other people have suggested that the problem may only be 8a+/b but it is likely that they only climbed the upper half. The grade now seems to have settled at 8b. I was fortunate enough to have the beach low enough to start from the original low start.
I warmed up slowly and pulled on for a flash attempt. Since Colorado, I now always try to flash problems regardless of how hard they are because strange things can happen. I managed the first hard move and then climbed to the big hold and arranged my hands and feet for the next moves. The rock is steep (around 65degrees) and the crimps are very very small but quite positive and you have a good heel hook. The next few moves felt ok and I arrived at the crux. A brief pause to get the distance right and I fired for the next crimp with my left (see photo). I stuck it and let my body move to its natural position before making the balancy match. My fingers were a little numb, but I knew the next hold was a bucket and in one motion, released my heel and fired out my right arm. The jug felt great, as did the swing and I topped out into the morning sun. A fantastic way to end an amazing trip."
The Swiss were passive as always and no downgrading took place only the ripple of gentle and appreciative applause spread across internet forums Stateside and in the UK. Pearson had made history; only a select few have come close including Fred Nicole when he flashed Massive Attack 8a+ in the Magic Wood in Switzerland during 2003 (this effort is not to be sniffed at). You can watch a video of Markus Bock climbing Ganymede Takeover, at Freakclimbing.com
Not one to rest on his laurels Pearson was back in Switzerland in April this time for an equally impressive flash of the Great Shark Hunt inspired by that man, Ben Moon.
James told us, "I had been wanting to try this problem since November 06 but decided to wait until I felt strong enough as it looked like a good contender for a flash attempt. After watching Ben Moon climb it in February, I got psyched and spent the next month training specifically for this problem."
He continues, "It was a real fight, and I came close to falling on the top easy moves due to numb fingers from the tiny edges but held it together long enough. Topping out was fantastic!
All was captured on video by Crabstix Productions and will feature in The Uprising due for release around October."
And more recently he's been at it again, once more in Switzerland on the pristine granite of Ticino.
"Schule des Lebens is a short, crimpy 8b on the Deliverance boulder. Due to the basic nature of the holds and most of the moves I decided that it might be possible to flash. I watched some friends trying the moves and planned out a potential sequence. The first move definitely looked like the hardest and I was incredibly nervous about pulling on knowing that the following seconds could mean success or failure. The starting holds felt really small and the necessary body position didn't appear obvious. I focused on what I thought would work, making sure that my feet were placed precisely before firing upwards for the edge. I stuck it and tightened up my core so I could move my feet. The next few moves went well and after a little bit of a fight with the last two moves I had made it to the top. My third 8b flash, fantastic."
Of course, Pearson transferred his awesome power and technique to routes with his historic ascent of the groove below Fern Hill at Cratcliffe Tor. 2008 looks like being an interesting year for James Pearson who is currently snow boarding in Chamonix before heading out to China on a trip organised by his sponsor The North Face.
Young gun Tyler Landman (dual UK and American citizen) has continued his amazing form this year beginning in Hueco Tanks, America's bouldering Mecca and home to many of its hardest problems. Hueco is an amazing playground with classic hard test pieces by the bucket load, all characterized by the steep powerful nature of the climbing. Landman soon got to work and Luther 8b soon fell though Tyler thought it to be soft for the grade.
Next up was El Techo de los Tres another another 8b, despite climbing this quickly Landman felt that it was not suited to his style, unlike Crown of Aragorn 8b, which he climbed in five goes on his fifth day on.
Jamie Emerson climbing Crown of Aragon 8b
After spending a bit of time cruising around on V11, 8a territory (for a rest) Landman upped his game again to send Coeur De Leon a hard 8b first climbed by bouldering legend Fred Nicole almost ten years ago. Not one to rest on his laurels Landman set his sights on another more recent Nicole test piece Nagual another crimpy offering originally graded 8b+ before the demise of a key hold brought the grade down to 8b. Ok that's the first two months of his year covered and we've already tallied five 8b's - there must be something in the water.
In vogue at the moment amongst the American bouldering community are the extensive boulder fields of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, which is where Tyler decided to concentrate his efforts during the second half of the year. This started out with an astonishingly quick repeat of what was at the time the hardest problem in the area Ode To the Modern Man. Daniel Woods first climbed this in 2006 giving it the grade of 8b+, but after repeating Fred Nicole's Terre De Sienne in Hueco (eight attempts), also 8b+, upped the grade to 8c. Landman climbed the line on his third day of attempts, which are limited by the skin destroying nature of the holds and the fact that it's ridiculously hard.
Ode To the Modern Man 8c
Not content with repeats Landman made a swift, one-day ascent of a brand new problem The Power of Ten graded 8b and involving ten moves of steep powerful climbing (see what he did there). Then it was off to his second objective of the day a flash of Lone Star 8a
The Power of Ten 8b
Then it was back to the UK for swift visit. Despite poor weather Tyler was keen to join in on the North Wales scene, which has been buzzing this year with new problems left right and centre. Typically steep ground was top of the menu and Landman managed to make short work of Mr Fantastic 8a+ made famous by a ripped Mark Katz bouncing his way across it on Stick It and managing to change his shoes before the top out. Then it was time for a true test of power, Parisellas Cave. Landman had been previously unimpressed by what the cave had to offer and vowed never to return but soon changed his mind after a repeat of Halfway House 8a+.
Halfway House 8a+
While Landman was in the UK, Daniel Woods, the American bouldering superstar stepped in to make the first ascent of what was known as The Green 45 Project at Rocky Mountain National Park. This pristine tilted wall had attracted some of the worlds best climbers including Dave Graham who stated that it was the hardest boulder problem he had ever tried. Naming the problem Jade Woods gave it the mighty grade of V15 or 8c creating a new contender for the hardest problem in America.
First Ascent of Jade 8c by Daniel Woods: video by Big Up Productions
Clearly the psyche was on for Tyler and after a summer trip to Squamish to climb with Tim Clifford and check out The Singularity a potential 8b+/ 8c problem put up by Tim this year it was straight back to Colorado for a repeat of Jade. Tyler's thoughts on his ascent can be found here on the Moonblog
Still not satisfied and hot on the heels of repeating all of Daniel Wood's hardest test pieces in the area Landman put the hours in working Aslan, a monster linkup of an 8a and an 8a+ to give a 25 move 8b+ leviathan. Tyler spent a few days gradually building up the necessary power endurance and refining his sequence till he finally found himself pulling over the top.
After a quick trip to Bishop where he took the opportunity to repeat The Swarm a crimpy 8b+ established by the UK's Matt Birch, Landman returned to find virgin territory in the form of Midnight Express a problem featuring an adventurous top out which he though warranted the grade of 8b+, confirmed after a swift second ascent by Daniel Woods. Video at Moonblog.
I have concentrated on the most significant ascents made Landman during this year because there are so many repeats and first ascents of 8a and above it would take more bandwidth than UK climbing could provide to document them all. Fortunately 8a.nu has most of them here in list form here and this list makes for astonishing reading, that's about sixty eight problems of 8a and above, nineteen of which are 8b and above. If he continues at this rate he'll have to retire and do something else 'cause he'll have ticked Earth by the time he's about twenty three.
Gareth Parry began the year climbing in Font with 'legend of the forest' Jacky Godoffe, swiftly dispatching two 8a boulder problems on the first day of the year namely Tiger and Dragon at Rocher Greau and Verdict at Rampart. The rest of the British bouldering team then joined Parry, and many classics were despatched in fine style and attire, videos available www.youtube.com/parry collection
Back in the UK and Gaz didn't wait around for long, he made an impressive repeat of the first 8b seen on shores Eight Ball, before bouncing back out to font for a quick repeat of the mega classic Fred Nicole test piece Karma.
Then it was time for some limestone action. Parry is regular customer for the brutally steep offerings that Parisella's Cave has to offer. Known to the faithful that visit the cave regularly as the Cave of Justice, Parisella's may not be the most aesthetic venue but the climbing there is some of the best around with linkups galore and individual power classics like Rock Atrocity and Lou Ferrino; two of the UK's most sought after problems.
Parry's first big success of the year (after making short work of the Greenheart Connection 8a+) came with the conclusion of his long-term endeavour to repeat Directors Cut 8b. Originally climbed by Jamie Cassidy in 2004 , who was under pressure from Malcolm Smith for the first ascent, this unrelenting link up follows Lou Ferrino before breaking right and finishing up Trigger Cut; that's about twenty-three moves of solid font 7c+ roof climbing.
Directors Cut 8b
This success seemed to unleash the floodgates for Gaz as a string of repeats and new lines followed, the first of these being In Life climbed by Danny Catell this problem links In Hell into Cave Life at a power sapping grade of 8a+
Cave Life 8a+
Next up came a shining new addition to the cave in the form of Clyde 8a+, an extension of the obvious Lou Ferrino ramp line, which climbs from the traditional ending of Lou Ferrino and Rock Atrocity along the ramp for a few metres before an undercut allows the edge of the main roof to be gained, here a difficult match leads into the last moves of Trigger Cut. Parry had cleaned this line in 2004 when it came to the attention of a few other climbers, most notably Dave Nodden who came close to the first ascent on a number of occasions.
A few days later Parry found himself at Hyning Wood in the South Lakes for a quick repeat of Transgenic 8a first climbed by John Gaskins. Then it was off to the European Championships at Birmingham, unfortunately Parry wasn't on form and failed to qualify, making his feelings about the way he climbed clear.
"It has to be said I would be inhuman if I wasn't a bit pissed off about my result yesterday. But when you start to warm up and for some random reason you can't pull as hard as you know you should and that good skin you have had for a month all starts to peel off then there's not a great deal you can do about it except try your best."
To console himself Gaz made a trip to the Lakes for a day of repeats, though it's probably not what you would call your average day of ticking classics. First up was Isla De Encanta 8b, and anyone who has seen SlackJaw's landmark bouldering film Stick It will remember John Gaskins uttering the immortal line, “It's just a bit hot on that pinch”. The line had also only received one repeat from Mark Katz. This was the result of a few sessions worth of effort from Parry, and he carried his psyche from Isla De Encanta straight down the road to the picturesque venue of Woodwell. The section on Stick It which sees Gaskins seemingly will his way across Anaesthesia is, for me, one of the most inspiring bits of climbing footage ever to grace our screens. Parry chalked the grips and with beta from Ian Vickers (author of a quiet second ascent of this problem) set of with an optimistic effort for the flash, amazingly Gaz made it across the entire buttress first go but fumbled the final hold, falling prey to numb fingers from the miniscule edges. A few minutes later, having refined his sequence for the end moves, Gaz arrived at the finishing jug, two 8b's in one day, not bad going that.
Isla De Encanta 8b
A few days later another 8a+ followed Super Submarine a sit start to Ryan Pasquil's Sub Marine at Longridge, and thanks to the BMC you can have as many goes at this as you like.
Super Submarine 8a+
Parry went globe trotting again in April making his way to the modern bouldering mecca of The Magic Wood in Switzerland. After initial dissapointment with conditions Parry climbed his main objective Pura Vida 8b and decided while he was there it would be worth having a crack at Riverbed 8b which I can tell you from first hand experience looks somewhat unlikely for a single session. Nevertheless two hours later and after a power nap it was in the bag; another two 8b's in a day
After an impressive win over some serious competition at the Nissan Outdoor Games Parry made a return to further stamp his authority over Parisella's Cave straightening out his previous new addition Clyde to give Bonnie at the surprisingly amenable grade of 8a courtesy of a pinch which other would be first ascenders had previously overlooked.
Gaz didn't wait long to hit the cave again to climb Broken Heart 8a, a problem slightly lost in between problems with an obvious link from Lou Ferrino possible.
The very next month Parry found himself at the Arco Rockmaster competition, an event previously hailed by Christian Brenna as the Wimbledon of rock climbing. Gaz climbed across a varied set of problems to take an impressive win and bar winning the UK Plywood masters, rounded out 2007 with an awesome tick list.
Not a full time climber Chris Davies of Llanberis is a full-time family man (big up to Rosie Bee and Daisy Belle!) and works as a custodian of difficult youths. He is also first ascensionist of Wales' second hardest boulder problem, East Coker 8b/+ (V13/14) at Parisella's and Full Circle 8b also at Parisella's.
This year he cranked up the volume establishing two 8b's in Wales Compact Culture 8b/V13 at the Sheep Pen boulders, Ogwen and Daisy From Concrete 8b at Parisella's and repeated four 8b's abroad: in March he repeated Cosmos at Albarracin in Spain; then on a two week trip to Switzerland he climbed Fred Nicole's Le Prou 8b at Cresciano, Dave Graham's Electric Ant 8b at 101, Chironico, Uaeli Gaigax's 8b Schule des Lebens at Chironico, and also a flash of the 8a+ Deliverance also at Chironico.
That flash of Deliverance is also significant beyond its rating as both James Pearson and the USA's Daniel Woods repeated Schule des Lebens but couldn't manage Deliverance.
2008 has started well for Chris, in January he repeated Lo Lo' 8a+/V12a problem first climbed by the legendary power fiend Paul Higginson back in 2000, down at Porth Ysgo, North Wales. Then yesterday, Monday 11th February he visited Craig Y Longridge in Lanacashire and established a 7c/V9 sit down to a Mick Lovatt problem from right under the noses of the locals and flashed an Ian Vicker's 7c/V9.
The Elite UKBouldering Inventory run by Greg Chapman is an updated list of boulder problems in the UK of V11/Font 8a and above for each area in the UK. Also there is a photo gallery and regularly updated news items about top end bouldering achievements. You can download the top problems for each area. Here are the top three.
Yorkshire - Top 3 1: Ullola Font8b
2: Cypher Font8b
3: High Fidelity Font8b
Peak District - Top 3 1: Voyager (ss) Font8b+
2: Stamina Band PUTP Font8b+
3: The Ace Font8b
Wales - Top 3 1: Pilgrimage Font8b+
2: East Coker Font8b/+
3: Directors Cut Font8b
Lake District Area - Top 3 1: Walk Away (ss) Font8c
2: Shadow Play Font8c
3: Il Pirata Font8c
Northumberland - Top 3 1: Monk Life / Font8b+
2: Levianthan / Font 8b+
3: Lothlorian / Font8b
Scotland - Top 3 1: Sanction / Font8b
2: Super Size Me / Font8b
3: Pressure / Font8b
North West - Top 3 1: Gaskins Slab / Font8b
2: Super Submarine / Font8a+
3: Traverse of the Gods / Font8a
Ireland - Top 3 1: Darkness Before The Dawn / Font8a+
2: Dutch Gold / Font8a
3: Johns Crimp Problem / Font8a
South West - Top 3 1: Aching Balls / Font8a
2: My Chemical Romance / Font8a
3: Guy Fawkes / Font8a?
South East - Top 1 Chimera / Font7c+
Like many young climbers Tom Dixon, 22, of Ambleside has been consumed by bouldering. Originally from Northumberland he has bouldered all over the UK and abroad at places such as Cresciano, Font and Hueco Tanks.
"I am almost entirely taken by bouldering, nothing else gets me psyched aside from the odd bit of easy winter climbing when the conditions come good. My best climbing experience thus far has been doing Tower Ridge in winter, and after a frustrating week in Fontainebleau waiting for the humidity to subside, getting Carnage Le Joker and the Cul de Chien roof all on the last day of the trip."
He works at Lakes Climber, Ambleside. Ask him to show you his non-lined leather boots that he walked from Ambleside to Newcastle in.
Tom is also a gear reviewer for UKClimbing.com and has reviewed Snap Pads, Moon Bouldering Mats, eVent Fabric, the Boreal Mutant, the Scarpa Stix and the Moon Fingerboard You can read these reviews by going to Tom's UKClimbing.com profile, here
Today Tom is taking advantage of the glorious weather and is out bouldering at Earl Crag.