INTERVIEW & VIDEO: Dan Varian on Arc Royalby Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC Apr/2009
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At first glance this may not seem a nationally significant achievement, as a Font 8A+ boulder problem is not cutting edge for British climbing. But if you look deeper in to this ascent, if you remove the boundary between 'route' and 'boulder problem', and, if you look at the line for what it is, then this ship's prow of sandstone, Arc Royal, sails right up at the front of the fleet in terms of grandeur and beauty.
Dan has made an impressive impact on the previously over looked Queens Crag in Northumberland, with his new problems Queen Kong (Font 8A) and Red Dragon, and as part of the brains behind Beastmaker, he has inspired many to get on their boards and train. To quote Simon Lee, he has "added a new vibrant frisson to bouldering and training that should bring a smile to the face of the most jaded of climbers".
Here UKClimbing.com interview Dan Varian to discover more about the man behind the 3-2-1 Theory:
Jack: Lets start with Arc Royal. It looks amazing. What's the story?
Dan: Well 'tis a long and lonesome tale of a young boulderer finding his dream crag only 25 minutes from his house, only to arrive at the end of the crag and to see his perfect boulder, but upon closer inspection it appeared super hard and not at all suited to his strengths at the time.
Jack: How high is it?
Dan: Basically its a big stonking 7m high, 30 degree over-hanging arÍte (though steeper at the base). It's hard all the way, the crux for me was locking a 1 pad crimp below my shoulder and firing into a half pad 2 finger pocket way above my head.
Jack: And it's hard right at the top?
Dan: The last move is a really committing double dyno off a poor smear. All the holds are amazing and skin friendly, the problem beats you up a fair bit though, as the climbing is brutal on the back and shoulders and the landing is a bit Heath Robinson.
Watch out for the top roped attempts at Arc Royal at the end of this video.
Dan: Don't ask me about the sitter - it's utter nails... ask me in a year...
Jack: Okay - I will! Anyway, Queens crag looks amazing. How come this place has only just hit the headlines?
Dan: Queens is very remote and far from a climbing population.
Jack: Do you think it has only just come of age now, with large bouldering mats and the like?
Dan: Climbing with a rack, it is a mediocre local venue and you are limited for protect-able lines. Bouldering, it doesn't have a lot but what it does have it's really gone to town on; big striking lines between 4m and 8m high. The walk in is also 20 minutes and it's a bit hard to find. It's best from Font 8A upwards too, which narrows things down a bit.
Jack: Yes, highball Font 8A's and above. A specialist crag then! You seem drawn to highballing. What is so special about it?
Jack: Erm, pads just let me try hard from quite low down actually! But I will believe you. How did you start climbing, was it bouldering?
Dan: I grew up aroun't Lake District with the Marras and the sheep, so I've always been used to mountains, I used to mountain bike a lot and ride trials, but I got sick of breaking my bike and my shins (I can still 180 bunnyhop and kick up into back hops on demand mind). I'd dabbled in climbing since primary school doing a Severe once every few months with Dad. I sunk my teeth in, in winter 2002 after getting sick of my bike. I had bouldered Font 7B+ by the next summer, then I met Kev and he distracted me with all sorts of roped shennanigans for a while. Mark and John from Carlisle also helped me out a lot too, showing me the way of the board. After that my footholds and handholds shrunk dramatically.
Jack: So, what climbing achievements are you most proud of?
Dan: Probably this one [Arc Royal], I am aware that some smart arse is probably going to come and ruin my sequence, but for me I just wanted to climb it in the most perfect way I could with the holds available, to me it seemed viable, so I worked hard and trained for it, and it came good. It is by far the most effort I have put into any piece of rock.
I could lap 1-4-7 on the beastmaker 35 slopers (I have 3 made into a campus board) last summer, I was pretty proud of that. I did some pretty hard moves on my board in my room too in February which I never thought I'd do so quickly.
Out flexing Ned (due to lank) on Serenity was also a proud moment. A Biggerbelly was good too as it showed that if I push myself a little bit then I can get long term aims done in the short term.
Dan on Mike Adams
Jack: That is quite a specific ticklist. Is there anything outside of climbing that you are proud of achieving?
Probably sticking with Academia and going to a good Uni on a good course that I enjoy (Bsc Geog at Sheffers), as it is pretty hard at the moment (I should be working now dammit). There are a few good biking moments in there too, and reconditioning the engine in the car was fun. Actually hand braking to J turning the Corsa out of a narrow car park exit was a proud moment this winter. As was getting from Sheffield to Carlisle on 14 litres of fuel in a petrol car (And yes Ii realise the last 2 statements are paradoxical!).
Warning there is lots of swearing and not much climbing!
Watch out for the forthcoming Queens Crag article in Climber Magazine.
Dan: Ooh that's a toughie. I'll go with Mike Adams to start off, If bouldering could have a UK representative it should be Mike. He's psyched and always crushing and genuinely seems to want to climb stuff because he wants to, rather than for a number. Numbers still matter of course but they come second. He's got the most impressive UK ticklist IMHO and can also take some good banter.
Neil Carson has always been a big inspiration too, the dedication of moving house to get Big Bang done and slapping the Sheffield mafia with a brick hard F9a is awesome in every respect.
The biggest one in recent years has to be John Gaskins. Since I got good enough to think I could try his problems, then to go away and actually train for ages to actually try his problems, I have had the most respect for his efforts on rock. He also seems to care about achieving human potential in difficulty on rock rather than just climbing problems, and if you try his problems using his sequences then it opens your eyes as to what might be possible by good climbers in the future.
On a more local level Ned, Scoots, Ben Cossey, Sharik, Andy Earl, Micky, Ryan, Liam, Tom, Tyler all have inspiring qualities as climbers and have been great to climb with for whatever time possible.
Jack: What is your ultimate boulder problem in the world?
Dan: Ark Royal sit start, Ammagamma, At The Heart of It all but on the scale of Zerberus.
Basically a brick hard big striking line with varied climbing and a highball finish.
Jack: Also, Johnny Dawes has a quick question: "If you had to design a new type of rock - what would it be like?"
Dan: It's hard to imagine better rock than really good Sandstone or Limestone. I think I'd rather water polish a load of huge Font 8B boulders and routes, and make all rock solid, stable and erosion resistant.
Jack: Where are you up to in your life at the moment with your studying and things? And where are you heading?
Dan: I'm in Uni final year, I've got a horrible 6 weeks ahead of me, followed by stress free bliss for a while. I'm going to sort out Beastmaker.co.uk after my exams and get it running smoothly. Then I'm heading for a lot of climbing... Right now I 'm heading to the library...