INTERVIEW: Greg Boswell - Hard New Scottish Routesby Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC Jan/2011
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The young Scottish climber Greg Boswell has had an amazing season so far and isn't showing any signs of slowing down. With ascents of test-pieces such as The Duel (IX,9) in Stob Coire nan Lochan, Blood, Sweat and Frozen Tears (VIII,8) on Beinn Eighe, The Secret (VIII,9) on Ben Nevis, and high-grade first ascents of routes like Mammoth (IX,9) at The Brack and To Those Who Wait (IX,9) on Ben Nevis he has shown that it doesn't take decades of experience to grab some amazing lines in Scottish winter.
UKC took a few minutes out of Greg's busy schedule of being a climbing bum and got him to answer a few questions:
Who are you?
I'm a 19 year old full time climber, minimal time worker!
What's your climbing background?
My dad has always been a keen mountaineer and climber, so I have been dabbling in the sport since I was very young. But I started climbing properly in 2004 when I was 13. In my first year of climbing I got hooked on both summer and winter routes.
You've done quite a few hard winter routes so far this season - which was the hardest for you and why?
I would have to say that the hardest route I have done this winter is To Those Who Wait, a route I put up on Ben Nevis with the renowned alpinist Will Sim. The route is round the corner from the prominent line of The Secret and takes an equally impressive and even steeper crack for the crux pitch. Not only was the route technical and steep but the crack is off-width so you have to employ an arsenal of different techniques to make an inch of progress, plus there is always the psychological side of climbing a previously unclimbed line where you have to stay mentally strong and really believe you are going to succeed, especially when you know others have tried and failed on the route. I really enjoy this mental side of climbing and I've been fortunate enough to practice getting into that zone a lot this winter with other FA/FWAs, so to combine the hardest climbing and that mental aspect made it the hardest route I've done so far.
This winter I have being trying climb full time and get out as much as possible (a car that fits a double mattress, a warm sleeping bag and a like for coffee also help) so you don't always have the luxury of choosing partners and it is hard to find one person to get out with every time; I usually end up climbing with whoever is available really, especially with the notoriously changeable Scottish conditions. I do agree that a good partnership makes a big difference, but I enjoy climbing with everyone that I have been out with and always have a laugh. I think it's good to get out in winter with people that you know and trust as that makes a big difference when you're pushing yourself, but I'm happy to climb with anyone as long as I know they are competent and psyched; and there are a lot of extremely competent and psyched people for Scottish winter! Having said that, I always make an effort to climb with Guy Robertson as often as possible because we seem to climb well together and always get good routes ticked when we do manage to get out.
Do you have your eye on anything in particular for the rest of the season? Either repeats or new routes?
Yes, like everyone I have a bunch of routes that I would love to do. We are very lucky in Scotland to have such an array of different routes, rock types, styles and of course the tradition of ethics so there will always be lots to do. I am looking forward to getting on some of Scotland's hardest existing lines and I also have my eye on some hard new routes; but if I told you about them I would have to kill you.
Who or what, in UK winter climbing, inspires you the most?
The thing that inspires me the most is people's enthusiasm for Scottish winter climbing, and especially for climbing new routes, whether it's grade III or XI people are always out pushing their own limits on unchartered territory, battling strong winds, fickle conditions, closed roads...the British winter scene is like no other in the world and that gives me a lot of inspiration; it's hard not to get excited when listening to people talk so enthusiastically about their most recent climbing adventures!
What's the most futuristic ascent or attempt you've ever heard of? And what was so mental about it?
To date, the most mental ascent of any line I have heard of was Will Gadd and Tim Emmet's route Spray On early last year in British Columbia. This is one of the coolest climbs I have ever seen; it follows an incredibly steep line up a series of ice blobs on an overhanging wall that are created from the spray from the colossal waterfall nearby. The line is hard to get your head round when you first see the pictures and is hard to imagine even when you do work out what's going on, a truly mental ascent! I love hard climbing and this looks like one of the ultimate tests of technique and fitness, it's a route that I will definitely get on one day.
What kit are you using right now – axes, crampons and boots?
Currently I am using Edelrid Katana Pro axes and Edelrid Samba crampons. I have used many different axes over the years and the Katana Pro's are far and away the best tools I have ever come across. The things I like best about the tools are their super light weight, their ergonomic double-grip, and adjustable pick angle, these make the tools amazing for every grade, and style of climbing I have tried them on and I am continually impressed by them. They are a really well designed tool and Edelrid make a lot of products that translate very well into real world climbing performance.
This season I have been using the new Scarpa Phantom Guide boots. These boots are like wearing rock shoes in winter; they are so precise and very light, which makes them amazing for technical mixed routes. Yet they are warm and comfy enough to wear on long cold days in the mountains, these two factors are usually hard to find in one boot.
Apart from the above kit I have mentioned, I think the most important factor in winter climbing is the clothes you wear to protect yourself from the elements; climbing cold is no fun and it's not part of winter climbing, unless you are starting out on your apprenticeship where a few days suffering make you stronger in the long run! My Vaude Stretch Infinity Jacket is one of my favourite pieces of winter kit. It goes everywhere with me, has a great fit, is super durable, and the bright green stretchy eVent material gives full freedom of movement when climbing. Plus the bright colours show up really well in photos!
If you could go on a climbing trip anywhere in the world, to climb anything you liked, and money was no object, then where and what would you go for?
I would go to Patagonia and not come back until I had done the Torre Traverse in one push, Alpine style. That's the kind of thing dreams are made of!
Also - I see you use the UKC logbook system, and we think it's great when we see it working for someone, as Nick spent ages designing it. Any thoughts on it? Good points, areas to improve, general comments?
I really rate the UKC logbook system, I think the notes system is a good way to research particular climbs and find out a consensus on what grade the majority of people think a route really is from the voting options, plus the photos are always good to build psyche! It is easy to use, which is always good, and the information provided on the graphs is great, as it lets you see how you're progressing over the years and with your climbing.
I know a lot of people that really like the UKC Winter Conditions Page as it's a great source of information on what is in condition. Off the top of my head, I can't really think of any faults with the logbook system.