Björn Pohl - UKC, May 2012
© Keith Bradbury (still from between the trees)
At the beginning of November, Ty Landman made the coveted first ascent of Smiling Buttress at Curbar. First made famous in Hard Grit, it had been tried by Ben Moon and Steve McClure, amongst others, with only Ned Feehally getting close to climbing the route until Ty returned a month ago.
Ty is keeping the original name for the problem and has declined to give it a grade, commenting:
"The climbing is an amazing blend of power and technique, revolving around two very slopey holds on a gently overhanging wall. It is a gritstone classic."
Smiling Buttress was first made famous as a Last Great Problem in 1997, due to the footage of Ben Moon trying it in Hard Grit. Ben was at Curbar when Ty made the first ascent, so UKC got in contact with Ben to hear his thoughts on Smiling Buttress finally being climbed after all these years:
"I was super psyched to watch Tyler make the first ascent of The Smiling Buttress and even dashed back early from London to make it there. It was incredibly cold and windy and I think the moment was lost on my 4 year old daughter. I first tried this back in '97 when Hard Grit was being filmed and then sporadically over the following years but never really committed to it. It’s only 2 hard moves really but both are very hard with the last being a big dyno for the top. I always thought as a boulder problem it would be in the Font 8B/8B+ region. One of the reasons I didn’t commit to trying it was because of the poor landing and I wasn’t sure how I could do it even if I had managed to do it in a oner on a top rope. As it was I never did it in a oner although I did do all of the moves.
If I had watched Tyler or any one else do it 10 years ago I would have been pretty gutted but not now when I am fast approaching 50, I am really happy that it was Tyler that did. He made very light work of the ascent which just goes to prove he is totally world class."
UKC then asked Ty a few questions about his groundbreaking ascent of this iconic Last Great Problem:
What inspired you to try Smiling Buttress, was it something you had been on previously and had in mind to do, or was it more on a whim?
Ty: I tried it back in 2006 on top rope for an hour or so. It was hardly a memorable session, in fact I don’t know if I managed to pull onto any of the positions or not. Before returning to the UK this fall I had been thinking about interesting climbs to try. I had always wanted to make a first ascent in England, to leave a mark on the cliffs that I grew up climbing on, and Smiling Buttress crept into my mind. I started emailing Ben about it in September whilst it was still too warm, and he went out and took some pictures of the line for me, so that I could start visualizing (and obsessing over) it. After the seed was planted, it was just a matter of waiting for the cold.
You practiced the route on toprope and then soloed it above pads, how long did it take you to work and then climb the problem?
Ty: When I returned this November I spent two days working out the moves on top rope, and then went for the solo on the next session. It was the first time experiencing this process of trying something and gaining comfort on a rope, and then shedding all the hardware and burden, and attempting to re-discover the same positions and understanding that was previously gained.
The project is notorious as being exceedingly hard, with both Ben Moon and Steve McClure trying it with no luck, both stating that prime conditions were essential, how were conditions on the day of your ascent?
Ty: As with all difficult climbing, the temps are crucial. The Sunday I did Smiling Buttress was bizarre. The forecast was good for the day all week, I had managed to wrangle a good group of spotters and pads, and I had taken two rest days. But, to my dismay I woke up to a grim, wet, rainy day. Having been away from the UK for so many years I had forgotten how usual those sorts of days are, even when they are completely inconsistent with the forecast. As nothing but rain fell from the sky, a couple of us waited several hours in the local café. It was definitely having an effect on my motivation and psyche but at around 2, we saw blue skies for the first time. Each carrying 3 pads, Pritch [Ben Pritchard] and I hiked out to the Buttress to find it completely bone dry, despite the fact it had begun to rain again and the sky was an ominous shade of grey. I abbed down and chalked the holds, rehearsed the top move twice and then pulled the rope. As I pulled onto the start holds, ropeless for the first time, the rain stopped, the wind calmed and the humidity lifted. The small window of good temps had finally shown its face.
A while back, you quit being a professional climber to study medicine in the US, yet now you come back and nonchalantly climb the first ascent of a hard and high gritstone Last Great Problem. Have you been keeping your hand in, or are you just obscenely naturally talented?
Ty: For the last four years I have been studying Neuroscience in the US. It took me a couple years to figure out how to effectively balance my schoolwork and climbing. But once I found a system that worked for me, it allowed my schoolwork to benefit from my climbing and visa versa. I think an important part of climbing is figuring out what the sport means to you, and where and how it fits into your life. This in turn dictates where your expectations should lie. Climbing was definitely at one time the most important thing to me, but as it shifted to just a hobby, my approach changed. I don’t think this change has had an impact on what I am capable of doing. If anything, it may have made me better.