Formerly terms such as "Bumbly!" and "Filthy top-roping scum!!" were mortal insults. But times have changed. Nowadays we're all at it, revelling in our prime. Are you a complete and utter bumbly? Take Mick Ward's Test!
With quintessential 1960s cool, Lito Tejada-Flores penned the seminal essay, 'Games Climbers Play', a taxonomy of climbing 'games', from bouldering to big walls and expeditions. The title was probably a cheeky riposte to the then best-selling 'Games People Play' by Eric Berne (essentially Freud repackaged for popular consumption). So much for the games - but what of those who played them?
In the 1990s I wrote a naughty little piece for the cult climbing magazine, 'On The Edge'. It was entitled 'Turoids, Bumblies, Punters and Players'. Predictably and probably to the delight of Gill, the comely editor, who loved a spot of controversy (well she was a mate of Mick Ryan's), the next issue had some outraged objectors. Anybody know Gambo, Jann and Woody from Liverpool? Wot, it took all three of you to write one letter? They went spare until someone else (next issue again) suggested they pack it in.
(Heraclitus said you never step in the same river twice. This may well be true but in my experience you can still get your feet wet. For all I know Gambo, Jann and Woody have proliferated like demented rabbits and their progeny are poised to excoriate me on UKC. Eek!)
Turoids, Bumblies, Punters and Players
Back to my little article. Turoids were non-participants who nevertheless want a slice of the action. An example might be the obnoxious pillock at work who can quote 'Into Thin Air' ad nauseum but who's never actually touched rock - or even plastic. Punters were your common or garden climbers. ("Ey up, punter!" as the late Derek Hersey put it.) And players were the elite.
Bumblies? I've often found that, if in doubt, it's better to quote someone else (and thereby blame them!) even if, in this case, it's only me circa 20 years ago. So to quote that silly old fart from OTE…
'Bumblies - what can you possibly say about bumblies? They don't climb very well, that's for sure. Stanage on a Sunday afternoon… Never mind the turoids, watch those bumblies, dozens and dozens of 'em, getting their gear stuck, getting their helmets stuck, getting themselves stuck. You name it and, if it's daft enough, they'll be doing it.'
Severe climbers who aren't bumblies and E3 climbers who are…
'Conventional climbing wisdom indiscriminately labels bumblies as lower grade climbers, which many of them are. But this utterly misses the point. You can have Severe climbers who aren't bumblies and E3 climbers who are. The great thing about bumblies is that they're utterly incompetent. Their survival quotients are piss-poor to non-existent. Like systems analysts from Milton Keynes who go walkabout in Cairngorm whiteouts, they're accident statistics-in-waiting.
Why should this be? Bumblies are rarely stupid; often they're highly intelligent. Invariably they hold down responsible jobs. But they've got absolutely no common sense whatsoever. They'll put their trust in the guidebook or a double set of Aliens or sticky rubber or… just about anything but themselves. Bumblies are consummately blind to experience – their own and other people's. In a desert, they'd march straight past a waterhole if it wasn't a certified guidebook tick. If there's a way of getting a rope jammed or dropping a runner down the back of a crack, well trust a bumbly to find it. Don't say you've not been warned.'
Phew – pretty strong stuff! Maybe Gambo, Jann and Woody had a point after all. But you can't help thinking, "Shit, is this me?" And we're fast arriving at the proverbial moment of truth. Forget Myers-Briggs, take Mick's 10 factor test and your BQ (Bumbly Quotient) will be revealed once and for all.
Chief Bumbly? Gulp – it's Me!
A final point before we begin. In much the same way that Bare Faced Grills is Chief Scout (shudder!), if there were a Chief Bumbly award for utter, heartrending, mind-bending incompetence well, gentle readers, yours' truly would have scooped it long ago. 'Cos get this – for nearly two years, mostly in the Mournes, I climbed on a pretty bloody thin blue polypropylene rope - with a 'bad bit' at one end. Blue polypropylene rope, huh; how cool can you possibly get? (Err…how dead can you possibly get!) With a runner every 30 feet or so back then, my first lob would have elevated me straight to 'Great Bumbly in the Sky' status. Bare Faced Grills, top that!
Right, with no more ado, to action. 'Carpe diem!' as they say in Barnsley.
Bumbly Factor 1. Carrying way too much gear
In his magisterial early-1970s tome, 'Big Wall Climbing', Doug Scott railed against the idiocy of a monster rack on 40 feet of gritstone. Trouble is, a monster rack then is a pretty normal one now. So to get a monster rack today, you really do have to add some serious swag, which of course you can as everything's so light.
But naturally the more you have, the harder it is to find the right piece, especially if you're getting pumped/scared witless. So you'll probably end up placing the wrong piece. Bad news if you lob and this is all you have in! Alternatively you can carry on, frantically stuffing bits and bobs into every available orifice, hoping that there are some good pieces amid the plethora of crap ones.
Give yourself a bonus point for getting that nice new, hideously expensive cam inextricably stuck – well until Joe Wily turns up next day and makes off with it. And even more points for dropping gear (double points if it goes clunk off your belayer's helmet).
Bumbly Factor 2. Shit belaying
The quick and dirty litmus test for a belayer is how far s/he is from the rock/wall until the second piece is clipped. Frighteningly often, there's a 45 degree angle in the rope. This means that, with the first runner clipped, sod's law says the rope's probably going to be in the leader's way. Beta alert – many a lead has been blown for less. More seriously, that 45 degree angle maximises the chance of your first wire popping – or even the first bolt pulling out (only joking!)
Should the first bolt be passed, your truly shit belayer will pay out a lovely loop of slack, thus ensuring that the leader is effectively soloing to the second bolt. (And they said sport climbing was safe.)
Bumbly Factor 3. Dodgy top-roping practices
Top-roping. What good things can we possibly say about top-roping? Back in the day, it was reserved for the perversity of southern sandstone. (Well at least that's what we were told.) But a charge of "Filthy top-roping scum!" probably wouldn't have got you into the Alpha or the Creagh Dhu. Nowadays of course we're all at it, apart from Pylon King Against Capitalism (or whatever he calls himself this week) and Fiend. Except that now it's 'bottom-roping' - which always sounds a bit BDSM to me.
Unless you dangle bits and bobs off the top of the crag (a la Pex), top (err, I mean bottom) roping requires some brave soul to lead something in the first place. Should Jim Bold arrive at the anchors and utter the immortal words, "How do I thread…?" there's only one safe place for him – back on the ground ASAP. Fluff threading the anchors and you'll be singing with the heavenly choir.
Bottom-roping through the staples? Well we've all done it but the committed Bumbly makes a serious practice of it – 'cos that's the right way innit?
Alternatively the bottom rope goes straight from the ground to quickdraws hanging from the anchors, not clipped into anything else. Should the last bottom-roper (just doesn't sound right, does it?) fluff stripping, well once again it's the heavenly choir.
But hey, let's be honest. Would you listen to a guy who once made his mate belay to an anthill?
Bumbly Factor 4. Wearing your harness to (and from?) the crag
Now I must admit this factor doesn't actually denote incompetence per se. But it's a remarkably telling indicator of things to come. It's a bit like wearing socks in your climbing shoes (unless you're Dave MacLeod or Big Ron in days of yore) or donning Ron Hills or - worst of all, lycra (distinctly passé by 1990).
Your typical Bumbly will head for the crag with an array of gear (starting with their helmet) going clank, clank, clank off the back of their sac. But your full-on Bumbly will go the whole hog, pulling on their harness in the car-park and returning, many hours later, with aforesaid harness still in situ and a load of big hexes (mostly unused, some maybe even unscratched) hanging off it.
Personally I can't wait to get out of my harness, even between redpoints. But then I don't claim to be normal.
Bumbly Factor 5. Buying performance climbing shoes and then walking around in 'em
The august forums of UKC so often reverberate with anguished cries of, "Should I get Muiras or Katanas?" "Pythons or …?" To which I say, "Get real!" You can go into Decathlon and buy a pair of beginner shoes that are better than anything Jerry ever had in his prime. Once you put on virtually any modern shoe, you're almost always getting a world-class piece of kit (though probably in the wrong size).
And yet it seems that the better the footwear, the worse the footwork. Don't believe me? Watch a video of Big John Dunne or, if you're up Edinburgh way, check out Super-Scouser Ian Jones for a masterclass in footwork. And what's yours' and mine like in comparison? I'll tell you – it's crap!
But the true bumbly isn't content with world-class kit backing up rubbish performance. Oh no! He keeps his shoes on when belaying. He takes them for walks at the bottom of the crag. He gets nice gooey mud all over super-sticky rubber and he liberally deposits aforesaid mud on the initial holds. When he grinds to a halt (can't think why), he peddles furiously, particularly on limestone, especially in grooves. Then he complains about polish (or sometimes Polish). Then he heads back to UKC for his favourite thread, "Which shoes are best?"
Bumbly Factor 6. Inability to use the guidebook properly
Back in the day, in the Lakes, you could blissfully climb the wrong route… on the wrong crag… in the wrong bloody valley. Yup – guidebooks were that good. (Hmm, probably no point bothering finishing that FRCC application.)
To be fair, in days of yore options were severely limited. Line drawings are tricky, unless you're Phil Gibson. Folk could get lost – and they did.
Some guidebook descriptions were, shall we say, somewhat economical. Thunder Rib on Skye? 'Climb the rib…' (for a long way, with no little difficulty.)
But as guidebooks have got better… and better… and even better… guess what's happened? That's right - folk can't be arsed reading them. For the late Harold Drasdo, guidebooks were 'sacred texts'. Generations of spotty youths sat on the bog for hours on end, poring lustfully over 'em. Not any more.
Your proper Bumbly has no earthly idea how to use a guidebook properly. Basic navigation is an utter mystery. A few years ago, I was wandering off to Blacknor with a certain Rockfax writer when we were accosted by about a dozen characters, all waving Rockfaxes (but not actually reading 'em), arguing furiously amongst themselves but not bothering to look for clues, such as… err, the path down.
We showed 'em the path down. We even went down it ourselves. And yet still they continued arguing. To my great amusement, the aforesaid guidebook writer, a man of unquestioned silver-haired maturity, put his head in his hands and muttered, "Why do I f*cking bother?" (Whereupon I reminded him of the royalties; at this he cheered up remarkably.)
The other end of the spectrum is slavish adoration to guidebook utterances. Hello – reality alert! Guidebooks are written by humans, not gods. In any case, there's a lead time between checking and final proofs. Routes can and do change. And just 'cos the guidebook says it's F6a don't mean it's necessarily so. (However, as my most well travelled route rejoices in a guidebook F6a tick for little more than a F4 move, maybe I shouldn't complain too much about this one.)
Bumbly Factor 7. Becoming the (self-proclaimed) climbing expert… while actually knowing sod all!
Consider a sixty-something soloist on the Cima Grande. Is he a Bumbly? Nope. Why – 'cos he's nonchalantly despatching the Comici?? No, of course not! He can't be a Bumbly 'cos he hasn't got any mates with him.
Bumblies are pack animals. In climbing circles, they're what used to be described as 'good club men.' How to elevate your social standing in the pack? Become the self-proclaimed climbing expert, preferably in a small, strictly local club.
I once meet a bunch of Geordie beginners on Tryfan Bach. They were brilliant guys – apart from their redoubtable leader. This self-appointed 'expert' staunchly insisted that cams were far preferable to passive pro and the correct way to place a cam was to throw it into a crack, yank viciously on it and fall backwards with your weight on it.
There are few questions which will faze the true self-proclaimed climbing expert. Trouble is their answers are invariably bullshit. With climbing being such a small world, they have to be remarkably canny to avoid getting found out. Perhaps we should admire their guile and chutzpah.
Bumbly Factor 8. Utterly redundant practices
It's been a while since I've encountered folk using double ropes on single pitch sport routes – but you do see them occasionally. Helmets at the wall? Yup – seen those. Prussic (aargh!) knots at the wall? Also seen. Taking your first aid kit box to the wall? Hmm… haven't seen this one yet but it's probably only a matter of time.
Bottom-roping (see, we just can't stop doing it!) a sport route with belay device and a load of quickdraws still attached to your harness? Standard practice at some venues. I'm told that Steve McClure is wont to discreetly remove Gri-Gris from bottom-ropers' harnesses while murmuring gently, "You won't be needing this, will you?"
Building belays? Where on earth did that dreadful expression come from? Some belays bear a distinct resemblance to Spaghetti Junction. Naturally changing such belays on multi-pitch routes can take quite some time. Does this matter? Possibly… If your rope of three takes more time on Grooved Arete than some folk take on The Nose, then don't be too surprised if you end up on the Knight's Move, hours late and well-knackered to boot. Unfortunately this is the classic profile for a Tryfan accident statistic.
Bumbly Factor 9. Marked reluctance to think for yourself
Say what you like (and they did!) about my old climbing mate John Bogg (Boggie) but the Yorkshire tyke was a master of improvisation. As an Alpine novice on a severely out-of-condition Charmoz-Grepon traverse, wet, cold and shagged out, he took the highly counterintuitive option of traversing on to the North Face of the Charmoz. Back then it had an Eigerwand-style reputation. But Boggie wasn't aiming to get up it; he was simply trying to escape the deadly wind chill on the ridge. After a relatively warm, windless bivouac, Boggie and his mate, Phil Mitchell, went back to the now mercifully less windy ridge and continued. His inspired action almost certainly saved their lives.
Some years later, faced with an offwidth on the Nose which he couldn't get up (even though he was shit-hot on cracks), he jammed in his haul-bag and craftily used it as a chockstone for aid.
These days such street-smart mental agility is rare. We inhabit a technology-driven world and thereby expect technology to provide the answers. We want the best cams, the best guidebooks, the best shoes and the best beta. We don't want to think for ourselves. But thinking for ourselves is what we most need to do.
Bumbly Factor 10. Blissful ignorance of impending doom
In part this is a natural consequence of not thinking for yourself. I once met some delightful people (admittedly beginners) who solemnly assured me that they could escape from the system. They'd practised it at home, in their living room, with slings wrapped around the legs of armchairs.
We met on a stake-bashing session at a sea-cliff (so good for them, they were already putting something back into the climbing community). As the plan had been to do a few routes afterwards, they were somewhat miffed to learn that this was no longer on the agenda. Climbing on wet limestone: that was OK, wasn't it? Climbing on a sea-cliff with a monster swell: that was OK too?
Before the arrival of monster cams, I saw several leaders shake their way up Hargreaves' Original Route in extremis, desperately shoving in big hexes which would almost certainly have ripped if tested. Now we all do these things occasionally but if you think it's OK (as they seemed to) then the chances are that one day your luck will run out.
Apologies for ending on a sober note but – bottom line - climbing's dangerous. As Carlos Castaneda continually stressed, impending doom is always out there somewhere, stalking us. We need to sense its presence long before it gets near and take sharply evasive action.
'He who climbs and runs away… lives to climb another day.'
(Mick, professional coward.)
Test Validation, Scoring, All that Good Stuff
Right then, the good news is that I was taught psychometrics (that'll be psychological testing to you lot) by one of the then top half-dozen people on the planet. The bad news is that poor Denis was wasting his time. So we can forget about stuff like validity and reliability (well they do on Cosmopolitan surveys) and the scores can mean any old thing I say they mean. Give yourself a point apiece for each factor you've ticked and don't be stingy about throwing in the odd bonus point.
0. "I am Spartacus!" Well yes, of course you are. Either Spartacus or Goucho or Chuck sodding Norris. Treat yourself to yet another night of hard drinking and an icy north wall at dawn.
1. "You, my boy, are guilty of a terminological inexactitude…" (Churchill.) In vulgar parlance - you're a lying git!
2. "You're repressing it." (Freud.)
3. Hmm - getting in touch with our inner Bumbly, are we?
4. The inner Bumbly is fleeing the closet.
5. Things seem to be hotting up quite nicely in the Bumbly stakes.
6. And how!
7. Senior Bumbly status beckons.
8. Colonel Strutt of the Alpine Club would have been proud of you.
9. What can I possibly say? Revel in your time…
10/10+ Maximum revelry may well be appropriate - for time is surely running out (as time was running out for me, with my dead cool blue polypropylene rope).
One day, if you're fortunate(?) enough, you may encounter the author sitting on the first wire/bolt, pumped stupid and gibbering at the thought of any more upward action. Feel free to smile serenely and murmur sagely, "And he had the gall to tell us… the cheeky so and so!"
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