In late October, with his son Jim cheering him on from behind the camera, Jack Palmieri climbed The Ireland (f8A+). For many (myself very much included) climbing a single Font 8A boulder problem is a pipe dream, the kind of achievement that would represent the pinnacle of years of commitment to climbing.
For Jack, though, this was more than a single 8A+ boulder, it was his hundredth boulder at 8A and above - in a single year.
In climbing The Ireland, Jack put an end to a long-term project, a project that caused both pain and joy across three years and more than 200 8th grade boulders, all the while remaining something that Jack 'never really set out to do'.
I got in touch with Jack to ask a few questions about an incredible year of climbing.
Congratulations on 100 8's in a year! How does it feel?
Ah thanks for that, I'm not really sure it feels like much to be honest, I'm happy to have climbed loads of problems this year, and the challenge of doing 100 definitely meant I did more than if I'd just have been meandering aimlessly like I have in the past.
I love going out climbing and trying hard to unlock a puzzle, but really I just went climbing a lot and felt like I got closure on something that I never really set out to do, but which ended up becoming something I felt I really needed to do!
You tried this same challenge in 2020 and fell, in your own words, 'agonisingly short'. How close did you get? What got in the way?
It's interesting, I didn't really set out to climb that many either year truth be told. I do usually do some goal setting or have a list of things I'd like to do each year, but I've never aimed to do a 100 8s right from the start of a year.
In 2020 it was a similar scenario to this year, midway through the year I'd done the 50 I usually aim for, and I thought maybe I could double it over the rest of the year. From then on I built it up to be a big thing, and it hit hard not to do it. I felt like I blew it somehow, and really didn't think I'd get the chance to do that many in a calendar year again. As a result I looked back on the year as not a full success, when in reality it certainly was.
I did 98 in total that year, although maybe that total would have looked healthier if not for some downgrades of problems that I thought might not warrant the 8th grade (I've not done any of that this year).
If anything though, I'd say that year was maybe better than this one when you factor in the quality of the boulders I did. I had a lovely period in autumn when I climbed maybe half a dozen great hard boulders over a week or so, Colonel Hathi (f8A+), Big Boy Beaves (f8A+), Stellar Dweller (f8A+) and Flip Flopera (f8B) in the Lake District. They were great boulders, and most of them were either boulders I really wanted to do, or were boulders I shared time on with good friends. Also, three of those boulders are Dan Varian problems, which are always hard-fought and very enjoyable to do for me!
In the end, I think the biggest things that got in the way that year were the weather in December, and maybe myself. I made choosing where to go a bigger deal than it needed to be. I also spent too long in the Lakes following Dan and Aidan around, which I wouldn't recommend to anyone trying to push their grade!
You made the decision to go for the 100 about halfway through the year. Did you change introduce any strategies at that point, or was it essentially just carrying on climbing as you were?
No, nothing really changed in terms of my approach, I'm terrible at projecting anyway so I still just searched out boulders I fancied I'd be able to do within a session. I made sure to try and climb within the seasons, I feel this maximises your options in a really simple way, so Limestone in the summer, Mountain rock and Gritstone as the temperatures dropped in Autumn and thereafter. It also really helps to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the hard boulders in the UK!
Did you impose any 'rules' on yourself? For example, did you include repeats of previously done boulders, or were they all new to you this year?
No rules as such, but yeah they were all new problems to me.
I imagine your final boulder of the 100, The Ireland (f8A+) was one of the more memorable ones. What are some others that stick out from across the year?
Yeah that was a day that will last long in the memory for sure, a perfect day at a great crag. We were the last ones to leave, Jim was clambering about on the smaller boulders and having fun long after I'd ran out of energy! It's a great addition from Ned, and thanks to him and the other developers out there we all have endless problems to go and throw ourselves at - they deserve more gratitude than they get in my opinion.
Boulders that stick out quality-wise are probably things like Stefan Grossman SS (V11), Thick End of the Wedge (f8A), Eagle Huntress (Stand) (f8A), Vault of time (f8A), Lady Boy Arete sds (f8A).
I think the things that usually stand out at least as much though are days shared outside with good friends. I did Thick End of the Wedge with Jim Pope, he's 15 years my junior but someone I look up to, he's got a great attitude and approach to it all. I did a distinctly average link at Griff's Buttress with Joe Lawson in the summer, the climb was average at best, but days like that are why I look forward to climbing on a small chossy limestone buttress every summer!
How do you keep such consistent form?
So I climb outside pretty much exclusively. I've been indoors a little over the holidays, but my sessions indoors will still total less than ten this year. As a result, I will always favour the more training style crags, the Bowderstones and Griff's of the world. If a crag of that style is in season, I will visit there or somewhere similar once a week. They are great training, not much different than your average board session really.
R.e. consistency - I think maybe I look more consistent than I am. Like anyone, my physical shape varies loads throughout the year, but I never really try boulders which are at my absolute limit so maybe it's not that obvious. If I'm in good form 8A can be a really quick tick, if I'm in bad form I can likely still climb the grade, it may just take the full session instead of a few goes. Other factors are just experience and tactics. I was much, much stronger five years ago, but ultimately I hadn't yet learned how to put that strength to use. I've improved this lots, but it's something I'm always working on and still undoubtedly have a way to go with. It would be nice to get back in that shape and see if I can get something a little harder done at some point!
Any tips or tricks for finding the balance between work/home life and climbing?
I'm lucky to be in a position where I can work part time, then I just try to squeeze in as much climbing as I can between school runs and all the other life bits.
How many of the 100 was your son there supporting you on?
Ooh good question, I'd guess around a fifth. A lot of my climbing is done when he is in school and between school runs. He loves to mix cheering me on and heckling, I never really know which version I'll get when I set off for a go on something!
You started climbing when you were around 26 or 27 years old (which gives me hope as I was the same age when I started climbing!) do you have any tips or guidance for people who first take up climbing as adults?
Climb at as many different crags, on as many different rock types, in as many different styles as you can. Climbing at just one or two crags will not help you improve at nearly the same rate, and you'll always be limited if you only practice one style!
Did anywhere stick out as having particularly hard/soft grades?
Oooh, controversial one. I always think Carrock Fell Crag is tough, I've climbed there maybe ten times and done a handful of 8s in total, the same number as I did in an afternoon down at Hartland Quay with Jim on our family holiday!
Any other goals you can tell us about?
I did foolishly go on another little quest after I finished the 100, when I thought I may be able to do 120 to average ten a month over the year. In the end, the weather didn't really line up to allow a decent attempt, so I imagine 115 will be the total for the year. This time round I'm definitely thankful for the rain, the rest I've had over the last week was much needed.
Check out Jack's video of his last few 8s of the hundred, including the final one, The Ireland, 8A+.
With the new year just around the corner, what are your goals for 2023? Let us know in the comments!
Congrats and well done Jack mate! :-)
Amazing effort! :-)
Pah, I did probably 200 8s in a year a while back...
...mind you it was in Australia