With the 2023 edition of Kendal Mountain Festival on the horizon, we're looking ahead at some of the sessions we're most excited about, and this one has piqued my interest.
The Future of Hard Bouldering, hosted by Shauna Coxsey, and featuring Will Bosi and Jerry Moffatt, is an event that features three climbers who know what it's like to be at the top of the field.
Throughout the 80s and 90s, Jerry Moffatt was at the forefront of sport climbing and bouldering both in the UK and abroad. At a time when bouldering was in its infancy as a discipline in its own right, Jerry made great strides, making the first in-a-day ascent of the iconic Midnight Lightning (V8), and climbing ever higher through the grades with first ascents up to 8B.
Putting Shauna's unrivalled success for Team GB to one side, she was the third woman ever to climb 8B+ with her ascent of New Base Line (f8B+). She continues to break new ground as a mother, becoming the first mother to climb 8B earlier this year with her ascent of Flip Flopera (f8B), a feat she doubled down on just a month later when she climbed Hydro (f8B).
As for Will Bosi, there's no better person to talk about the future of hard bouldering than the person who may well go on to shape that future. In addition to a series of 8B+ flashes, an unrepeated 8C+ first ascent, and a swift ascent of Shawn Raboutou's Alphane (f9A) in 2022, earlier this year Will made the long-awaited and highly sought after first repeat of Burden of Dreams (f9A), perhaps the hardest boulder in the world.
So, why is this event one to watch? For me, the future of top-end bouldering is intriguing for a number of reasons, but first and foremost, because of the following question:
How much further can we go?
When Nalle Hukkataival made the first ascent of Burden of Dreams in 2016, it marked a new level in bouldering. It was an ascent that was clearly a step above that which had come before, an ascent that, as time went on, was beginning to look like it might be the apex of hard bouldering achievement, past, present, and future.
And yet, after Burden of Dreams saw off the efforts of the very strongest climbers in the world, Will Bosi came along having turned his steely lead-climbing fingers to bouldering less than two years prior, and made the first repeat on his very first (replica-assisted) trip to the boulder.
So, just how close to the apex of human bouldering achievement are we?
As 'impossible' as Burden of Dreams was beginning to seem, people have been trying to climb 'impossible' boulders - and succeeding - as long as bouldering has existed.
In early 1978, John Yablonski introduced two of the world's strongest climbers, Ron Kauk and John Bachar, to the boulder that would become Midnight Lightning (V8). Bachar's memories of the interaction were as follows:
'He said it would go... We laughed and said it was impossible'.
Later that year, Ron Kauk made the first ascent, with Bachar following suit shortly after. It was the world's second V8/7B+ boulder, and it waited more than five years for a third ascent.
In 1984, just six years after Midnight Lightning had been considered 'impossible', Jerry Moffatt rolled up to Camp 4 and climbed it in a day. In 2018, Ondra pulled on fifteen minutes after arriving in Yosemite and was fully expected to flash it, which he quickly did. Nowadays, a 7B+ flash wouldn't even be close to making the news.
Fast forward to 2001, and just like Nalle put in three years and thousands of attempts into Burden of Dreams, Jerry was putting in the hours on the boulder that would become The Ace (f8B).
'If the truth be known, it had been my goal for the last three years', Moffatt told Climber Magazine after having made the first ascent, 'either I'd just not been in good enough shape to try it, or the conditions were not right'.
'As soon as I started trying The Ace (f8B) everybody who had done The Joker (f8A) was attempting it this way, which added to the pressure... If I could just get in to the top moves feeling strong, I knew I could do it...'
After adapting his beta and waiting for good conditions, Jerry returned and made the first ascent.
At 8B, the boulder was a grade beneath the hardest boulders in the world at the time, but it was a contender for hardest boulder on British soil, it had taken one of the strongest climbers of a generation three years to climb, and, like Burden of Dreams, it wouldn't see a repeat for years to come. The Ace undeniably sat within the bracket of 'Hard Bouldering'.
And yet, twenty-three years after Jerry's first ascent, a certain Adam Ondra rolled up to Stanage Plantation and - heeding Jerry's advice to 'pull like a bastard' - flashed The Ace.
A climb that had taken one of the world's best climbers three years to piece together, had just been done in a single attempt.
'Never in a million years when you did [The Ace] did you think somebody's gonna come and just flash it', Jerry said afterwards.
Prior to Will's ascent of Burden of Dreams, I asked him whether he thought it was flashable. Whilst circumspect, his view was similar to that which Jerry had held about The Ace.
'I'd be willing to say I'm like 97% sure that we won't see a flash of Burden... for sure the level can change, and I think there are a lot of people out there that are really strong...[but] it's so low percentage... I'd be really surprised'.
Still, time passes, the level changes, and the impossible becomes possible.
So, what might the future of hard bouldering look like? An inconceivable ascent in 1978 becomes barely newsworthy, and an inconceivable flash in 2001 comes to pass in 2023. Who's to say that in 2045 I won't be celebrating my 53rd birthday by interviewing the first person to flash Burden of Dreams?
Watch this space...
Kendal Mountain Festival 2023
The Future of Hard Bouldering with Will Bosi and special guests - Thursday 16th November 7:30 pm.
What is the future of hard bouldering?
With the modernisation of climbing gyms and revolutionary training programmes, climbing is entering a whole new sphere with the hardest bouldering grades in the world tumbling at a meteoric rate. But who is behind this wave, and why is it happening now?
At this thrilling event, we are joined by special guest Will Bosi shortly on the back of his V17 ascent of Burden of Dreams, the world's hardest boulder problem. Hear from Bosi first hand about his transition from a world class competition climber to being considered one of the strongest boulderers in the world.
This event will be hosted by Shauna Coxsey, and joining Bosi on stage to discuss this fascinating topic is climbing legend Jerry Moffatt.
Visit the KENDAL MOUNTAIN FESTIVAL SITE.
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