As we leave behind the UK's pathetic excuse of a summer, many of us will have been mixing our climbing up. Eschewing sun-baked outcrops for shady bolted caves, our pursuit of bolt-clipping heroics has likely lead to a whole new set of experiences. In particular, migrating grit aficionados have had to share the crags with year-round residents. Committed to their long-term projects, these climbers have become fixtures as permanent as the bolts they hang off. In the name of good science, let’s examine a few types of Project King in detail.
It’s well documented that upon reaching a certain age, many men suddenly feel the desire to dedicate large amounts of their time to the fine details of a long-term project. From horticulture to model building, the transition from mid-life crises towards more sedate pastimes has been a pillar of British culture since time immemorial. A powerful economic force, the hobbies of middle-aged men have single-handedly sustained manufacturers of DIY products and garden ornaments nationwide.
Not to mention, in this author’s opinion, manufacturers of clip sticks. After all, not all climbers want to retreat to the garden shed for their hobby fix. Their lives are too entwined with their sport, and stepping back from the climbing scene would mean leaving behind a colourful social life – as well as a good excuse to go to the pub. With his options limited, the aspiring hobbyist looks to climbing to satisfy his cravings for minute detail. At this point, our hero decides that, well into his forties, he’s finally ready to attempt the hardest route of his career – a route that demands perfection.
However, the thing about perfection is that it’s never attained. Just as it’s understood that the model yacht will only be completed upon retirement or divorce, The Hobbyist carefully selects a route so absurdly difficult that it sits on the line between long-term commitment and pipe dream. With no end date in sight for the project, The Hobbyist can enjoy the pleasure of spending the day away from the kids without the stress of having to actually climb a route. Pottering is the name of the game, and satisfaction is found in polishing footholds to the glossy sheen of a 1960s MG Roadster.
There’s no doubt that rock climbing attracts nerds. One of the wonderful aspects of climbing is the community of outcasts and eccentrics that has built up around our strange little game. Sport in general requires, and even rewards, the very obsessive tendencies that made for many lonely break-times in primary school. The climbing community is particularly welcoming to oddballs, and it’s inevitable that this privilege will come to be abused. For a select few, an extreme obsession with training and tactics – the lengths we go to in the pursuit of performance - is the air they breathe. These climbers are chomping at the bit to calculate their macronutrient profile and debate forearm endurance exhaustively online. All they need is a motive for the geekery, and a hard project provides the perfect justification for the spreadsheets and protein powders.
And so the process begins. Having picked his route, The Geek retreats into a world of sports science research and contrast baths. Replicas of crux moves are constructed with the same care that goes into a perfectly-painted Warhammer piece, and their training plan becomes more complex than the preparations for a space shuttle launch. Bright as they are, The Geek is uncomfortably aware that the fruits of their labour will be lost upon completing their project, and tries to extend the exhaustive preparation indefinitely. The clued-up Geek can gain an advantage using quantum physics – namely the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. An event doesn’t have a set outcome until it’s measured, so if The Geek doesn’t try the route, he/she doesn’t have to find out if they might have sent it.
The key to this tactic is to minimise time spent on the project by any means necessary. In contrast to The Hobbyist, who climbs for the camaraderie of a busy crag, The Geek intentionally picks a project that’s absurdly complicated logistically. While bird bans and hanging belays are The Geek’s best friends, the gold standard is to be separated from your project by a long-haul flight. With a bit of luck, their ludicrous carbon footprint might cause sea levels to rise enough that the project becomes tidal – a 7/10 on the excuse scale.
The ADD Climber
For every Hobbyist and Geek enjoying getting down and dirty with the redpoint process, there’s a villain heckling from a lofty perch. These climbers value clipped chains above all else, and will be the first to tut at dedicated redpointers’ blinkered interpretation of the climbing game. Definitively Holier-Than-Thou, The ADD climber will preach to deaf ears about the value of new stimuli in place of the same old routine. You should be like them, they suggest as they proudly explain their limit of three goes on a route.
However, The ADD Climber has a dirty secret. Like the sailor with the girl in every port, they never get to experience the joys of a long-term relationship with a route. What’s more, just as the mariner leaves a trail of broken hearts in his wake, ADD Climbers find themselves stepping back from potential projects as they impatiently move on to the next. Success is unusual, and after a few rounds of abandoned projects, our unproductive hero decides that it’s time to go back to onsighting.
A year later, feeling stronger than ever, The ADD Climber returns with the expectation of completing their old projects within their three-try cap. However, after a year of climbing within their limit, they discover that hard redpointing is still hard, and so the route gets sacked off for another year. Over time, The ADD Climber finds themself involved in numerous long-term projects, embittered by becoming all that they criticised in the past. It was high time that they took up road cycling anyway…
Under normal conditions, the three above varieties of redpoint climber happily coexist at the crag. The Hobbyist’s naïve optimism and The Geek’s – err, absence – are balanced by the denial and despair of The ADD Climber, and a stable equilibrium is reached. However, there’s a menace lying dormant in all of these sub-species, waiting for a chance to plunge their tiny worlds into chaos. I’m talking of course about Success: the arch enemy of the long-term redpoint climber.
The reasons for a freak occurrence of Success are poorly understood. Current thinking blames fluctuations in the fabric of space-time, or the preposterous theory of a “sticky damp.” In any case, the first signs of outbreak are subtle, as yells of frustration become triumphant roars. The condition quickly deteriorates, and seasoned redpointers sense the danger that they too might accidentally board the send train and climb their projects. Deep down, they know that the day will come when they too experience the sweet taste of well-earned victory. All the same, when Success rears its head, true project pros know to pick up an injury and get the hell away as soon as possible.
This article was written with tongue firmly in cheek, with the blessings of high-tier members of the Sheffield Mafia. The author would like to congratulate Stu Littlefair for finally climbing Rainshadow and reclaiming his title as King of The Geeks.