A Sensational Passion
Beauty and the Beast
Glory of Movement
Back at the hut, he gets a chopping board and one of the frying pans and lays out the vegetables and begins to peel and slice an onion. Let's call him Geoff. Another, slightly younger man is there, also beginning to cook. The younger man asks pleasantly what we did today and Geoff recounts our expedition up the three-star E2 which, despite its stars, clearly isn't done very often because the path to it over bracken and gorse was barely beaten-down and the crack was full of dust. Geoff reports that it is a top quality line and rates it as highly recommended. Geoff doesn't say he hung repeatedly, dropped a wire in the sea and used the abseil rope to dog the crux.
There is a cultural expectation on men to over-perform. This is very tiring.
Life in Your Hands
Puzzles baited the line.
There I was, swimming along the mainstream, occupied with a toddler and a nascent profession, when climbing yanked me out of the river. Brain-work was the maggot, the worm! How to scale this barely textured wall? How to vault the overhang or ascend this jagged crack? I was repeatedly flummoxed. There appeared to be dozens of different ways to move. It called for shapes I had no idea my body could make. Which methods succeeded and which failed when faced with a glorious, unique, multi-faceted piece of stone? It blew my mind. I swallowed the grub and gobbled the hook.
Next came the riddle of technique. So deeply, fundamentally counter-intuitive. A drop knee, for instance – surely that makes you go lower, not higher? Spin and turn your back on the target hold – what? That makes no sense – but my reach is now a metre further! I can make the next grip. Wild!
In the early days I was constantly outwitted when onsighting. Lacked the skill to read the holds fast enough before I pumped out. Battled my way up, surviving on strength and panic. Recall asking a veteran climber friend how he did it, how he knew. But he just shrugged and said 'Time'. Time? Surely not! I needed to know immediately! So I concentrated harder. Picked up tips, piecemeal. Kept nibbling the crumbs.
After twenty years, I remain intellectually intrigued by the shapes and texture and structure of routes. Can still get shut down on an easy-looking finger-crack, misread sequences, mess up my feet. However much I learn and know, the puzzle can still surprise me and leave me bamboozled – flip-flapping on the ropes like an out-of-water mackerel.
But still I can't stop biting.
Do we function by these hierarchies?
E5 over VS;
Summit over foothills;
Grades over enjoyment;
Words (speech) over silence (listening);
Doing (to) over being (with);
Human over non-human (we can drill the cliff, it doesn't mind, it doesn't have feelings).
Kendal Mountain Festival 2021
You can catch Sarah-Jane in a discussion with UKC's Rob Greenwood at the 'A Feeling for Rock' session at 9 p.m. on 19th November at this year's Kendal Mountain Festival. The social event of the year for outdoor enthusiasts takes place across the town from 18th-21st November.
- Book tickets and passes on the KENDAL MOUNTAIN FESTIVAL SITE
- PRODUCT NEWS: A Feeling for Rock, by Sarah-Jane Dobner 18 Mar, 2021
- CRAG NOTES: Fairground under Wraps 1 Feb, 2021
- ARTICLE: Portland: Here be Dragons 24 Aug, 2020
- FEATURE: Costa Blanca - Book of Wonders 19 Feb, 2020
- OPINION: Cyborg-Climbers - Come to your Senses! 16 Jan, 2020
- FEATURE: The Western Isles: Checkmate 5 Dec, 2019
- FEATURE: Kalymnos: The Smooth and the Rough 15 May, 2019
- FEATURE: Poetry - Song of Bare Blåbær 21 Mar, 2019