UKClimbing.com are proud to present End of Year: Bouldering 2008, written by Tyler Landman (with help from Keith Bradbury). In this annual round-up, Tyler describes the hottest achievements in the world of bouldering, from the forest of Fontainebleau to the sun-kissed sandstone of South Africa.
Included in this article are three short films from Adam Hocking, featuring Tyler Landman, Paul Robinson and Liam 'Leroy' Desroy. Both Tyler and Paul are featured in the article as world class boulderers. Liam has also been operating at an extremely high level on hard problems in Switzerland and the UK this year with minimal fuss. UKC wish him good luck for 2009.
In the last ten years, bouldering has not only increased dramatically in popularity, but the standards have also taken a giant leap forward. With more crags, more walls and more climbers, the result is clear. The prior 'hardest problems in the world' are getting flashed and repeated quickly by a handful of people. Specialised bouldering walls are opening around the world and the once small sport is on its way to being seen as cool in the eyes of the general public. But how much further can bouldering go? Is there a limit on the hardest move possible? The future of the sport is hard to predict, but with a new generation of climbers, who are stronger than ever, progression is a certainty.
“I don't ever really climb on crimpy problems, I have never been that great on crimps, but I guess things can change” – Alex Puccio
The constantly expanding development of bouldering seems to be reaching a plateau, but the limit for women's bouldering has not even nearly been reached. This year marks a huge jump in the standard of women's bouldering and with more and more female climbers training and climbing hard, I expect the upsurge to continue.
The year started off with an impressive ascent of the classic Sharma V12 testpiece, The Mandala in Bishop, California. Lisa Rands, Bishop local, ended the siege this January, making the first female ascent of the powerful prow. With Hueco in season, US Climber, Jody Hansen made a notable first female ascent of the burly roof climb, Rumble in the Jungle (V12). Next on the list was Austrian up and comer, Barbera Zangerl, who made her V12 ascent in the Magic Woods of Avers, Switzerland. She climbed the crimpy V12 Pura Vida, also marking a first female ascent.
With the summer's arrival, the strong women of Colorado got cranking in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) and Mt. Evans. First was Boulder local, Angela Payne with her ascent of Dave Graham's technical V12, European Human Being in the RMNP. Having come very close the previous year, Angie got it done quickly this season, marking the first female ascent. Fresh from winning the Bouldering World Cup in Vail, the US's Alex Johnson, continued to crush with her first female ascent of Clear Blue Skies, a fingery testpiece in Mt. Evans. Boulder powerhouse Alex Puccio soon followed suit making a swift second female ascent and then proceeded to make the first female ascent of Trice, a contrived V12 up in Flagstaff, established by Jim Holloway in 1976, that only received its second and third ascents last year! With no shortage of strong women and hard climbs, I am sure the future will hold many more impressive female ascents, as the standard inevitably continues to be pushed.
“I recently completed European human being, which was a long-term project of mine. It felt great to finish this boulder after putting so much time and effort into it. I think women's bouldering is taking off right now, with harder first female ascents being completed more and more frequently. The bar is constantly being raised, and I think the standard for women's bouldering will reach new levels in the near future.” – Angela Payne
“Climbing in the Rocklands offers a variety of styles from gymnastic to technical. The rock is perfectly sculpted and comfortable to climb on, nothing is aggressive. It is by far the best bouldering in the world and a life experience.” - Daniel Woods
Rocklands has been a popular bouldering area for many years but has recently become the new hotspot. Fred Nicole and Bernd Zangerl have established many hard problems and this year a strong team set out to repeat them, and create some of their own.
Daniel Woods and Paul Robinson from Boulder, Colorado, made their way out there this summer, marking Daniel's second trip and Paul's first. Nalle Hukkateival from Finland also journeyed there for the first time to form an even stronger team. The first hard problem to be dispatched was Fred Nicole's supposed 8C, Amandla. French all-rounder, Tony Lamiche, made the second ascent and suggested it could be easier. Paul Robinson proceeded to make the 3rd ascent, climbing the extreme crimp line in a single session. Nalle and Daniel followed suit and made quick ascents, the consensus being that 8B+ was a more appropriate grade. Daniel then set out to climb the Sky Project, a line which Tony had been trying to do. Daniel succeeded and graded it 8B+, which was then confirmed by Nalle and Paul who both made repeats soon after.
Fred Nicole's Madiba and Mooiste Meisie, both 8B+, also saw repeats from the the strong trio. Daniel also established Derailed, an intense compression 8B+, that was not to see a repeat. The team continued crushing with all three making repeats of Lamiche's classic two move 8B, Quintessential, and Klem Loskot's Armed Response, also 8B. Daniel then made the first ascent of a futuristic and committing project called El Corazon, which Paul repeated immediately afterwards and agreed with the proposal of 8B. The power duo then made quick repeats of 8Bs such as The Power of One, The Green Mamba, The Ray of Light and Black Shadow. Daniel also added his own Fragile Steps and Betta Mova, both 8B. So with 9 8B's, and 5 8B+'s sent in the Rocklands this summer, I think it's fair to say that South Africa is the new hardcore bouldering Mecca.
“The climbing there defines world class in a whole different way; it is by far the best bouldering in the world and the potential is endless. Every area you go to the rock changes, but never in a bad way, and it constantly reminds you of the best stone from all throughout the world.” - Paul Robinson
Paul climbs New Base Line first, then attempts General Dissaray. Tyler then climbs General Dissaray (Red Tshirt) but only after accidentally 'dabbing' on Liam Desroy's arm, forcing Tyler to re-climb the problem again.
For any boulderer, Fontainebleau holds a special significance. The beautiful forest contains a plethora of perfect sandstone boulders that cater to all levels of climber. The undisputed home of bouldering has seen the pushing of limits year on year and 2008 was no exception.
Antoine Vandeputte's 8C sit start to Kheops saw repeats from Dave Graham and Geordie underground legend, Micky Page. The prow of non holds is an impressive line and one that has defied the best of the best.
Next up was one of the last great projects, in the area of Coquibos Rumont. The beautiful and extremely difficult compression line had been tried by many Fontainebleau legends, but it wasn't until this year that it was finally climbed and it took an outsider to do the job. Dave Graham had seen the line many years ago and returned this year with new found strength and vision. After days of effort, he made the first ascent of The Island and graded it a mighty 8C. It soon became hot and aspiring repeaters would have to wait until fall for cooler temps, as the horrendous slopers give nothing away. Fresh from his strong summer in South Africa, Nalle Hukkateival made his way to the forest, and after finding his own method, he made the coveted second ascent. He confirmed the grade and expressed his approval of the wonderfully aesthetic feature.
Last year, we saw Bernd Zangerl establish Memento in the Silvretta Mountains of Austria. The dynamic line took him years to climb and he graded it a tentative 8C+. This year, an amazing four repeats were to be made. Bernard Schwaiger was first on the list. The second repeat came from a relatively unknown climber by the name of Kornelius Obleitner, jumping straight up to 8C+ from 8A+.
Kornelius suggested a downgrading to 8C presumably based on the fact that he didn't think he could dyno past quite so many grades.
He was followed by Killian Fischuber and then the Japanese climber, Akito Matsushima. Killian and Akito both climbed the supposed 'hardest problem in the world' in single sessions, raising the question of 'is it really 8C+?'. Although I have not seen the climb, I suspect the large dyno was difficult to assess and the problem will soon settle to a slightly more realistic grade. Making first ascents and breaking new ground is always hugely difficult as the World's eyes are upon you and after many days, months, or years of effort, the true difficulty is always difficult to ascertain, especially with low percentage moves like dynos.
For photos of Killian's repeat ascent you can visit Killian's Website
Christian Core has travelled the world, established some of the hardest problems around, and been at the top of game for years. His competition climbing CV is unparalleled, having won every big title that there is to win and his trophy cabinet has got to be one of the largest in the climbing world. His local climbing area is Varazze, near Genova, Italy and he has climbed many hard and unrepeated boulder problems there.
However, his big goal was to one day find something both hard and beautiful in Varazze, something he could invest all his energy into, and something that would be very hard for him. This is pretty much the dream of every climber, but this year Christian's dream was realised. His friend found the boulder and witnessed the potential. A steep overhang with an obvious sit start, a logical line of small holds, and a clear exit topping out the house sized boulder. Christian began work and instantly knew it would be very hard. Over the next few months he trained hard, tried it as much as the weather allowed, and the result was Gioia, 8C. It is, in his opinion, the hardest thing he has climbed, by a long way, and perhaps only time will reveal how hard it is. Aesthetically, it's the jewel in the crown of Varazze, and it's difficulty is certainly equal to it's beauty.
In 2004 Chris Sharma returned to Magic Wood as the reigning king, with the hardest problem to his name. This time his vision was for something that would push even further into the realms of hard bouldering. Seeing a steep wall with a line of non holds and a perfect jug to aim for, the allure instantly became clear. He'd spent 2003 trying this line and hadn't managed to squeeze his way up it, but his first session of 2004 yielded success and Practice of the Wild was born, witnessed by, among others, a 13 year old boy by the name of Tyler Landman.
The years passed and many of the world's top climbers flocked to Magic Wood to test themselves against its boulders. Some of them despatched everything the wood had to offer, with the exception of one problem that eluded them all, Practice of the Wild. Seasons passed, new boulders were ascended, and Practice remained the obvious unrepeated challenge. This year, an older and stronger Tyler returned to try and repeat this mysterious boulder problem. After a first tentative session, the seed was planted and Tyler knew that this challenge was surmountable, but would require a concerted effort. Battling against temperamental conditions, he finally managed to make the second ascent of Practice of the Wild on September 26th. This was without doubt the most coveted repeat of the year, and Tyler felt that relative to other test pieces, it warranted the grade of 8C, showing just how futuristic Chris' ascent was in 2004.
In the world of climbing, the biggest sends of 2008 have mostly been made on a rope. The limits of bouldering are nearing and new ground is harder to break. It seems that 2008 has seen a solidification at the top end of bouldering with both repeats and the creation of 8C blocs. The few outliers with the lofty grade of 8C+ have been reeled back into reality. Memento is the obvious problem that springs to mind, initially the long term project of Bernd Zangerl, who gave it 8C+. He thought it marked a new level but as always, time is the true judge of these things. This year it saw a slew of repeats from Schwiager, Obleitner, Fischuber, and Matsushima, confirming in most people's minds that, whilst hard, it isn't another level in difficulty.
The strong boulderers currently operating at the top level have reached an ability whereby they are able to quickly repeat very hard problems, but the big question is when will one of the current crop of prodigies put up a boulder problem that breaks new boundaries. The question is not of who will do it, but of when? When will someone like Woods or Ondra invest 10, 20, or even 50 days in a project and find out just how hard they can climb? Perhaps 2009 will be the year when we see a new level of difficulty established and a benchmark created that will stand the test of time. Whatever may happen, I'm sure that 2009 will see the standards pushed ever upwards.
Tyler keeps a record of his activities on the Moon Climbing website. You can visit it here: MoonBlog
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