Proud to be a Bumbly

by David Hume Mar/2008
This article has been read 9,646 times
Tip 1 - Support your ankles
My son, a rising star of the local rock scene, gave an interview for a national climbing magazine. The first I knew about it was when that shrink-wrapped publication slapped on the doormat. Maybe I had been suppressing something, but it was still a shock to be so betrayed, so unexpectedly exposed in the media. My smug pride of reflected glory turned into a seeping chill of public humiliation as the interviewer had wanted to go down the 'family angle' and the result hadn't been quite what I had hoped for.

Q. So you started climbing with your dad? And how did he start climbing?
A. He claims it was in wellies, his mother's clothes line, a bent scoutmaster, and vertical VS grass in Glencoe.

Q. Is that true?
A. Partly.

Q. Does he have a favourite climb?
A. Little Chamonix.

Q. Any favourite phrases?
A. Little Chamonix... oh, and "Tight-Rope".

Q. Favourite piece of equipment?
A. A belayer heavier than him.

Q. Does he train?
A. We built a 35 degree wall in the garage. I use the front, he trains on the back.

Q. Favourite holds and moves?
A. Big jugs, whole body jams and half-nelsons on the neighbours kids.

Q. Are you ever embarrassed by him?
A. Are you kidding? He comes to the climbing wall sometimes! He thinks doing an Egyptian is a Tommy Cooper impression, whoever he was. I once overheard him saying to a nearby climber that he was flagging with the crimps on his slopers.

Q. Was he always interested in climbing?
A. He used to go caving. You can see it in his style. In fact, bringing him up the top of the Sentry Box pitch on Gimmer Crack, I thought he had gone caving again.

Q. Has he made any contributions to climbing?
A. He may have invented the head glissade and the two-lip rock suck while arranging pro.

Q. Has he done any damage to the sport?
A. He was so heavy at one time, I swear he pulled Bowden Doors 10 feet into the ground trying to start Tiger's Wall. Check the route length in the old guide.

Tip 2 - Wear a lovely pullover

Q. When is he happiest?
A. Afterwards.

Q. Have you ever seen him frightened?
A. Is this a serious question? Just getting him over that bit of rail to the foot of the Dervish slab was an epic.

Q. What on earth was he doing there?
A. Photography, belaying, and carrying the food.

Q. What traits does he deplore most in others?
A. Ability, bigger lunch boxes.

Q. What trait does he deplore most in himself?
A. A dwindling supply of original excuses.

Q. How has he influenced your own approach to climbing?
A. Reverse psychology.

Q. What's in it for you in still taking him out?
A. He pays for everything. When he pops off, I'll inherit his equipment and open a museum...”

Tip 3 - Pull on anything!
So there it was in print. Libelled and labelled in a few asides. The word bumbly had passed me by. Now it passes as my identity. I belong to a category. I don't know who first coined it, but I've been asking around. The characteristics are supposedly: “male pseudo-climber, grey beard, male pattern baldness, (sometimes an all-over pattern), a 44 inch waist, (more laundry than washboard), XXL harness loaded with Hexes and prized MOACs, red socks, hairy cannonball calves, checked shirt. The star bumbly also has a tubular woolly hat, and a giant sandwich box smelling of Scotch eggs.”

Now I come to think of it, I met such a specimen a few years ago on Shepherd's Crag before I knew I was one myself. I was doing what bumblies often do - introducing a young person to real climbing up to the 'Very Difficult' standard. Thanks to 19th century climbers, bumblies have access to suitably flattering descriptions of severity with which to impress lay people. It was my son's third day climbing, and I had decided he was ready to lead his first route. Admittedly this is not typical bumbly behaviour - a 2 year apprenticeship watching the mentor go through his repertoire of Diffs and V.Diffs is preferred, even if it involves climbing the same routes several times.

However, back to the anecdote - a speciality of the species. I had instructed my impatient youth up the first pitch, insisting he place at least 12 runners, just for the practice you understand. Arriving at a tree belay, he met what I now recognise as a Grand Master Bumbly. This huge silverback male was comfortably ensconced on the ledge with four points of attachment, one for each of the apprehensive family group below him. The result of this Masterclass in safety, was that the tree was fully wrapped in a giant sling condom. Nevertheless, the helpful King of the Bumblies took over the instruction of my lad and before half an hour of detailed demonstration had whizzed by, my son was ready to take in 40 metres of slack and bring up Father Bumble (me) on a correctly tight rope, none of this 'slacklining' rubbish I hear about these days.

By mid-afternoon we had verbally prepared our now shared trainee to set off on the second pitch. A gentle sparring conversation ensued, each of us dropping in more and more outrageous suggestions of what we had (allegedly) done and how much of a sacrifice it was to be here on this mere V. Diff, when we were obviously better suited to flashing up "classics" like Footless, White Noise, or having a look at Birkett's Fear of Failure (what a wimpish name eh?). By now my new friend had produced an accessory which out-bumbled me completely - a magnificently carved Meerschaum pipe. This polished chimney emitted clouds of Rough Shag. I have since been told that this still refers to a popular climbing activity, but none of my contemporaries seem to know what it means.

In a cloud of aromatic exhaust, I chatted on in a mildly competitive way, hinting that I too might have known Hamish, Joe, Doug, Chris, Don (what a character, eh!), Ron and Pete, young Ben and Jerry..... and wondered just how much of a risk to take. What about coyly asking if he knew my name? Had he done any of my routes? Did he know I had a gully named after me?

Suddenly I remembered my trainee leader. He was racing up the thinnest variations possible, way off route, no protection in place. Apologetically I interrupted the bullshit session to yell in a deliberately understated way, "You might get something in about there... I seem to remember a Rock 6 will do..." The youth hung off a remarkably instinctive-looking two finger lock-off, one foot on a wrinkle and looked down at me 70 feet below with a tolerant smile. "What for? This is a piece of piss." He vanished over the top, and one minute later he's taking in, no proper calls or anything. I looked at King Bumbly - ”Kids, eh? How do they ever hope to become like us?” He nods disapprovingly at my liberal weakness, disappears in a fresh cumulus, and starts instructing his own flock as I am jerked off my perch, scrabbling to release the belay before I'm upside down. "Hurry up Dad, I want to do Ardus, Eve, and Kransic next." Oh Shit! I need an injury, quick.

Tip 4 - Top rope from above to pretend you led it earlier
Since that encounter, I've been in denial. Why has it taken media exposure to see it? All the signs were there. Helping people from ground level at Birchen's, Idwal, Brown Slabs...explaining the grading systems to tourists....bemoaning the increase in gravity, and the tectonic forces which have caused forward tilting on most crags.....protesting at guidebook down-gradings of Severes.....buying expensive climbing books of faraway places....avoiding actually climbing when anyone else was watching.....doing a lot of unnecessary abseiling.....endlessly rearranging my nuts....yep! That's me that is.

People have obviously been too polite to say anything to my face, or ask if I was born with red bootees, but in retrospect I can sense them thinking about it. This happens for example at the climbing wall, when I unload my Joe Brown sac, step into my Whillans, and balance my JB helmet on the top of my head. Is it the etriers which give it away? Or the peg hammer on a 10 foot hemp string? (Good tip it from a French chap - Garcon, Gasthof, Gaston - I forget his name, but he had a lovely pullover). The huge ring of rusty pegs? The ex-RAF oval steel crabs? (What did they do with those - hang bombs under Lancasters? Is that what bombproof really means?). And the slippers - how was I to know that the sheepskin ones wouldn't do? The clues now seem so obvious.

Lately I've been resolving to break free. I've already ditched the red socks. I talk about 'training'. But I suspect it's futile. There must be a bumbly collective sub-conscious at work, a telepathic Bullshit Bumblehood, inescapable for those with well developed symptoms, demanding my loyalty. I've tried camouflage tactics like wearing a chalk bag and using low-level traversing as a cover. I bought modern equipment to flash about with, you know the stuff - wire-gate crabs, horseshoe-shaped rock boots, reversos, gri-gris, micro-nuts. It doesn't work for long. But unless you stop kidding yourself and others, and simply spend more time climbing than sounding off about it, you're stuck with it. Accept your lifetime membership for Bumbledom, and don't be shy about giving advice to other climbers. It's working for me...

Tip 5 - Coil the rope - It makes you look in charge
Top Tips for Aspirant Bumblies:

  • Bumbly Tip 1: Support your ankles with good fitting rock boots

  • Bumbly Tip 2: Wear a lovely pullover

  • Bumbly Tip 3: Pull on anything

  • Bumbly Tip 4: Top rope from above to pretend you led it

  • Bumbly Tip 5: Take charge of coiling the rope – makes you feel in charge

  • Bumbly Tip 6: Wear your rope outside the sac for people to see

full stottie
© full stottie
David Hume (AKA Full Stottie) is still bumbling along in his sixties. His son Ross is an active climber, now aged 29, and was about 12 when the genuinely true incident on Shepherds Crag occurred. David and Ross still climb together and went to Yosemite a couple of years ago to fulfil one of David's ambitions. This year they're aiming for Red Rocks and the Needles.

Thankfully Ross has never actually been interviewed by a climbing magazine, so David's bumbly status is still a well kept family secret.

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