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ARTICLE: Climbing as Craft - Beyond Difficulty and Danger in Climbing

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 UKC Articles 17 Feb 2022

Peter Hubbard makes the argument for perceiving climbing as a craft or art form and explains how this approach can tie into anthropology, environmentalism and Romanticism...

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 jcooper8 17 Feb 2022
In reply to UKC Articles:

This is brilliant, well thought out and strikes a chord with me definitely. I'd also add another aspect of climbing is as a form of travel or journey. The same reason people go on walks, runs, bike rides even road trips. Climbing is a verb and a rare method of travel from A to B in the vertical. The perspectives a climb allows you to experience both physically and internally have to be part of the draw. 

1
 simoninger 17 Feb 2022
In reply to UKC Articles:

100% mate. Was it Alex Lowe who said the best climber is the one having the most fun? For me the totality of the experience and the craft of taking part, as you describe, is the fun, independent of grade except the bit where we get satisfaction from doing something difficult, wherever that level is for us.

I also say that I don't climb harder than I did years ago, but I do climb better. 

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In reply to UKC Articles:

I recall an occasion at university when I was climbing with an exchange student at the local bouldering wall. Despite already being warmed up, I was jumping between various different problems rather than focussing on anything in particular. I climbed a V1 next to a problem he was working and commented "That climbs really well. Have you done it?" He looked at me with a puzzled expression and said he was surprised that I found something so "easy" so enjoyable.

To me, difficulty has never been the main priority in climbing, though I've certainly worked to be able to push my grade. What I really enjoy is the feeling of being solid on something. In control and able to savour the movement, the position, the atmosphere. This is where I think the notion of craft comes in. Being experienced enough, having good enough technique and the physical attributes to respond to what a route presents you with. It's the reason why some very strong people often look like they're struggling and why, very often, people who've been climbing for decades are so enjoyable to watch climb - they are experienced craftspeople who, like a carpenter who can work with any wood to make any variety of things, appear comfortable and competent in any number of climbing situations.

In reply to Adam_42:

You (and Hubbard) have expressed so well exactly my feelings about climbing. Only occasionally would I be pushing myself, leading right at my limit. My main interest, the longer I climbed, was to climb well, of being in total control, with a wonderful feeling of flow. With me (as I've written in one of my books) the question became not 'Can I get up this climb?' but 'How well can I do it?' All the best climbs I ever did were sheer craft, including the extreme craftsmanship of getting the gear on as quickly and skilfully as possible, so as not to waste energy, and no more nuts than necessary. Hubbard asks what routes felt like a craft: well, all the good ones. Things I climbed well like Cemetery Gates, Kipling Groove, and Vector were pure craftsmanship every inch of the way. I remember with Cemetery Gates I tackled it very 'sideways', laying off the crack most of the way, rather than thugging up it. It was just pure poetry. Feeling, memories that live with you for ever (even though those were nearly 40 years ago.)

Post edited at 20:15
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 Darkinbad 17 Feb 2022
In reply to UKC Articles:

I like the "vertical dance" analogy. If there is anything that is about pleasure in movement, it is dance.

Trad = waltz

Sport = rock'n'roll

Bouldering = breakdancing

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 Tony Buckley 17 Feb 2022
In reply to UKC Articles:

Very reminiscent of some of the thoughts expressed early on in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance about surface and feeling, function and form, analysis, understanding and experience.  I'd write a bit more about this but my copy's in the loft and I'm away for a few days from tomorrow.

Also, not entirely flippantly, as told to King Arthur in the film Excalibur, 'You and the land are one'.

T.

 C Witter 17 Feb 2022
In reply to UKC Articles:

Are you sure you're not simply trying to align climbing with the values and mores of a petty bourgeois intelligentsia - the professional middle-class (school teachers, priests, office clerks) that has always tried to claim the outdoors and mountaineering as its rightful possession? I'm being a bit tongue in cheek, but I wonder at this instinct to "elevate" mountaineering as an activity over "mere sport". Let's go ask the kids in the inner-city bouldering gyms what they make of it all, eh?

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 Darkinbad 17 Feb 2022
In reply to C Witter:

Not to disagree with your point, but just to point out that the "petty bourgeoise" and the "middle class intelligentsia" are very different beasts. The former are (to stereotype them completely) small-minded owners of petty capital (shops, family-run business) with a tendency to conservatism veering into fascism. The middle class intelligentsia are, typically, well-educated professionals who serve the capitalists and have a tendency towards liberalism and egalitarianism (in principle, if not always in practice).

 French Erick 18 Feb 2022
In reply to C Witter:

highjacking the post somewhat :

BourgeoisIe with a capital i . I rarely correct people’s spelling but this mistake is really funny… it would make reference to a petty, rich, and likely middle aged woman !!! The modern posh bird ??? Like some sort of nouveaux rich cougar… 

It certainly made me smile.

 I take your overall point though.

 French Erick 18 Feb 2022
In reply to French Erick:

Nouveau riche - typos from self corrector 

 tlouth7 18 Feb 2022
In reply to C Witter:

I don't want to drag this into an inside/outside debate, but then the author did have a go at diagnosing the cause of our infatuation with difficulty. I accept that competitive climbing has a much bigger footprint than the tiny proportion of climbers engaged with it would suggest, but I will suggest another, perhaps complementary cause. Indoor climbs are out of necessity graded on difficulty. It would be odd, and incredibly harsh to setters, to give them stars or some other quality grade. Given the common transition from indoor to outdoor climbing it can hardly be surprising that people look to familiar types of differentiation between routes. I would be interested to know whether trad climbers who spend a lot of time indoors pay more attention to technical grades than those who climb trad exclusively (this seems like a tough bit of data to collect).

I also think that the author and people in this thread have underplayed the role of technical difficulty. All the aspects that have been identified as making climbing enjoyable can be heightened by the feeling of balancing on the edge of your capability. Nailing a delicate rockover is fun and satisfying, doing it while believing that your foot might pop at any moment can be even more so.

That said, any setter would tell you that they aim to create routes which achieve this sense of appealing movement, and I think that most of us pay a great deal of attention to the number of stars in guide books, so clearly we put more weighting on this aspect than the conversation perhaps lets on.

There was a thread last year where we made predictions about the future of climbing. Mine, which I stand by, was that this aesthetic aspect of climbing will become more explicitly valued, in much the same way that getting up a rock face was an aspect of early mountaineering that became explicitly valued as what we now call climbing.

https://www.ukclimbing.com/forums/rock_talk/the_future_of_climbing-739799

In reply to UKC Articles:

I congratulate the OP on a beautifully crafted piece. Clearly an artist in more than just climbing.

One of the things touched on in the article which has long interested me is the lens through which we regard our climbs. Some people use phrases like “Gotcha, you bastard” and the ubiquitous presence of the word “conquer” in some, perhaps mainly journalistic prose, never fails to raise my ire. I regularly write complaining of this solecism to the editor of our local paper, but so far to no avail. Even in the - gentle? - world of bouldering the word “send” carries a similar implication. The words we use reveal much about our inner selves.

 Offwidth 18 Feb 2022
In reply to tlouth7:

I'd support your points.  I guess if I could share a day with the author I'd have a great time with him as I value many things he highlights but some of the simplifications really do grate with me. I'll illustrate a few areas:

Climbing to most people I climb with is not a sport, it's a series of games. Sport in climbing is a subset of those games and a huge number of climbers and a significant proportion of climbers partake, if only in local fun comps. Appreciating progress in difficulty is a real factor even in games that don't involve sport. So I have a problem with any philosophy that shuts down those people. On the author's side I mostly trad climb to lose myself in focus and metaphorically wake up on belays to the amazing places I am situated in and the people I enjoy this with. I score myself on style (downgrade for poor technique or mental control). I also use bouldering like trad, yet sometimes do test my limits. In sport terms I enjoy the social event of a comp and the abilities on show, as a super vet.

I'd also prefer not to drift towards anthropomorphism:  the environment deserves more love and care but it isn't an interacting soul. Being there affects us through experience and makes us appreciate what we could lose (in the environment and in ourselves).

Finally I think the views around risk are rather sloppy (and this is becoming more common...almost dishonestly so from some climbers). Risk is very much part of all the games... almost intrinsic after initial efforts. We do our best to avoid unnecessary risk but we all chose some risk and are deluded if we think differently. The greater range new route limits of risk are very high indeed.

He needs to write a book with more nuance, like Sarah Jane did.

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 Howard J 18 Feb 2022
In reply to UKC Articles:

In 50 years of climbing it is only relatively recently that it seems to have become widely described as as sport, which is a term I reject.  This seems to have come about alongside an increased emphasis on difficulty and physical (and mental) achievement over the more aesthetic and subjective aspects. Of course those aspects were always important, but so was the wider experience, which now seems to be less often expressed.

Bill Murray was writing about putting up cutting-edge climbs and doesn't stint in describing them, but what you come away with is his sense of the awe and majesty of the mountains.  Many of the essays in Classic Rock and Hard Rock are more about the atmosphere and enjoyment of the route than the technical climbing.  I don't often see that side reflected in modern climbing writing.

Perhaps this is due to the increased popularity of sport and indoor climbing and bouldering. For some, these strip climbing down to its bare essentials and represent its purist form. I disagree - I feel they have removed the elements which distinguish climbing from gymnastics.

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 tlouth7 18 Feb 2022
In reply to Offwidth:

> I'd support your points.  I guess if I could share a day with the author I'd have a great time with him as I value many things he highlights but some of the simplifications really do grate with me.

Yeah I think the article was explicitly describing the views of the author and pleasingly avoided too much value judgement on the subject matter. I too dislike the wishy-washy stuff; I can appreciate the art of climbing aesthetically without needing to know the history of the area or the geology of the rock.

> Finally I think the views around risk are rather sloppy (and this is becoming more common...almost dishonestly so from some climbers). Risk is very much part of all the games... almost intrinsic after initial efforts. We do our best to avoid unnecessary risk but we all chose some risk and are deluded if we think differently. The greater range new route limits of risk are very high indeed.

I am fascinated by the attitude of climbers (and society generally) to risk. There is a great deal of focus on risk of personal injury, to the point that that is what we mean when we say risk. Arguably the greatest risk when I go trad climbing is that I fail to complete a route, wasting a large amount of climbing time while we set up an abseil to rescue the gear etc. In hard sport climbing a rope is not a piece of safety gear used to protect against the risks associated with falls, it is a tool used to catch the climber when they fall as part of the process of working a route.

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 tlouth7 18 Feb 2022
In reply to Howard J:

> Many of the essays in Classic Rock and Hard Rock are more about the atmosphere and enjoyment of the route than the technical climbing.  I don't often see that side reflected in modern climbing writing.

I don't disagree with you; for example UKC tends to write up new, hard ascents, but I don't see articles about new, pleasing ascents (I may just miss them, and I am not chastising UKC for this). They do however have an excellent series of articles that do exactly what you describe:

https://www.ukclimbing.com/articles/crag_notes/

 Offwidth 18 Feb 2022
In reply to Rog Wilko:

Sometimes the immediate 'gotcha' factor is more an emotional response to fear or unexpected struggle and less about conquering. I can't blame the average non climber so much for not appreciating what we do but newspaper editors should know better. I'd say your view on send is at least partly a misunderstanding of the linguistics.

 Rick Graham 18 Feb 2022
In reply to Offwidth:

I have not read the full article.

Could not get past the misunderstanding regarding the overall grade. A VS or whatever is VS regardless of how exposed,  bold, sustained  or technical it is relative to other VSs. For most climbers it will be overall easier than a hvs and harder than a severe.

Posted in reply to offwidth who, if anybody, understands grades

 My own view if that difficulty and risk are an essential part of trad, and difficulty an essential part of sport.

 Offwidth 18 Feb 2022
In reply to tlouth7:

I don't agree this time. I don't mind "what floats other climber's boats" as long as they are not trashing the environment or hurting others.

On risk, everyone who climbs trad a lot has had near misses. Risks look low statistically as large volumes of routes climbed close to the leaders' limit are climbed by people focussing hard and with experience and skill;  and because many more chose to reduce risk well within their limits. Honnold's solo comes up all the time but the riskiest thing he did was probably the Patagonian traverse. I wish we could get some proper perspective that risk is always there but part of what we do is manage that. One thing that attracted me to climbing was the community honestly in that, as articulated in the BMC participation statement. Yet sometimes even experienced climbers make bad mistakes. 

http://www.bluebison.net/yosar/alive.htm

People get injured in wider games/sports all the time that almost completely deny risk and some sadly die. When climbers focus they do well in risk reduction, but that focus is not always present..... At the other end of the scale from Yosemite, the sport climbing I see indoors should be incredibly low risk but actual unnecessary risk is pretty apparent in any visit I make (mainly poor belaying).

Post edited at 13:32
 Cobra_Head 18 Feb 2022
In reply to Darkinbad:

> I like the "vertical dance" analogy. If there is anything that is about pleasure in movement, it is dance.

> Trad = waltz

I'd say Trad = ballet

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In reply to Cobra_Head:

youtube.com/watch?v=1dJLN43G6KA&

Some trad = ballet...

 Cobra_Head 18 Feb 2022
In reply to tehmarks:

fair enough.

In reply to Darkinbad:

Similarly always thought

Trad = Punk 

Sport = house and techno

Bouldering = drum and bass

Winter climbing = Jazz

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In reply to Darkinbad:

> I like the "vertical dance" analogy. If there is anything that is about pleasure in movement, it is dance.

Doesn't work for me. I absolutely hate dancing but love climbing! I think because climbing has a problem solving element to the movement whereas dancing is just prancing about pointlessly.

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 peterhubbard 18 Feb 2022
In reply to C Witter:

I enjoyed this response. I'm probably guilt of having a middle-class bias. I hope I don't claim the outdoors as a possession and hope the article advocated against this. Inner city boulderers, as with skate culture, may value climbing aesthetics more visually than narratively. This could play well with my craft-perspective, but it certainly enriches climbing culture. 

 peterhubbard 18 Feb 2022
In reply to Offwidth:

Thanks for these comments. I hope I didn't "shut down" anyone! My intention was to "open up"!

 peterhubbard 18 Feb 2022
In reply to Robert Durran:

You know what, I can't dance. And my climbing is far from balletic (more like Dad dancing). But problem solving, or improvising solutions, is what a craftsperson does. 

In reply to Robert Durran:

Prancing about pointlessly...or also known as communicating narrative through movement. Obviously I don't mean Michael Gove's wild coked-up gyrations in Scottish clubs, but dance as a theatrical form. It's exactly like communicating through words, as in performing a play, or through music as in performing a musical, except it's through movement.

Not for everyone, no, but 'prancing about pointlessly' is a bit righteous and does a massive disservice to the thousands of incredibly dedicated professional dancers who give their life to honing their craft for the enjoyment of others.

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In reply to tehmarks:

> Prancing about pointlessly...or also known as communicating narrative through movement. Obviously I don't mean Michael Gove's wild coked-up gyrations in Scottish clubs, but dance as a theatrical form.

Obviously, since we are drawing analogies with climbing, I was meaning dance as self-gratification, not dance as performance art; something you do alone or with a partner.

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In reply to Robert Durran:

My apologies; I should have read your post twice before replying in haste. In all fairness I'm entirely with you on that — I hate dancing, myself, despite loving dance — but I think that we probably all (dancers, climbers, freerunners, etc) have an intrinsic love of movement, and the only real difference is the genre of movement we prefer to use to express it. I've yet to meet a climber who won't wax lyrical about making elegant moves in fantastic situations, and that's probably no different to a dancer who feels a strong connection with a particular piece of music or a freerunner who is really into the flow of a particular line that they've created.

It always leads me to wonder why some people are so attracted to movement as a creative thing, whatever the genre of movement. Why is it so satisfying? Because that's essentially why I climb, and why I jump around on walls and stuff.

 mountainbagger 18 Feb 2022
In reply to raussmf:

> Similarly always thought

> Trad = Punk 

> Sport = house and techno

> Bouldering = drum and bass

> Winter climbing = Jazz

Trad = rock (obviously!)

Winter climbing = heavy metal 🤘

Sport = Very specifically, "Footloose"

Bouldering = Again, very specifically, the theme from "The Flintstones"

2
In reply to tehmarks:

> It always leads me to wonder why some people are so attracted to movement as a creative thing, whatever the genre of movement. Why is it so satisfying? Because that's essentially why I climb, and why I jump around on walls and stuff.

I must admit that I've never thought of climbing as primarily about the movement. To me it is much more a problem solving and physical thing I think; the satisfaction of finding something  which works for me.

In reply to Robert Durran:

I definitely wouldn't disagree (as any of my climbing partners who have prematurely chirped up 'helpful beta' will attest), but the ultimate joy for me definitely comes with unlocking the problem and then moving through it in a satisfying and elegant manner. The problem-solving in strenuous, stressful or otherwise unfriendly situations is engaging and absorbing, but it's the movement that follows that I personally ultimately derive pleasure from. I hate feeling like I've scrapped my way through the moves, and I'm always looking for the most elegant and aesthetic solution to the problem (which happily seems to mostly also be the most physically efficient solution).

But, and thank God, we're all different and bring our own unique ethos to the rock. The climbing world would be poorer for not having Johnny Dawes — but it'd be equally poorer for not having had Jerry Moffatt too. There's space for us all, and I think that's one of the things that make our hobby such a wonderful one.

Post edited at 22:04
In reply to tehmarks:

> But, and thank God, we're all different and bring our own unique ethos to the rock. The climbing world would be poorer for not having Johnny Dawes — but it'd be equally poorer for not having had Jerry Moffatt too. There's space for us all, and I think that's one of the things that make our hobby such a wonderful one.

OK, so most here have already agreed that 'sport' has never been quite the right description for trad climbing. But 'hobby's' even worse! Hobby? Are you joking?

'Today I want to concentrate on putting the transfers - roundels, etc - on my Airfix B52 bomber, and tomorrow, very much in the same vein, I'll go out and climb Grey Slab in Cwm Idwal.'

Post edited at 23:41
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In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

Feel free to find me a better word instead of just sniping from the sideline.

In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

Though, making the bold and dangerous decision to turn to the dictionary:

hobby[ hob-ee ] - noun, plural hob·bies: an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation.

You may think that what we do is so unique and special as to transcend language, but to me the definition seems to fit quite accurately for the majority of us. Either way, it's disappointing to spend time writing thoughtful contributions only to be criticised over a single word.

Post edited at 23:57
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In reply to tehmarks:

Why's this 'sniping from the sideline' when I've replied to you directly? There's never been a simple epithet for trad climbing. It's so unlike almost any other outdoor activity. 'An outdoor adventure' sounds a little bit too jolly, and 'outdoor activity' far too vague. In the end 'rock climbing' is about the best we can do. Which can be expanded into something like 'a continual interest in solving the obvious natural climbing challenges presented by very daunting or impossible-looking pieces of steep ancient rock ...  ... ' )

Post edited at 00:06
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In reply to UKC Articles:

Trad is definitely a craft - working out the line, finding the holds and the best way to use them, finding the gear placements, the gear to fit them, the rope to clip, the choice of when to 'go for it' and when to retreat, and the crafting of a belay at the end.

Personally I climb for the experience - the purity of a line (or non line), the moves, the holds, and the funky gear placements. I'd rather do HSes I can savour than push my grade on E1s.

In reply to tehmarks:

Umm. Since when was rock climbing primarily about 'pleasure or relaxation'? It never seemed like that to me. It had far too serious and scary edge to it. A generally rather unrelaxing and totally demanding physical involvement with a natural puzzle. Often extremely strenuous and unleisurely. But then at the top, when you'd achieved it, and were sometimes completely knackered and worn out mentally, you could relax and enjoy the extreme satisfaction of having got up something you'd dreamt about doing for months or years.

Post edited at 00:05
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In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

It's sniping from the sideline because you don't yourself have any better suggestion for a word that's already, by the dictionary, perfectly adequate, and rather than engaging in the discussion you're engaging in tedious literary pedanticism. Ultimately, there appears to be no better word that doesn't require me to alter the context or the emphasis of the sentence (that it is our thing). I don't think 'our continual interest in solving the obvious natural climbing challenges of presented by very daunting or impossible-looking pieces of steep ancient rock' is going to tick the brevity box, and I don't think 'our rock climbing' is going to tick the 'basic grasp of English box'. 'Our sport' is clearly not right when the entire point of the discussion is creativity and aesthetics.

I find it really quite annoying because I try very hard to write thoughtful and considered contributions to the topic at hand (trouser-filling climbers aside), and instead of engaging with the argument, you want to pick over a single word. Clearly my time would have been better spent cooking my dinner instead.

If you meant it in good nature, try sticking a smiley after it to give a hint.

And of course climbing is for pleasure. I'd you didn't derive pleasure from it, in some form, you wouldn't do it. No one would do it. No one would willingly put their life in real danger if they didn't derive some sort of satisfaction from it.

[Edited for overly angry language]

Post edited at 00:34
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In reply to tehmarks:

I did stick a smiley after my first reply to you!

Anyhow, in 40 years of rock climbing I never ever heard it described as a 'hobby'. ! !

3
In reply to Gordon Stainforth: 

But we're still lacking a suitable alternative! Maybe that can be your homework for tomorrow?

Sorry for the rant; I took your reply the wrong way after the fun of typing mine on a keyboard with a broken Q, W, R, Y, O, S, D, H, C, B and M. Normal service will now resume.

In reply to tehmarks:

> And of course climbing is for pleasure. I'd you didn't derive pleasure from it, in some form, you wouldn't do it. No one would do it. No one would willingly put their life in real danger if they didn't derive some sort of satisfaction from it.

I really do want to discuss this seriously. Your emphasis on 'pleasure' just seems so odd to me. There are so many things in life that we really want to do, not because they give us immediate 'pleasure' but for a whole load of other reasons. Mostly about driving ourselves to the limits of our abilities in achieving, expressing or creating things. Yes, a side of it is pleasurable, when it's going well, but it's much bigger than that. Often it doesn't go so well, and is much harder than we ever imagined it would be, yet we battle on, determined to succeed in our task. This intense, genuine, whole-hearted battle to do our best is what we gain satisfaction from, mostly in retrospect.

I suppose I'm talking primarily about the arts (in my case film making, editing, book-designing and writing), but I think it applies to climbing in much the same way.

Post edited at 00:43
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 Darkinbad 19 Feb 2022
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

I think your disagreement with tehmarks may be more about conflating "pleasure" with "immediate pleasure", and a perceived lack of seriousness about the usage, rather than any fundamental difference of opinion. Satisfaction might be fairly described as "pleasure in achievement" and a pleasurable recall of highly unpleasant events is certainly possible.

On the other side of the coin, there is an interview with Jim Bridwell where he draws an analogy between sport climbing and sport fսcking. Both may be pleasurable, but they do not necessarily give a lasting sense of satisfaction.

Post edited at 04:29
In reply to tehmarks:

> But we're still lacking a suitable alternative! Maybe that can be your homework for tomorrow?

"Pastime" seems too trivial (though not as trivial as "hobby"), but "way of life" possibly too pretentious (though it is certainly close to that for many). "Sport" definitely doesn't work for most.

In reply to Darkinbad:

> On the other side of the coin, there is an interview with Jim Bridwell where he draws an analogy between sport climbing and sport fսcking. Both may be pleasurable, but they do not necessarily give a lasting sense of satisfaction.

Maybe, a least metaphorically, "love affair" encapsulate the pleasure, pain, irrationality and rewards of climbing.

1
 C Witter 19 Feb 2022
In reply to French Erick:

> highjacking the post somewhat :

> BourgeoisIe with a capital i . I rarely correct people’s spelling but this mistake is really funny… it would make reference to a petty, rich, and likely middle aged woman !!! The modern posh bird ??? Like some sort of nouveaux rich cougar… 

> It certainly made me smile.

>  I take your overall point though.

I wrote "pretty bourgeois" drawing on Poulantzas' conceptualisation of the formation of a growing professional class in the 1960s. It was Darkinbad, trying to school me in C19th Marxist orthodoxy who misspelt "bourgeoisie". I appreciate the comic image, though, that jumps to your mind.

 C Witter 19 Feb 2022
In reply to tlouth7:

> There was a thread last year where we made predictions about the future of climbing. Mine, which I stand by, was that this aesthetic aspect of climbing will become more explicitly valued, in much the same way that getting up a rock face was an aspect of early mountaineering that became explicitly valued as what we now call climbing.

Flick through Instagram and you may find that the aesthetic is already explicitly valued (although perhaps not I  the sense you intended) - which aligns it far more with advertising than art, since you could argue that much of modern art has been trying for the last 100 years to destroy the merely aesthetic.

 C Witter 19 Feb 2022
In reply to peterhubbard:

Possibly. I suppose that commentators aligning skateboarding with aesthetics do so as a clear reaction against the fact that skateboarding has historically been denigrated along with the overpoliced and stigmatised groups who have brought it into existence as an activity: racialised inner-city working-class kids. Hence the need to "elevate" it by connecting it to canonical art forms, just as graffiti has been "redeemed" through being understood as a vernacular art form in more recent years.

I wonder how art theory would speak to the claim that climbing is an art form or a craft? I suspect some commentators would go there happily in an attempt to broaden the scope of what art can mean; others, I suspect, would simply pause at the freight the term "art" carries and wonder what is gained by calling climbing an art form.

I definitely agree with you on one thing, though: climbing can be something passionate, physically and intellectually absorbing and endlessly creative.

 Darkinbad 19 Feb 2022
In reply to C Witter:

> I wrote "pretty bourgeois" ... It was Darkinbad, trying to school me in C19th Marxist orthodoxy who misspelt "bourgeoisie".

Ah, the perils of trying to engage in intellectual debate. But typos come to us all

In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

I think you're right in that pleasure isn't ultimately the right word; satisfaction is a much better fit and much closer to what I mean — but we're only discussing this as a consequence of needing to find a dictionary definition of 'hobby', and I think pleasure has only really come into it as a result of the limitation of that definition. I think you could substitute 'satisfaction' into the same definition and the understanding of 'hobby' would be unaltered, but it clearly doesn't work the other way round. If one isn't gaining satisfaction from climbing, then I posit that one should stop climbing.

What we actually gain satisfaction from is a very personal thing though. Intense and genuine battles to do our best are definitely one way of gaining satisfaction, but I would say by no means are the only way. As touched on above, in the climbing context Robert gains it from solving the problem of a devious crux. I gain it from feeling like I've moved through the crux in an elegant manner. You gain it from putting your all into a challenge and coming out successful. And I'm sure, to varying degrees, that we all gain some satisfaction from all of those things — the only difference is in where our priorities lie.

I don't personally feel that I have to have a genuine battle to do my best to be fully satisfied. One of my favourite days of climbing was cruising up the two Cromlech classic v diffs with good company. The climbing was a non-event, but the combination of the situations, the moves, the weather, the company, the ability to run it out massively and look down and think 'weeeeeeee' while being fully in control of the situation...all of that added up to some of the most fun I've had on rock. No struggle; it was effortless satisfaction.

Perhaps there is some difference in how much some value their past experiences versus the present? For example, though I find it immensely satisfying to finally achieve something that's until then been eluding my best efforts — sending a problem, sticking a jump, ticking a new grade — the satisfaction is very much in that moment and short-lived. I quickly move on to find something new to satisfy me. I rarely look back and feel a strong emotional response to last year's major achievement, no matter how great the achievement.

Ultimately, I try to live to have fun in the present moment. I try to enjoy as thoroughly as possible the fun I am having in the moment. I try to make fun in each and every moment. I'm not massively into looking back on the past to gain present happiness or satisfaction — I'd much rather go and do something now to make myself feel something now, in this moment. Perhaps this is where our differences lie?

In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

> Anyhow, in 40 years of rock climbing I never ever heard it described as a 'hobby'. ! !

Really? That seems rather doubtful. Just saying it's a hobby doesn't do it a disservice, it just means that for most of us it's what we do at the weekend (or other non-work days) and we don't make money going climbing. If you are instructor, guide, coach or something similar, you are still going out climbing like me - but if someone is paying for you to do so, then it isn't a hobby*. But I spend the week teaching, which is what I get paid for, then go out in the evenings or at the weekend to climb, which suggests hobby is the perfect term for it.

It doesn't mean that some of the most important, terrifying and memorable experiences of my life haven't been while climbing, just that no one paid me or forced me to go climbing. I do it because I like it, hence a hobby.

*Of course loads of instructors and guides and so on also climb for their own pleasure or satisfaction in their own time. Folk who walk up the Ben 5 days a week to teach ice axe arrest or walking in crampons and so on, then do it again on Saturday to climb a VII with their mates are the ones who utterly impress me! That's really having a love of your sport, but it - of course - climbing can be your job and your hobby.

Post edited at 11:28
 Darkinbad 19 Feb 2022
In reply to TobyA:

Sure, climbing fits the definition of hobby. But just as, in common usage, competitive sports are not usually referred to as hobbies, I would say the same applies to climbing.

In reply to TobyA:

> Really? That seems rather doubtful. Just saying it's a hobby doesn't do it a disservice, it just means that for most of us it's what we do at the weekend (or other non-work days) and we don't make money going climbing.

Although by that definition climbing is technically a "hobby", I also am not sure I have ever heard a climber use that word (or, if so, certainly very rarely). I think because the word, rightly or wrongly, carries connotations of, in many ways, relatively trivial things like stamp collecting; I think climbers tend to see climbing as something deeper than that, probably because of the physical effort, potential danger and the commitment to a way of life it often entails. 

2
In reply to Robert Durran:

>  I think climbers tend to see climbing as something deeper than that, probably because of the physical effort, potential danger and the commitment to a way of life it often entails. 

But we all like to think of ourselves as pretty cool don't we? At least a lot cooler than those "normal" people over there...

Don't forget that for lots of people climbing is doing well protected severes at Stanage or 5+s at Harpur on warm sunny summer's day, before a nice pub meal in the evening and few pints with your mates before heading back to the campsite, and perhaps a few winter evenings at the wall with the same mates. Are they not climbers? 

My other hobby is cycling, I cycle quite a lot to get work, but I also go for longer bike rides at weekends and during the holidays because I enjoy it. I do some moderately challenging mountain biking, but nothing compared to what lots do, I sometimes ride long-ish distances, 182 kms was last year's longest, but plenty of people do rides that long every few weeks. I don't race, and I know compared to many who cycle less I'm pretty slow uphill. Does that mean I'm not a cyclist?

In reply to TobyA:

> Don't forget that for lots of people climbing is doing well protected severes at Stanage or 5+s at Harpur on warm sunny summer's day.

I'm sure that they look down on stamp collectors too . I mean, if you mess up on a severe, you could die, but that's never going to happen with even the most Xtreme forms of stamp collecting (though it wouldn't surprise me if stamp collectors counted as "athletes" these days..... ).

> My other hobby is cycling......

Yes, I would put that right down there with stamp collecting.

Post edited at 12:23
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In reply to Robert Durran:

I've given you a Like for the funniest response on the thread so far.

 Howard J 19 Feb 2022
In reply to Robert Durran:

I think we have to accept that the English language, for all its wide vocabulary, sometimes lacks a precise word for something.  The term "pastime" which would once have covered such things seems to have fallen out of use. I agree that "hobby" may have connotations of triviality, but triviality is in the eye of the beholder.  I doubt stamp-collectors think it is trivial, and to the outsider climbing may also seem pointless, and this is only made worse when we are seen to be risking our lives for such a trivial purpose.

If I am asked if I have any hobbies then "climbing" is one of my answers.  It would feel highly pretentious and self-important to say "No I don't have any hobbies, I go rock climbing". 

On the other hand, to me it seems entirely proper when asked if I do any sports to reply "No, I go rock-climbing", and I doubt anyone would see anything strange in that answer.  Just because something involves physical exertion doesn't make it a sport - neither would I regard my occasional efforts to stagger through a Couch-5k run to be "sport".  I don't think climbing has much in common with any of the competitive sports I have done in the past except that it involves physical exercise (although the occasional brush with death gives climbing an extra frisson).

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 Dave Ferguson 19 Feb 2022
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

> 'Today I want to concentrate on putting the transfers - roundels, etc - on my Airfix B52 bomber, and tomorrow, very much in the same vein, I'll go out and climb Grey Slab in Cwm Idwal.'

sounds a fantastic weekend to me, do you measure out and mark the position of your roundels first or do you just go for an educated guess based on the diagrams supplied?

Post edited at 13:08
In reply to Dave Ferguson:

To let one cat out of one bag, as my philosophy tutor used to say, I stopped making plastic model aeroplanes when I was about 11 years old, i.e. in c.1961.

In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

> To let one cat out of one bag, as my philosophy tutor used to say, I stopped making plastic model aeroplanes when I was about 11 years old, i.e. in c.1961.

I think I stopped when I was about that age too. Stamp collecting when about sixteen (around the age I started rock climbing). Maybe I should dig my collection out and flog them - it might finance a good climbing trip!

In reply to Robert Durran:

I still make and fly model aircraft. That is described aptly as a hobby. I think it is telling that it is so difficult to find an appropriate label for climbing, because it is such a wide-ranging and peculiar pastime.

In reply to John Stainforth:

> I still make and fly model aircraft. That is described aptly as a hobby. I think it is telling that it is so difficult to find an appropriate label for climbing, because it is such a wide-ranging and peculiar pastime.

I think "pursuit" might work, but it is a term that seems to have fallen out of usage.

 john arran 19 Feb 2022
In reply to John Stainforth:

> I think it is telling that it is so difficult to find an appropriate label for climbing, because it is such a wide-ranging and peculiar pastime.

For me, 'sport' is by far the most appropriate term, maybe because climbing for me has almost always been a fairly athletic activity; I see no reason that it shouldn't be a sport simply because it isn't formally or overtly competitive. Hobby suggests to me something non-physical, such as collecting or art & crafts. Pastime would probably include most of both, but it really does fail to convey the passion with which people engage with their chosen leisure activity.

 Darkinbad 19 Feb 2022
In reply to Dave Ferguson:

Well obviously you need to place the roundels on sight, or else it doesn't count.

In reply to Robert Durran:

I’m surprised that Hemingway’s line hasn’t been quoted yet in this thread: “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.” Typical Hemingway posturing!

I think “pursuit” does capture something of the feeling of being a traditional climber though - and maybe its slightly archaic air is part of that.

 Rick Graham 19 Feb 2022
In reply to rsc:

He forgot ( or was born too early to know ) about cave diving, paragliding and base jumping. Must be a few more modern genuine sports  by his definition.

 Howard J 20 Feb 2022
In reply to rsc:

Hemingway was referring to proper beardy mountaineering.  I somehow doubt he'd think much of rock climbing, and as for bouldering...

3
In reply to Robert Durran:

I wasn't wanting to denigrate the word 'hobby' in any way. In fact I think everybody, for their well-being, should have at least one hobby. It's just that climbing is such a different occupation or pursuit, in which you're testing both your body and mind to their extremes. Often it's neither pleasurable nor gentle, but amazingly vivid, intense and life-enhancing.

2
In reply to Rick Graham:

> He forgot ( or was born too early to know ) about cave diving, paragliding and base jumping. Must be a few more modern genuine sports  by his definition.

Just a pity that that none of them are sports. He got it completely the wrong way round!

1
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

> I wasn't wanting to denigrate the word 'hobby' in any way. In fact I think everybody, for their well-being, should have at least one hobby. It's just that climbing is such a different occupation or pursuit, in which you're testing both your body and mind to their extremes. Often it's neither pleasurable nor gentle, but amazingly vivid, intense and life-enhancing.

Yes, nothing wrong with hobbies.

I think the reason nobody seems to be able to agree on a category for climbing is that it is so diverse and means different things to different people, which is a good thing.

In reply to Robert Durran:

It is still ultimately, by sensible application of the English language, a hobby though. As I said originally, we might all want to pretend that it is so unique as to transcend the English language — but any lay person on the street would understand rock climbing to be a hobby. Something pursued for leisure.

Likewise, some people pursue more sedentary hobbies with the exact same passion that we pursue climbing. And to touch on Gordon's last contribution [still waiting for that serious discussion about pleasure, Gordon?], until recently I played ice hockey non-professionally, and that's taken me to as many foreign lands as climbing has, and it has challenged me physically and mentally just as much as climbing has, if not more so, and I'd firmly call that a hobby too.

You're all just looking to justify your climbing exceptionalism, as far as il concerned. I get it, because I feel the same way, but I've come to the conclusion that thinking I'm special just because I play risky games for fun is not a healthy outlook.

In reply to C Witter:

Creag Ddu, Rock and Ice. Climbing is where all classes meet on equal terms, with a completely different meritocracy to everyday life.

3
In reply to tehmarks:

Maybe all these things are technically hobbies but I just think it makes sense to have different categories to differentiate between sports, "true" hobbies (maybe pastimes) and active pursuits such as climbing.

 Mark Bull 20 Feb 2022
In reply to tlouth7:

> There was a thread last year where we made predictions about the future of climbing. Mine, which I stand by, was that this aesthetic aspect of climbing will become more explicitly valued, in much the same way that getting up a rock face was an aspect of early mountaineering that became explicitly valued as what we now call climbing.

There is an interesting take on this in Gunnar Karlsen's essay "The Beauty of a Climb" in this book https://www.wiley.com/en-us/Climbing+Philosophy+for+Everyone%3A+Because+It%27s+There-p-9781444334869 

He argues, in essence, that a climb can be an aesthetic object, which we appreciate through proprioception (the feeling of our body doing the moves) in an analogous way to appreciating art through vision or music through hearing.  

In reply to Robert Durran:

I think you nailed it with ‘active pursuit’, seems to capture it well.

Pretty well every activity or whatever has a whole bunch of self mythology attached to it, with each seeing themselves as ‘special’ and not a hobby. Of all the sports I’ve been involved in, climbing has been the least risk but in my eyes the best, with production motorbike racing being on a completely different world of its own at the other end of the risk scale. Glad I gave that one up, although I’ve got the plates, pins and scars as a reminder 😀😣

 C Witter 20 Feb 2022
In reply to Philb1950:

If only that were true. However, you're right: historically, working-class climbers have revolutionised mountaineering. I wonder what these late 1950s and 1960s climbers would make of comparing climbing to an art? I seem to remember Whillans and Brown would often describe climbing/climbs as "work" or "a job".

 Andy Gamisou 21 Feb 2022
In reply to UKC Articles:

My wife and I were climbing at a road-side crag the other day, next to an area popular with school trips.  A coach of kiddies arrived as my wife was 10m up on a ledge, and I was another 12m above her, girding my loins to commit to the slightly overhanging crux.  After piling out the coach the kids had gathered around the base to watch us, and I heard the exasperated teacher shout:

Ελάτε! Είναι τρελοί! (elate, einai trelloi)

Which means: "Come! They're mad!"

So, maybe she was right and it's not a sport, hobby, pastime, or art - it's a madness.  Certainly feels that way sometimes.

In reply to Philb1950:

> Creag Ddu, Rock and Ice. Climbing is where all classes meet on equal terms, with a completely different meritocracy to everyday life.

Is climbing unique in this? In terms of class demographics  and being egalitarian, so are the running, walking, rugby and car/motorbike competition clubs I’ve had anything to do with. All of them including climbing are a car crash wrt gender and race. (Maybe not the Pinnacle club 😀)

 French Erick 21 Feb 2022
In reply to C Witter:

Ooft… clearly beyond me! I’ll stick to the cougar image as an art form dedicated to immediate pleasure and perhaps make it a hobby. If I manage to truly learn to train , I might graduate to being an athlete and then it’ll be a sport to me. What’s for sure, regardless of the words used- climbing has been an increasingly big part of my life from a part-time activity in my teen to full-time obsession in my late 20s and back to a part-time string of stolen moments of peace away from the family!

 David Alcock 22 Feb 2022
In reply to UKC Articles:

Goodness gracious. Climbing is a thing that is almost unique among activities, because for some it is a very powerful identity.

I've been a climber since I was 6 or 7 when my stepdad taught me how to fistjam a crack.

I've had years not climbing, in between climbs, but I'm a climber, and I'll be a climber till I die, whether I climb or not.

I suspect the cultural side of climbing has an awful lot to do with it. The hobbie/pastime/sport semantics are meaningless in my opinion.

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 Darkinbad 22 Feb 2022
In reply to David Alcock:

Well, yes. I too identify strongly as a climber in a way that I do not as, say, a hockey player (a sport I have taken up in recent years). But I would hardly say climbing is unique in that regard. Several of the people in my hockey team have played over 1000 competitive games for the club and I suspect that hockey is very bound up with their identity, along with the 'culture' of the club and the wider hockey associations. I'm sure that there are plenty of other examples to be found amongst everyone from stamp collectors to train spotters.

In reply to UKC Articles:

Good article, thanks.

On the point about climbing hard, I think you could reasonably argue that having a broader scope of difficulty within your range opens up more routes to you, especially if you don’t travel much.

Post edited at 09:04
 Hat Dude 22 Feb 2022
In reply to Darkinbad:

> I like the "vertical dance" analogy. If there is anything that is about pleasure in movement, it is dance.

> Trad = waltz

> Sport = rock'n'roll

> Bouldering = breakdancing

They're all a bit more like The Hokey Cokey for me

 Sean Kelly 22 Feb 2022
In reply to Howard J:

Hemingway was more focused on death, which was a feature of his life, WW1, Spanish Civil war & WW2. So when not fighting, the tro of Mountaineering  Bull Fighting & Motor Racing obviously all come with a high risk of that death!

In reply to Darkinbad:

I fully agree with this. Most of the people I played hockey with are hockey players; that is to say that ice hockey is the foundation of their entire identity and they pour just as much passion into it as I've ever done climbing. Likewise freerunners [/traceurs/parkourists/whatever you want to call them] pursue parkour with the exact same passion, and have built their identities around that to exactly the same degree. Many of them live to jump on walls. A huge number of my colleagues is built on their work in the exact same way — they live for the lifestyle of doing events and touring with bands.

There is nothing unique about climbers or climbing when it comes to this, and I think anyone who thinks otherwise simply hasn't been exposed to and doesn't understand the passion that driven individuals put into their chosen hobbi....err I mean pursuits...of all varieties.

In reply to tehmarks:

Maybe the term should not correspond to the activity itself but to the passion with which you pursue it. So stamp collecting/hockey/climbing could all be hobbies/pastimes/pursuits/lifestyles.

 Anna Fleming 22 Feb 2022
In reply to UKC Articles:

Great article Peter. It is really interesting to see these notions of craft, dance and artform getting explored in relation to climbing,  alongside the Tim Ingold notions of materiality and environmental awareness.

My recently published book Time On Rock is entirely centred on this approach to climbing. Through the book I take that embodied artistic approach to routes and rocks across Britain to reveal the insights a climber can glean from the edge.

2
 Mark Goodwin 24 Feb 2022
In reply to UKC Articles:

Peter, what a marvellous refreshing piece !

" I can't climb at the speed of my imagination; the material of the rock slows me down. I must climb by corresponding with the route. " Yes! How splendid to read that!

'correspond with the route' -  beautiful expression!

.

.

.

All journeys have narrators; shapes, fragrances, textures

(things that first spored words) pronounce

silent dialects of signposts. Take this crack, close

                             its edges

over your eyes; give yourself rhyolite eyelids.

.

.

.

( from Rock Climbing for Novices, from Rock as Gloss )

1
 Rob Lewis 25 Feb 2022
In reply to raussmf:

Don't like any of your analogies - in my view all the so called music is crap. 

> Similarly always thought

> Trad = Punk 

> Sport = house and techno

> Bouldering = drum and bass

> Winter climbing = Jazz

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 Rob Lewis 25 Feb 2022
In reply to UKC Articles:

> Peter Hubbard makes the argument for perceiving climbing as a craft or art form and explains how this approach can tie into anthropology, environmentalism and Romanticism...

Trad climbing for me has combined a love of the mountains with a sense of joy and spiritual engagement which far exceeds anything that can be experienced through what I perceive to be more artificial (if safer)  routes which are bolted. 

It also  engages you in a constant set of choices about which standard you are capable of, how to make moves and which gear to use which I think of as a kind of chess.

Climbing bonds you with the rock, with the physical exercise, with the emotional experience and with your partner. 

I cannot thing of another pursuit which is so complete and so varied. I have enjoyed hard Gill climbing just as much as extreme face routes. 

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