Masterclass DVD: Parts 1 and 2

Neil Gresham Masterclass DVD - Part 2: Skills & Tactics for Sport & Trad, 29 kbNeil Gresham Masterclass DVD - Part 1: Technique & Training, 32 kbThe rain was pouring down on Mallorca and to ease the mood I whipped a couple of DVDs out of my bag of tricks to entertain the demoralised bunch of climbers which ranged from super-keen sport climbing types (Ali and Phil); to enthusiastic less experienced Michelle and Steve; to cynical old-timers (Glaister and me).

The initial impressions were that the DVDs are an extremely slick package - well produced, professionally filmed, good background music and tight editing. They are also great value with nearly 3 hours of footage in total on the 2 DVDs!

But what about the content? Does it tell us anything we don't know? Is it useful advice? How applicable is the advice for real climbing?

As Part 1: Technique and Training, unfolded, I quickly realised that even the cynical old timers could benefit from a DVD like this. Neil's smooth and assured commentary describes solutions for technique problems I never even realised I had. I thought I was getting pumped on the steep section because I was weak and unfit, but it turns out that simply by dropping a knee here, straight-arm clipping there, flagging out to one side, or just squatting into a frog, I may have a future after all. Then again, as Neil himself remarks, there is no real substitute for power and this too is dealt with in the extensive training section. From horrific-looking things on campus boards, to blatantly sensible practice on friendlier-angled climbing walls; it is all covered in great detail.

I suppose one could mention that the technique section was a bit thin on the for vertical and slabby rock categories, although both these angles were covered, but the majority was about how to hang on and progress further up the steeper stuff and that, after all, is what stops most of us in the end. There was a short interlude in which Seb Grieve entertained us by slipping about on aretes, showing that to be a great gritstone arete climber, you can perhaps get away with something other than great technique. At the end, just when you may have thought that it was taking itself too seriously, the impression is shattered by the pastiche about the 90s training guru Matt Smythe.

For those who only aspire to wet day's on Idwal slabs, this first Masterclass DVD could seem a bit intimidating, but if you aim for anything higher than that, then there will be plenty of stuff to take from it. For those trying to really push their climbing ability, I'd go so far as to say that all you need for your next step up the grade ladder is contained in this DVD. If only I was young enough, keen enough, and had enough time to take advantage of it!

Neil Gresham giving and on-ascent commentary during his ascent of Right Wall in the Masterclass 2 DVD.
© Crux Films
Back on Mallorca, the weather picked up, and we were all keen to practice our drop knees, twisted toe placements and frogs. It was a few days before we got onto Part 2: Skills and Tactics for Sport and Trad.

We had all been expecting more of the same but this half of the package turns out to be closer to Hard Grit than to Masterclass 1. The emphasis switches much more to cases studies of various climbers demonstrating good and bad technique and, apart from the aforementioned HG, I can't think of many more inspiring DVDs about climbing I have watched in recent years. From start to finish we were utterly gripped. It didn't dwell on the finer points as in part 1, but instead ventured out onto ground that was more familiar to me (having always been a bit of an agnostic when it came to training). This was the real stuff; the sharp end, where you and the route is all that matters. Watching the likes of Steve McClure onsighting and redpointing at Malham was truly inspirational. Sport climbing can be a very tedious sport to watch, especially when people can hang on as long as Steve McClure. In his onsight attempt at The Groove on Malham Steve is on the route for over 30 minutes in real time, yet the editing is so well done that interest is well-maintained whilst not losing any continuity in the few minutes footage.

There is plenty more as well. A short section featuring Lea Crane at Pen Trwyn putting in a bad redpoint (which she was big enough to allow to be used) shows what a thin line there can be between success and failure. Other inspiring demos are given by Adam Wainwright, making a very efficient red-point of Statement of Youth, and Charlie Woodburn, on a 7c at the local wall, and attempting the desperately thin Belldance in the Llanberis Slate Quarries. However, the best and most informative ascents are given by Neil Gresham himself. He proves that he really does know his stuff when describing his deliberately muffed ascent of London Wall, then showing how it should be done. His brilliant on-ascent commentary of Right Wall should be compulsory viewing for any ambitious trad leader as he covers all the various mental and physical stages encountered on a big trad ascent.

As with most great routes, it saves the best for last. A final crux move is provided by actual footage of Neil's dramatic repeat ascent of the bold Equilibrium at Burbage South. This is real Hard Grit, palm sweating stuff, with breathtaking tension added by the fact that there is nothing staged going on. We know he makes it without falling off, but you still sympathetically clutch every tiny pebble and freezing sloper with him, as he claws his way tenuously to the top.

In summary, I would recommend these DVDs as valuable additions to any keen climber's collection, and they make a welcome change from some of the slightly tedious boulder-fests that have been clogging up the shop counters over recent years. The level of tuition in the first DVD may be on the advance side, but most will get something from it. The second DVD can simply be considered a great film about climbing which will make good viewing for all, be you a Idwal wet-router, or a cynical old hack.

Disclaimer Warnings - Once you load this DVD into your player you will probably be slightly frustrated by the length of time it takes before you can get to the action - around 4 minutes. There are several pages of disclaimers to get through, which all dwell on the screen for ages, with no possibility of by-passing them. I asked Adrian Croome why these disclaimers were so long. Here is his reply:

The long disclaimer as much longer than we would have chosen but it is necessary so that we are covered legally. Even the slowest reader has time to read it. We took the advice of a lawyer and they even suggested having someone narrate it to protect us against those who can't read! Basically if someone did try to sue us it will come down to a 50+ year old judge to sit in front of a TV and decide that the text is clear and there is enough time to read. We may have been a little on the cautious side. It's a sad reflection of the society we now live in, climbing walls' insurance is going through the roof after a series of petty claims and due to the nature of the films we couldn't afford to take any risks. I would love it to be a 10 second screen, but someone will want to shaft us! All I can say is we are very sorry for the inconvenience it causes, but our hands are tied.

So there you go, it is a sad sign of the times but perfectly understandable. Best just pop it in and sit back and build up your anticipation for the 4 minutes: it is worth the wait!

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