A regular theme that crops up on the UKC forums is that of the local hero. You know, the climber who quietly onsights E6s every time they go out, but isn't bothered about lowering their ethics to headpoint the big numbers and court the media and the sponsors.
Do they really exist?
Well, I can't speak for the rest of the country, but in Sheffield they certainly do. Many climbers move to Sheffield with dreams of training hard and making it big, only to find an almighty reality check awaiting. You might have been the best climber in Bingley, but in the Steel City, whether you go to the wall or the crag, there's always someone stronger than you, better than you, or both. A lot of healthy sized fish in a not enormous pond. A fair few folk simply drop out, others sink into competitive training, but the majority put their ambitions to one side and just get on with their climbing.
"...a ripped physique that has been compared to a condom stuffed with walnuts..."
Neil Kershaw, known as Nige to his friends ('you look more like a Nigel!', said Doyle, and it stuck...) is one of these.
As part of the early-noughties Lancashire scene that spawned class talents like Ryan Pasquill, Paul Smitton and Pete Hurley, he knew early on he wasn't going to be the best (at climbing anyway – cricket is another story). But that hasn't stopped him becoming very, very good indeed. With a reputation for footwork that has earned the nick-name 'Golden Feet', and a ripped physique that has been compared to 'a condom stuffed with walnuts', only a laidback attitude and a propensity for injury have prevented him being better known.
A recent run-of-form started with a trip to Font and a clutch of fast repeats of 7Cs and 7C+s, including the prize highball tick of Misericorde 7C+/ 8a. On his return he turned his attention to the grit. For the sake of brevity we'll stick to the harder routes, but his ticklist for the last few weeks runs like this:
- Barriers In Time E6 6b, Roaches - Onsight
- Bloodspeed E6 6b, Roaches - Onsight
- Psycho E5 6b, Caley - Ground up with pads
- Adrenaline Rush E5 6b, Caley - Onsight
- Marrowbone Jelly E7 6b, Caley - Onsight with pads
- White Water E6 6c, Curbar - Ground up with pads
- Committed E6 6b, Curbar - Flash with pads
- The Fall E6 6b, Curbar - Onsight
- Crème de la crème, E6 6c, Yarncliffe - Onsight
- Thumbelina E6 6b, Ina's Rock - Onsight with pads
- Cornelius E8 6c, Ina's Rock - Ground up with pads (4th go)
- Winter's Grip E6 6b, Millstone - Flash
- Perplexity E6 6b, Millstone - Onsight
- Mother's Pride E6 6b, Millstone - Flash
- Clock People E6 6c, Millstone - Ground up (these last four Millstone routes done in a day)
- Sad Amongst friends E6 6c, Stanage - Ground up
- One Chromosome's Missing E7 6b, Harston Rock - Flash "Did ab it in trainers to brush moss off holds, but no warm up except trusty gripmaster"
NOTE: I'm taking Onsight here to mean no prior knowledge, no falls, Flash meaning with beta, no falls, and ground up to mean either with falls. On the four Millstone E6s for instance, Nige was climbing with Tom Randall and Pete Whittaker, all leading but taking turns to go first. Hence one could get the onsight, the others a flash.Grades of course are up for debate when pads are used, but quite how has yet to be settled. Except Committed, none of these ascents used large numbers of pads.
"...special gear borrowed from Pete Whittaker including two allen keys, a metal spatula and a hook..."
None of these ascents are especially noteworthy in themselves, but taken together, and from an unsponsored climber with a proper job, they are undeniably impressive.
For those still unimpressed, the real highlight came last weekend, when after a warm day at Millstone the temperatures dropped sufficiently for Nige to 'have a look' at Master's Edge, E7 6b.
Climbing smoothly to the shotholes, he placed the tricam and tried briefly to rest before continuing. The route was plastered in chalk from top-ropers the previous week, friction was poor, and the rest wasn't helping. So he carried on. Arriving at the crux last move, he gave a brief exclamation at the disappointing size of the crimp, did the move anyway, and then continued to the top of the crag up Great Arete, itself a rarely climbed and very bold E5 5c. Abseiling for the gear, he discovered the heavily chalked and ticked crimp he had used was not in fact the right one, it lurking unchalked and twice-the-size a foot to the side. It's tricky making definitive statements about style, but this is at least as good an ascent as the route has ever had. It's certainly hard to imagine how it could be improved upon.
With the evenings lengthening, this week Nige headed for Burbage South after work, the goal being Braille Trail – Dawes' classic E7 6c slab.
His initial attempts were hampered by a debilitating breeze and a bizarre collection of special gear borrowed from Pete Whittaker (including two allen keys, a metal spatula and a hook from Outside's gear display!), and he took two falls without gaining the arete. The following evening was calmer though warmer, and with gear lessons learned Nige made no mistakes, climbing smoothly to the top on his first attempt. Although the route is now twenty-six years old, this may be the first ground-up ascent*.
* hidden users on UKC's logbook have claimed both an onsight and a solo (yikes!) on the same day - 11th April '08. Step forward, whoever you are!