Mark Katz recently ticked his project of 11 years - Director's Cut 8B at Parisella's Cave. A full-time teacher, Mark hasn't let work get in the way of performing to a high standard in bouldering, with hard ascents around the world in South Africa, the US and Europe up to 8B.
What does it take to dedicate years of effort to a project whilst keeping up a full-time job? We got in touch with Mark to find out more...
When did you first try Director’s Cut, and what attracted you to it?
To be honest, I don’t really know. It started as a natural process of elimination. Director’s Cut is made up of three sections of climbing that interlink. I did (the start) Lou Ferrino 7c+ in 2002, (the finish) Trigger Cut 7c+ in 2003 and (the linking bit in the middle) Halfway House 8a in 2005. Jamie Cassidy linked Lou Ferrino into Halfway House to make the Director’s Cut 8b in 2004 and to be honest, it blew us all away. 2004 was a really formative year for me. Malcolm Smith repeated Director’s and then did the first ascent of Pilgrimage 8b+ that year. I climbed with him and Jamie a lot when they were in Parisella’s. Malcolm in particular, had a big influence on me. He was in a different league and I wanted to get stronger and make progress.
Although I had been bouldering seriously for four years, 2004/2005 was when it all went off. I did the second ascent of Isla de Encanta 8b at Trowbarrow and Karma 8a+ in Fontainebleau (this was the first British ascent after a key hold got chipped and it got a bit harder). Parisella’s Cave has always been a place to try hard, see improvements and to try to get stronger. I love climbing in there. Ok, it’s not the most aesthetic of climbing venues but I’ve always found that if I was going well in the Cave then I was getting better. The compression and hand strength that I gained from grappling with the polished holds certainly helped with projects in Fontainebleau and it was only natural to want to try and climb the longer problems.
Tell us a bit about the process of trying it. Why do you think it turned into such a long term project?
It’s hard to know where to start. Although I had climbed all of the sections on Director’s by 2005, they were still really tough for me. Ceri and I also moved to Yorkshire in 2005 and although I made trips over to Wales it got more difficult to get stuck in. Some years I would climb in the Cave quite a bit and others I didn’t go at all. I still wanted to climb Director’s though, but in many ways it got harder and harder. Other people repeated it and the next wave of difficult problems started to appear. Although I was still climbing well, I felt like I was getting left behind in the Cave. I’m sure people would turn up and see me climb and think I was strong enough, but deep down I knew that I was struggling.
When did you start to feel you were making progress?
Over the last couple of years I knew that I had got stronger and fitter. Last spring I was going well on it but lacked endurance. I decided to sport climb all summer in the hope of better attempts on Director’s in the autumn. Bad weather cut last year short and I had one decent session. Then a finger injury in early December really nailed my chances for the next few months. I’m forty next year and I felt like the chances to try it and make improvements were slipping away. I decided to get some training advice. I needed focused routines to get stronger and fitter, balanced against full-time work and rehabbing my finger. Ellie Howard’s advice has been great. She saw weaknesses and made suggestions. Getting back on Director’s in March I felt physically stronger and had a lot more ‘in the tank’ when it came to multiple tries and long sessions. It was all worth it in the end.
Was it ever hard to stick with it, did you ever think of giving up?
All the time. Climbing this damn thing has brought out the best and more often the worst in me. I’d pack up after a six hour session in Parisella’s and drive off the Orme, sometimes having made no progress and quite often going backwards. The drive back to Yorkshire gives you time to think but I’m desperately stubborn, competitive and a bit stupid so it was inevitable I’d keep trying!
You could argue that a 30- move problem would require a similar approach to a hard sport redpoint. Did its length make it more of a mental battle as well as physical?
Definitely. I’m used to climbing shorter boulder problems. You try to climb precisely and control the physicality of the climbing. With long pieces of climbing you have to learn to accept that everything won’t be perfect. You are aware of things around you. It’s too much to focus on the whole climb and better to try really hard at certain points. I found this particularly hard. Resting between attempts was always a challenge. It was funny though, as soon as I accepted the frustrations and started taking every little positive from a session, the crippling pressure I had put myself under to try and climb it started to disappear. I always smile when I hear younger climbers say that they’ve had epics on certain climbs when they’ve spent one season trying something…just you wait!
You climbed your first 8B over ten years ago. Have you ever had your eyes set on something a bit harder?
That’s a funny question! I’d be lying if I said grades weren’t important but I’ve always felt that climbing is about something more. Maybe I felt like I needed to be prolific rather than just climbing one or two hard things. Anyway, climbing is a funny game. Sometimes you get shut down on certain problems with comparatively lower grades because they don’t suit your size or style and at other times you dispatch hard climbs in a couple of tries. I also think that it has only been relatively recently that we have real consensus in the UK on 8B problems and have more climbs of higher grades to try. Ultimately, I take real pleasure in climbing well and I’ll always remember impressive performances over who’s climbed what ‘8 this or that’.
What do you consider your best climbing achievement to date? ‘Director’s’ in terms of the time it took, or perhaps something else?
I’m really proud of working full-time, still climbing toward the top end and managing to sustain it for a long time. I think my best climbing achievements have been in Fontainebleau though. I love the place. When everything ‘clicks’ like strength, technique, conditions and belief…it sounds clichéd but it’s magic. On my first trip in 2001 I flashed Alta 7C and last year I did Ubik 8A+, there have been lots in between but it’s Karma 8A+ in 2005 that stands out. It was such an intense experience. I literally took myself up a notch during the session I did it, the climbing is so specific and when I came down I honestly thought that it was the best I could do. Karma is such an iconic and beautiful boulder problem, even now when we go to Franchard Cuisinere I pop around and have a look, sometimes there’s a crew on it and I always give it a nod.
Has your approach to hard problems changed over the years? If so, in what way?
I guess so, I train a lot more. I feel like I have to in order to maintain a decent standard. I think trying replica moves or sections really helps on hard problems. It doesn’t have to be perfect but I think you benefit from the recruitment. More than anything though it’s motivation and trying to find the ‘perfect go’. It doesn’t matter how strong you are or whatever…it’s about jumping in the car at the weekend and getting after it and nights in the cellar or garage trying to complete one more set.
Are you still inspired to do first ascents of new projects?
I was in the past but I feel that now a lot of the ‘quality’ local lines have been done. I’m interested in visiting some new areas in the UK, but it will be repeats of existing stuff. Climbing new lines is really time consuming and maybe my motivation is not there…let the ‘young bucks’ get on it.
How has the UK bouldering scene changed over the years, if at all?
It’s changed for sure. Naturally the standard has increased. Bouldering centres and specific training has certainly had a huge impact on the number of people climbing 8A and above and social media has made everything so immediate. Sometimes, I think the UK scene gets a little too hung up on the minutiae of ‘who did what’ and ‘what grade’ or ‘how many tries’ but that’s probably always been the case with such a small climbing scene. It’s been a privilege to watch great climbers though. Malc and Vickers were world class, talents like Robins, Bransby, Pasquil, Danny Cattell and the late Will Perrin. ‘Dark Horses’ like Dyer and Liam Halsey. Dave Mason is super prolific, Ned, Dan Varian and Dan Turner are ‘top draw’ and Shauna Coxsey is certainly heading for a world title. It was great to see young climbers like Jim Pope at Kilnsey over the summer. He was really tenacious on a rope and a thoroughly nice guy. Ceri and I were absolutely riveted by the live feed from the CWIF, it was really well done. I didn’t think I would enjoy it at all but we were both cheering on Tyler Landman in the Men’s final and Michaela Tracy was so ‘heart and soul’ on the final blocs, it was just great.
What else have you been up to more recently?
Gosh, trying ‘Director’s Cut’! We also have a farm-house renovation project in Snowdonia that has started to take some time up. I finished up in Parisella’ Cave last Sunday and on Monday I was ‘digging’ at the project.
What is next for you?
Build a house, stay injury free and put a harness on again. I’d love to climb True North at Kilnsey. Who knows though, I could be back in Parisella’s Cave next weekend…
"I’d really like to thank Steve and Jo at the Mountain Boot Company/Scarpa for all their support over the last decade or more. Many thanks to Ben Moon at Moon Climbing for his support in the past and I hope to see him at Kilnsey this summer!"
Mark is sponsored by: Scarpa