Nalle Hukkataival, the nature of climbing 9AInterview

© Hukkataival coll.

I don't think many in the climbing world have missed the fact that Nalle Hukkataival created history on 23 October. I am not going to try to rank this feat or compare it to other milestones, so let's just say this is huge.

Days, turned into weeks, months and year, countless visits, highs and lows, certainty turned into doubt, and finally: it all came together.

Nalle Hukkataival   © Björn Pohl
Nalle Hukkataival
© Björn Pohl

I had the opportunity of asking Nalle a few questions about it.

First of all, was it worth it?
Well that depends what you mean by "it". To go through all of the hard work, mental war, injuries and just to climb a difficult rock wouldn't be in my mind, but pretty much from the beginning it was definitely about a lot more than just another hard rock to scale.

It's the life lessons you learned and the mental strength you gain from it that makes it worth it.

Looking back at it, it's hard to even remember having done some sports performance. Feels more like I went to war and lived to tell the story. And not only that I won.

The kind of thing that can't not change your outlook on the world.

Could you in any way see what was coming so to speak? Could you imagine what the process would be like?

Funny enough the boulder is decievingly easy looking and I figured it would be just another great 8B+ or 8C to do.

It turned out to be a pretty harsh reality check. And soon enough there was no avoiding the fact that it was going to be way harder than I had originally guessed.

So many times I had worked it to a point where I felt like I was really close and just needed a tiny bit more. Then when I finally managed to do a little better it just revealed that actually I hadn't been that close at all.

That eventually just lead to this way of thinking of it as this ongoing battle that you just have to keep fighting until it's over.

That's maybe not the best mentality to be in to always push yourself, but that was a little better for maintaining some sanity instead of repeatedly setting up an expectation and then after finally achieving it realizing that it was just one more dissapointment in a long line of them.

Obviously the mental side of the process became basically 80 percent of it at times.

Nalle Hukkataival on Bügeleisen sds, ~8C?, Maltatal  © David Schickengruber & Stefan Kochel
Nalle Hukkataival on Bügeleisen sds, ~8C?, Maltatal
© David Schickengruber & Stefan Kochel
Considering how you have progressed as a boulderer while working this project, do you think you would you be able to to project of similar difficulty a lot faster today?
Short answer: yes.

For example, if someone paid me enough I'm fairly confident I could go re-climb Burden of Dreams. Having that mental weight taken off reduces it to merely a physical action that you've already performed. This mental attitude goes for climbs at similar difficulty.

We all have limiting factors and beliefs in us that hold us back from achieving our potential 100 percent. It's always the most painful and difficult process to expand our grasp another step, but once you've done it, it changes everything.

The last time I put myself through something comparable was with Livin' Large [Nalle's hard, tall 8C(?) in Rocklands]. After everything when I finally stood on top of that boulder nothing looked the same any more: nothing looked as hard any more as it had before, not as big, not as scary, not as intimidating.

It's always the things that push you to the breaking point and beyond that truly changes you and your perception. It's in the process of pushing your mind to the breaking point.

It's a very painful process but once you manage to shatter the subliminal barriers they never re-emerge the same way.

Nalle Hukkataival on Burden of dreams, 9A  © Hukkataival coll.
Nalle Hukkataival on Burden of dreams, 9A
© Hukkataival coll.
You have without a shadow of a doubt climbed the hardest moves ever as introducing a new number in bouldering is of course a once in a lifetime experience, and regardless of what you do now, nothing is likely to be as historical in that sense. Does it bother you that the number has such a significance?
I don't really look at it that way but I must admit it's surreal just seeing 9A written down. On the V-scale is just a random number; V17.

Having special meaning attached to certain numbers definitely doesn't help the conundrum we're in with the grading scale if some numbers have preconceptions - based on nothing - of what these special numbers should be "reserved" for. Knowing this about the 9A number, I half jokingly but half seriously considered grading Burden of Dreams 8D.

Was this your absolute limit right now, or did that limit in fact shift the instant you reached it?
If by that you mean purely on a physical level then that's a two-fold answer.

First of all you're almost never able to push your body to its true physical extremes.

And secondly, when you reach that physical limit that your mind has locked you in to, it expands. The mind is always limiting what the body can do. A mother who struggles to carry a bag of groceries home, can lift the back of a car to save her child from under it if the brain chemistry suddenly allows it. Our bodies are capable of producing so much more power than what we consider our physical limits to be in every day life.

Has this made you reconsider the apparent impossibility of the Sisu-project?
This has been such an all-consuming process that in these last few days all that hasn't even entered my mind yet. I think a little breather is in order before starting another project of this scale.

But can you see yourself embarking on another "Lappnor project" again?
After taking some time to travel and just climb first, I don't see why not. At this this point I'm not so driven by climbing one more hard boulder after the next.

I've climbed a lot of hard boulders in my life and gone through the same formula over and over. You pick a hard boulder and after the first session you usually know that you can climb it - it's just going to take work.

What I am interested in is trying something that I deep down don't really think that I can climb. That's the ultimate challenge.

Did Woods', Webb's and Graham's visits and input help you decide on 9A?
It's always great to get some perspective climbing on a project with some of the strongest people in the world. We had some some pretty lengthy discussions about the grading scale in general and the 8C+ grade and how that all comes together.

We didn't directly discuss the actual grade of the Lappnor project then but rather how difficult it seems compared to the other top climbs.

Nalle Hukkataival on The Stepping Stone, ~8C  © Nalle Hukkataival
Nalle Hukkataival on The Stepping Stone, ~8C
© Nalle Hukkataival
You talk about 8C's which you think deserves an upgrade. Do you have any examples?
In the same conversation we also talked about this and the best way we found was to not think about the grades, but just start naming top end boulder problems that have been tried by many strong climbers and only climbed by very few. So basically the B-grade concept.

Some boulders that came up were Hypnotized Minds, for which Daniel then proposed an upgrade, Defying Gravity might be a contenter, Livin' Large got some votes, possibly Jimmy's La Rustica in Switzerland. That's the ones I can remember on the spot and those are the ones more well known and on the international circuit.

Good thing would be to list a bunch of the top end boulders possibly down to even 8B+ and see which ones are not getting repeated despite efforts from top climbers.

Do you think there are boulderers today capable of repeating Burden of Dreams within any reasonable time? Do you think anyone will?
I believe so. From a physical point of view especially.

What's challenging with grades is that a grade only tries to measure pure physical difficulty. And when we're talking about operating close to the edge of the human genetic potential - especially when it's a first ascent and nobody has proven that it's even possible - the mental aspect of it becomes very heavy and real.

Yet you're expected to separate that mental aspect and how much it was weighing you down and deduct that from the intertwined experience to come up with a grade. It's like going swimming and then after, instead of someone timing you, you're asked how fast do you think you would have swam without the water slowing you down.

It's an unrealistic situation.

The psychological effect of a barrier is very real and when a barrier is broken it's broken for everyone. Perfect example is the legendary 10-second barrier in 100 meter running. Decades of continuos progress was finally stopped by the imaginary barrier of 10 seconds after speculation about the human body simply not being capable of breaking it. After many years when that imaginary barrier was finally shattered, many soon followed.

That is the nature of it.

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Nalle Hukkataival is one of the world's top boulderers. He has made numerous ascents of climbs in the Font 8C-8C+ and in 2016 he became the first person to climb the grade of Font 9A with the first ascent...

Nalle's Athlete Page 18 posts 4 videos

29 Oct, 2016
29 Oct, 2016
Good interview that. Thanks! He's one of the most thoughtful and interesting top end climbers.out there.
29 Oct, 2016
Great interview, mans clearly a thinker. Awesome stuff
29 Oct, 2016
his Ledge interview is good too : )
29 Oct, 2016
) Andy F
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