Ned Feehally has made the first ascent of a new problem that is likely to be one of the hardest on grit. He climbed the problem just before the lockdown kicked in during a much cooler and drier period after two winter seasons of attempts. Ned has named the problem 'The Boss' – a nod to the late gritstone master, John Allen.
Ben Bransby first tipped off Ned to the potential of the roof at Yarncliffe last winter. He describes the line as 'not immediately obvious' due to the lack of holds and the severe drop next to where you land.
'I worked out some moves over a couple of sessions, and then it got hot for the summer. Next season (this winter), I went back up there and figured out all the moves, then kept going back til I'd linked it.'
The problem is unusual for gritstone bouldering in that it has extremely sustained climbing. 'Squeezy' is the first word that comes to Ned's mind when asked and it is certainly that. Ten moves long with several heel and toe hooks and foot movements that are just as hard as the hand movements. All the moves are hard, so there's little chance to readjust: 'you've just got to keep going.'
In Ned's words, 'gritstone bouldering normally revolves around one highly condition dependant crux move. Normally you just have to wait for a colder or drier day, and you'll be able to hold the hold! It is rare to find a gritstone problem that's got sustained climbing as this roof does. As a result, it feels much more physical than your average grit boulder problem. It's a real fight.'
Let's attempt to put the difficulty of this problem into context. No stranger to hard gritstone climbing, Ned has repeated most of the hard testpieces including Voyager Low Start and Second Coming, as well as adding several of his own. Ned reckons he's climbed roughly 150 new boulder problems in the Peak to date. Most of them are in the 7's, but around 30 are in the 8's.
With all this in mind, what's he chosen to give his hardest grit problem to date? Font 8B+.
Grades seem rather arbitrary to Ned these days, finding that how hard he's found them doesn't necessarily reflect the grades they're given. There's more to just climbing a new problem after all.
'Marrying up the experience of finding, cleaning, working and climbing a new boulder problem with a grade is next to impossible. It is almost always easier for the 2nd/3rd/4th ascensionists. Beta and sequences will generally always improve over time as more people try the problems. From what I have tried and climbed, this feels like it's towards the top end of what's been climbed on gritstone so far. But I'll let everyone else decide just how hard it is.'
Ned's quick to point out that The Boss took him longer than anticipated because we have just had one of the wettest winters he can remember.
'The problem gets wet after rain and takes a few days to dry out. So, this winter it was hard to find it dry. I probably went up to it 10 times, but only really had 5 decent sessions on it this year.
'I think once I had figured out the sequence properly it took me 3 or 4 sessions to link it. To be honest it's rare that I spend that long on a boulder problem. Usually, once I've figured out the moves I can link stuff fairly fast, provided the conditions are ok. So that makes me think it might be hard-ish. Unless of course, I was missing something, which is entirely possible.'
'It felt harder than all these, for me.
'Voyager Sit is an easy setup into 1 hard move. With good conditions, it didn't take me too long.
'Second coming is 1 very basic and powerful move into some fancy footwork. I had tried it briefly 10 years ago but basically did it in a session last year.
'Ill behaviour is a steady set up into one hard dyno. But psychologically felt quite tough for me. It's hard to say how much the psychology and logistics of climbing something should influence the grade.'
Having climbed in the Peak for over 15 years now, Ned feels he needs to look for new problems to keep himself occupied. As mentioned previously, he's left quite the legacy, although that isn't something he's particularly bothered by:
'It's not that I particularly want to leave my mark on the Peak, it's more that I just enjoy finding and climbing new stuff, and don't have many other options anymore! '
Before his motivation for developing new climbs, Ned was feeling jaded with the Peak District and climbing in general. It was Jon Fullwood, a Sheffield based first ascent extraordinaire who started tipping Ned off to the odd climb, who got him motivated again.
'Jon taught me that developing new boulders (and naming them!) is loads of fun, and there's value in simply going for a walk and looking at rocks. I have been lucky to have Jon pointing me at things and showing me the way. And I've also been lucky that there are very few people that seem keen on developing the harder stuff in the Peak, so there's still some things left to do.'
Is there anything left for him then? Ned's future plans include finishing off Tyler Landman's hugely underrated Smiling Buttress, which he's done the moves on but yet to finish:
'The logistics of trying to get a load of pads and spotters under it on the right day has put me off in the past. It's an amazing climb, but for some reason, it never really got the hype it deserved when Tyler climbed it. I guess he made it look too easy (it's not easy).
Before then, it's a summer of training and limestone link-ups.