Last night Daniel Woods climbed possibly one of the harder things ever climbed inside, The Bubble Wrap Problem at CATS. Here is the video, produced by CATS guru James O’Connor.
It’s a great effort on Daniel’s part and I think it brings up several interesting points, particularly with the attention this ascent has garnered on the internet. Is this a quirky and relatively unimportant training climb that can provide motivation for the masses? Is there anything to this more than simply watching a strong climber climb something artificial and abstract, like Malcolm Smith in Splinter?
Daniel continuing the tradition of climbing something hard indoors, ala Malcolm Smith.
Or is this a significant ascent that should receive appropriate news coverage? Clearly Daniel doesn’t need to do anything in the gym to establish himself anymore as a good climber, but it is interesting the attention this ascent is being given, and does that attention validate it somehow? One of the many beauties of our sport is that nearly every major achievement has taken place outside, in a natural area, and has for the most part remained unchanged, literally set in stone. This key difference sets climbing and bouldering apart from nearly every sport, and it is one of the reasons I am so interested in it in the first place (having played a number of competitive sports throughout my life). I am reminded of a passage from bouldering legend John Sherman, who writes:
“In the never ending pursuit of beefier forearms and bigger numbers, climbers created the artificial climbing wall. I’m told that the first such wall was built in England at Leeds University in 1964…None of the holds move, yet people still go here to climb year after year. On current artificial walls the surfaces are textured, the holds are changeable, and angles and curves replace the two-dimensionality of their predecessors…Routesetters follow suit and in the end the climbers aren’t forced to adapt to the challenge…”Unclimbable” terrain is the forge from which new technique emerges.”
Is there validity to these kinds of ascents and artificial climbs, or has climbing made a significant step away from one of the tenets on which it was founded on, rock and adventure? Is this ascent important because it breaks new ground in terms of indoor bouldering difficulty, or is his ascent indicative of our ever more computerized and competitive world, ever more indoors, ever more away from the natural arenas from which our sport was born, where climbers don’t have to bend their minds and bodies to the challenges discovered on the rock, but to push their limits as far as we can imagine possible by performing under conditions that are controlled to allow maximum performance? Will there ever be a time when the performances of our top athletes on inside problems represent the paramount creative expressive achievements of our sport, or will those climbs set in stone retain their permanence irrevocably?
So often I leave these posts open ended, but I will add my two cents. While gyms unquestionably have their place, outside remains my home to be inspired. Inspired by the peaks, the valleys, the forests and fens, the mountains and the crumbs of their crumbling crust. Inspired by new and radically shaped boulders unseen, inspired by amazingly shaped holds unexpected, and spectacular new terrain uncovered, ever-changing under the sun, and wind and stars, all so thankfully unimaginable to my creative mind. I couldn’t dream of a more wonderfully complex pallet, and I get to paint on boulders “set by God.” I think Daniel would agree.