A Simple Question…

“What type of climbing are you into” asked Franco

I was at Sandy Crag in Northumberland; it was my first time there. I was with my girlfriend Marie and the local Franco Cookson who having recently moved to Newcastle has been making the most of it by putting to bed many of Northumberland’s last great lines. I had only met Franco for the first time a couple of days previously, but I’d heard of him plenty before. He’s well known for being bold as brass and a little eccentric, but that’s cool, I like the eccentrics. I think there are too few eccentrics in today’s modern generation of climbers; so I try and mix with them regularly hoping that maybe some of it can rub off on me and I too can become one of them!

But Franco’s question made me laugh, “What type of climbing are you into?” Do you have to have a type? It’s funny because this question is so commonly asked to me these days that my answer is mostly always the same. I wouldn’t say that I have a favourite or even a preferred style. Of course I’m particularly good at the vertical tech style of Alpine Limestone and have a fondness for dirty crimps that does me well on the Welsh Slate and the glassy Granite faces of Yosemite… but truthfully, I wouldn’t say there is any particular style of climbing that I love more than any other, and actually I find that I tend to “like most” what I am currently doing at the time.

Topping out on Andy Earl’s “Darkside” E9 7b at Back Bowden – 3rd Ascent after Dan Varian – Photo courtesy of Mark Savage

I reckon it might have something to do with the people I surround myself with at the time. Being around guys like Franco Cookson and hearing stories from legends such as Mark Savage, I can’t help but get super psyched for doing hard bold trad and highballs in Northumberland. Saying that, when I hang around with my buddy Ian Cooper, who I’ve spent the last 2 years working a Big Wall in Chile’s Cochamo with, I can’t help but get super psyched for going away to some far flung land and opening up a new Big Wall climb. Then when I am at home in Edinburgh and surround myself with the gym rats and see how strong all the youth are getting, all I want to do is train on a board and get stronger for crushing 9a’s!!!

Right now I’m in Rocklands, South Africa. I’ve never been on a pure bouldering trip before despite being in my 13thyear of climbing, and I absolutely love it. But this is slightly different yet again… I am out here with my girlfriend Marie and another friend Alan Carne. Alan is having a hard time out here and is pretty disappointed with Rocklands (I think he’ll leave any day now). Marie is having a great time but she’s on completely different boulders to me. The motivation and drive for climbing is internal. This makes me think that it isn’t purely the people I surround myself with, but more my inner motivations and drive as a climber. As much as I love climbing with other people, I do love climbing in and of itself. I don’t think I have to have a perfect line or a perfect situation or even the perfect partners to love climbing. Sure, all those other aspects make it better, but actually what I’ve discovered is the answer to Franco’s question:

“What type of climbing are you into?”

“It’s really very simple, anything really… I just love climbing!”

Which is both a blessing and a curse. When you’re focussed on one aspect of climbing, you can really specialise and get really really good at it! But when you do so many different types, it’s hard to improve and be your best at each all the time. It’s hard sometimes when you come back from a trip Big Wall climbing and you feel totally weak Bouldering. Or when you’ve been so out of practice on Granite from all the Limestone Sport climbing that you get scared climbing 5.7. Or when the only trad you’ve done is lacing up cracks with cams and the idea of placing a nut scares the willies out of you!

Sometimes I question my decision to be an all-rounder, but then I remember that it’s not about the sending or the grades, it’s about the inner drive and the battle on the rock. A long time ago I realised I was an all-rounder; I wanted to be capable in every discipline so that if somebody picked me up and dropped me off in a remote rock location somewhere in this galaxy, that I’d work things out on my own, climb a peak and get down safely in good style.

But what if I did just specialise? What if I did focus on just one type of climbing? Would I be content with that? Honestly, I think I’d get bored. The variety that climbing offers us makes me feel that it just wouldn’t be natural for me to limit myself to just being a Boulderer or just being a Sport climber or just being a Trad Climber. Even with all the rock types at my disposal, I can’t help but be enthralled by the challenges that every discipline offers. You don’t get the same fear Headpointing as you do on a Highball Boulder or on a hard Trad Onsight. Likewise you don’t get the same physical exertion on Hard Trad as you do on Bouldering or in Sport Climbing or in Big Wall. Likewise the Adventure of Mountain Trad compared to Expedition Big Wall compared to exploring first ascent Bouldering. Each have their qualities and in many ways they compliment each other, but for me it would be like being at the most worlds most extensively curated buffet table, each plate produced by the world’s greatest chefs and limiting yourself to only one meal…

I tried doing this at a real 5-star buffet before and failed… so in climbing it would be impossible!



  • Taco

    If you were a total amateur who’s decided to commit everything to climbing this route because for some reason it has possessed his mind during the last 12 months of recovery from an accident. How would you prepare for this route? Training etc…… are there boulder or other routes similar to practice upon? I would rather not top rope this due to potential damaging, I’ve heard top roping is bad. I’m 30 year’s old so time is of the essence, telling me not to try like everyone else although probably sound advice will be ignored. Thank you. Well done too btw.

    • Robbie Phillips

      Hey Taco, I think the style is actually very trainable 🙂 My friend Niall did a repeat recently too and he did a lot of campussing for it. The holds are mostly downward pulling sharp edges, some big moves but mostly smaller ones. There is a mono for your left hand, so make sure you are ready for that. I would train a lot of front on static locks of edges, basic board style pulling on a 30 degree angle board. I don’t think it is silly to have goals or aspirations, but knowing when you are ready is key. The topout of this isn’t piss. I checked it out on a rope a few times to make sure I was OK with it. Hope that helps 🙂 Robbie

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