Yesterday approximately 12 inches (30cm) of snow fell outside our house which is in the village of Cresciano. I watched as it fell from the moment I woke up until nearly the moment I fell asleep. It took it’s toll around us, with my car getting snowed in, and the satellite TV not being able to cope and constantly returning “no signal”. Life without fashionTV was unbearable and late into the night the snow began pouring again, the flake that broke the camel’s back. Jeff needed to a ride back to the airport and I feared that by 7am the snow would be too deep to drive so we set off at 1am in worsening conditions. The drive wasn’t fun with full white out conditions all the way out of Switzerland, and the method of driving involved slow and steady cruising with absolute no variation in speed, otherwise I’m sure it would have been impossible to start moving again. We eventually arrived in Milan Malpensa and slept for a couple of hours. Once Jeff went to check in (after an impressive week here!), Tyler and I drove to Varazze, thinking we would be far more likely to be able to do some climbing down there. Heading south the weather got steadily worse, and 50km before the coast there was just as much snow as in Bellinzona. Sweet Bejesus. A feeling of being plagued by the weather wasn’t causing us to despair as we were coming up from rock bottom anyway. As we saw the Mediterranean emerge we also saw blue sky and we were psyched by the sight of sea on the left and mountains on the right. We found Christian Core who was going to give us a tour and then headed up to the boulders of Varazze. It’s a crazy area with small roads leading to small parking spaces, which lead to small paths which eventually lead to big boulders. There are some amazing looking boulder problems but unfortunately everything was wet. Some of the problems looked very, very hard indeed and Gioia was the best of the bunch. It’s obviously hard at the start, involving some small crimps, and then it seems to relent. The difficulty of something is always very difficult to assess with a really good attempt, so extrapolating on the difficulty by only touching wet holds is probably impossible and stupid, but I shall do so anyway. I’ve seen a few hard boulder problems in my travels and there are hardly any that I’ve thought impossible, some that looked hard, and some that I’m sure I could do in my current form (given enough sessions!). Gioia falls into the category of looking hard and being my antistyle (very small and with one sharp hold) I don’t know if I could do it. I think there is one move that is too crimpy at the start for my weak fingers, but it certainly doesn’t look impossible. I’m sure it’s very, very, hard as Christian told us how much energy and time he invested and it was FAR more than he’s had to do for anything else. His base level is already very high so it’s pretty easy to see how this could be 8C. I hope that it get’s the attention it deserves as it’s certainly a very cool line.

I was secretly hopeful that it would dry out and we’d be able to climb within 24 hours, but old Mother Nature had different plans. We continued the tour as the rain began to fall and then the thunder began to boom, at which point we sprinted back up the hill to the car (nearly killing us in the process). Christian took us back to his place and fed us in preparation for a session at the local climbing wall. I was happy because I’d spent 4 days off and needed to move otherwise I felt like I would begin to resemble a varnished eel. Whilst not an amazing wall, and a ridiculous rule about no chalk except liquid chalk, we made the best of the situation and made up some problems. Christian is a crimp machine. He crimps, crimps hard, then crimps some more. He loves it. All the problems he showed us involved crimps and Tyler and I aren’t big into crimps which resulted in us finding pinches, slopers, and undercuts. It’s always good to see world class beasts climbing and Core is certainly that (recently cleaning up in Brione), so I enjoyed seeing him move, whilst trying to digest whatever I could learn from him. Post climbing we ate some more pasta, waded through many unknown Italian climbing DVD’s, and then got a few hours sleep.

Arising to more snow and rain (which is now verging on ridiculous) we decided not to bother waiting for the good conditions that were supposed to arrive in 5 days and so we jumped aboard the Passat to cruise back to Cresciano. Switzerland welcomed us with snowstorms which didn’t surprise me and my thoughts turned to the fellow inhabitants of the house of (once) big numbers. The group has begun to disband with people leaving early, either back home or to sunnier scenes in Spain. There isn’t too much hope in the next week or two of amazing conditions which leaves us all in a predicament. I’ve invested a bunch of sessions in Amber and I know I can do it. I’m certain of that but I’m also certain that I actually want to get to the top of it instead of leaving knowing that I could/should have done it. I’m also somewhat stuck because my pads are up at Amber, so I need to go up there at least once, but I’m hoping it’s going to be at most once. I don’t know the state of play with all the snow but I’m sure there will be 1m or more up there, turning a nice day out into an epic of Everest proportions. However, I’m pretty much committed to this pot, so I’m prepared to push in the rest of my stack and hope my hand holds up. I’ll know in the next week, making this the longest poker hand I’ve ever played.

This is something I wrote whilst sitting at my laptop trying to write about something else. It’s also spurred me on to write down some other thoughts I have on the theory of grading and once it’s finished I’ll post it up on here. This is just preamble, but I hope to present a thorough and perhaps even mathematically accurate explanation of grading theory. Keep your eyes peeled as it’s sure to be a riveting read!

Being in a house of climbers there is a lot of talk (and a whole lot of BS) and very (very) occasionally there is something that sparks a genuinely interesting discussion. As everyone who reads this blog knows, it’s inevitable that a group of climbers will eventually (sooner rather than later) turn the conversation to the topic of grades. Usually it’s about how a certain grade is wrong or how something is overgraded, and rarely about how something is undergraded, but more often than not it’s about grades. As some of you know, I started a simpler grading system on my board when I built it. Instead of having 7A, 7A+, 7B, 7B+, 7C, 7C+, I simply replaced them with 7-, 7, 7+. What this did is widen the grade boundary so that more problems fit into one grade. I did this because I don’t care if something is 7B or 7B+. I only care that it’s around that grade. That is enough for me and for my board (as it’s only a solitary training board). The other important thing is that the system is open ended, linear and that a 7+ is harder than a 7 (but that’s obvious and true of every grading system). This idea of a simpler and wider grading theory was spawned with my board, but it was representative of my general opinion on grades. A grade is a numerical description of the difficulty of a route according to the first ascentionist, which is given because other people who have never tried that piece of rock would like to know how hard it is. However, the true difficulty is a meta concept. The only person who really knows the true difficulty is the person who has climbed it, and the grade is a numerical approximation which can not be as accurate as the real knowledge of having climbed it. I use grades as an approximation of the difficulty of something up until the point I have gone to the boulder and tried the problem. At that point, my own system of thinking and knowledge overtakes the simplistic numerical approximation. I can then place the particular boulder problem into my own ranking of difficulty, which is based on all the things I have ever tried or done. That internal grading system is perfectly accurate for me and that’s all that matters. So if I try an 8A that feels easy I place it below a 7C that might have taken me 2 or 3 sessions. Obviously I take into account my personal progression and advancement in climbing, in terms of strength, power, and particular climbing skills. The number that happens to correlate to the thing I place highest isn’t all that important to me, it only matters that it is hard. The joy I get is definitely in my struggle. This is, in my opinion, an ideal personal grading scale because it takes into account personal strength’s and weaknesses. The 7A wall I climbed was slightly more difficult than the 7A overhang and so it get’s rated that way (in my internal system). This also has the bi-product of highlighting personal weaknesses and allows me to then work on them. Doing an 8B isn’t explicitly meaningful for me. The joy is that I found it hard to start with but managed to get it done in the end. Most people who know me (or read this blog) will know that I desire to climb Radja and perhaps some of them think it’s largely motivated by the fact that it’s 8B+. That isn’t strictly true. It certainly had an allure because of the grade, as the grade indicated it would be harder than anything else I’ve tried to do. My experience with the boulder indicated to me that it is indeed hard for me to do, and it is most definitely in the top 3 of most difficult things I have ever tried. That is the real allure, the real motivation that keeps my desire high. It’s testing me and I am enjoying being tested. If/When I do manage to do it, it will certainly be the hardest thing I’ve done and that in itself will mean more to me than any grade could indicate or any number could convey.