One Year In The Bowline By Andy Harper

Interesting, a few reminders that one year has passed already.  Checking my emails today, I’ve discovered one from the membership Sec confirming that have been approved to join the Bowline Climbing Club as a full member.  Woody Allen immediately comes to mind quoting Groucho Marx ( who quoted Freud? )  “I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.” Dear Bowline committee, with deepest regret, I would like to offer my formal resignation as a full member of the Bowline CC.

Only kidding, I’ve always wanted to use that line!  What an amazing year it’s been.  Some amazing climbing, some truly amazing people.  Through the Bowline, I’ve met people from all walks of life, all are strong minded, driven, determined, yet laid back & share a mutual love for health & fitness, travelling, exploring & communing with nature.  In fact, the similarities are so deep, it sometimes feels like the actual climbing of rock is only one small part of what we do & what the Bowline stands for.

The other reminder of one-year passing was heading back to Bamford Edge on Saturday, the venue of my first ever meet, back in June of 2016.  At that time, aside from plenty of indoor climbing, my outdoor climbing was modest: some sport leading, a bit of trad seconding.  What would be expected of my experience level & how much kit should I bring?  Feeling generally unsure, I overcompensated:  60m rope, helmet, boulder mat, portable BBQ, SLR camera & more -and spent a good part of the day hauling kit around that I would never need.  Not that I am complaining about the extra exercise!

I had met one or two faces locally at the Station or at a local crag, but when I arrived to my first meet, I didn’t know anyone at all.  There was no time for any kind of apprehension, as after a good warm up stroll up to The Edge, I bumped into Andy Potter and Pete Meads, firing up classic gritstone routes.  Pete, a true gent & local legend now in his “senior” years, was busy leading an E1 (The Crease E1 5a?) taking time on the crux at the top, with just a few runners in, way below him.  I stood in awe.  With balls that big, how did he fit them in his trousers? 

Whilst I was contemplating this, Andy Potter had dispatched “Wrinkle Wall” & is politely but firmly asking me to tie in, climb & clean the route quickly so that he can get more routes in.  My hands caressed the gritstone for the first time, maybe since the scouts 25 years ago.  Nothing at all like the indoor climbing wall I was now accustomed to, with the nice coloured holds, the luxurious crash mats, the beanie wearing-tops-off-energy-bar-eating-hipster-coffee-shop-bubble that I had been in.

Where I am stood is like a polar opposite, all I’ve got is hard grit, hardened trad climbers & some more even harder grit to land on if I can’t stay focused. 

Hard to focus, as Wrinkle Wall is quite a work of art & I am daydreaming about how its intricate features have been formed over millions of years.  I feel like I am holding a historic piece of England in my hands.  Traversing out to the left, sun beating down hard casting deep shadows on the rock, with the bluest of blue sky’s above, it’s difficult not to get lost in the movement and lose focus. But that doesn’t happen - I stay focused in the moment because you have to, it’s an automatic response to being in an tight spot.  Maybe that’s why we love trad climbing, because you get completely wrapped up in the moment, exploring, letting go, being free yet remaining sharply focused in the now.  Before I know it, I am up Wrinkle wall and swiftly moving onwards, to other great British Classics: “Brown’s Crack”, “Bilbury Crack”, “Quien Sabe” & the very photogenic “Gargoyle Flake”.

A baking hot day in the Peak, with temps peaking at over 30 deg, it’s been a massive success.  New bonds forged, routes attempted that far exceeded my expectations, beautiful surroundings and great people.  And to top it off, a pint and some great conversation after, with people that all seem to be on my wavelength. 

Fast forward to now, and Bamford 2017 was an equal success.  Having ticked off so many of the finest routes last time, I am unsure how it can be topped.  I’m certainly better prepared, equipped & experienced this time: guide book in hand, exact routes in mind, rack of gear in bag, I feel on different level to just one year ago.  My climbing partner (no names mentioned!) has earned himself an impressive hangover & is blowing out of his arse just walking in!  As hair of the dog is not an option for him, I start things off gently with “Ammo”, S 4a.  Warm up over, my route plan goes out of the windows and instinct kicks in.  I decide to lead a number of routes that seem to feel right at the time - “Reach” VS 4c being my favourite of the day. 

If you had asked me last year at Bamford, I would have predicted many years before l’d be leading the same grades as classics like “Brown’s Crack” & “Gargoyles Flake”, yet I am seemingly able to on-sight HS 4b & VS 4c without too much trouble today.

I have come to the conclusion that trad is really about having total confidence in what you do.  Your physical ability, your judgment, your creativity, logic, and perhaps most crucially, the ability to stay calm in face of adversity.   Does trad climbing make you mentally strong, or are mentally strong people just drawn to this sport? I am not sure, but however you look at it, climbing is about taking a risk to do something that doesn’t directly benefit you in any way.  It seems on the surface pointless & even insane but at the same time it makes perfect sense & it feels like divine perfection when you’re in that moment.  Every time I climb I feel reborn in a way.  For me, when I touch this ancient rock, it kick starts a ritual that is a kind of moving meditation.  The rock is the oldest form that we will ever touch on this earth, for no tree, plant, river, ocean, skyscraper or semidetached home is as old as the rock.  Millions of years old, and the unbelievable truth is that those features haven’t changed.  One thing that is slowly changing is that humans are finding creative new way to ascend these ancient works of art.  And apart from a bit of extra polish or the odd hold snapping off, the rock is and will stay exactly the same for a long time to follow.

Big love and respect to all Bowliner’s past and present that have made all this possible.  Too many name to mention but you all know who you are.  The Bowline is a true modern community - great people, passionate folk, all sharing love for the thing that we all mutually enjoy.  I have come to understand that the climbing transcends the sport itself and becomes more of a way of life- a set of unwritten rules to live by.  A way of bringing up kids and teaching them ( and yourself ) amazing life lessons - Working together, perseverance, overcoming challenges.  The importance of communing with nature.  Community, friendship, looking after our health, tea and cake, a well-earned pint & a pat on the back for finishing the job.

Stay safe

Andy Harper

Last modified: 14th August 2017 at 00:06

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