A-Z of a Climber
25 November 2008
Note: Many of these articles are very old, and although the technical information is still relevant the equipment mentioned may not be (for example a Stormy cooker was state of that art in 1995, but not in 2021).
In Paul Nun’s Rock Climbing in the Peak District, Quietus (45ft E2 5b) on High Neb, Stanage, is described thus: A steep groove leads to the overhang. Pull onto the slab and ascend to the overhang. Hand traverse a thin flake to the edge, pull up and finish using parallel cracks.
Sounds great, doesn’t it. Well, I have to admit that I’ve never climbed Quietus, but my reasons are many and convincing.
First off, unless I’m sitting on a ladder and hammering in tiles I’m just the wrong shape for climbing roofs. To do this you need to have an arm to thigh ratio of about 1.1, whereas mine is more like 5.1. I’m not saying that my arms are weak, only that my thighs are enormous (Andy Cave once pointed out that one of my legs was as wide as his waist). This means that no matter how hard I try unless my legs are involved, my arms just don’t have the gas. I put this down to too much cycling up hills in my teens, and if roofs are your thing then I recommend buying a hand bike as soon as you can or maybe getting your legs put in plaster for a while.
The upside is that I’m well equipped for standing around watching other people climb roofs, especially Quietus.
My other excuse comes from said standing around and watching people trying to climb the said route. It’s always the same, some young gun fresh from a long list of successes on other grit test pieces, psyches himself up for Quietus, knowing he’s strong and brave enough to tackle such a route. He’s an iron man down the wall, and he knows the route was climbed when his Dad was a boy by a man in a woolly hat. So how hard could it be?
He stands at the start puffing himself up with the vengeful rage of youth, about to trump an old man’s glory, replete with enough space-age hardware to climb Great Trango, his hands slapping against each other as he banishes the notion that it could ever be better than him.
Fast forward 60 minutes.
The leader now hangs dejected from half a dozen cams, his head bowed, his body deflated, looking like a paratrooper left hanging in a tree. Everyone who has stood to watch him has now wandered away with embarrassment. It’ll soon be dark. The belayer asks if he wants to be lowered, but he grumpily says no. He pulls up again. He looks as strong as ever, but as soon as he tries to find the jam and get over the roof, yet again, he deflates and slithers back onto the gear. He shouts that it’s a rubbish route and that a hold must have broken off, and then after a pause, lowers back to the ground where he sits and picks at his boots for a while.
Usually, such climbers go home better men for trying, but the unfortunate few try and nip up the neighbouring HVS Kelly’s Overhang, only to fail on that too. Quietus you see is like the Nose of El Cap; there are primarily two types of a climber in the world, those who want to climb it and those who’ve failed to climb it.
Another reason for not trying the route is that steepness just isn’t my bag, and to be honest, I’ve never really seen the appeal of roofs, apart from keeping the rain out. Unfortunately, steepness seems to be the big thing. Gone are the days of less than vertical waves of slate, run out mountain slabs, and ice fields, now it’s all about upside-down feet stacks, footless campusing and figure of fours. The same is true of climbing walls, it’s all about getting pumped and strong rather than getting better and just staying weak like when I was a lad.
I also don’t get as inspired by steep climbers, skinny men and woman who seem to have a clinical Thatcherite approach to climbing, aiming for the longest, steepest, lactic burn possible.
Where’s the beauty at 45 degrees?
To be honest, I have a long list of routes I never want to try, both hard and small, and many of them are roofs; climbs such as Ray’s Roof, Separate Reality, Action Directe (well seeing as I’m not doing it, it may as well go on the list).
Quietus is only 30 minutes from my house and if I wanted to, I could go and climb it right now, well try and climb it right now. This of course is the main reason for not trying it, because I think it’s it’s a beautiful statement by a great climber in a fantastic setting, and I just don’t want to hang there like a big thighed idiot and wish I’d waited.