The Medium

By Niall Grimes. Niall is from Derry and now lives in Sheffield he works as the Guidebook Co-ordinator for the BMC (British Mountaineering Council).

A friend of mine maintains itís all bullshit; ďAll there is is easy, hard and impossible, everything else means nothing.Ē He often proves himself a hypocrite, but I see his point. Impossible comes in varying degrees, from the impossibles youíll never do to the impossibles you might someday do. Easy is good. Easy is fun. Turning up at a new area and cranking off a load of quality problems is a great way to spend a day. But for me, the beauty of bouldering lies in the thin line of the hard.

Couldnít find anyone today, so out alone again. Iíve got a problem on my mind; the day is far from perfect, but somehow the moisture that has soaked the trees and ground hasnít harmed the friction. A miraculous stickydamp. I have carpeted the ground in plastic to keep my feet dry; on top of this is my bouldering mat, serving more as a makeshift couch than a nylon spotter. Bliss. So, the problem.

Big undercuts, sloper, slopers, shit pocket, top. I had considered it to be in the impossible catagory until I tried it last week in passing, and found myself almost holding the holds. So, four days of thinking about it lead me here today. After a little warm up I am doing well on the move from the undercuts round the bulge to the sloper, and I am almost holding the swing going to the next slopers. Getting and holding the pocket seems unlikely, but I keep trying.

Itís hard to rest when Iím by myself, so I kill time. Brush holds, blow chalk, examine the textures. I place my right hand on a hold, feel it fondly mould to the rhythm of the rock. I could never hold it until I adjusted my thumb, an adjustment so tiny, yet so crucial, which turned rock from a feature to a hold; my handskin had a perfect memory of the texture of the holds, down to microscopic level, I swear. Of how much pressure each knuckle and pad should feel, where, to the eigth of an inch, my centre of gravity should be. When exactly my foot should adjust on the smear, how far down I should drop before popping. I knew too exactly how I should feel emotionally for each move and played them over and over in my head to become aware of my every action.

Then in a moment of clarity, I realised why I like trying hard problems. Itís the intimacy. The closer you get to the threshold of what you can do, the more diamond sharp everything must be; itís like you have to get inside the rock as well as yourself, and see how it thinks. To learn to look, and look ever harder, at yourself, the rock, and everything around that effects the moves. To get the map drawn perfectly and then learn it so well that you can follow it without thinking for only then will the journey continue.

Time passed. Not that I noticed, but it did. Trying, examining, holding, imagining, chalking, resting, trying. Then as I lay on the mat, I realised I had become hyper aware of resonant plinking of water dripping from a height; of the removed drone of a distant car engine, of my breating, a ravenís dispairing caw. For one moment the world and everything in it was pure magic and an incandescent thrill passed through me. For that instant everything had been experienced instead of just sensed, a feeling immediately unreconstructable, dissolving words and descriptions in its intensity. Only the memory remained that for one moment, you had it all, whatever it was.

I lay in its afterglow, feeling so much the world I was in. I felt each drop of airborn moisture collide with my skin, every breath of breeze. I heard buds swelling on the trees and smelled the decay of undergrowth. Felt the passage of blood in my veins, my hair growing and knew every fibre in every muscle. The world was at peace and everything was worthwhile. Contented, I was as happy to try the problem as not to try it, as good to do it as not do it. I randomly pulled onto the undercuts, moved up past slopers, and as I moved effortlessly past the pocket I counted every grain in the rock, and knew somehow that something had been understood.