Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to The Low Traverse (6c+). This is my current boulder project and a delightful climb indeed.
When Husband and I moved back to Cumbria I rummaged through my guidebook of Lake District boulders in search of some nearby rocks to keep us entertained during lockdown. Though we both prefer indoor bouldering (yes, we’re happy little gymrats and we’re not ashamed!), we’ve enjoyed our experiences climbing in Albarracín and La Pedriza in Spain and have gradually become more comfortable and confident on rock.
We are, however, a little on the fussy side when it comes to choosing boulders.
I may be blessed with leathery fingers deadened by years of sewing, picking up hot things, and climbing. Husband, on the other hand, still has a reasonable amount of feeling in his fingertips, so he sensibly wishes to avoid the roughest rock types. He could barely pull onto the granite boulders in La Pedriza without drawing blood.
We’re also pretty lazy when it comes to long or difficult approaches to boulders. We like to keep our hiking for days when we want to hike. This is especially the case when the boulders are difficult to find and identify. Hiking for ages with giant crashmats on our backs then playing a lengthy and potentially unsuccessful game of Spot That Rock with guidebooks of varying quality just isn’t our idea of fun. Admittedly, this is due to being spoiled by the convenience of climbing gyms, which lay out colour coordinated boulders with clearly labeled starting holds. We are who we are and sometimes we’re pretty lazy!
Last but not least, we’re not exactly brilliant at climbing on rock so we’re looking for places with low low low low grades in order to give us a fighting chance of climbing something.
Not a lot to ask, right?!
We settled on the Honister area for the following reasons:
The guidebook describes it as “very accessible”
Two of the boulders are named Roadside Boulders indicating a very short approach
All the problems on the Roadside Boulders are below 6c+/V5 so within our grade range
It’s less than an hour’s drive away from home
The book didn’t mention the rock being particularly sharp
This turned out to be an excellent choice.
The boulder is in an absolutely glorious location. The road takes you along the edge of Crummock Water and Buttermere, which produce perfect reflections of the surrounding mountains on a clear day. The boulder itself is located about halfway up Honister Pass and is nestled in between Dale Head and Fleetwith Pike (if I’ve read Alfred Wainwright’s book correctly!). The side of the boulder with all the problems on it is in the shade in the morning, which is perfect as this is when we like to climb. You can sit in the sun when you’re resting but the rock stays cool and you don’t get blinded as you’re climbing.
We ticked off Problem 1 (labeled 1 in the picture to the left), the South Boulder Arete (5), and The High Traverse (7) during our first session on the rock (I think!). Riding high on our success we decided to give the much harder Low Traverse (6) a bash.
The main downside of this problem is that it is stupidly long. As boulderers, Husband and I almost never climb any problems/routes with more than ten moves. We haven’t worked out every move on this boulder yet but there are at least twenty hand moves in the sequence. When you start adding all the foot swapping into the equation the total number of moves gets far too high for a pair of lazy boulderers.
On the other hand, I love a good traverse and often use them as training exercises in the gym. I play games like The Great Traverse, which involves trying to get as far around a continuous wall as possible before the pump takes over and my arms give out. Or I’ll find a couple of panels of wall and try to get from one side to the other with only certain types of holds (slopers, crimps, etc.), colours, or just a really small number of holds, effectively making up my own traverse boulder problems.
The crowning cherry on the top of traverse boulder problems is that they don’t actually have a top to put the cherry on. Indoor boulders rarely involve climbing onto the top of wall (known as topping out) so when we venture outside and have to top out real rocks, we don’t really know what we’re doing. It’s very scary to find yourself completely out of your depth, high up on the face of a big rock with no clue how to lever yourself onto the top of it. No worries with a traverse. The highest point of this boulder problem is barely 2m off the ground and no topping out skills are required at the end of the long slog.
Let’s take a closer look at the moves on this beauty.
Explaining all these moves in writing might be the only thing more painful than climbing them. So, I’ve made a storyboard of my current method of traversing this boulder. I’ll Just describe a few of the more interesting parts in detail.
Let’s start at the beginning. I hear it’s a very good place to start.
Getting off the start hold took me a very long time and a lot of fannying about with possible foot positions. The key to this move is pulling with your feet. I tried this move again and again with my feet over to the right and using my arms to swing or pull me left towards the next hold. It was exhausting, power sapping, and ultimately unsuccessful.
The secret turned out to be deploying a drop-knee with my left leg. A drop-knee involves twisting your knee inwards, which in turn moves your hip nearer to the target hold making it easier to reach. If you put enough pressure through your legs and squeeze your core nice and tight, a drop knee can create a more stable position to move from than trying to swing on lunge for the next hold.
You can see this move in action in the first two pictures in the storyboard above. In the first picture, my left knee is pointing away from me and my left hip is a long way from the next hold. In the second picture, my left knee is twisting in front of me, moving my whole body to the left allowing me to reach the next hold much more easily. I’m using the same technique in the last two pictures above as well and it really is a game-changer. On such a long problem, you need to move as efficiently as possible and take strain of your arms as often as you can. Using the lower half of your body wisely is crucial if you want to have anything left in your forearms by the time you get to the end of this mammoth beast.
This second chunk of storyboard shows the middle section of the boulder. Once you’ve got through the powerful moves and a couple of crimps in the first section, there’s a few nice big holds in the middle to get your breath back on and have a quick shake out. You then drop down and shuffle along some reasonably flat but friendly holds before rolling over with the right hand and setting yourself up for my favourite move, which is shown in the three pictures below.
Again, this one’s all about using your lower body to your advantage. This time it’s a beautiful heel hook to the rescue. A heel hook is pretty self-explanatory. You pop your trusty heel onto a hold and use it to help you get to where you want to go. Like the drop-knee, a heel hook can help take weight of your hands and achieve a more stable position to move from.
For this move, the heel hook also provides a lot of the oomph required to heave yourself up to the next hold. As you can see from the first and second picture in the storyboard above, the target hold is a long way above where my body is initially hanging. I need to raise my whole body up to where my hands are then shoot my left arm up to full extension to latch the next hold. Having flailed about on this move quite a bit before figuring out the heel hook method I can tell you it’s basically impossible without it. Unless you’re a hell of a lot stronger than me of course!
There is a hold for the left foot but it’s tucked back under an overhanging section of the rock and is therefore very difficult to push off. To create the force I need, I place the outer side of my right heel on the lovely big flat surface to the right, push down hard onto it while engaging all the leg muscles I can muster and heaving up with my arms at the same time. Using the power of three limbs rather than leaving all the work to my arms means this move no longer feels impossible. It becomes an extremely enjoyable and invigorating launch skywards once you get the heel involved, which is why I refer to this move as the heel hook of joy.
Now, the more observant of you may have noticed that I’m not actually on the rock in one of the pictures above. I’m stood on the ground looking perplexed, which very accurately represents how I feel when I contemplate the moves after the heel hook of joy and before the finishing moves on a couple of very friendly jugs. This picture conveys the fact that I currently do not have a clue how to do these moves.
The fact that the path to the final glory jugs (climber speak for excellent finish holds) is blocked by the hardest moves on the boulder makes me slightly bitter and disheartened. It’s not quite a sting in the tail because it’s not the very end of the boulder. It’s a little further up the cat/dog anatomy. A sting in the buttcheek maybe? Anyway, it’s difficult to face these moves when my I’m already pumped and regretting a lack of dedication to endurance training.
I such a whiny little boulderer and fully expect to be rightly mocked by the route climbers out there for making such a fuss. Come at me, I deserve it!
As you can see from the photos above, the bottom of the rock is extremely overhanging. When you get up close to it you can also see that there’s not a lot of options for your feet. Having your feet under this overhang on bad holds puts a lot of stress on your arms.
If you’re not a climber and you want to experience what this feels like, go and grab onto something between shoulder and slightly above head height with a big gap underneath it, like the underside of some stairs or a low door frame. When you stand directly underneath the thing you’re grabbing, your arms barely have to do any work. Now try moving your feet forward or to the side while still holding onto the stair/doorframe above you. The further away your feet are, the harder your arms have to work to stop you hitting the deck.
After the heel hook of joy, a lot of my bodyweight is pulled over to the right, as you can see in the first picture of the storyboard above. The problem I’m having is working out how to get my legs, and the majority of my weight, underneath me and/or around to the left. I can hold the position in the picture reasonably comfortably thanks to the weight being held by the heel hook of joy. When I remove it, my weight swings to the left and I don’t have enough strength/technique/smarts to stop the swing in a controlled manner. Working out this transition is the last piece in the puzzle of this boulder problem.
Once that small matter is taken care of it’s jugs all the way to the end. The moves will be hard because of the steep overhang and the accumulated pump of all the moves that have gone before, but at least the method is fairly straightforward. Just hold on tight and bomb it to the finish line before collapsing in a happy heap.
So that’s my project. To sum it up I’d say it’s a pleasing mix of technique and power, crimps and jugs, and big moves and small moves. There’s something for everyone on this boulder and it manages to challenge my weaknesses while also playing to some of my strengths.
I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know this boulder with me. I’ll keep you posted on my (potentially slow) progress with it. If you’ve climbed this boulder and have the secret to unlocking the mystery sequence, then please comment below with some words of wisdom. Or if you’d just like to leave some encouragement and positive vibes for me, you’re also more than welcome to comment below. All motivational pep talks are very gratefully received!