Only 8c+ but still the big one
Hubble was first climbed by Ben Moon at the cliff of Raventor in the Peak. The world’s first F8c+, one small set of moves for man, but one giant leap for mankind. The route is pure power, it’s a boulder problem. It would be a font 8B boulder problem if it had a flat grassy landing. Seven hand moves, nine if you’re short.
Ben’s ascent was in 1990, it coincided with the peak in my youthful interest in the scene; where the day the magazines hit the shelves was the best day of the month; with having heroes and pouring over text and pictures for hours. I gawped at the images. It was a purely inspirational event, there was of course no thought of matching this performance. Back then I only climbed around traditional E5 and had never been sport climbing. I observed from a distance and marveled at the near impossibility of the task.
But the better I got the more the route seemed to move away from me, its reputation gaining on a daily basis as the stars tried and failed. It did have repeats, but only by the real powerhouses. Many others tried, some could do some of the moves, but putting it together was a different world. I tried too, once or twice per year, and every time made zero impression. There were plenty who doubted my credentials, grading Mutation ‘possible F9a’ and Northern Lights F9a when I still hadn’t done Hubble, but I shrugged this off gaining comfort in the fact that the route just wasn’t for me. Sometimes they aren’t, they don’t fit your body or your strengths. Hubble is brutally bouldery, requires serious bicep strength and has moves that are considerably easier if you aren’t short. All my weaknesses combined.
To be fair I wasn’t giving myself the best chance. The odd day on the route each year was never going to be enough with the specific nature of the moves and holds. I was nowhere; an amateur, hoping to trick it into submission like I do with so many other hard routes, finding cunning sequences, holds and body positions that no one else has seen. I didn’t need to prove anything to anyone, but I wanted it for myself. It would complete my graduation and be the culmination of everything I ever wanted or even imagined I could achieve. It wasn’t for the grade, a mere F8c+! These days it’s barely worth a mention. But these figures are irrelevant really, in this case it’s the route that is absolutely everything.
For me this year it was time to become involved, it wasn’t planned, it kind of sneaked up on me, kidnapped me away from other options. I made a pact with the route, I’d go on it every visit, no matter how hot it was, how humid or how tired I was, even if it was for just ten minutes. Progress was slow, but this was a new experience for me that I began to revel in, to be operating right at the limit on every move. I was exploring that top one percent of power which can only be found when everything comes together at the same time. As my power levels on each hold increased it opened up new options to use my body in slightly different ways, this in turn opening up even more possibilities. All tiny but all so relevant.
Photo - Ben Pritchard
In the middle of summer on a warm humid day I found myself on the way to Ravenstor again. The in-car thermometer said 19.5 degrees at , hardly the ‘Gaskins’ start! I was on redpoint, but not really, I set off on an attempt, but wasn’t really trying. It was too hot and too sweaty. But in that moment everything was right, like I’d cut my way into another world with my own Subtle knife where conditions were different. Barely disconcernable but slightly cooler and fresher, and with slightly lower gravity. Moving in this other world everything worked perfectly. Don’t get me wrong it was a fight to the death, but snagging the first of the good holds after the hard climbing I had the slightest feeling that the route had given up, it had been just that bit too easy. It was my time for success, Hubble knew it and at last it had admitted defeat, lied down and died! Then it was over, the final exam!