It’s been a few years since I last travelled abroad in search of a climbing adventure and Finland certainly did not disappoint. For somewhere barely noted on the world map, I was very impressed by the potential and quality of the area, not to mention the people, but I’ll get to that later.
In close proximity to Helsinki lie countless classics of all difficulty on impeccable rock, including the world’s hardest boulder, perhaps the hardest and best looking project ever attempted. I refer to the famous Sisu project, discussed by Nalle Hukkatival on his blog, and one to dwarf Burden of Dreams (the current world's hardest boulder merely 2 hours away) and likely any other boulder in quality and difficulty.
My main objective for this trip was to focus on just a single climb, namely Burden of Dreams. This climb was first done by Nalle in 2016 and awaits a second ascent. Being the first boulder to be graded 9A, this climb is a new benchmark in the sport and will likely serve as reference for many years to come. Personally, this climb inspires me for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the purity of the style of climbing. No heels, toehooks, kneebars… not even any variation in angle. At such difficulty and simplicity, this seemingly is a canvas in which one could get as close as possible to truly mastering movement. Needless to say, there are plenty of physical attributes one must first perfect before this can be achieved.
Secondly, the difficulty. Not so much for an arbitrary number I get to add to my notebook but more what it represents. A boulder so difficult that it highlights my weaknesses, inspires me to develop my strengths, but also a project so ambitious that it inspires me to progress in a manner which is not solely for progressions sake. Since transitioning from competitions to the rock I’ve found that my goal setting has been vague which has meant that my climbing journey lacks direction. I’ve enjoyed the relaxed nature of it, climbing what I like as and when it inspires me, but I am tired of this now. Not the freedom but the progression. For reasons I cannot understand, I have always been committed to my development in anything I apply myself to. So, in search of an ambitious goal to drive and develop my climbing, I am content to have found this project!
With time for reflection over the past few years, I have begun to understand the impacts of not only my own actions, but the impacts of the lifestyle I inspire to all those who show interest in my journey. This, arguably, had a much larger influence on the World than my own direct footprint. Authenticity is important to me and I feel I cannot, in good conscience, discuss my appreciation for the natural world without the understanding that representation of a life burdensome on our planet will impact the general environment and, in turn, the local environment I care so much for. Thus I have committed to avoiding flying wherever possible and maintain consideration of my carbon footprint. For sure offsetting is worth doing, though perhaps not tackling the root of the issue and support of airlines was not a game I wanted to play. After some nerding out over a carbon calculator, I felt I was able to justify my journey in my van (sadly not yet electric), utilising ferries and cruising slowly. You’ll be sorry to hear but slow driving makes a huge difference on emissions! The journey took about 3 days and was undoubtedly expensive, although this was covered by the free accommodation and travel upon arrival. However, along the way, despite the boredom of very long ferries, I felt grateful to remain fully connected to the journey I was making and wholly appreciate the distance I was travelling. It helped me to completely respect the resources used for such a journey.
That being said, I understand the significance of this journey and the importance to minimize such journeys in future. Thus my intention is to commit myself to my training until a point in which I am confident enough in my ability to justify this journey once more. As you may have guessed based upon this decision, I was unable to complete this climb during this trip.
So, the climb itself. The face lies at a perfectly consistent 45-degree face of glassy granite. The texture of the rock has very little friction so one relies heavily on the micro crystal features to maintain purchase. This makes precision crucial and the lack of incut on the holds prevents it being possible to slow down the moves.
The positions themselves are not the difficulty, nor is the generation to them. To clarify, these positions are far from trivial but not as complex as other climbs I have tried. The difficulty is that the window in which the positions feel comfortable is relatively small and minor deviations most often leave you on the pads. When reliant on opposition of these slick and complex holds, moving lightning quick between specific crystals for each finger and a specific box in which to fit your body becomes no trivial task. It’s an intricacy in movement I have never encountered until now. Seemingly simple moves analyzed to a level of immense complexity, a fun puzzle for the mind as well as the body. The analogy which comes to mind is a complex 5 move dance routine where each position is rather strenuous and must be perfectly executed. Now I’ve never been a particularly good dancer so perhaps something to work on before my return!
The most difficult move is the first one, very poor opposing edges used to weight a glassy right foot and snatch a good right hand edge. It is possible to cut loose on this move, but not to then get the feet back on in good time so maintaining tension in the foot throughout a dynamic move feels to be the crux. This is then followed by a cool foot walk on poor smears to get a foot far out right before drawing your body away from the wall to prevent a pendulum effect once you come to match. The third move has fewer subtleties but requires plenty of tenacity to snatch a cool right hand pinch before an easier move to set up for the final jump. This next move is a real conundrum! There are countless foot options, none of which are particularly good, and the hands are at an awkward angle, meaning generating power is difficult. Personally, for me, being able to reliably do this last move feels as though it will be a key in unlocking this one!
Generally, this style of movement is one which does not favor my style. My niche is to utilize any incut in a hold to generate force outwards as well as down. This allows me to engage my rear delts and back which starts a chain which helps me to maintain tension all the way to the feet and slow moves down to a very controllable state. I’ve always found satisfaction in this and it makes hard climbing feel far more peaceful, less frantic and controlled. Due to the nature of the rock and holds, this strategy failed at the first hurdle and I suddenly felt as though my weaknesses had been well exposed.
But I find this incredibly exciting. For a while this limitation has not been so relevant for me and in search of development in my climbing, it’s been a perfect lesson in the importance of stepping out of the comfort of your preferred style. Over this coming winter, often referred to as training season by many climbers, I look forward to spending time focusing on power and, having now visited this climb, building a much more accurate replica in which to train specifically. Indeed, with the help of some modern day phone technology, I was able to 3D scan the holds in the hope to use a CNC machine to sculpt them from wood.
There are many factors not so controllable which complicate this process, rain run-off, humidity, intense cold, wind, skin… the list could go on and I could write pages on how these could prevent me from climbing my project. But it’s not very interesting, nor does it matter as there are many variables which I can control so these controllables are the ones I’ll spend my time worrying about. An approach which I’ve often enjoyed applying to projects is to train to a degree in which the climb in question is no longer your absolute limit, at which point there is a larger window of these uncontrollable factors to deviate from optimal. For a local project this may not be so necessary but when one requires so much time, effort and, importantly, resources to get to, I’d like have some level of confidence that I could be successful in order to fully respect this journey.
So already my training for my return beings. After lots of time compressing on edges and hunched in a cold van, I’ve got lots of work to balance myself out and prepare my body for an onslaught of (carefully calculated!) finger and power based training soon inbound.
I’m very content to have found myself a project which requires such focus, though upon glimpsing the scale of high quality climbing there, I almost can’t wait to explore the rest of the place!