Ice Climbing World Cup   Leave a comment

Have been waiting for the Ice Climbing World Cup videos to be posted on the web, before I blogged about this event that took place in the multistory car park at Saas Fee last weekend.

Watching was mirror neuron ecstasy.

Here is the end of the winning climb from Bender. An apt name: he is on the top section of the climb, using a technique called the “figure of four” to preserve strength as he moves. This technique optimizes his reach, enabling him to places his ice axes between incredibly widely spaced holes, even when he doesn’t have any foot holds.

All the climbers we saw in the semi-finals employed this figure of four move, repeatedly.

Bender.

I’ve never seen the likes of it. And as I watched I’m sure that my mirror neurons were not firing initially. My body could not connect to what it saw. Couldn’t take in the movement. I felt as if I was falling continually and could not understand how the body of the climber below me was still moving upwards.

On his blog UK finalist Ramon Marin writes of how the effort of operating his body over the course totally screwed his mind.

Now, fifteen years ago I had a spell of bumbling around frozen turf with a couple of ice axes on Ben Nevis, in the Cairngorms, at Bridge of Orchy etc… And the Hopesend still goes out a bit. Here’s a photo of him absailing off a multi-pitch climb, possibly above the Argentière glacier.

Anyway, the front pointing and pick placements that I once managed equate to pedestrian movement, when compared to the gymnastics at the 2011 world cup that incorporated consecutive figures of four: A technique pioneered by Jeff Lowe on the ice route Octopussy, in Vail Colorado, 1994.

Lowe writes that it took four attempts to nail the crux (here). He walked away after a first attempt that involved placing critical protection, finding tiny hook placements, “swinging like Tarzan” and becoming “absolutely pumped”. But he returned two days later:

“with a new idea… I turned upside down and threaded my left leg over my right elbow, wedging the toe of my boot under the rock roof, performing a figure 4 in ice climbing gear. Unfortunately, just as I swung, the right tool placement popped and I plummeted into space. Shit… and EUREKA! This was going to work!”

In fact by performing two linked figure of fours, followed by a handstand on ice-axes with crampons wedged into the ice above, followed by inverted sit ups, Lowe nailed the climb!!!! The route is graded M8.

Reading this description makes the climb appear impossible (remind you of anything… like understanding Finnegans Wake?). But  the move Jeff Lowe pioneered in 1994 was employed by the ice climbing fraternity’s elite (63 men and 29 women) at this year’s World Cup. Watching as climber after climber literally sprinted up the 2011 course in Saas Fee last weekend, pushing to get as far as they could within the 8 minute time limit, my mirror neurons learnt the pattern of this movement. I could follow the kinesthetic process. I couldn’t do it… But, I could feel it was possible for a body. Just as I used to believe a table traverse was manageable, after drinking too much whisky… Only…not for my body. BANG!

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Posted January 27, 2011 by R.H.H. Nisbet in Mirror Neurons, The Fall (biblical)

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