Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I had loads of intentions of writing about stuff outside politics when I started this blog but Bertie Ahern's anorak casts a shadow over us all, allowing us to to think nothing but anorak things in our waking hours.

I am on a bit of a break at the moment and did get a chance to go to a talk and slide show given last night by an amazing American climber, Mike Reardon.

Reardon is a garrulous former lawyer with long blond tresses ( a time warp kind of style half from California 1970s; half from St. Elmo's Fire). As befits his appearance - and his livewire personality - he's a maverick, and revels in that role.

What he does is stunning. He climbs solo, ie without ropes. And some of the stuff he does is at at the most extreme grades and very sustained - a couple of hundred metres all told. Check out his website, freesoloist. The picture here is of him soloing in Ailladie, Co. Clare on a sea-cliff route called Blockhead. The piece of video is taken from one of his own films.

A maverick, definitely. He is also very controversial. Some criticise his methods and foolhardiness - others have questioned some of the grand solo climbs he has done (a dragon slayed is how he describes a horrendously difficult route that he has ticked off).

That debate can be read elsewhere on the web. That said, even when doing rock climbing with the (metaphorical) safety net of a harness and rope I'm often petrified. The idea of soloing something seems insane. Even the tiniest of mistakes will rip you from the face, and R.I.P. you from the face of the universe.

But what is impressive about Reardon is his incredible powers of focus and concentration; as well as his very relaxed outlook cum philosophy on climbing and life.

Of course there's an extraordinary danger in what he does. Events outside his control could also determine his fate. Last night, he spoke of being surprised by an owl on one of his climbs, feeling its talons skirt the top of his head.

But what sets him apart is his ability to maintain and sustain concentration at all times. And also another innate safety valve. He says that he has never felt unable to down-climb any route he has done. Down climbing can often be more difficult that going up. But he has retreated on a couple of occasions at a crux or near the top when he felt that it was not right for him.

He's also a great friend of Ireland. He came here for an extended stay last summer and soloed many routes in the Gap of Dunlo; the Burren, Glendalough (the bouldering rocks) and the sea cliffs at Ailladie in Co Clare and on Inis Mór, the biggest of the Aran Island.

His gear for most of the Irish climbs? Rock shoes. A chalk-bag. Long blond tresses. A pair of Levis. And the piece de resistance - the Cork O2 GAA geansaí.

Would still be no match for Seán Óg Ó hAilpín though!

The talk was organised by the Irish adventure sports magazine, Outsider. It has a good feature on Reardon on its excellent web-site.

No comments: