Maybe I am getting old, but it seems to me that our obsession with making climbing gear lighter has gone too far. I say ‘maybe it is because I am getting older’, because when you get older a number of things happen: a. you get grumpier, b. you get hairier everywhere (except your head), and c. you get more afraid.
B is a trifling, A is important, but C is the main point here. Age makes us more scared*. I am not entirely sure why, but I am guessing it is because you begin to realise you are not immortal and that in fact time is running down quicker than one of those sand timers you use when playing Pictionary. Whatever it is, when you get old, you get more scared. Fact.**
Which brings us to modern climbing gear and the never-ending obsession of those who produce it to make it lighter. To give you an example, these days I climb with a rack that includes extendable slings that could double as shoe laces. This may be okay when you are young and too naive to feel fear, but when you are old and scared you don’t want to look back down to your last piece of gear (in fact, I rarely even want to look down at all these days it’s so scary) and see it clipped to the rope with something you could floss your teeth with. In that moment I don’t care whether some boffin in a white coat says it can hold the equivalent of 500 elite competition climbers or a medium-sized SUV, I just want a proper fucking sling that looks to my fading eyesight like it will hold me.
Worse still, when I look down, not only am I using a piece of floss instead of a sling, but my ‘biners are now ‘hot forged’ using so little metal there is actually more anodising than cold, hard aluminium. And don’t get me started on the paperclips-for-gates wire-gates – those things put the fear of God into me.***
It doesn’t end there. These days ropes are so skinny I struggle to trust one enough to sit on it, let alone fall off onto it. It used to be you could reach down between your legs and get a good handful, nowadays you have to careful not to give yourself a paper cut. Plus, when you fall off, if you are trying to climb back up the rope to the last draw it can be totally desperate. Not to mention the increased propensity to burn your hand abseiling because the rope runs through the belay device at warp speed.
It’s the same with harnesses. Some of them look more like the lingerie you see advertised in the back of men’s magazines than something reliable enough to entrust what is left of your life to.
Even the names they give gear now seem designed to frighten you: Helium, Oxygen, Nitro – they are not names that provide a sense of solidity or security. Not to mention Big Air or the terrifyingly named, Flight harness. None of these names make you feel like your life is safe. If I was naming gear I would go for things like: colossus, monumental or something German sounding, because we all know that anything made by the Germans whilst being dull enough to send you to sleep is extremely safe.
It makes me wonder if there is a market for climbing gear for the old and fearful: 12 mm dynamic ropes, 200gm aluminium ‘biners, industrial-weight climbing harnesses and slings as thick as your wrist.
Although, now that I actually come to think of it, maybe I was always this scared, because that’s the other thing about getting old, point d. you forget everything.
* Unless you are HB.
** If there is, in fact, such a thing as a fact, to get all post-modern on your arse.
*** As much as a fear of a nonexistent entity can put into someone.