Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Mandala Start--some background info

The debate over where a boulder problem really starts can extend to many problems out there. Jump-start lines are notoriously hard to clarify, for example--how many pads?--and there are no doubt dozens like that.  As for The Mandala, the now-standard start seems to have come to dominance over the last couple of years. I pointed out that the start has changed in the previous post simply because it has changed. I'm not saying there's anything "wrong" with the new start. Fact is that while some people know the start changed, many people, especially those who climbed in Bishop in the early 2000s don’t know this.
Here's a bit more background:
When Brion Voges flashed The Mandala last year, I didn’t report the ascent because I felt that by starting off of so many pads with the right hand in the undercling and left on the good crimp (just above), that this wasn’t doing the problem in the way it traditionally was done. It seemed an unfair start that didn’t respect Sharma’s line. It seemed unfair to Chris Sharma to claim to have flashed this historic problem, though Chris probably doesn’t care. It might also be considered unfair to anyone else that might have wanted to make the flash previously, or at least attempt it. I held that view for a long time and have mentioned it several times on my blog and elsewhere, though many people don't seem to agree, and people could debate this for years! I was trying to uphold a belief about the starting point of the problem, but even my own beliefs can't handle all the gray areas and lead to inconsistencies, so why bother being so pedantic?
Do I think Alex climbed the Mandala? Of course I do. I'm just saying for others coming along later that this is where she started the problem, and it's not the same place it used to start. Nearly everyone starts it that way now. Sure, it seems kind of strange to me but that's how it is. Now I look at all the videos out there of people doing The Mandala, I can see that there's almost no need to point out where it now starts, except to old farts like me and others climbing here back when Sharma first did the line.
The truth, I think, is that Brion and others had no idea there was ever a lower start. As I said, you can see loads of vids online. Of course Brion went on to comfortably complete the sit-start, and was very good humored when ribbed about the stand, but then, flashing The Mandala probably wasn’t too big a deal to him, amazing as that is!
To go back to the line: In the first few years after The Mandala was done, despite a huge number of attempts, I never saw a single person even consider starting the problem the way people do now. That’s not because there is a new sequence today. The sequence used from the high start is pretty much the same one Chris Sharma used for the FA (other than beginning higher), and the same as used by some others who also repeated it in the first few years—indeed, this includes Jared Roth’s third ascent for which he literally jumped off the ground to gain the good crimp, because he insisted that to use a pad or even a rock would invalidate his achievement.
It is within this context, and from this perhaps generational perspective that I watched the new start arise. If Chris Sharma, 11 years ago, had stacked four or five pads under the problem and pulled directly into the right-hand undercling, he would probably have felt like he was just working the moves. Sure, he could maybe have pulled directly into the undercling from the ground with his right hand, and a low left hand hold, and moved his left hand up to the crimp, but to do that does demand a hard pull—a harder move, he felt, than beginning with his right hand high, left hand low, and switching his hands on the undercling. Still, both options are there for the taking.
For Sharma to put a single pad under his feet to pull off the ground would have been frowned upon by some people back then, and would have been considered a very light-gray area to the magazines who reported groundbreaking achievements. Whether or not Sharma repeated the problem, or did the FA without using a pad, I don’t remember.
John Sherman amusingly told me one day after the problem went down, that maybe he would have done the line back in 1990 when he was in his prime if only he had stacked enough pads under it to reach that first hold. He was talking about the good crimp just above the undercling, a crimp that sure enough, most people can’t even reach from the ground. He watched annoyed as a few would-be ascensionists grabbed that hold standing on a pile of rocks plus pad, and struggled to bring their left hand into the undercling. I thought his comment comical when he said it because I didn’t consider that starting off a pad so as to put your fingers in the starting hold was such a big deal. So that’s where the gray area begins and the generation gap starts to appear. Funnily, though, John actually could reach that crimp from the ground!
Bottom line: The Mandala is an amazing boulder problem and unless you're John Sherman, you'll almost certainly need a boost to get to the start. Then, if you're anything like me, you will probably need another hefty shove to get any higher.

28 comments:

Justin said...

Great post Wills

Anonymous said...

I'd be psyched to do it with any start, but everything is gray with me, including my hair. I just wish people would stop breaking the really small sharp holds, before I do it; Especially getting boosted through. Andrew

Anonymous said...

Good post Wills. To claim a repeat or flash of Chris Sharma's The Mandala, climbers should start where Chris did. Starting higher and claiming to gave done the same is inaccurate, regardless of the difficulty. Jamie Emerson

JP Williams said...

Great post.

Anonymous said...

Agreed but is this new start V12?

Anonymous said...

Hello!
I'm from France, and were I go to climb in Fontainebleau, we only consider it a valid ascent when starting from the ground, standing on a doormat. Even standing on one pad is considered bad style. For us this is the only logical way to draw the line. Some problems can only be done with a jump start, but if it's not specifically mentioned to start like that, the normal way of starting is a standing start.
Sitstarts are also done without pad(s).
Cheers!
JD

Anonymous said...

Maybe in a few more years, the gray area's accepted pad stack height will allow peeps to reach the lip. I'll stop saving it for the flash at that point.

Eric said...

all indications are that the new start is most likely in the solid v10 to easy v11, range... i say downgrade and move on.

Anonymous said...

Great post Wills! I fully agree, in the old Big Up video Chris does mention that getting established in the undercling is one of the hardest moves.

So, if one must start from the ground or jump start problems, where does Evilution stand? Is it still awaiting it's first valid ascent?
Ken

Anonymous said...

I heard you sent mandala blindfolded Wills, is that true?

Charlie said...

Wills did do the mandala blindfolded, he's made of magic. I agree with Eric.

Gaby said...

Great, next time I'll try the Mandala with a ladder start, it may become the usual method ;o)

More seriously, I do think that the starting holds should be defined (for example in your guidebook). So that people know where to start from. Should someone be too small to grab the holds without a pad? Then let's use a pad...

Gaby said...

Forgot to say : don't listen to that "JD" from Font. Font climbers are not a reference!
I have seen many locals starting from the pad in many boulders ;o)

Peter said...

From the video of the first ascent
youtube.com/watch?v=_UEOxIo4V50&feature=related
it seems that Sharma started off at least one, maybe two pads, but the stacking shown on this video
youtube.com/watch?v=R-HKtZCoMMk&NR=1
is in my opinion just ridiculous.

I read Wills post as a testimony of how the unwritten "rules" in bouldering have changed over the years. Although careful not to judge, I think he says a lot about the current tendency of taking shortcuts. If we really need strict rules to avoid fooling ourselves on a given problem (and a given grade), then maybe the die-hard guys in Font have a point?

I guess there will always be grey areas, but my experience from bouldering across Europe (I've never been to the States) is that you don't need defined starting holds to figure out where a problem starts. If there really is some unobvious definition to it, then it usually says so in the guidebook.
Anyways, the bottom line for me is that you don't need to be a rocket scientist to realize that stacking pads to reach higher holds, when there are obvious holds lower down, is not repeating - but cheating.

Anonymous said...

What's funny is that big pad stack looks like the only way mike Doyle could reach the start crimp in that video, tho he coulda probably reached it with one less pad. I'm pretty short and I sure wouldn't want someone to tell me I had to start a problem with no pad that someone around 2meters could barely reach.

Anonymous said...

I have always thought that stacking pads is gay. With that said, I don't care a lot unless you are posting up about hard "sends" and wanting recognition. I mostly develop new crags and try to make it clear where things start because by nature climbing is contrived so the parameters should be clear. But I also think using twenty pads to do a "highball" is pretty lame. Climbing is supposed to be challenging and have potential risk involved. It all comes down to ethics. And climbing seems to be heading towards a zero ethics standard.
Just my two cents
Tom

Anonymous said...

You sound like you're british, Tom. To me, climbing is not "about" risk, it's about moving on rock, the safer the better, but risk is inherent to our sport and a zero-risk climb do not exist.
Anyhow, the question here is about parameters and standards. Maybe I've been just plain lucky with the areas I've developed, but we've only had two standards: standing start and sitstart, and it has very rarely been contrived. Only if one or both of the starting holds are too high above the ground for you, then you jump or put an extra pad under your ass. When did the nonsense of stacking pads on standing starts where a sit start exists become common practice? Beta normally change as we strive to find the easiest way up a climb, but who would ever think of using artificiel means (i.e. stacked pads) to make a climb easier? Bouldering is always about the harder moves the better.

Herman said...

In my small home town area' I've opened "No Pad" 6C. As the name suggests is starts with your feed on the ground.

I've also opened "Triple pad" 6A. As the name suggests it starts a bit higher...

Anonymous said...

I think the one thing missing from these remarks is the question of how we believe problems should be defined. The reason why I mention it is that I think this explains the difference in ethical views expressed in the other comments.

Do we want problems defined in such a way that they involve the exact same moves for every climber independent of their posture (e.g. if you're too small to reach, stand on a pad or a rock). Meaning these are the moves that define the grade of the problem. Or do we want to define a problem by the line you climb, accepting the fact that no two climbers are the same and the line will have a different grade for two climbers of very different posture, and the average grade is what's written up in the guide book.

I think the first is a too standardized approach, for it might address the difference in posture for the starting moves, but what about that reachy move high up that tall climbers can reach but small climbers have to dyno for. For sure that move will be more difficult (and deserving of a higher grade) for the small climber (and there's no way of leveling this difference out by stacking pads).

If we define problems by the line they follow from ground to the top, the only thing that needs to be clarified is whether it's a sit down or standing start. The line gets a grade which is valid for a climber of average posture and everybody just needs to accept that it might be easier or harder if you're really short or tall. And yes this might mean that a problem can be a standing start for one and a jump start for another climber, but at least this way of defining problems ensures that there can be no more 'cheating', as the problem is defined as starting from the ground (or maybe a cloth or doormat to make sure your shoes/butt don't get dirty without adding an advantage in starting height), not from a pad, a rock, or five pads. As such this is ethically the most sound way of defining problems, although it does make it more difficult to compare achievements between climbers if you're going just by the numbers..

Pascal said...

Funny debate with worries about cheatstones when cheatboulders are used as well.
Have you ever checked out "the island" vs "the big island"...!? Dave Graham starts the problem sitting on a rock which puts him in a higher position than the stand-start. The elevated position is "conveniently?" invisible on the original footage of the ascent. http://www.kairn.com/images/articles.img?id=5879
Dave starts the boulder from the blue pad, but the yellow pad is ground-level (start of the big island).

Only someone with a name and reputation like Dave is able to claim a valid ascent. Anyone else would have been laughed at.

Anonymous said...

@ JD from France: Just for curiosity: I saw a video yesterday (linked on the ukc) where a part of the French national team does some hard stuff in Bleau and I found the "sit start" the guy does on Gecko assis pretty ridicolous, since he does not even sit down. Is this problem defined like that or is this how people start the problem nowadays? Besides that, there are so many embarassing videos out on the internet showing so-called ascents it's unbelievable. Either people are not aware of how bouldering works or they are just so good at lying at themselves.
Rainer

Anonymous said...

Ha-ha! That's an "american start" (like P.Robinson on New Baseline) by a french guy.
However, I guess in any big area you'll find locals (if this national team is local) with different ethics, for better or worse.

Anonymous said...

On Gecko sit, it seems the guy is skipping the easy first move, which is crossing the left hand over to the good hold. He looks superstrong, so it probably doesn't matter to him. But why not do it clean when you're obviously more than capable? You can't call it a sitstart if you're not actually sitting down. Then you might as well grab holds higher up. But I guess it's just one more of these shortcuts that the young generation seems so full of.

Caroline said...

There are 2 many dicks on this forum!!!!!!!!!!
What is the most important (do you forget)?? It is to have FUN and always enjoy climbing, like i'm sure Alex does...
So stop controversies and climb more ok?

Anonymous said...

Totally agree. But it's even more FUN when you play by the rules, no? So why take all these shortcuts (the root of all evil controversies)? Or maybe you're the guy who laughs when cheating in games.

Anonymous said...

Stacked pads = aid.
Or in this case: V11/A0

Anonymous said...

First of all, hello to everyone concerned by better starts in bouldering, and special thanks to Wills for his site and work on Bishop (and more...). Sorry cause i'm French with poor English's speaking, and to understand all you've all said and to write this is a real effort for me.

Leaving in Fontainebleau since a long time, i can confirm it's super unfrequent to see someone not using his pad to start. This is not to contradict "JD" point of view, but those few who still starts from a doormat, or even a thiner layer, are really a very small group even here... Just a fact, but not saying i think it's OK too...

For the subject here, Mandala and his start (but any start of a boulder), i remember having a good discussion with Wills during the Petzl Roc Trip in 2002, as i was already shocked by people always using pads, or even a pile of stones to start this fantastic problem. I remember well having tried the start from my "chiffon" (open legs of old destroyed pants recycled), and no doubt the start was possible this way. Wills, you should remember how you were laughing at that "practice" as you believed putting a pad or stones were OK... Now, let me laugh a bit to read all this ;-)!

Some people wants a "definition" for the starting holds, some others want to do the "original" sequence of the opening beta, some feels too small, others maybe then will be too tall and keep stacking pads but will took the lowest holds they can... Funny in fact how all this is just confusing, and here i want to point another way of practice : what i would call "natural start" (can't find better words actually).

I you really consider you're climbing on Natural Stones, "natural problems" must be climb on the most natural start you have. Simply! It means using the less artificial elevated starts you can. With this point of view, you don't have to know how others will starts, it's just your body and the problem composed by rocks in Nature, it's up to you to see how to starts a problem for your own body elevation. As for sitting, or even jump-start, it will be the same, the less you put under your feet, or under your ass, the more "natural" will be your achievement, and the more "clean" will be the ascent and definition of the problem. Yes, indeed it will be always easier for a taller guy to start, so what!? That's nature of bouldering in Nature! You also will be always taller and smaller than anothers.

Plus, in many areas, boulders are proned to ground erosion, so what if you have to stack more and more pads in the future? Instead of trying always to adapt yourself to Nature and not reverse.

Why taking care of a taller guy starting on higher holds, as you won't care how smallers guys have to start? If only everyone is doing problems like Nature and their natural skills allows them to climb... So yes, it means any elevated starts are cheating, and for everybodies sizes. Here when i'm looking at videos, even the very first from Chris is not clear for me. You can't start like him, even on a single "big" pad, if you're not his size. So what? Stacking two pads to catch holds as he did? Again here, it's only to find your "natural" sequence to start with the problem offered to your body by Nature, if you really want to achieve so. It'll be easy also here to see that accepting any pad start can't be the good way for future of bouldering, cause it goes where we are actually... I mean, who can deny, it's always easier to start from a pad, of anykind, compare to the thinner layer available between you and the ground?!? Which pad was used for the opening? A very old and thin, or a master 5" thick new?

... to be continued on Part 2...

Anonymous said...

...Part 2...

Believe me, i don't want to be pedant or moralist for all this, but it just seems it's time for bouldering to take a new "proper starts" if it's still time... And for the very first ascent or opening of boulders, we just have to be more precise and aware about the starts if they are not really done "naturally" as i tried to describe it above. Chris first ascent should have pointed that, as for sure he could have done Mandala from a doormat or even a kind of no elevation carpet, but from what i've seen the trouble comes that nobody seems to care really about that precision... And it's confirmed everywhere in the bouldering scene actually with all the deviations we can see. And i won't blame specially Chris for that.

Please note so that charging Dave Graham for his ascent of The Island is unfair, he has just done what others do since the "pad start period" : not caring about a "clean" or "natural" start... I was there when he did it, and that was more confusing, cause he was sometimes pushing with his arm on the big boulder under to make his start install, sometimes not... And the start you see on his video was even the "worse" and not the start of the real ascent. But if you look at Chris ascent of Mandala, you don't know also if there's one or two pads, and so... Not to mention videos of Lisa, where stacking pads were obvious, etc, so why blaming Alex too?

You just have to watch bouldering videos to see how many are showing the "actual example"!!!

For The Island, i've tried to precise the start when it was announced on the French site bleau.info. Even Olivier Lebreton told to Dave about that, but with no results... Actually, more people have done Dave's start rather than Vincent's "big" stand-up start, cause with no doubts the things is harder, but this entire boulder and his start his definetly easier the more you're taller. That's the way Nature have composed this problem, and even if you're super strong and don't have the good size, you won't be abble to do this problem particularly, neither any starts or moves on it! You just can start on the higger boulder under it and do a poor 6 grade mantle! And that's the more natural way to climb this thing, ah, ah...

Bouldering can be done by many type and many size of bodies, that's not the case of many other sports. Specially, this is possible cause it's a "Natural" activity. And if you're too small to really do a problem "naturally", just do it as you can actually if you want, have a lot of "fun" starting on pads, but never ignore the way you do things. In my very personal opinion, that's really the only think that count, that can't be mesured, and let's call it "consciousness"... Be conscious the way you start problems, climbing on your own desperate new thing, or doing your circuit jogging style!

I hope it's just time for all bouderers to be more aware about the way they start problems in Nature, and whatever difficulty is concerned, that can be also a new challenge for everyone's consciousness life! We just have to use the thiner thing to start when it's possible and all good lines should desserves this, that's the way problems are offered to us by Nature.

If not, if all this is just a question of measurements as our world tends to drive us as usual,
apologies for this too long post!

St├ęphan Denys.
( for not being anonymous, but with many people behing who just keep trying bouldering without elevated starts ).