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Saturday, 29 January 2011

Ormesman of the Week: Neil Carson - Brit makes a Big Bang!

Rewind to the mid 90s. Ondra was crimping hard on his rattle developing sick early finger strength, Moony was banging on about overgrading and Mcclure had just had an epiphany that clipping some bolts might be a good idea. Sport climbing was being fronted by the big hitting global names of Huber and Rouhling. Four 9as, a 9a+ (Hubers Open Air originally graded 9a) and Rouhling's Akira 9b were at the top of the pack. 9a was the new elite level which only a small number of climbers worldwide had achieved. Down on the shores of Lower Pen Trwyn in North Wales a little known British 8c redpointer was about to thrust British climbing into the global spotlight and leave his mark on sport climbing history. The year was 1996 and the climber in question was Neil Carson.
Neil Carson is an Ormesman who had a more transient relationship with the Ormes but whose achievements were extremely significant. This is not a story of a long term campaign of climbing in the area. Neil Carson is a North Walean however and grew up near Tremadog. He started his climbing journey with the usual trad apprenticeship and didn't even clip a bolt for 5 years. Ben Pritch commented to me that Neil seemed to hit the hard sport climbing scene from nowhere. One minute he was wandering up mountain E5s and the next he was climbing 8c. In 1995 Carson got stuck into the Orme and added a handful of quality new routes. Stark (8a) and Pas de Deux (8a+) were great additions. Carson straightened out Moon's Seagulls Dilemma with a direct start to give The Walking Mussel (8b+). The most significant of his additions however was Infanticide (8c). This started right of Liquid Ambar and shared the finish of Youthanasia. A great addition but Carson was acutely aware of the possibility of the direct finish which added more steep crimpy climbing to a good pocket before a horrendous crimpy slab of doom to the belay. He continued to train hard and this became his new goal. After another year of sustained specific structured training and climbing and after relocating to help him tick his dream route Carson topped out on The Big Bang in late summer 1996. Carson describes the process, frustrations and obsession in an interview in OTE 65:
How much mental and physical effort did you need to complete that route?
Far too much. It was extremely frustrating actually. I trained quite specifically over the winter and when i got back on the route at the beginning of '96 i was pleasantly surprised. I had gained enough power to do all the moves comfortably, making me think it was going to be a fairly straightforward process exercise to get it completed. I was hoping to get it done before the arrival of the hot weather, giving me time to concentrate on my preparation for the competitions. I kept going to Pen Trwyn and getting so close, then it all started going backwards. I ended up leaving it for quite a long time while the weather was hot. Mentally it was very annoying. I constantly wanted to get down there when the conditions would be right. There was a problem of not knowing when the next good day would be, whether to rest or do some training. It was driving me mad. When i eventually did it, i wasn't massively over the moon. It was more of a case of 'bloody hell thank god'. Just a total relief.

I'm sure most hardened redpointers can identify with these sentiments. Often when you've invested so much time and emotion, relief is the overiding emotion. I doubt at the time Carson would have thought his route would still be unrepeated over 14 years on. You can probably count the number of potential candidates who have tried it on one hand. Ben Moon had a look and described it as "sick hard". He called the crux slab boulder problem Font 7c+. Steve Mcclure's had a quick look too but didn't fancy putting any further effort in. In recent times Infanticide ascentionists James Mchaffie and Pete Robins have both checked out the upper sequence but both have yet to invest any serious time and effort into the route. The lack of repeats has given Big Bang a notoriety with a certain global website who know nothing about it speculating that it could be 9a+!!! With the recent LPT renaissance i think its about time this route got repeated. So any wads out there who are thinking about it you have until the start of August to get it crushed. After that i will use my remaining pennys to bait and fly Ondra over for a day to bag the 2nd ascent. And no more complaining about sharp holds!
Moony on Big Bang, Photo by Keith Sharples


Stephen said...

Epic mini-article man! Wanted to know more about the legend of Carson for ages. Glad to read you're getting back into climbing again, go forth and crush!

ianto said...

I remember when ben(who was an idol of mine at the time) came to have a look at it with sean and jerry,it was big news at the time of course,but there was also something around that time of people claiming routes but not doing them,nothing to do with neil carson by the way,or even at that grade level,just something locally.they walked into fat cat for a pint,we all got chatting having a good laugh then dumb f**k here askes ben if he thinks he(neil) actually did it,silence dropped tumble weed blew past(remember he was an idol of mine)he started quizzing me on why i thought such things i couldn't explain it all got uncomfortable i blamed the beer.funny much for meeting your idols,thats my big bang memory.

Doylo said...

Nice story Ian! You can't beat an embarassing idol story!

Richie Crouch said...

Forgot to say thanks for sharing a Great blog post Chris.

Looking forward to learning about more Ormsemen!