Some Fundamentals


In physics class they were talking about energy;

“Energy cannot be created or destroyed.”

As an illustration of this, they dropped a ball from a height onto the ground, on paper. Not onto paper, but on paper, an illustration. Even dropping a real ball would have been to much excitement for Big Gerry Quinn class. But as this ball dropped, and its speed, sorry, velocity, went from 0 to whatever metres per second, it underwent a transformation of energy. When Gerry theoretically held it, the theoretical ball was at a certain height above the floor, with no velocity, it had what is called potential energy. When he dropped it, and it sped up, it hit the theoretical floor with a good speed. This speed represents what is called kinetic energy. According to Gerry, what has happened, is that the ball’s energy has been transferred from potential energy to kinetic energy. Between starting to fall, and hitting the floor, it had some of each. Gerry then told us that the energy at each point of the ball’s fall, when the two types are added together, is the same.

“The energy at every point is equal to one!” proclaimed he, in that way that physics teachers have of confusing you again, just when you think you have understood. One what? I wondered.

“What happens when the ball bounces, Sir,” asked Maurice Gorman.

“This is only O Level, Gorman. Come back in A Level and I’ll tell you.”

Big Gerry’s lesson was strongly in my mind one evening at Black Rocks. Curving Arete is one of those bold gritstone solos you want to have done but not sure if you want to be doing. Yet here I was. Seen from the side, it really is a perfect curve, a 90 degree arc, the horizontal edge being an overhang, and the vertical edge being Dawes’ Gaia. Thus, the start of the arete is vertical, and the end of it is horizontal. Let me get back to Gerrys physics lesson. Being vertical, the first moves are the hardest, and get 6b. They involve getting your left foot in contact with the arete, which is problematic if you are not wearing stretch trousers, as the arete begins a few feet off the ground. Now, the left hand holds the arete layback fashion, and you start to heeeeeave with all your might, and some of your might not, and try to get established over the overhang. On my first go, my might not was more than my might, and I slippered off. Not pleasant. My shin hit the overhang, and as my trouser cuff rode up, my shin surfed down a sharp horizontal edge. I managed to land abruptly in a standing to attention attitude on a shelf perched above a chasm, and if my head hadn’t smacked into the hanging arete and sent me backwards, I might have tumbled forwards into it. I thanked my lucky stars as they revolved around my head cartoon fashion.

I checked for damage. A long painful tongue of crimson licked up my right leg; what had been on my leg was now gathered on the horizontal edge; an agglomeration of skin blood and hair, compacted together to resemble a piece of meaty down. I pulled it off the edge and threw it at another wall, and it stuck. But still, in terms of gritstone E5, for this is what it was, and to suit my story, although it is a fairly hard move, this fall can be regarded as fairly safe.  Let’s say we can give it a grade; E1 6b. After this, as you move further up the arete, and the angle gets less steep, then the difficulty also decreases. However, to make up for this, you are getting ever higher above a bad landing. Thus, as the physical difficulty decreases, danger goes up. We can take this back to Big Gerry Quinn’s theoretical ball, and see as his potential turned to kinetic, giving the constant energy of one, we can see that the technical / danger combination of Curving arete gives each move the same difficulty. We can call this difficulty ‘one.’

I recall one point along the way, at just over half height, when the grade would have been about E3 5b, a high step must be made onto the ever flattening arete. My move up was a bit abrupt, and I nearly fell over the top of the arete, which would have plunged me over the edge and down past the crux of Gaia. Have you ever seen a man taking an E8 fall off an E5? Comical.

Ever onwards. On the last few feet, the climbing is getting easier and easier. By this stage, I was on all fours, scrabbling along on the horizontal. I would put the technical difficulty of the last moves at about 1a, but it is here where the climbing reaches its true E5 level. I was pondering the effects of a slip at this point, and about just how much kinetic would be generated from a fall from the sixty feet of potential I had amassed myself. Theoretically, of course, as I managed to pull the 1a move out of the bag, and jabbered to safety.