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Messages - John Howard

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Particularly given the differing levels of ability (John's being above most of the rest of us), and Dave's current layoff through injury

Just to say, I would have tried to climb the problem whether or not Dave was injured, that wasn't a determining factor, was just disillusioned with the concept of closed projects and decided life's too short. If it was a shit problem I obviously wouldn't have bothered, but it's not, and I thought other people deserved to enjoy it too.

It was less of a challenge for John to climb the problem, it was his choice to impose his ethic on the situation.

Hang on, one guy preventing any other person from climbing on a piece of rock indefinitely is having his rights violated?

Despite that, climbing is about more than just the rock. Its a community activity, and as such, empathy and respect are important.

Couldn't agree more, cuts both ways though

Its an objectively pointless sport anyway, why not give up the notion of the big self and revel in the frivolity?

What's your point here Paul? What are you referring to by "the big self" No clue how this supports Dave's stance - I enjoy the frivolity of climbing as much as the next guy, in fact, I enjoy it so much that when I see a beautiful problem I try and have fun and climb on it! My self worth and identity isn't hinged upon being the first person to climb a small rock sitting on a big rock hurtling through the void

I think it simply comes down to the question: where’s the glory?

Explorers don’t ‘own’ the rocks they find but I think it’s fair to say they should enjoy some sort of ‘priority’ given they put the efforts to explore and clean rocks.

Whether we consider bouldering to be a sport or an art, the glory comes from climbing something harder than expected, i.e. harder than what you would usually climb, or harder than what the people at your own level climb.

So whether a project is ‘closed’ or ‘open’, a climber’s glory in FA only comes from those projects which are in his/her own league or above.

In other words, there would be glory for you if you stole one of Micko Duffy's known closed projects (not sure if they're 'closed' but I'm pretty sure he's got some secret/quiet ones), but there would be little glory for him if he stole one of yours/mine – no offense meant ;-)

I don’t know if John is much stronger than you, but from what you say, it sounds like it did not take him a lot of efforts. So where’s the glory for him?

Not sure what to add to this other than that I find it baffling and disagree entirely with your concept of 'glory'. Fair enough if burning people off is your sole motivation in climbing but it isn't mine. I climb for things like setting, aesthetic appeal of a line, movement, style of climbing etc before secrecy or burning people off ever come into it, but each to their own.

Unless the location of your project (Can't remember where Glenmalure is) makes it a 5 star problem (I doubt it), or unless it becomes a local test piece (which I also doubt, again no offense meant), there’s none in my opinion.

In my view, the line's still yours, never mind John's FA.

Glenmalure wall on Vimeo

Relative to other classics in Wicklow Pierre, it is 5 stars and in my opinion one of the best 7's out there. And if you look at the number of ascents things like Rhythm and Stealth or 2.4 Pascals get these days then I also think that this problem is destined to become a bench march test piece for its grade.

Glenmalure is the next valley South of Glendalough, and though not big in quantity, it's big in quality - it already hosts some classic lines in this problem (~7B/+, one of the best), Kinky Reggae (6C, probably the best in Wicklow), Intergalactic (8B, maybe the most aesthetic grade 8 in Wicklow), Soul Revolution (8B+, Ireland's hardest problem), Trans (7A/+, highball arete with completely unique moves, ***classic), a brilliant traverse project on the Trans boulder, all pretty close to the road and in one of the most beautiful valleys in Wicklow. So although it might be off the beaten track for you, if god forbid, we share these things that may well change.

If you read through my messages to Dave you'll see that I have no desire to declare this thing "John The Conqueror's Magnum Opus", I have no interest in 'glory' or being associated with the problem, just wanted to appreciate a stunning line before I keel over.

I've included the fb messages sent between Dave and I this week for context, hopefully they should shed some light on my side of the story.

John Howard
07/06/2015 23:41
Hiya Dave,
I've been down in Glenmalure a fair bit recently and that steep wall up high has been eating away at me, completely out of character for Wicklow and an incredibly aesthetic problem on perfect rock, really not much out there like it - I couldn't shake the thought that it's a shame that other people can't enjoy it too, something just didn't sit right with me - having stumbled upon it myself but then stopping myself or others from trying it as I knew you wanted to do if first.
I can get my head around people sitting on a project for a season or two if that's their desire but is there not a point after years and years when the balance shifts towards maybe letting other people have fun on these things rather than inhibiting the community by red tagging the most inspiring lines? I've been wrestling with it in my head and had been asking people what they thought to try and get a more objective perspective.
So today I was down there and decided to just get on it and climb it, it felt somewhere around 7B - and a completely compelling line that climbs so well - I imagine it'll be a complete classic once people get on it, why keep these things to ourselves? The notion of doing it first/naming/'stealing'/ego shit etc wasn't my drive whatsoever, just the quality of the climb - for all I know someone else could well have done it already, and to be honest I'd prefer it that way rather than having to constantly question myself and top out a problem with such a strange aftertaste.
I can appreciate that it might seem like a complete dick move but really, I think on balance, that to most people your stance would seem like the one that's more out of keeping with where the consensus is on this. I'm sorry if you find this hurtful, but does my having climbed a bit of rock inherently change your future experience on it? I'm happy to be proven to be way out of line here and in conflict with accepted norms in climbing on this but as far as I can reason, I think it makes more sense for others to get out and enjoy these things within reason - life's too short, why can't we all enjoy these gems? The model of localism and protectionism in surfing isn't a culture worth emulating in my opinion.
Being first isn't my primary motivation with these things, and absolutely not in this case, I was half dreading topping out as I really have no interest in rubbing you up the wrong way. I sincerely appreciate the exploring and sharing you do and that you've personally invested a lot in this boulder - whatever name have in mind for it and any publicizing you do/don't want to do - absolutely go ahead, I have zero desire for my hobby to be a vehiclefor ego inflation or undermining other people, simply wanted to enjoy a superb bit of climbing. I hope you can understand where I'm coming from here.
Anyway, apologies for the ramble, just thought I'd let you know now rather than down the line, and to try and make my motives clear. looking forward to seeing you outside when your arm has healed,
All the best,

David Flanagan
08/06/2015 00:24
Very disappointed to hear that John.

David Flanagan
08/06/2015 09:37
Hi John. Have had a bit of time to mull this over. Firstly thanks for letting me know, I appreciate that, I wouldn't like to have not know about it. Secondly let me say that I think you are a good guy. I found the problem in the summer of 2011 so nearly four years ago and I know that is a long time, I have been concious of that and wasn't planning on sitting on it for ever, I hadn't come up with a deadline though. I wish you had got in touch with me before hand and said you weren't happy with the situation, I could of filled you in with my point of view, I probably would of asked for some time to get back climbing and do a little more training and give it a few last shots. I last tried it two weeks before I broke my elbow and have been working on a training plan specifically for the purpose of getting it done for the last 3 months. So it's not like I haven't been on it for a long time.

David Flanagan
08/06/2015 09:47
A few years ago I met some of the lads Chris and Kev anyway at the Kinky Regae boulder and told them about it (I had already told Duffy and a few others about it), I didn't specifically ask them not to climb it but probably implied that I would like that, and I trusted that they would get respect that. I regretted this a little later as there was some comments about time passing, not sure how much this was banter. I also felt that if I hadn't told anyone about it that it was unlikely that anyone would stumble on it. I think I posted up one or two photos and a video, maybe not the best idea but again I trusted people. I put the 45 degree wall in the guide, which again probably wasn't a good idea if I wanted to keep the project to myself as they are pretty close together. Now I'm not sure how you came across the boulder, whether you saw the stuff I had posted about it, were checking out the 45 and went for a wander, heard others talk about it, or found it 100% under your own steam I don't know.

John Howard
09/06/2015 23:50
I suppose maybe what this comes down to is a difference of opinion on the value of first ascents and the concept of 'ownership/possession' (for want of a better word) of rock climbs.
For me, I haven't come across a persuasive argument that valuing first ascents to the extent that climbs become red-tagged or out of bounds to others, is in any way appropriate or justified. To me, the idea of 'owning' a piece of rock before or after climbing it, is tenuous at best when looked at from an objective perspective. Any arguments in support of it essentially boil down to a person valuing their persona as 'first ascensionist' to a degree that the potential participation of the wider community is eclipsed by the desire of the self, or the debate simply reverts to 'well it's just a tradition in climbing'.
At the core of this is my inability to continue to support the concept of climbs becoming personal possessions. If I at all considered that this particular piece of rock somehow belonged to you, then of course I would consider climbing it before you, its rightful owner, as a disrespectful act, and would be ashamed of my actions - but the truth is that I simply don't think the argument for ownership/red tagging holds any water. (Yes, I understand that we as a community name and give estimated grades of climbs for categorisation purposes, that's the extent of it for me)
August 2010 -
"We also spotted some mysterious boulderers. Well we assumed they were boulderers as they seemed to be hanging around some steep rocks high up the hillside, was it you?"
I wonder if these two lads will be furious when they find out that the two of us have been climbing on 'their' problem over the past 5 years? - I'm being facetious here but that's honestly where this argument leads, there can be no 'first' owner of an ancient lump of granite through 'conquering' it first. So for me it's quite black and white, either we see this common asset as being for everyone, or we as a community say that it's ok to prohibit public involvement in these 'red-tagging' cases, as the (self appointed) 'finder/explorer/equipper' has ownership rights over the climb.
Just because the latter stance is traditional in climbing, or is advocated by certain wads and personalities does not make it justified or above criticism. I see the consensus shifting towards the former viewpoint in coming years, you only have to look our collective, quiet discomfort at the Chris Sharma Red tagging story of a few years ago, or even this recent blog of Ricky's - "Don't make Gentleman's agreements with people - obviously we shouldn't be overly attached to being the first person to climb up something; what's the rush..? but that's always been a part of rock climbing and in the case of this arete, I didn't feel bad about asking Dan for the time... That part felt nice. His ettiequte really,  "the dothing of ones cap" as Dan put it, to someone in a similar situation with similar drive and affections." I agree with his first statement but can't make the jump to the second, some traditions are worth discarding if they don't stand up to reason.
But again, even if the tradition lingers, and I'm in a complete minority, I'm still comfortable with my reasoning until I'm given a convincing argument other than 'it's just how it is in climbing - it's tradition' or 'it's my rock, I saw it first, the rest of you can climb it when I'm finished with it'
The reason I didn't message you saying I was unhappy with the situation is because I clarified my position to myself and realised that you have no greater say or right than I or anyone else, so why would I feel the need to request your permission? Only to be then told at length of the efforts you've gone to to try and climb this rock as a way of supporting the misguided idea that it has somehow become yours? - my actions in no way undermine your relationship to this problem, that can only be the case if your sole motivation to climb this stunning line is to claim some ownership of it over others, which is frankly a shame. Is it not a hollow victory (if you do prize first ascents), to claim your trophy of a first ascent only by denying others the chance to try?
If you feel that this concept of being first is worth pursuing at the expense of the community at large then I think you've assumed an antiquated, regressive convention and should examine it, or put forward your perspective so that we can debate it. This is definitely a debate worth having but probably even better in person.
In answer to your question as to how I came across it, was a mix of exploring Glenmalure at the moment, knowing there's other cool shit to be done ('your' proj included - had seen your stuff online and heard about it), it's quite a prominent cluster from Intergalactic so wasn't long til I stumbled upon it.
Before signing off I'd like to say that my tone here isn't intended to be combative in case it reads that way, simply hard to convey tone in these messages.

David Flanagan
10/06/2015 09:07
Hi John Thanks for the considered reply. Would you have any objection if I posted up about this whole thing on the short span forum, I would be keen to see what other people's thoughts are on open/closed projects?
I will also reply to you points above.

John Howard
10/06/2015 09:34
Yeah I have no issue with it being discussed openly, like you I'd be curious to know where other people stand. I suspect it'll descend into a flame war - seems to be the way with online debate but absolutely - fire away, no harm in trying.

David Flanagan
10/06/2015 10:10
It might do but worth a try I think.

David Flanagan
10/06/2015 16:57
Sorry John but reading through your messages again I'm a still a little unclear on your reasoning. You say "I can get my head around people sitting on a project for a season or two if that's their desire" yet "the truth is that I simply don't think the argument for ownership/red tagging holds any water". So it that my redtagging went on too long or is it that you just don't believe in closed projects in any way shape or form?

David Flanagan
10/06/2015 16:57
"We also spotted some mysterious boulderers. Well we assumed they were boulderers as they seemed to be hanging around some steep rocks high up the hillside, was it you?"
On reflection I think these guys where geocachers, there is a geocach at the entrance to the cave just right of the problem.

John Howard
10/06/2015 17:42
I don't believe in red-tagging in any way, shape or form Dave. what I should have written instead of -
"I can get my head around people sitting on a project for a season or two if that's their desire"
is that I've been able to tolerate it previously because although I didn't support the concept at all, I didn't view the ensuing hassle as being worth it. The difference is that now I see the value in directly confronting the issue, as I think the benefits of an open community and a potential shift in our collective approach, and how we view and value first ascents.
I now have no problem discussing it or ruffling feathers as I see it as being a wholly negative practice and one which is a net loss to climbing.
"The advantage of closed projects is that
It reduces the need for secrecy, people will share information more freely if they aren't worrried someone will go along and do their project.
It encourages people to get out and look for new problems of their own."
Your argument above in support of the practice is predicated on the false notion of potential ownership; that, for me, is the central thread of this that all the nitty gritty details spin out from. There is no need for secrecy, no loss in sharing if the thing can never be ownder in the first place, that's where I stand on it.
What's your take? I feel I've defended my position but I'm still in the dark on what you actually believe?
have to run

David Flanagan
10/06/2015 17:48
I have been writing a long forum post, I will post it shortly. Please post up your thoughts, I took would welcome a discussion, see what people's thoughts are, maybe gauge a consensus.  To be honest it seems like we disagree on the fundamental issue of whether a FA means anything. Correct me if I'm wrong though, you don't have an intention of following the consensus if you don't agree with it?7

David Flanagan
10/06/2015 17:50
With the whole FA thing I get that you just don't believe that's, but you have to understand that other people do, and this motivates their actions for example keeping problems secret.

David Flanagan
11/06/2015 10:14
Whose line is it anyway? Closed projects in bouldering

Bouldering Discussion / Re: Videos etc
« on: May 12, 2014, 04:26:50 PM »
A weekend in AlbarracĂ­n on Vimeo

Bouldering Discussion / Re: get your bouldering news here
« on: November 06, 2012, 01:21:15 AM »
Thanks for the kind words lads, much appreciated, hoping those sessions falling off cooleys slopers will help me in font in the morning!

Bouldering Discussion / Arch Co-op
« on: October 03, 2012, 05:09:07 PM »
Hey guys,

John Howard from the Arch Co-op here, just getting in touch to let people know that we're actively looking to take on new members to ensure we can renew our lease next year. The facility is walking distance from Dublin city centre, is well serviced by public transport and is accessible 24/7. The climbing surfaces range from 10°, 20°, 30° and 45° overhanging to a convex barrel, concave arch and a horizontal roof feature, all of which are plastered with holds to cater for all levels. Membership is almost half the price of commercial walls at €20/month, and there's a really good friendly atmosphere about the place, with a good group of psyched members meeting up regularly to climb together. There's photos, a problem database and further info on and . If anyone has any queries or might be interested in checking out the place or joining please feel free to contact us via fb or by emailing



Bouldering Discussion / Re: Videos etc
« on: August 21, 2012, 11:10:28 AM »
Loving the vids lads, nice one

Sorry yeah good point baz, dave it's a newish one of Michaels, brilliant line, its up the hill and left of the Ballinafunshogue car park, beside a really tall pine, think its in the problem database

Heya, sorry I'm late to the party! Yeah I'd be the first to say I'm shit at grading, especially for new stuff, I've tended to go with the easiest grade I think a problem could be, just because I feel that they tend to settle down with time and new sequences, but obviously a consensus and a couple of repeats is needed to get them in the right ballpark.

Ideally we'd have a style database where people could vote towards a consensus on grades, but that would be a nightmare to make, host etc. , but I think an open access google spreadsheet with a list of areas and problems (which anyone can add to) which lists the guidebook/current grades and leaves room for repeaters to leave their opinion on the grade for them, would be a good solution. It'd be basic, but it would give a greater consensus than what we have at the moment maybe? Might just look like an extensive excel version of this:

Area                    Problem name           Current grade      Peoples opinions   
Glenmalure          Kinky Reggae ss            7B                      7A+ 7B  7B   
                           The Scratcher ss            6C                       6B   6B+
                           Soul Revolution              7C+
The Scalp            Gen Tilly                         6B+                     6B   6B  6C
                           Dark Angle ss                 7A                       6B+ 6B

It could be linked to the forum, then people can then add new stuff/ suggest grades as they do problems. I just think it might be handier than doing it in threads as they tend to turn into a bit of a mess after a while with too many discussions and problems at once, again just my opinion though. Here's a link to a google spreadsheet on my email account that anyone can access and edit (hopefully) - so this could be a start

I reckon I'm more How-Soft than J-Hard at the mo but considering what I usually get called at the crag I'll take any nickname ;)

Forecast looks good for tomorrow, anyone about?

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