Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Thoughts on Fred Nicole

Fred Nicole Working a project at Arthurs Rock

Should I even write about Fred? I've been bouldering avidly for 14 years and I still feel under-qualified to try to write any sort of authoritative article about him. I've slept on his floor on trips to Switzerland, I've shot footage and pictures of him, I've hosted him on a visit to Colorado, and I've flogged myself trying to repeat problems he opened in Hueco, Fontainebleau, Australia, Switzerland, and South Africa.

Here are some things I know about Fred:

1)Hype is not a language Fred speaks. He is fluent in German, English, and French, and of course in climbing movement. But hype and image are things he is not fluent in. He's an intelligent man... he knows how media works. He knows how sponsorship works. He knows about controversy and what it takes to drive magazine sales.

Four Dollar Arete

2)Fred has a job. He works. His job is flexible but I think Fred and I both sometimes look at the up and coming generation of would-be pro climbers and we both think... “Ya know, a job makes a great rest day activity... maybe you should consider it.” But of course those are my words not his.

Four Dollar Arete - the send effort

3)Fred does grade his problems, but he has his own system. His system does involve a grade as we know it, such as V12 or 8a+, but here's the difference: the grade is preceded and followed by a story. Contextual information. A description of the process of the first ascent. An account of the successful send attempt and an overview of the conditions necessary for the climb. He will usually follow any grade suggestion with plenty of shrugs and say something like “I dont know... maybe for me it is this way, but for you it will be another way”. And then usually his grade proposition will conclude with something like “This problem is very special and if you go there please be careful about the plants growing nearby as they may be fragile”. Get ready for a big surprise: by the time it makes it to the Internet or to printed media, this narrative has been distilled to a single number, which then falls under the scrutiny... borderline attack... of the entire bouldering world.

Fred Meets John Gill

4)Fred calls no attention to the fact that his problems have been the world standard for difficult bouldering for a long, long time. It's quite common to hear people say “This kid is the best in the world... did you hear he repeated that Fred Nicole problem?” It's as though we've lost track of the fact that there was a guy in all these areas years ago who not only had the strength to pull off the moves, but also the vision to see and believe that the line would even be possible. Dozens of talented climbers have hit the Fred Nicole threshold in bouldering and no one has yet broken through.

North Shore, Clear Creek

5)I'm going to go out on a limb here and propose that of all the ascents of the bulk (ahem) of Fred's problems, Fred is the heaviest. I would also propose that his ascents would be generally considered to be in good style. Okay, style is relative... I'm not going to say that one style is better than another, but I would propose that one style is stronger than another. Jumping and lunging and screaming and clutching requires less power... less strength in both mind and body, than fluid graceful coordinated movement. If we don't draw at least a subjective distinction between anorexic teenagers and 180 lb men then by extension, watching video clips of bugs and spiders crawling around on blank rock faces would be the most inspirational display of athleticism ever. I would propose that athleticism is more than a number grade.

The Ripper Traverse - Pueblo

6)There are a few things that Fred would never do, and writing this blog post is one of them.
7)Every time I visit Fred it's like hitting the reset button. I come away with a sense of how the sport is supposed to be practiced... with tolerance and dedication.

Feb 24 2009


sock hands said...

i likes this. i definitely believe that every send we try hard for, and certainly also some of the easy ones, have a story that is inextricably linked with the 'success'... otherwise, if not, what's the point?

i would hope, however, that the story of his ascents in colorado are punctuated by this crystaline truth: "pbr at chosslewood after work is oh so wickedly good!"

Situner said...

Good post Chuck!

Definitely pbr at chosswood for the win.


Movecrafter said...

well that goes without saying, fellas. See ya in a couple weeks!

sock hands said...

also, i didn't know that arms can look like that ever. bicept-shoulder monolith arm FTW

Pat said...

Fred & Francois are salt of the earth. I had the pleasure of meeting them on their first trip to Hueco in the early 90's. I have many stories about them. One was when we were taking them through mines of moria, neither Fred or Francois spoke good English, they had no idea where we were taking them, as we walked through the convoluted maze, they were talking to each other and just having a great time. I asked them what they thought of the place, Francois relayed that the cavernous walkway reminded them of the mines of moria in the Tolkien books. I laughed and said, funny thing that's the name given to the pathway in the guidebook. great, great guys

Lynnatron said...

Great piece! He's has such a standard of ethic we should all work towards. I wish all matters in the world could be handle with such grace and tactful skill...

sock hands said...

one more thought: it's nice that fred's demeanor is expressed in this way... in person. compare that to a number of other climbers in our world who type out their blogs with grace and rosy contemplation... when in fact their behavior at the crag is most totally regrettable, full of arrogance and worse.

point: fred LIVES his philosophy rather than just spews it onto the web under a false guise of enlightenment... it is evident in every welcoming hello and every climbing effort he gives out.

Anonymous said...

Well spoken! You observations are speckled with wisdom. Credit being given nowadays is rare, respect

Justin said...

nice post, thanks.