Simon Carter is an internationally renowned climbing photographer who has been climbing for 35 years and photographing professionally for 24. He has produced several coffee-table books and publishes numerous Australian climbing guidebooks.
Someone recently said to me, “Simon, you think you are some sort of climbing guru”, which might have been meant as some sort of insult but I wasn’t so sure given the context of the conversation. Sometime afterwards, that statement gave me a pause for thought. The seed was planted and my mind went through a little self-assessment … My work involves documenting climbing and a part of that occasionally involves “telling it like it is”. The longer I have been climbing though, the more I realise that there is always more to learn. For example, back in 1987, when I had been climbing for only two years, and returned from France (my first overseas climbing trip) I thought I knew everything about climbing. That attitude served me well for five years until I had a seven-meter ground-fall at Mount Arapiles; that woke me up somewhat. It’s amazing what some time spent lying flat on your back at the base of a cliff wondering if you’ll ever walk again can do to you. These days, at age 51, I realise that it’s great having experience but one of the main dangers of this, of course, is getting stuck in your ways. Sometimes you have to try something new. Which brings me to the main subject of this column; our recent decision to build a home climbing wall – a “woody” in our garage.
Monique training on the Moon Board at 9-Degrees Parramatta in Sydney
Top English climber Steve McClure has a term for describing the totally performance based approach to climbing that some obsessive climbers have, he says that they have entered a “performance tunnel” state of mind, where nothing in climbing – perhaps in life – really matters except ultimate performance and pushing one’s limit. I haven’t really cared too much about my climbing performance for decades but I do want to keep my hand in the game and realise that for every extra grade I can squeeze out of these aging bones, another new world of climbing possibilities opens up. So how to break the plateau? What new things can we try? Would building that home woody make a difference?
We live in the Blue Mountains, with over 4000 routes on our doorstep, but in order improve climbing performance we needed to train efficiently and effectively which can’t be achieved by simply climbing on rock. Time and the amount of skin on ones fingertips are two limiting factors. In the past we’d drive over an hour to one of the climbing gyms in Sydney; SICG in Villawood is the best lead climbing facility available and the new 9 Degrees Parramatta gives us our bouldering fix. Trips to the gym were time consuming and so we long discussed options for building our own wall.
It helped that the builders were climbers, being a clown is optional. Elmar Jerg and Steve Moon
We moved into our dream home three years ago; we plan to be here for a while, so building a wall was an option. The questions were, did we have the space and could we afford it? Despite having a fantastic double garage the roof was just too low for building a decent wall. If the ceiling had been higher I could have built the wall myself and it would not have cost much at all. But to gain the vertical height that we needed we had to cut into the ceiling and remove two trusses. That entailed engineers to draw up the plans and builders to do the work, costing thousands. Our logic was that if we were going to build a woody we wanted to build something good, something we’d actually use. We decided to bite the bullet and go for it.
The next question then was what type of woody did we want? A standard woody with random holds that we’d use to make up our own problems, or something more scientific? Neither Monique or I have the time nor inclination to set problems and change them periodically, so we opted for a “Moon Board”. The Moon Board is the brain child of English climber Ben Moon who devised a climbing wall that can be replicated worldwide by following specific building instructions which dictate the size of the board (2.44m wide by 3.63m long), the angle of the wall (40 degrees overhanging) and the spacing of the holds. It utilises a specific set of holds which are bolted onto the wall in specific locations, and it has an LED lighting system with a light below each hold. What makes it so useful is that it is supported by an app; you select a problem on the app and it lights up on your wall showing which hand and footholds to use for that problem. Bingo! In fact, the main attraction of the Moon Board is the community, by using the app you can climb the same problems as other climbers from all around the world, there are over 8000 graded problems that other climbers have submitted.
Climbing photographer Simon Carter at work photographing the first ascent of the West Peak of Mt Huashan, China. Credit: Leo Houlding
The Moon Board is great for building pure power and contact strength but the problem, for me, it that it’s basically too bloody hard. So I was dead set against it until last year when they released a new set of larger holds and it became much more appealing. Still, I wanted more, so we managed to add an extra meter onto the side of the wall where we have installed some jugs for warming up and our daughter to play on, and a set of “HIT” “Hypergravity Isolation Training” strips which are the brainchild of American climber Eric Horst. We’ll see how that goes. Most importantly, we sourced a really good gym mat to land on.
The final cost of our home wall has been eye watering but it was worth it. What was a storage space has been transformed into to a play room. We can now train when we want to. Monique will be able to use it for coaching her clients and warming up at home before heading out for a few shots on a project will save time and skin. And having friends around for bouldering, beers and BBQ’s is the best bit of it all. After all these years, we finally got around to building our dream woody. We’re trying something new and we are psyched!
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