by Lou Weth
Just what is the definition of ‘short’ in climbing terms? At a smidgin short of 5’4” (162cm) I think of myself as short-ish, as most of the women and all the men I climb with are taller than me. I shy from leading routes with ‘long’ or ‘reach’ in the description; if your average guidebook writer thinks you need to stretch a bit I am quite likely to find it necessitates the kind of telescopic manoeuvre where you can’t actually breathe anymore because your ribs are so extended. I do remember though, years ago, a 6’ friend asked how I was able to climb Billingsgate at Millstone Edge, as he found it reachy; my response was that I just climbed between the holds.
This is about a route where there is no ‘in-between’.
Trepidation, then, as ex-President orders me to do Kinky Boots at Baggy Point, one of those classic Devon routes everyone should do, but no-one could ever assure me I would be able to do (and it’s not the grade I’m talking about). You know the one: “fall across the zawn…”. My beta is that instead of falling with both hands you can reach with one hand, follow with one foot and the second hand, then ‘just step over’; except for me the holds I can reach are not the large, chalk-covered ones, but some about 8 inches lower and to the right and rather less useful; and once one toe is (just) touching the opposite side my balance is quite wrong for ‘stepping over’. It’s going to have to be a definite upward pull using side-holds at full-stretch – all over that sea-churned gap.
After several teetering retreats, either succumbing to the nerves or needing to relax the overstretched groin, I eventually fling caution to the winds and launch myself across. Surprised to find I do, in fact, stick to the rock the rest of the pitch follows enjoyably. However the next problem is finding someone to second the pitch. The first contender is only 5’1” (155cm) and, despite having the annoying habit of out-bouldering me on moves I say I can’t reach, is literally doing the splits when her foot is across and can’t move to reach anything to pull across on. In fact, the only way she gets back is courtesy of a heave on a back-rope. Eventually conceding defeat the rope is passed on to contender no. 2, towering above her at a lanky 5’3” (160cm). Those 2 inches prove decisive, as she can just get her hands on the same holds as me, makes the move and the route is in the bag.
So there you have it, the minimum height for Kinky Boots is empirically tested by the Pinnacle Club as 5’3” and aspirants of 5’1” needn’t bother tying on the rope. (Sorry, no.1)