Making the Grade Part 2

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Mark Cobb MTG pt2 Cover

Is he high up or is the ground just below?


Part 2 of 5


Part 1


A visit to Burbage Valley is hugely popular with the whole family and we always end up on ‘The Dog’. I remember a battle I had on the back of this wonderful boulder, the aptly named Dog’s Arse, with the lines from right or left of this, both being quite thuggy with some off width jamming thrown in. (Sounds professional, but was probably more like trying to get any part of my body to somehow stay in the flared crack while desperately hoping my fingers caught on to something with some friction on it). From left of the crack, from sitting, there are some lovely moves, laying back to start, a perfectly positioned smeary foothold, a grippy sloper (for a change) just at the correct placement, and the chance to look graceful via a well-chosen flag out to the right. All of this results in a lovely V6 and I often repeat it, as it flows so well.

From the right of the crack though, it’s a struggle.

Getting off the ground is very positional and powerful. The layback are not as good (in fact, I would go so far as to say that it is the definition of ‘poor’) and it’s really hard to get one’s feet in the right place, all smears and slips and grit-skating. The last time I tried it, I hit the mat with a glorious thud, just as I reached for glory towards the higher, slightly better hold. Having managed to complete it once before, it was a matter of pride to have to climb it again.

Damn those internal machinations.

The first time I climbed it, I topped out with the joy of unexpected victory. This was tempered by the fact that I hadn’t breathed for what seemed like nearly ten minutes, my forearms felt like Popeye’s and my knees and shins looked like I’d been sandpapering them on the top out. This time, the feeling of managing the problem was one of exaltation, although I’m not sure if this was because it was a V7, or because it felt like finally undoing that ancient rusty screw, or prising the lid from a 200 year old jam jar. (It also felt so much harder.)

A climbing Cobb

Before I tried this boulder route, I wanted to do it because it was a V7, (I know, very egotistic!) but after completing it, the feeling was more like a meditation, the climb only possible if every move was made accurately and with precision, while also trying to stay relaxed. Johnny Dawes has spoken of getting his ’being’ up a route, not just his body and this needed a subtle balance between the senses and the rock for success.

But……success on this route wasn’t about it being a good grade, the success was the inner contemplation, the peaceful accommodation of every gritty move, every grain of grit, the synergy between rock and skin, the meld of 2 unlike surfaces.

Each movement without thought, opposing forces working up through the crack, every fibre, every essence of soul being at once in control, but also free to flow, defying gravity along the line of least resistance.

Glacial movements.

A balance of control and desperation, until….right foot somehow sticks to an impossible smear, heel pushing back into the crack, enabling the final reach to the lip.

The top is reached.

The battle over. (Or maybe, the dance is complete. That sounds better.)

Such huge satisfaction. Exultation! A release, almost visible to the World. My cup runneth over and all that. It felt hard, much harder than coming from the left of the crack. But it gave rise to such joy, happiness and perhaps an egocentric satisfaction, crescendoing in waves as I pad across the rock to find an easy descent. Heart hammering, hands shaking, shins bleeding, knees burning, head bursting. Back to the mat and hot chocolate. Telling everyone every move, every bit that hurt. Smiling! Inside and out!

The adventure over, the next one beckoning. A boulder problem not climbed, and now climbed (by me, anyway). Possibilities made real.

Would I have put in so much effort for a problem with a lower grade?

Written by Mark Cobb, Climbing Ambassador for Brookes Climbing Wall. I would like to thank Simon Rawlinson, Niall Grimes and Katherine Schirrmacher for their wonderful contributions to this article. As ever, thanks to Johnny Dawes for his constant inspiration and motivation.

If you would like to have a go at climbing, why not contact our climbing wall at Oxford Brookes University Centre for Sport in Headington. For more information about climbing or email

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