20-09-2009 by joost
Special thanks to Chuck Fryberger for the pictures, video stills and inspiration.
Nalle Hukkataival (23) is a pro climber from Helsinki, Finland. For Nalle, climbing is not about climbing itself. It’s about travelling, going to different places and meeting new people. His life seems to be one big adventure, searching for hard boulder problems and new area’s. Climbing is his way of life.
Sometimes Nalle competes in the World Cup competition, but his focus is on outdoor bouldering. Nalle’s goals are to reach his personal best, have fun, look for new stuff and maybe give something back to the sport. Over the years he managed to repeat some of the worlds hardest boulder problems and push the limits with his first ascents.
FA of a world class problem; Sunseeker V13, Mt. Evans, CO
When did you start climbing and how did you start competition climbing?
I started climbing about 10 years ago, when we went to try climbing with my school class. I got psyched on it right away and joined a kids climbing group at a local gym. After I had been climbing for a few years, no-one really knew about me, but one time the national team coach saw me training at a gym and asked me if I wanted to come to the Nordic Championships with the national team. I was very surprised to be asked, but decided to go and I won the comp. Since then I’ve been in the Finnish national team.
Any other activities besides climbing?
I used to skate a lot when I was a kid. Now I own a skateboard, longboard, snowboard, wakeboard and a BMX bike, although it’s hard to find the time for all these.
Longboarding in Helsinki. Photo: Chuck Fryberger
What education did you do before becoming a pro, and when did you decided to become one?
I finished high school and after that I’ve been travelling around for climbing. Throughout high school, all I really cared about was being able to climb and travel and that is definitely not where you get by studying hard.
Was it hard to tell your parents you weren’t going to become an accountant, doctor or pilot?
Not really, no. They have always been very supporting.
Do you feel any pressure as a pro climber to raise the roof and repeat hard problems?
I feel the urge to raise the roof, but that has nothing to do with being a pro. Taking pressure, say from your sponsors, to do things would take the fun out of it, which is why we climb in the first place.
For me things happen naturally, or they don’t happen. What I mean is that you need to be psyched to do your best and if you’re not, you just can’t give your 100 percent.
FA of ‘Hole in One’ 7C+ at Rocklands, ZA
You’ve climbed at a few international competitions from 2005 until 2007 with some quite impressive results. In 2008 you participated in one world cup and you did the same in 2009. It’s needless to ask if outdoor climbing is more important to you then competition climbing but what is it that you like about competitions? How come you’ve raised your limits as an outdoor climber but your competition results have gone downwards?
Yes, this is true. I wouldn’t even use the word priority, outdoor climbing is the whole thing for me. When I started climbing 10 years ago, I only climbed on plastic. I had never tried rock climbing.
When I could climb up all the walls at the gym, I quit. It didn’t make any sense to me to start eliminating holds, because the way I looked at it at that time, the goal was to get up the wall. About 2 years later I tried rock climbing with my friends and that was my thing. After discovering rock climbing, climbing on plastic made a whole lot more sense to me, as a form of training for real climbing, just like bikers sometimes train on exercise bikes.
When it comes to competitions, it’s hard for me to take it very seriously, because for me it is just climbing on plastic. Climbing on rock is also often quite different compared to plastic, especially the comp problems they set nowadays. You really need to train on plastic to do well in the comps. I’m much stronger and a better climber than what I was a few years ago, when I was doing well in the comps, it’s just that at that time I trained a lot on plastic.
I don’t think people really understand how big of a difference it is to be a top competition climber and a top rock climber. If you ask me, you really have to make a choice there. Also there can be other reasons. A good example is from the Vail World Cup this year. I had been growing skin to try the super-sharp Jade, but first I competed in the World Cup. Problem was that my skin had grown so hard and thick, that it made it very difficult to stick to the big plastic slopers in the comp. In between tries, instead of chalk, I put water on my hands, which helped the friction for a second. Needless to say, I didn’t do that well in the comp, but some days later I climbed Jade. It all comes down to what you’re psyched on and I definitely didn’t regret my choice.
‘James’ Giant Peach’ 8A, Koh Tao, Thailand & Project at The Otherside, Rocklands
What’s the difference between training for competition and training for outdoor ascents?
Besides from what I said above, for comps you need to train for medium difficulty problems. The problems are not that hard; between 7B and 8A usually. Compared to climbing an 8C boulder on rock, that’s a HUGE difference. You need to be able to take lots of tries in a short period of time without getting pumped and recover fast between problems. This is just the opposite of what you what you do outdoors; you take your time and don’t have to worry about recovering, you give it a go when you feel strong. Sometimes when I’m in a bouldering comp, I get so pumped that I feel like I’m in a lead comp.
Another major thing is being able to read the problems right away. Reading plastic problems is very difficult, when you are used to climbing on rock. Most of the top competition climbers know the holds, they know how it’s best to grab them. They also know the route setters and their individual setting styles, which helps for reading the problems. Also when you know what grade the problems are supposed to be, that can tell you if you’re trying something wrong. It’s a game of it’s own to put it short.
Do you have any competition goals for the future? Become World Champion?
No, I don’t have any goals for competitions. I’m sure I’ll do some comps every now and then. It can be fun as long as it’s not too much. Becoming a World Champion doesn’t really interest me, I would rather be outside putting up cool new problems.
Cage Free V10, Boulder Canyon, CO.
Can you please give a reaction to the next two quotes…
…Chris Sharma to the Lowdown:
“The hardest problems today are either super painful because the holds are
so small, or really, really condition dependant… it’s not fun anymore…
it doesn’t really interest me to climb 8C+ or whatever. I think it’s
difficult to get much further, unless the problems simply get longer, but
why not climb a route then instead? On a route, you can have 8A sequences
stacked on top of eachother… there’s no limit there.”
I do agree with Chris to some degree, the hard problems are getting more friction dependent for sure, but not necessarily more painful. I can’t see the holds getting much smaller than the smallest crimps right now, instead the moves are getting bigger and more dynamic. Climbing on smaller and smaller holds would be so painful that it just wouldn’t be fun.
I’m intrigued by pure difficulty, that’s why I boulder. When problems start getting much longer we get further away from what bouldering is all about, which for me at least is maximum difficulty moves. A lot of the long routes out there are like doing pull-ups; anyone can do one, but doing 100 in a row is hard. I really love highballs, because the height brings in the mental aspect also.
…Tyler Landman to Dutch climbing magazine BLOK (freely translated):
“If you’d ask me if Jade is an 8C… I’ll say no. Same thing with the two 8C’s I climbed in Fontainebleau (Satan I Helvete assis and Kheops assis). I don’t think the 8c grade exists yet.”
Ty definitely has a point there. The problem is that there have been proposed 8C’s around for almost ten years now, and still the 8C grade seems to be considered as the “next step”. I definitely don’t think 8C+ boulder exists yet, but I’m sure there are a few real 8C’s out there already. It’s hard to decide on the difficulty of Jade, because the crux is such a basic move, the type of move you do every time you go climbing. It’s just pure power; you either have what it takes or you don’t. However, I thought Jade was harder than the 8B+’s that I’ve climbed.
Now that 8C is not a settled grade at all, it makes grading new difficult problems really hard. Some are still pondering if a real 8C exists yet, and then there are people proposing 8C+’s at the same time (that later get downgraded several grades). I feel like my first ascent from this summer, Livin’ Large, is considerably harder than Jade or The Island, both given 8C.
Livin’ Large took me 12 days of hard work compared to the 2 and 4 days that Jade and The Island took me. Livin’ Large is by far the hardest thing I have ever climbed and still I proposed “only” 8C for it. The current situation makes it really hard to grade the hardest problems and just proposing 8C+ seems out of the question, when 8C is still after almost 10 years considered as cutting edge.
Nalle on top of ‘Livin’ Large’ 8c, Rocklands, ZA. Photo: Chuck Fryberger
You’ve climbed so many hard boulders… what are your goals and projects (boulders) for the future, which area’s do you want to visit?
I’ve spent the last years mostly travelling to famous bouldering areas and repeating classic problems and test pieces. Now that I’ve travelled around the world climbing in different areas with different climbing styles like Fontainebleau, Hueco, Rocklands, Switzerland, Japan, you name it… I feel like I have a very good understanding of different styles and what a good problem is all about. Also spending time in Fontainebleau and Hueco, the origin places of the Fontainebleau and Vermin grading systems, along with a lot of other places has helped me to get a pretty good “education” to grading. Now I feel like I’ve visited pretty much all the major areas around the world and now my focus is shifting towards first ascents and developing new areas.
Organizing a trip to Mongolia has been on my mind for a while now after hearing about the massive climbing potential there.
Aren’t you afraid to run out of problems or motivation?
Not at all! The amount of rock that we found this year in South Africa, would alone be enough for about 5 lifetimes.
If you’re worried about running out of motivation, you might want to question your motives to climb.
Chuck Fryberger is filming you right now, is there going to be a new movie? What is it about?
Yeah, the new movie film should come out next spring. Chuck is filming with his new Red Cam and all the footage that I’ve seen looks just amazing! We filmed a lot in South Africa this summer and among other things Chuck got about 12 days worth of footage of Livin’ Large, including the send. I’m super psyched to see that one myself!
Also he was in Finland with me and we shot some climbing around here. I guess his plan for the movie is to show a bit of the climbers lifestyles outside of climbing too, so we also filmed some longboarding and bridge jumping. One weekend we even filmed at a night club. Although when it’s edited, this probably won’t be too many seconds from the movie, I think it’s a really good way to show the climbers personalities.
Bridge jumping in Finland
If you go on a climbing trip, what’s the thing never missing in your backpack?
I want to say climbing shoes or water, but that would not be true. Maybe a headlamp.
Please finish the sentence: 15 years from now Nalle is…
Living on Pluto where I have started a new civilization. I shall name it Gnarnia and everyone there will do nothing but listen to Jack Johnson, watch Family Guy and play Bejeweled 2! They will live on yellow M&M’s. Everyone will be nice and cool and skate around to get everywhere…
…seriously, I have no idea.
Top three favourite bouldering area’s
Top three favourite music
There’s too much good music to choose from and my taste in music changes all the time.
Top three of climbers that should be interviewed after you
- Fred Nicole
- Dave Graham
- Jon Cardwell