In the early 1980s, Ben Moon emerged as one of the great British climbers and went on, over a 20 year period, to force UK standards, repeat the hardest routes abroad as well as adding his own top level challenges around the world. He has been a figurehead in the sport climbing movement that emerged in the 1980s as well as being synonymous with the bouldering explosion that dominated British and world climbing in the 1990s. He developed new training ideas and took them as far as they had been taken before. His routes and problems are still amongst the very hardest in the Peak District, and his additions elsewhere are often the classics of the upper grades.
He has starred in iconic videos, from the distinctly underground One Summer: Bouldering in the Peak, to the sport climbing document Buoux 8c, as well as the high-life-living The Real Thing, perhaps the coolest climbing film ever made.
He is an inspiration and a legend. But most of all he’s a climber.
Moon served a deeply traditional apprenticeship, something of a surprise given his trend-setting activites of later years. A chance day top roping on a roadside outcrop in the Lakes while on a family holiday gave the seven-year-old a buzz he hadn’t had before and he was immediately hooked. This lead to an obsession. Climbing magazines replaced schoolbooks and an academic career went by the wayside. As soon as he could, Ben left school behind forever and the sixteen-year-old punk rocker left his native London to years spent sleeping on friends’ floors, dusty caves or indeed anywhere there was climbing to be found.
It’s hard to overstate the impact and influence Ben has had on British climbing since the early-1980s. As climbing changes, as fresh ideas and new perspectives come along and change the nature of the activity, it is often the influence of a small number of characters that have the greatest effect. These people tend to be charismatic as well as being able to deliver the goods and they lay down the foundations and challenges for those who follow. Ben Moon has certainly played this role in British climbing.
Ben first rose to prominence in the UK when he was only seventeen with his first ascent of Statement of Youth on Llandudno’s Lower Pen Trwyn. This beautiful climb was one of the hardest routes in the country (second only to Dumbarton’s Requiem) yet rose more eyebrows due to the fact it was completely reliant on six bolts for protection, something of a record at the time. From this point on Ben would forever be the epitome of the new breed of sport climbers that were starting to emerge.
Moon was a worthy star of the sport and soon proved he had the abilities to match his renown. He quickly repeated or added the hardest climbs in the UK then went to France, then the crucible of world sport climbing, where he really made an impact.
At Buoux, France’s proudest cliff, he set about repeating the testpieces then in 1989 he redpointed Agincourt, a ground-breaking ascent giving France its first 8c, the tongue-in-cheek name hinting at beating the French at their own game. When photographs of Agincourt appeared in On The Edge climbing magazine after the ascent it had traditionalists stroking their beards in awe. Moon is captured, feet swinging free, his whole body hanging off the tiny tips of three fingers. The iconic caption was a quote from Moon: “When 6c just isn’t that hard any more and 6b is approaching a rest.” These (British technical) grades were then the top level in traditional climbing, showing just how far Moon had taken the sport.
But Moon led even sport climbing down new paths. A lot of the hardest routes in France were becoming longer and were jokingly referred to as ‘stamina plods’, dismissing them with the notion that anybody could get up them with enough application. Instead Moon gravitated towards the cult of power, explosive moves that were the sole preserve of the world’s strongest climbers. In this sense Ben once again laying the trail that climbing would follow right to this present day. Training harder and harder and on ever more intensive programmes eventually gave him the power to succeed on Hubble. This short climb, only three bolts long, was exactly what Ben was looking for as a test of his strengths and when completed it became the world’s first 8c+. Still today it has only had a handful of repeats.
The obsession with short, desperate power climbs led naturally to a new interest in bouldering. By the mid-1990s Moon was bouldering almost exclusively, one of the few climbers in Britain with this approach at the time. Given its popularity today it’s hard to imagine that bouldering was once an underground activity. Once again, thanks to a dominance of the activity and a long series of outstanding first ascents and repeats, Ben became synonymous with bouldering the way he once had with sport climbing.
While the boulders on Yorkshire gritstone, Northumberland and Peak limestone all hold top-notch additions from Ben, it is his sit start to Voyager that surely stands most proud, perhaps the hardest problem on grit. This outstanding 8b+, taking a fantastic line only at one of grit’s most popular crags was first climbed in 2006, and to this day remains unrepeated. It is a worthy testament to his powers and vision.