It seems like a long time since I was last out/about…
For the first time in my life I seem to have been unlucky in the ‘days-off’ hand I have been dealt, with a few prior commitments getting in the way and opportunities to get out seemingly limited by work, daylight or weather.
Since getting back from Australia I’ve had a few real stand-out days of climbing, so much so that the lack of recent activity – whilst a little frustrating – isn’t the end of the world.
Perspective, maintain a sense of perspective.
I always forget this…
First up in the trio of class days out was Simon’s Seat in North Yorkshire.
This is moorland grit at its finest: both location and aspect are stunning, the rock is incredible and the routes, highballs and boulder problems were all superb. Highlights included And She Was, a neat little (well…little-ish) Font 6b highball and Bird Flu, a fantastic 7b arete over at the Hen Stones.
Having only just returned from Oz this was exactly what I needed, mileage broddling around on the brown rock – micro-fun at it’s best.
The following weekend the forecast was, once-again, looking somewhat patchy. In a show of commitment we decided to follow the forecast west, ending up in the far-flung county of Lancashire (I know, what were we thinking…).
Thorn Crag isn’t a crag that gets visited by Peakies that frequently, the reasons mostly being down to distance/laziness and not the quality – the problems are all of an exceptionally high standard (and you can see the sea too). Highlights here were Slice of Life, 7a (the lowest highball you’ll ever do), Mothership Reconnection, 7a+ (home appliance hugging at it’s best) and Elemental, 6c (which contains one of the best features on grit).
Click here to download Greg Chapman’s excellent Lakes Bloc Guide to Thorn Crag and make an excuse to get yourself over there as soon as possible!
After three weeks back I realised I hadn’t actually climbed in Derbyshire, this clearly needed to be remedied and a group of us decided to pool as many pads as we could muster underneath anything we could get our hands on at Froggatt.
I managed to sketch my way up Narcissus before the send-train started and it all became hilarious. It’s amazing how a problem can go from feeling intimidating one minute to a laugh the next. I had a play on Johnny’s Benign Lives, but had to sit back and watch Mark Rankine style his way to the top. It was fantastic to see him do this in such good style, whilst I would have loved to have done it sometimes you just know that it’s not your day – particularly when climbing gritstone slabs such as these. You can’t force them…
A week ago I was nominated by friend and filmmaker Guy Van Gruening to take part in the five day Black and White Challenge.
Not an ice-bucket in sight, this was (to my knowledge) just about putting five pretty pictures onto Facebook. Puerile, possibly; but actually quite an interesting process as I had never looked at what made a quality black and white shot before. It turned out to be quite different from what I’d expected and was a good trip down memory lane along the way.
Here’s my five days:
In 2009 Alex Haslehurst and I went to Yosemite Valley with the objective of climbing a big wall. With ideas well above our station we ended up on The Shield, arguably the classic aid climb on El Cap. This photo was taken looking down the final of the three crux pitches, a stunning 60m long hairline crack – beaks, cam hooks and HB Offsets galore!
There are, fortunately for us mere mortals, not many people in this world like Nick Bullock. Our 2012 trip to Canada was a whirlwind tour of the areas hard routes, this shot being taken on one of our ‘rest’ days when we climbed the classic WI6 on the Stanley Headwall – Nemesis.
After a summer of long days, it’s nice to get back to basics on the small brown rocks, early nights, soup and red wine. Here Duncan Campbell climbs Satin (F7a) at Stanage Plantation during a particularly atmospheric dusk.
Neil Dickson on the harrow-fest that is Honeydew (E5 5c) at Craig Doris on the Lleyn Peninsula. Known for it’s loose rock, this route throws in a complete lack of protection to add to the mix/risk/excitement/allure. I’d always liked this shot in colour, but the black and white really bring out the texture of the pebbles at the base of the cliff.
A very young looking Alex Haslehurst on The Higginson Scar (F6c) at Porth Ysgo. The gabbro boulders that lines this section of coastline are arguably the best blocs in North Wales, the venue itself is stunning too which only adds to the venues appeal.
A few weeks have passed since I got back from Australia and now seems like the right time to post a few pictures of the actual climbing we did, first from the Grampians and then of Arapiles.
The two areas complement each other perfectly: Arapiles with it’s many thousands of accessible, high quality routes only minutes walk from the campsite and the Grampians for it’s beauty, wildness and more remote feel. Having these areas close together, particularly in a continent as large as Australia (!), is a real blessing.
Keep an eye out on UKClimbing for Destination Articles for each of these venues over the coming weeks.
I’ve just got back from a month long trip to Australia, climbing at both Mount Arapiles and The Grampians.
In order to buy some time whilst the jet lag wears off, here’s a few pictures of some of the hilarious wildlife – it really was off the scale! Alongside that there’s a few landscape shots of what was, from the small part of it we saw, an absolutely stunning country.
Over the past month I’ve decided to stick with the sport climbing theme.
To begin with, I managed to climb my second 8a – The Crucifixion – at Raven Tor. This 40m stamina test-piece took more sessions than I would have liked (or expected), but was worth every bit of effort. It left me fitter than ever and hatched a bit of an idea in the back of my mind…
The Yorkshire Triple Crown consists of the three best 8a+s on the three best crags in Yorkshire (and therefore the world): Urgent Action at Kilnsey, The Groove at Malham and Supercool at Gordale.
Clearly I wasn’t going to do this, at least not this year…
No, an alternative of equal quality could easily be found for a climber operating in the high 7s (i.e. me): Dominatrix at Kilnsey, New Dawn at Malham and Pierrepoint at Gordale. The more observant amongst you will no doubt have noticed that these all feature in the good book too.
Whilst living in Wales these routes had always seemed too far to travel when success seemed so unlikely – I simply wasn’t good enough – and the amount of time it would have required to do them was unjustifiable. Fast forward to present day and things have changed a little. Not only would it be possible to do them, but it should be possible to do them all by the time I leave for Australia on 4th October.
Ambitious, but something inspiring enough to really work towards.
First up came Dominatrix, which I climbed in a single session. Taking so little time on the route meant that I’ve invariably got a bit less to say about it.
This isn’t to say that Dominatrix was uninteresting – it’s one of the best 7cs I’ve done – but more that when you do something quickly there is less of a relationship with the route. I felt exactly the same way when I did the Regular NW Face of Half Dome in a Day, in comparison to spending 5 days on The Shield on El Cap the experience seemed rather rushed/hollow. I suppose I prefer the experiences I have on routes more than the routes themselves.
Next was New Dawn. This one didn’t go quite so easily, not by a long shot, and as a result I have a rather vivid memory of the route.
Having climbed The Prow, Crucifixion etc.. at Raven Tor my stamina/endurance was at an all time high, but Malham (if you are to attribute thoughts to a crag) doesn’t care about that sort of thing. In fact, I’m not sure Malham cares for much less than absolute perfection of movement. That’s not too much to ask for is it? Kilnsey is so two-dimensional in comparison: pull, pull and pull harder. If the two crags were to be in a relationship then Kilnsey would be the bullish alpha male, but Malham would without doubt be the one really in charge.
Anyhow, one session was spent working the moves.
And there really are so many moves!
So many moves, so little progress. The handholds are alright, but the footholds are – in all honesty – not actually footholds, just blackened smears that when the body is twisted in such a way, between exact parameters (no deviation) will allow you to place your feet upon them. This, in my opinion is different from a foothold. One step wrong, or decide to breathe mid-sequence, and you’re off. Malham is so mightily unforgiving.
Next session I was on for the red-point. First go I miscalculated one of the 1001 foot swaps at the end of the mid-height traverse, getting muddled, pumped and before long airborne. Second go: a food popped off one of those imaginary footholds. Third go: I had my hands on the ledge at 2/3rds height (yes…the ledge) with no beans left in the bag to surmount it. Fourth go it all seemed a bit unlikely: I was tired from previous effort, but somehow it all went to plan. How and why I do not know…
Such is Malham, such is the relationship you have with a route when projecting, and such is the nature of the final, perfect redpoint – sometimes it can occur at the most unlikely of moments.
Gordale is a crag with a very unique character: gothic, dark and intimidating. Yet contrary to this moodiness is the fact that it is usually filled with tourists, walkers and danger picnic-ers waiting to catch the occasional mobile hold that comes flying from above. It’s also the only place that you’re likely to get a standing ovation simply for failing to red-point your route.
Pierrepoint suited most of my strengths, yet for some reason took the greatest number of sessions of all the routes in my Poor Man’s Triple Crown.
Was it, as a result, the best?
Maybe, maybe not – they’re all good. What I will say is that those moves up to the first roof are some that I could envisage before going to bed at night, I really enjoyed them. In a strange way I find them quite a comforting mantra. To know something so intimately, what a special thing.
It is unlikely that I’ll be re-engaging in any further projecting before I leave for Australia, but it has been a real pleasure in morphing into a sport climber over the past few months. The routes, the people and the places have all been fantastic.
1 month / 7 sessions later and it’s done. I have climbed 8a, or more precisely I have climbed The Prow at Raven Tor.
Whilst trying the route I wrote a diary for each session I spent working it, initially I had planned to publish them here on the blog…then I read them and realised they were inconceivably boring… As a result I thought I’d take a slightly different approach and talk a little about the build up to climbing the route and some of the of the small adjustments I made to my lifestyle/routine that made a difference – all in all this seemed like a much more interesting topic!!
To begin with, here’s a little video made by my friend Jack Geldard whilst we were out in Patagonia – it sets the scene quite nicely.
I’d actually forgotten all about this, but watching it did remind me of how much effort I had put in throughout the winter and the focus I had placed exclusively on rock climbing (as an alternative being an all-rounder inc. winter/alpine climbing). This focus had made me stronger than ever before, but maybe not much fitter owing to most of the climbing being on gritstone; however, one thing I know is that strength/power – certainly for me – are harder to acquire than fitness/stamina so I was on to a winner. This doesn’t always translate to trad climbing as there’s so much else going on psychologically, but sport climbing it made a real difference and gave me greater reserves that I had ever had, particularly in terms of ‘pull’.
This idea of having greater reserves linked in nicely with a lecture I had attended by Mina (Leslie Wujasyk) at last years Kendal Mountain Festival. Throughout the talk she introduced the concept of ‘Self Efficacy’ and the principles outlined in Lanny Bassham’s book ‘With Winning in Mind’. One particular concept that I liked the idea of was the ‘positive affirmation statement’, which was a short positive statement that outlined your goals, intentions and inevitably – if you stuck to them, believed in them – your objectivewould be achieved. These statements have the habit of sounding a bit cheesy, but I think that it did make a difference to my mindset. I repeated mine to myself so many times that the week before I climbed The Prow I’d even dreamt I’d climbed it! Here’s a copy of mine (try not to vomit):
Another reason for my success on both The Prow and 8a was that I really wanted to do it. I had tried The Prow a couple of times last year but never really got into it, throughout the evenings Raven Tor gets pretty mobbed with people and the start of The Prow (which is shared with Body Machine) is usually crowded. I knew that in order to climb it I needed to change my approach and rather conveniently the flexibility of my job allowed this. Raven Tor is in best condition throughout the morning, when conditions are cooler and the sun is off the crag; furthermore, it is much, much quieter and therefore allowed me to get stuck into the route without distraction (or guilt that I’m hogging the route). As a result, instead of coming back from every session feeling stressed I came back having really enjoyed myself. Progress also came much quicker as a result of this positive mental attitude and also of the quality of the time I was spending on the route. This really was a revelation to have turned the tables around on an experience I had previously found quite unappealing.
Finally, I subscribed to that David Brailesford concept of micro (or marginal) gains. If there was anything I could do, no matter how small/subtle a change, to help me get up that route I was going to do it. I developed a good morning routine that included a Sun Salutation A+B, then putting the kettle on and doing a selection of shoulder stretches, thera-band exercises for my elbows and a pigeon stretch to loosen my glutes. I’d usually do this again just before lunchtime, each time repeating my positive affirmation statement to further reinforce the belief that I could do it and was going to do it. Whilst on the route I not only dialled each and every move, but dialled every clip to the extent of knowing which way the quickdraw was facing, how far it was extended and whether or not it was worth skipping on the red-point. I then thought my way through each move from bottom to top every night before I went to sleep and every morning before I got up.
Obsessive behaviour, but ultimately fulfilling because I did it. As a result though, it does get you thinking “if I can do this, what else can I do?”. Not just in climbing, but in other aspects of both my personal/professional life. It’s an empowering process, but nice to have it all over and done for the time being, it’s probably not overly healthy to be that intense for too long. In fact, the day after I did The Prow I went for a lighthearted boulder around the Derwent skyline – just me, my bouldering mat and a camera. It was a stunning evening. Still climbing, but something so very different from what I had just gone through. Change. It keeps things so fresh…
Around a year and a half ago I boarded a flight to Margalef expecting that within the three week duration of my trip I would climb my first 8a. Having already been on a successful trip to Siruana the month before I felt confident of success – it was an inevitability…
In retrospect it was quite obvious that I was simply not good enough to warrant that level of cockiness. The reality of the situation is that 8a is something I would like to have climbed, but when it comes to actually climbing it I fall short on a number of grounds – ironically I don’t feel that ability is one of these factors (I know I can climb 8a!!).
The first reason behind my historic failure is that red pointing is not my preferred style of climbing. I much (much, much, much…) prefer getting the mileage in, doing lots of more moderate routes in lots of difference places – that’s what inspires me. The idea of trying a single route again and again and again is my idea of hell. What usually happens when I begin to work a route is that I try it over a couple of sessions, then either do it or give up and go trad climbing instead. Obviously this approach isn’t going to work if an 8a is to be climbed, because 8a’s are hard.
And that’s the next factor – it is not going to be easy.
Face facts: you’re going to have to work for it.
And that’s it I suppose. It’s not just about saying ‘I want to climb 8a’ (which does sound good), it’s about actually going out and trying to climb an actual 8a… I am aware that it is just a number, a puerile tick, but we all need our reasons and I suppose mine is that I know I can do it – I’ve just never been willing to put the effort in.
And there we have it: put the effort in.
I don’t feel there is any more to say reading the matter…
Type 1: True fun, enjoyable while it’s happening Type 2: Fun in retrospect Type 3: Never, ever fun
I’ve just got back from a weeks stay in Mallorca, a week which could very much be categorised by Type 1 Fun.
I usually find this type of fun lacks a bit of depth, leading to it being – ultimately – a little less memorable than it’s more robust Type 2 counterpart. Something about fun in the real-time just doesn’t last as long afterwards.
Maybe deep water soloing offers a link between Type 1 and Type 2 fun, being that it is both fun and extremely memorable. In fact, I don’t think I have laughed so much throughout a days climbing in my life – maybe the two are connected? It also has that (necessary?) element of fear, seeing as no matter how brave you are falling from height into Davey Jones’ Locker is intimidating to say the least.
Over the past month and a half I have been away just about every weekend, this coupled with my day-job at UKClimbing and the BMC Alpine Essentials Lectures I’ve been giving throughout the evenings haven’t left me with much time for writing.
They have, however, left me with a lot of photographs so here’s a few highlights – enjoy!
Yellow Pearls (E5 6b) at Trevellan, definitely not a gritstone slab… This was the first pumpy route I’d got on all year and it would suffice to say that my arms wilted under the pressure. My ability to pull upwards was better than ever owing to the winters bouldering, but hanging around to place gear was testing to say the least. A couple of falls later and I was at the top – what a way to start the year!
Another weekend back in Pembroke I ended up at Mother Carey’s with visiting German climbers Benno and Sebastien. They headed straight for the steepest rock they could find and did the classic E5 Just Klingon. As always, great to climb with foreign climbers that are highly motivated for the trad!
After climbing on the Space Face we headed around the corner to the neighbouring – and less frequented – Blind Bay, home of The One Eyed Man (E5 6a). This route ticked just about every box: wild, adventurous, pumpy and committing. The concept of deep water soloing this greatly excites me, but I’m glad I did it with a rope – wouldn’t want to get too excited after all.
Somehow I had never visited St. Govans East until very recently. With the conditions experienced that weekend it was the perfect venue as it was out the wind and got the morning sun. Whilst many others were climbing in jackets, we were lapping it up in shorts and t-shirts. Here we did Brave New World (E4 6a/pictured above), Imagination (E4 6a), Forbidden Fruits (E3 5c) and First Blood (E2 5c) – all absolute classics.
Due to a last minute change in weather we made the decision to head to Swanage last weekend (and not Pembroke as planned). For those that haven’t been Swanage offers a something a little different, at first everything feels totally out there due to the abundance of loose rock and dusty top-outs, then…well…actually it continues to feel like that, you just get a little more used to it! Here Duncan Campbell wrangles his way up the mind boggling 5a pitch of the ‘benchmark HVS’ – Jo.
It was a bit early for testing the deep water – which looked freezing – but doing a spot of deep water soloing without falling was great (although maybe this is just soloing?). Here Mal Scott climbs Freeborn Man (6c), much to the amazement of the onlookers who were clearly hoping to see some airtime.
Same route, different pants. Here Howard Lawledge cranks it out in his underwear, Wazza-style…
This week I have been travelling around the UK with British Mountain Guide and North Wales resident Tim Neill. In the picture above he is on the New Mills Tor classic Bionics Wall (E4 6a). I was quite surprised by this little venue, whilst being urban is has a certain charm about it – I’ll definitely be back.
Finally, my 90th route in Extreme Rock – Deja Vu (E5 6b) at Kilnsey.