Shufflings on the brown rock…

The past few weeks of good weather have taken time away from the usual schedule of blogging.

Rather than go into an exhaustive run-down of what’s been going on, here’s a selection of photos of some recent shuffling around on the brown rock…

Kaluza KleinBack in February I managed to head-point Kaluza Klein (E7 6b). This little route gets a bit of stick due to the fact it is both very short and quite soft for the grade. However, as is typical of so many of Johnny Dawes’s routes it has magnificent line, flamboyant moves and a memorable finish.

IMG_4539Calum Muskett Jumping on a Beetle (Highball 7b), another visionary piece from Johnny. Whilst over at Black Rocks we tried his direct – The Angel’s Share – which is a mind-blowing faith in friction exercise.  I am unsure of how to train this skill other than to do lots of climbing and increase that sensitivity and connection with the rock. As Bruce Lee put it “don’t think – feel”.

Benno Entropy's JawBenno Wagner on Entropy’s Jaw (E5 6b or Highball 6b+/c) at The Roaches. The rock along the Skyline is arguably some of the best that gritstone has to offer. Ed Booth took a fall from the top of this route and, despite the huge distance back to the ground, landed without harm –  such is the way of the modern highball approach. Without it my legs would have been broken long ago…

Andy Houseman at BrimhamWhilst the rock at Brimham may not be up to the standard of the Roaches Skyline, the magical nature of the venue more than makes up for it. Here Andy Houseman laps up the evening light during a quick trip up to Yorkshire.

Psycho CaleyPsycho (E5 6b or Highball 7a) is a route I have wanted to do for a long, long time but always found an excuse not to (i.e. it’s too high, looks too hard and is nearly always green). On this occasion there was no such luck and I did both Psycho and Psycho Direct Start.

Famous Grouse

Until a few weeks ago I had never climbed at Burbage West, odd seeing as it is one of the most accessible crags in the whole of the Peak. There I managed my first 7c, Famous Grouse Sit Start – not bad for someone who considers themselves a weak trad climber!

Charlotte Rampling

Visiting German Benno Wagner doesn’t usually get scared or fall, but on this occasion he did both on Charlotte Rampling (E6 or Highball 7a+) – another of Johnny’s routes!! He took off one item of clothing for each attempt – jumper, t-shirt, then vest. Thank goodness he didn’t fail again or spotting could have been a seriously intimate experience.

China in Your HandsAll of the above outline successes, so here is a quick failure. China in Your Hands (7b+) at Gardoms felt impossible when I went there a few months back, last weekend it felt possible – but unfortunately not possible enough! One to go back for…

A fresh start

So far 2014 has not been a fruitful year for climbing.

In fact, I could positively say that over the past month I cannot remember more than a single day where it has been dry enough to climb.

Duncan Campbell making the most of the evening light during our single day of climbing in January
Duncan Campbell making the most of the evening light during our single day of climbing in January

As a result, the past few weeks have been motivationally challenging to say the least; however, you can’t keep that sort of attitude up for long, much in the same way that it can’t – even though it may seem like it – rain forever, so I have been trying to use my time wisely to get settled into my new job at UKClimbing, learning to use my new camera and reading a few books that have been on the list for a while.

Here are a few photos taken on the aforementioned camera, which is a Canon EOS-M. Historically I have heavily relied on the Automatic mode of every camera I have owned, but with this recent investment I have vowed to use the Manual mode as much as possible in order to learn more about the skill (and art?) of how to take a good photograph. I don’t expect these early results to be record breaking in any way, but  it has been satisfying to put more into the process and, as a result, get more out of it too.

Nathan Lee on Spinal Slab at Robin Hood's Stride
Nathan Lee on Spinal Slab at Robin Hood’s Stride
Nathan Lee on Angle Arete Right at Robin Hood's Stride
Nathan Lee on Angle Arete Right at Robin Hood’s Stride
Robin Hood's Stride
Robin Hood’s Stride

 

Duncan Campbell - A man who's ego has taken a beating since moving to the Peak a few months ago.
Duncan Campbell – A man who’s ego has taken a beating since moving to the Peak a few months ago.

Patagonia Trip Report

Road to Chalten Patagonia
Welcome to Patagonia


At the 2004 Llanberis Mountain Film Festival I saw a lecture by Ben Bransby recounting the season he had just spent out in Patagonia. Throughout his two month stay the weather was so bad that he didn’t climb a single route – it sounded truly awful. Whilst I dislike starting with a negative, this was my first memory of ever having heard of Patagonia and it provides a good backdrop to the attitude I adopted when embarking on this trip – getting up a route in Patagonia was to be a blessing. Therefore, from a slightly different viewpoint, it seems like a rather positive place for me to begin…

On the bus ride from Calafate to Chalten I hovered just above my seat, nose pressed against the window. Just like the time when I first saw Tryfan, Mont Blanc and El Capitan there was that sense of eager anticipation, trying to glean every last detail out of the landscape before you. After two hours of nothing but baron featureless desert there came something, something dramatic. The almighty bulk of Fitzroy and it’s surrounding peaks, watching over the valley and keeping the gathering storm clouds at bay. All of a sudden we had been transported into a very different world, the wildness seemed so ripe it was ready to burst. Unbeknown to us, this was to be one of only a handful of days that we would actually see the mountains – such is the magic of Patagonia.

Fitzroy
The Fitzroy Massif with Poincenot on the left, Fitzroy in the middle and Memoz and Guillaumet on the right

One of the major appeals of climbing in Patagonia, as opposed to Nepal, is that there is a lot less hassle: no peak fees, no permits, no acclimatisation, no porters, and no pre-defined objectives. This sense of freedom was quite liberating and with the area having become more developed in recent years there is also a good number of sport climbs/boulders to keep yourself occupied when the weather in the mountains is bad. What more could you ask for?

The development of Chalten has changed climbing in the region in more ways than one. Patagonia has gone from being a major expeditionary undertaking into a trip; like the Alps, but with far more unpredictable weather, longer walk-ins due to the lack of lift access, and (possibly the greatest factor of all) the absence of a helicopter rescue service. Just because of this change in convenience however doesn’t make it any less serious (as I will discuss later) and the feeling of adventure is still very much there.

Bouldering in Patagonia
Just one of the many great boulders on the outskirts of town

Our original objective had been to climb the Ragni Route on Cerro Torre, but upon arrival news of poor conditions and not a single success on the route so far led us to turn our eye over towards the Supercanalete on Fitzroy.  This wasn’t too much of a disappointment as – just to repeat my statement from earlier – climbing anything in Patagonia was to be a blessing. It is best not to get too fixated on a single objective, particularly somewhere well renowned for fickle weather and conditions that vary radically from season to season.  Come with many ideas, but very few firm plans – kind of like Scotland really.

One week after our arrival the time came, we had our weather window. Just two days, but that was all that we needed to make an attempt on the route. Stupidly I had only packed a small 35 litre rucksack for the trip hoping that it would inspire me to go fast and light, in retrospect this was a poor decision as it made the walk-ins an absolute nightmare. Reading the guidebook again and again we had analysed our route, broke it down into sections and assessed our chances of success. We could do it, the route was ours.

Then we looked up.

Bad weather camping in Patagonia
Piedra Negra in sub-optimal conditions

The clouds cleared and revealed a monstrous and barely recognizable figure – Fitzroy – but not as you see it in the guidebooks, not as we had planned. Covered in rime from top to toe our unshakable confidence was very firmly shaken. This was not the expected. There are multiple 5/5+ (HVS) pitches at the top of the Supercanalete and climbing these in Scottish Mixed conditions was not only going to be hard (probably nearer VI/VII) but it was going to be time consuming. The decision didn’t take long to make as our weather window was simple not large enough to embrace a route of this size in that condition.

I didn’t see this as a negative, I had prepared for this – the only question was what to do instead. Jack was of the opinion that we should head further up the valley to inspect a new line off the Marconi Sur Glacier. I was of the opinion that we should continue as planned up to Piedro Negra and climb an easier objective on a neighboring peak, it was a very real concern that this could be the only opportunity we would get to climb something weather wise and we would be best using it by climbing a route. After a cup of coffee the decision was made: we would attempt the Comesana-Vonrouge on Agua Guillaumet, a classic of the region and ideal choice for our first route in Patagonia.

I won’t go in to specifics about the route like when we started, or blow by blow accounts of moves, because quite frankly that’s boring. What I will say is that it was a privilege to be up there. The route was in rather entertaining conditions, with many of the cracks covered in ice and the temperatures well below zero. The best way of describing the rather peculiar style we adopted was like Scottish Winter climbing, but using your hands instead of axes and rock boots instead of crampons. Insane. I’ve always like ridiculous climbing and in between the agonising hot cramps (of which no human can relate to because mine are so much worse) it was hard not to laugh at what we were doing. Standing on the summit looking over towards the smoking summit of Fitzroy, then on towards the endless Patagonian ice-cap was a moment to remember.

Looking down the vonrouge in Patagonia Guillaumet
Like Scottish Winter climbing, but without the gloves or crampons…
Jack on Vonrouge Patagonia Guillaumet
Like climbing in the Alps, but with a LOT more wind…
Guillaumet
Like the clouds, but would like it even more if they weren’t there…

Filming the route only added to the experience. Matt Pycroft had gone out of his way to impart all the film-making knowledge possible during the days of bad weather so that when the time came we could get the best footage possible. You only get the chance once and often it is the moments when you least wish to film that make the best viewing. The footage, which will be released as part of a six part series for Epic TV, will be released in the Spring – I am proud to have played a part in it’s creation and I look forward to seeing the final edit myself. Thanks to both Matt and Jack for involving me within this project and also to Marmot and DMM for the support.

On a sobering note, our return was greeted with the bad news – there had been a accident on the Supercanalete. A team from Sweden had been moving together up the initial gully when one slipped, the resulting fall pulled them off the route and back down the gully. Fortunately they had carried a Sat-Phone and another team on the route had managed to call the local rescue team. By the time we arrived it was 20:00. Unlike the Himalayas there is no option of helicopter rescue in Patagonia, in many ways making it a much more serious proposition. All rescues need to be mounted from Chalten, which from the base of the Supercanalete is a 5-6 hour walk. It is times like this when something truly inspirational occurs and that night the effort of the rescue team – comprised mainly of volunteer from the local community – and the climbers at Piedro Negra was something to behold. If that was me I know how much I would appreciate any help given, so we gave it our all. I am so glad that they got back to town alive. It cannot have been a nice experience for either of them, the help we offered was the least we could do. Thank-you to all those involved.

From this point on I can’t really say a great deal about the rest of the trip, being that it was thwarted by fairly unrelenting bad weather. I used much of my spare time to read, stretch, drink coffee and relax – it was Christmas after all. Patagonia is definitely somewhere I’d like to go back to. Cerro Torre and Fitzroy are two of the most aesthetic peaks I have seen and are reason enough to return, but then again so are Poincenot, Saint-Exupery, Demiluna, El Mojo – the list goes keeps on going.

Here’s to a fantastic 2014.

portrait rob greenwood
Having a quick breather between the boulders

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2013 Photo Round-up

Prior to publishing my trip report from Patagonia, here is a quick round-up of 2013.

Putting this together has made me realise just how few weekends I have actually spent at home!

Thanks to all those involved.

Early in the year I had a couple of trips to Spain, one to Siruana and one to Margalef
Early in the year I spent a lot of time in Spain, climbing in Siruana, Margalef and Monstant. After a winter of training I was proud to climb Siouxie – my first 7c+
Photo: Nick Brown
Benno Wagner, my climbing partner for much of the BMC International Meet. A good friend and a true hero, this shot was taken just after his fall off Lovely, Lovely, Lovely where he managed to sheer one of my ropes in half. Oops...
Benno Wagner, my climbing partner for much of the BMC International Meet. A good friend and a truly inspirational character, he inspired me to stop worrying and get on routes rather than think about them. This shot was taken just after his fall off Lovely, Lovely, Lovely where he managed to sheer one of my ropes in half – oops…
Dream Liberator in Bosigran's Great Zawn - just one of the many routes climbed throughout the BMC International Meet
Dream Liberator in Bosigran’s Great Zawn, just one of the many great routes climbed throughout the BMC International Meet. This week had to be one of the best weeks of my life. Thanks to Mike Hutton for permission to use this photo, it brings back some great memories.
Jack Geldard and Alex Luger having a silly time on the DMM Pumpenhausen Meet in May. Another opportunity to be impressed by foreign climbers. Here we are at the top of a very windy Rhoscolyn after Alex’s successful onsight of Dreams and Screams (E6 6b).
A great trip down to Pembroke with Gwen Lancashire and the remaining members of Team Germany.
After the DMM Pumpenhausen Tour ended the remaining members of Team Europe – Alex, Chrissy, and Catherine – joined us for a trip down to Pembroke. Gwen and I managed to amass 57 E-Points within our three day stay, with highlights being Monster Modello in Huntsman’s Leap and Just Klingon at Mother Carey’s Kitchen.
A great weekend deep water soloing at Swanage with Cherry. It was so warm we had to jump into the sea to cool down - that certainly hasn't happened before!
By June/July it was apparent that I wasn’t going to be spending many weekends around Sheffield. One weekend that stands out was a deep water soloing at Swanage with Cherry where we completed the ultra classic Freeborn Man, Fathoms, and Captain Bloods Cavern. It was so warm we had to jump into the sea to cool down – that certainly hasn’t happened before!
Dave Brown in and amongst the greenery in Chee Dale. I spent much of June/July down there making the most of the clean and dry conditions.
Chee Dale was where I spent most evenings throughout the week. Here Dave Brown gets in and amongst the greenery at Chee Tor. Whilst not my favourite place to go climbing in the world, it did provide some great/unique outings throughout the warm weather. The lowlight was the weather changing just before I could red point my project – Cry of Despair. I’ll be back!
Cherry and I were blessed with a superb week of weather when we visited Skye and the Outer Hebrides. The sea-cliffs on Lewis lived up to all that I had hoped for.
In July Cherry and I were blessed with a superb week of weather when we visited Scotland. We travelled up through Glen Coe and Glen Nevis, on to Skye, then finally climbing on the sea cliffs and mountain crags of Lewis/Harris.
The never ending good weather continued long enough for a trip to Scafell. Here, climbing with Mal Scott, we did such classics as Lost Horizons, Shere Khan, Nazgul, Saxon and White Wizard.
The never ending good weather continued long enough for a trip to Scafell, home of some of the best mountain rock in the British Isle. Here, climbing with Mal Scott, we did such classics as Lost Horizons, Shere Khan, Nazgul, Saxon and White Wizard.
I always get excitable when the bird nesting restrictions end and this year was no exception. Whilst we may not have done Caveman in the best style possible, it was a memorable experience and one that I won't forget for some time
In August I always get excited when the bird nesting restrictions end, this year was no exception. Whilst we may not have done Caveman in the best style possible, it was a memorable experience and one that I won’t forget for some time – I don’t think I’ve ever been so pumped!!
Mal Scott on Polaris at Swanage, another guano based extravaganza
Mal Scott on Polaris at Swanage, another guano based extravaganza. Alongside this we climbed Vikings at Guillimot Ledge and the truly outrageous Lean Machine at Boulder Ruckle – never has trad climbing been so steep!!
I'd tried Dancing Queen back in 2009 but was monumentally unsuccessful in my attempt. Coming back this year I felt far stronger and nearly managed it in a session, thwarted by my skin (as is always the way on Dartmoor).
In September/October I spent a few weekends with Cherry down in Devon. I’d tried Dancing Queen back in 2009 but was monumentally unsuccessful in my attempt, coming back this year I felt far stronger and nearly managed it in a session. Thwarted by bad skin – as is always the way on Dartmoor – I came back to complete it a month later. I am always amazed at how underrated Dartmoor is just because it’s sharp!
John McCune on Velvet Silence, Black Rocks
Throughout October/November the bouldering and highballing continued. One major highlight was climbing Velvet Silence and Jumping on a Beetle at Black Rocks, a major break threw in my ability to smear.
End of the Affair, Cubar
In November I managed to climb End of the Affair, my first E8. It was great fun to embrace a different style of climbing and felt like the culmination of my years apprenticeship on the gritstone.
Patagonia, the perfect end to 2013. During our three week stay we were dealt a rough hand in terms of weather but still managed to get out and climb the Vonrouge Route on Agua Guillaumet. I'd love to go back again to attempt a route on Fitzroy or Cerro Torre, they really are the mountains that dreams are made of...
Patagonia, the perfect end to 2013. During our three week stay we were dealt a rough hand in terms of weather but still managed to get out and climb the Vonrouge Route on Agua Guillaumet. I’d love to go back again to attempt a route on Fitzroy or Cerro Torre, they really are the mountains that dreams are made of…

Patagonia

A guidebook, a pair of ice axes, yorkshire tea, a fully branded helmet and a soul-searching philosophical book - what more could I possibly need?
A guidebook, an ice axe, a bagful of yorkshire tea, a fully branded helmet and a soul-searching philosophical book – what more could I possibly need (apart from maybe, at the very least, another ice axe)?

Later today Jack Geldard, Matt Pycroft and myself will be on our way to Patagonia.

I’ve thought long and hard about this trip, with my mind having gone around in circles thinking of routes, plans, and objectives. With Patagonia’s reputation for having the worlds worst weather getting up anything – let alone one route in particular – will be a hugely positive outcome. Irrespective of the outcome I know we will have a good trip and Matt will be putting together a series of short films for EpicTV documenting the hilarity and ineptitude that is bound to occur along the way.

On a separate note, today also marks the final day of my employment at the BMC. It has been an honour to work for the representative body for climbers, hill-walkers, and mountaineers in the UK but the time has come to move on. As of the New Year I will begin work as Advertising Manager for UKClimbing, re-connecting with my roots within the outdoor trade.

My leaving present, a personalised Summit Magazine front cover (please note this isn't real!!)
My leaving present, a personalised Summit Magazine front cover (please note this isn’t real!!)

Finally, a quick word of thanks to Liam Lonsdale and the rest of the team at Marmot. They’ve been a great help in getting together some top of the range kit from next years range especially for the trip, hopefully we’ll get the chance to put it through it’s paces and provide some useful feedback. For those that don’t know Liam, follow him on Twitter and feel the Bolton born and bred psyche resonate from your screen…

Also, thanks to Ned Feehally for creating my Portable Beastmaker. I’ve been putting a lot of time and effort into training recently and Ned was kind enough to put together this little board so that I don’t waste away – excited to get it bedded in whilst I’m out there!

The Portable Beastmaker, including the names of a few routes/problems I’d like to do over the coming year

 

Things I thought I’d never do

End of the Affair, Curbar
End of the Affair, Curbar
Photo: Oli Grounsell

On Sunday I climbed End of the Affair at Curbar.

I have repeated this over and over to myself since doing it – it is hard to believe.

I have climbed End of the Affair. 

I have climbed E8.

This is something I never, ever thought I would do.

In my early days of climbing I remember being introduced to Hard Grit as if it were a religious artefact. I put every climber and every route featured  on a pedestal – they were  unreachable. At the time, it represented things that might as well have been happening in another universe.

So what changed?

To a certain extent the universe did.

Whilst I am still not up to the standard of the protagonists featured in Hard Grit, the past 10 years of climbing has prepped me well for accomplishing things I never believed possible and amongst other factors, the people I have climbed with have had a large part to play in that.

John McCune on Velvet Silence, Black Rocks
John McCune on Velvet Silence, Black Rocks

When I think back to some of my greatest climbing achievements – in particular The Shield on El Cap and the 1938 Route on the North Face of the Eiger – it occurs to me that I would never have done these without the influence of Alex Haslehurst and Jack Geldard, my climbing partner on each respective route. I had always wanted to climb El Cap, but it was something I wanted to do and not something I thought I actually would do. Much like the routes on Hard Grit, it was well out of my league. It only occurred to me that we could do it when I removed the blinkers: big wall climbing is just like trad climbing, only bigger (and with a bit of hauling). Easy…well…easy-ish.

The same happened with the Eiger. I had been averaging 35+ routes in Scotland for two years prior to our ascent, yet I still didn’t believe that I actually could do it. Why? In short, it really hadn’t occurred to me. Once the blinkers were removed I realised that it was like Scottish Winter, only bigger…well…quite a lot bigger (but with better weather).

Without Alex and Jack I may never have done either of those routes, I was years away from the realisation myself. 

Back to present day.

Who have I got to thank this time? Two names stand out: my regular gritstone climbing partners Katy Whittaker and Nathan Lee. I could say more about them but I’d only cause them embarrassment (that and their achievements over the past two months have already been documented elsewhere). Being surrounded by people who inspire you makes so much of a difference and I guess I owe End of the Affair to them, without their influence it could have been a few more years in the making (if ever!).

I will finish with a trailer from Guy Van Gruening’s latest project – Gritual – and a selection of photographs from the past month.

So sit back and enjoy, then get up and go out climbing (with an open mind).

The bombproof rack used by Nathan during his ascent of The Zone at Curbar
The bombproof rack used by Nathan during his ascent of The Zone at Curbar
James Turnbull employing the traditional side runner protection on Cool Moon, Curbar
James Turnbull employing the traditional side runner protection on Cool Moon, Curbar
Silk, Stanage Here I am pointing towards the 'crucial' undercut that allows access to the pockets on the upper wall. I would point to the footholds but you wouldn't be able to make them out!
Silk, Stanage
Here I am pointing towards the ‘crucial’ undercut that allows access to the pockets on the upper wall. I would point to the footholds but you wouldn’t be able to make them out!
Mark-Bullock-Brad-Pit-Stanage
Mark Bullock attempting what could possibly become his lifetime project – Brad Pit, Stanage Plantation

Let the Gritstone season commence….

The Alliance Burbage South
Adam Brown going all-out on The Alliance at Burbage South

Over the past few weeks the temperatures have dropped and autumn is here. Whilst I love living in Sheffield I do not live here for the limestone and the arrival of the gritstone season is something that I have been eagerly waiting for.

Millstone has been one of the venues of choice over the past month and I have been progressively working my way through the classic E5s of the crag. Edge Lane, Green Death and White Wall have provided ‘memorable’ outings, but are all realistically leading up to the big one – London Wall (and its oversized reputation) – which I have not yet done. You can’t let these routes get the better of you psychologically by leaving it too long so hopefully I will get on it soon, irrespective of the outcome. I witnessed James Turnbull of Outside get  bullied by this route the other day, I don’t think he would mind me saying this but the route had him before he’d even got on it. Poor James. He’ll be back on it soon though and will no doubt wonder what he was ever worrying about…

Green Death, Millstone (photo: Drew Withey)
Green Death, Millstone (photo: Drew Withey)

In between the traditional on-sights I’ve had a go at head-pointing for the first time in my life., it was a somewhat accidental affair owing to a very misty afternoon where neither myself or Katy (Whittaker) were particularly willing to get on the sharp end. After one session on a top rope I felt confident…well…confident-ish. I had written the following message to Katy the night after I managed it on top-rope in order to remind myself not to underestimate it:

Why is it that my memory is already telling me that the route was easy – it clearly wasn’t.

I am sending this message to I have written proof of that truth.

In fact I may re-read this tomorrow to remind myself.

Happy Wednesday.

I came back to lead The Bad and The Beautiful (E7 6b) later that week with Nathan Lee . It was an odd experience top-roping it cleanly and easily three times before pulling the ropes and tying into the sharp-end. My heart was racing. I knew I could do it, it was just a question of mind control. I didn’t want to fall. In fact, I really didn’t want to fall. But I knew I could do it, so I wouldn’t – right? The over thinking stopped the moment I stepped onto the route. Silence. My first E7. Style, ethics and everything else to one side this felt like a proud moment.

Bad-and-beautiful-millstone-e7
The Bad and the Beautiful, Millstone at the least photogenic angle possible (it climbs well I promise!!)

Another place that deserves a quick mention is Burbage South, but more for the bouldering/highballing/soloing than anything else. I realise that this post is going to turn into something of a list, but I guess it’s a list that I’m proud of so here we go… Problems like Gib’s Rib, The Attitude Inspector and The Alliance represent three of the best 7a/+s I have done and well and truly got my winter bouldering enthusiasm back on track. On the flip side of that climbing genre coin routes like Nosferatu, Pebble Mill and Above and Beyond the Kinaesthetic Barrier remind me that the routes are a) just as good and b) only a bit higher (!)  so it’s worth keeping all options open in the months to come.

Here’s to the rest of the season!

Adam Brown topping out of The Alliance, Burbage South
Adam Brown topping out of The Alliance, Burbage South
Sunrise at Stanage after a pre-word boulder at Apparent North with Team Outside
Sunrise at Stanage after a pre-word boulder at Apparent North with Team Outside

When I grow up

On Boxing Day I lay awake in bed, unable to sleep.

Something had changed.

Another year – 2012 – had passed by and although only an arbitrary marker of time, this particular time seemed to stand out as meaningful.

I needed Change.

I remember sitting up and asking myself that nightmare interview question “where do you see yourself in five years time?”. I didn’t know the answer – not a clue. But I wasn’t too worried about exactly where I saw myself, it was more how I got there that was the key.

My Mother, Val Greenwood, starting yet another epic swim
My Mother, Val Greenwood, starting yet another epic swim

And how did I want to get there?

Maybe I’m just an optimist (no… I am an optimist), but what I’ve found is that if you do things with a degree of keenness, passion, and drive things just seem to crop up along the way. Opportunities are self perpetuating, it’s just the matter of taking the opportunities that lead you in the direction you wish to go and then one day – somewhat unexpectedly – you’re there. This could be something as simple as working at Pete’s Eats and looking up the road and thinking “hey, I’d kind of like to work in Joe Browns” or standing underneath Cenotaph Corner as a budding E1 climber and being awe struck at the harder routes either side.

On a not entirely unrelated note, I called my Mum the other day to see how life had been treating her. She mentioned that she had applied for a place in the 2014 Channel Relay, swimming from Dover to Calais as part of a six person relay team to raise money for Diabetes UK. In order to do this she has upped her training and begun to practise swimming without a wetsuit. At the age of 60 I don’t think she would be offended if I were to say that she isn’t ‘young’ any more (sorry Mum), but neither would I call her old. By and large she is a well-balanced and reasoned individual, yet here she is deciding that what she wants to do in life is to swim distances longer than anything she has ever done before and to do so without the comfort a wetsuit on! What a loon…

There is the possibility that she is mad, but at least she’s mad for something and I find that truly inspirational – when I grow up I want to be like that…

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing” – George Bernard Shaw

And therein lies the answer – where do I want to be in five years, ten years, fifty years? Well…realistically I still don’t know ‘exactly’ where, but if I continue playing (in whatever walk of life that may be) I’m pretty confident I’ll end up somewhere good.

Maybe even Patagonia this Christmas…

60th Birthday Celebrations in Sheffield
60th Birthday Celebrations in Sheffield

Scotland – there’s no place better (terms and conditions apply)

Sunset over the Hebrides
Sunset over the Hebrides

Looking back on the sunset reminded me that when the sun shines in Scotland there really is no place better…

The outer isles of Lewis and Harris are places that I have always dreamed of going and after visiting Pabbay and Mingulay in 2011 the draw to further explore the Hebrides was strong – a return trip was in order (and soon!!). Unfortunately a couple of unexpected events got in the way: in 2012 I dislocated my thumb and had to pass on a trip that I had organised, then in 2013 the dates planned coincided with my getting a new job. So another year had passed me by – or so I thought – and it seemed inevitable that I would have to wait until 2014 before I would get to make my long awaited return.

However, a few months in and it seemed like a holiday was in order…

Now I’m not into exhaustive planning, I prefer ideas – lots of them (fuelled by years obsessive guidebook reading). The British climate usually tends to spurn planners due to the frequently fickle nature of the weather, but rather fortunately 2013 seems to have been something of an anomaly having had such an extended spell of good weather. Whilst I’m not quite sure if it has completely made up for the disastrous two years we have just had, I feel it it is nice to at least receive a gesture that Mother Nature feels a bit of remorse…I think…

So, it was only a week before we left when the ‘plan’ came together: go to Scotland and aim for the Hebrides. I had to do a talk at the North East Climbing and Walking Festival on the Friday night, then after a weekends climbing in Northumberland would head to North (perfectly rested from how soft the grading is up that neck of the woods) – how could anything go possibly wrong?

Freak Out on Aonach Dubh's East Face
Freak Out on Aonach Dubh’s East Face

We started out climbing on the East Face of Aonach Dubh. Eternally paranoid of midges it was our original idea to bypass the mountains in favour of a nice sea breeze, but driving down Glen Coe it was apparent that the safety net of wind was on our side. Freak Out and Spacewalk both ranked high on my list of priorities, both being classic mountain routes and also Extreme Rock ‘ticks’. Sad though it might seem their inclusion within a book would guide my decision, having not done a great deal of rock climbing in Scotland I felt that I had to start somewhere, and this seemed as good as place to start as any (or at least that’s my justification for it anyway). The routes were superb, midges non-existent, and levels of pump magnificent – a great start to the trip.

Next up, we headed for Glen Nevis. Probably not the first place many would choose with high mountain crags like Creag an Dubh Loch, Shelterstone, and the Ben in mint condition, but somewhere that I had always wanted to go. This desire was largely influenced by a picture in On the Edge of Ed Grindley’s classic arete – Edgehog. It looked immaculate, featureless, and blank, but most importantly it looked like the sort of thing I would like to climb. Back when I saw that picture I was just about pushing E1, so Edgehog at E3 was way above me. Back home in Wales years went by and I guess had Glen Nevis have been on my doorstep this would have been one of the routes I would have aspired to cut my teeth on and climb as soon as I possibly could. Instead it lay miles away, waiting, until the day came where it acted as a nice warm-up – how times change. I enjoy it when this happens. After that we moved on to Crackattack, then On the Beach. It was wonderful. The rock was immaculate, the weather was perfect, and we were blessed with three star classic after three star classic in a place we had never been before. It’s always nice climbing new places, there is so much to do.

Wave Buttress, Glen Nevis
Wave Buttress, Glen Nevis

The following day we began our journey towards the port at Uig on Skye where we would catch the ferry to Harris. Along the way it seemed sensible to make a stop off at yet another ultra-classic destination (I mean why not?!), this time the picturesque Kilt Rock. Onceagain, this was a crag I had seen in climbing guidebooks for years and always wanted to visit. The uniformity of the lines, like pleats in a kilt, looked stunning and the climbing/rock was – from all I had heard – also of the highest quality. Furthermore, the two routes we set out to do (Grey Panther and Internationale) feature in a certain book… Am I starting to develop a problem?

Grey Panther, Kilt Rock
Grey Panther, Kilt Rock – not a bad line!

Soon after we boarded the ferry and started our journey across to the Hebrides. The decision was made that our first port of call was to be the Screaming Geo on Lewis (which rather confusingly is just the North of Harris, but they’re the same island – don’t ask me why) to climb Glenda Huxter’s Prozac Link. Once-again it was a photograph that guided my desire to climb this route – a front cover shot on Climber Magazine featuring Dave MacLeod on the second pitch – the big traverse. At the time he was repeating Dave ‘Cubby’ Cuthberton’s E6 The Screaming Ab-Dabs and the shot made the pitch look every bit of the grade. However, appearances can be deceiving and this actually turns out to rate as one of the easiest pitches on the route not only on the E6 but on the E4 too. Unlikely to say the least, the route crosses the huge arch in four three star pitches, each with a different character and feel to the last. Brilliant.

Panoramic shot of the Screaming Geo, Mangersta
Panoramic shot of the Screaming Geo, Mangersta
The Screaming Geo at Mangersta
The Prozac Link takes the rather improbable line across the arch

The following day we drove further up the island to Dalbeg. The Lewisian Gneiss there is of the finest quality, rivalling that of Pabbay/Mingulay, and looks absolutely perfect. Cherry had mooted the idea of climbing something hard the night before so warmed up on the Dave MacLeod E5 Tweetie Pie Slalom (eek!), I seconded it rapidly warming up and out. It was a day-breaker, but I was too keen to admit it and getting on Glenda Huxter’s Blessed are the Weak was pretty much the final straw…well…we nipped down for one last route (the 4 star Limpet Crack – it seemed rude not to…

A rest day was in order and we did what any good athlete would do: devour as many chips and cans of Irn Bru as we could get our hands on. Tomorrow after all was going to be a big day…

Dalbeg, with Tweetie Pie Slalom taking a line up the centre and Limpet Crack taking the line on the left
Dalbeg, with Tweetie Pie Slalom taking a line up the centre and Limpet Crack taking the line on the left

Strone Ulladale. Probably the most impressive cliff of the holiday (and I forgot my camera). I am running out of things to say and superlatives to offer, it would suffice to say that it was a memorable day. With thunderstorms the day before, mist through the night, and midges in the morning it seemed unlikely that we were even going to get on the route. But as always persevering pays dividends and we boarded the ferry after climbing Stone feeling pretty content with our lot.

Thank you Scotland, but perhaps more importantly thank-you Cherry.

Happy faces
Happy faces
If you ever have problems making a decision where to go, bake a cake in the shape of all the guidebooks and go wherever tastes best
If you ever have problems making a decision where to go, bake a cake in the shape of all the guidebooks and go wherever tastes best

Down by the sea

Wild sea at Carn Vellan
Wild sea at Carn Vellan

Reading Jack Geldard’s recent UKC Article on our Expedition to Peak 41 brought back a lot of memories, in particular it made me remember some of the decisions I made back in Nepal that are guiding where I am going now (and where I’ve gone since).

And where have I been?

I’ve been by the sea…

One of the conclusions I came to whilst away was not just how much I enjoyed the climbing back here in Britain, but how much I enjoyed climbing on sea cliffs. Upon my return I was regularly asked “what’s the next big trip?” and yet the only answer I could provide were a few loose plans for long weekends down in Cornwall, Devon, and Pembroke. Although a somewhat anti-climactic answer for many, I cannot express how much the simplicity of this proposition excited me – so many adventures to be had and all so close to home! Wonderful.

This feeling was brought into further focus throughout the week spent on the BMC International Meet. Held down at the Climbers Club’s Count House in Cornwall, guests come from all across the world to sample the delights of what our little island has to offer. Many of of the guests come from countries that have bigger, longer, and more impressive crags than anything we have to offer, yet there is a magic somewhere within the our sea cliffs that provided the visiting climbers with a lasting memory – what is that?! Now I’m not a good enough philosopher to suggest reasons why, neither am I a good enough writer to explain the way I feel about it (as proved by my previous post), all I know is that there’s a certain ‘je ne sais pas’ about being near the sea that leaves an impression no other climbing experience can match.

The home of many memories, Main Cliff Gogarth
The home of many memories, Main Cliff Gogarth

Without leaving things on too much of an emotional cliffhanger here’s a somewhat random round-up of some of the places, routes, and people that have left an impression on me over the past few of months:

Huntsman’s Leap

Huntsman's Leap, an outrageous crag
Huntsman’s Leap, an outrageous crag

What is it about this crag that makes it so much ‘more’ than St. Govan’s?

Having inconveniently climbed many of the classic E5′s within the Leap I have recently tried to climb some of the lesser known routes, discovering in the process some esoteric gems. Personal highlights have included ‘Moving Away from the Pulsebeat’ and ‘Monster Modello’ which both receive one star, but rank above anything that I have climbed at Govan’s by ten-fold. Fixed gear isn’t too much of an issue with these and I can highly recommend getting on either of them if you enjoyed the likes of Head Hunter, Darkness at Noon, and Witch Hunt.

One of the things that I am less keen to do is get involved with some of the more dangerous peg reliant E6s. On the one hand I would love to climb routes like Souls, Subterranean, and Little Hunt, but on the other life seems too short to risk it all for no good reason (maybe this is a knock-on effect of my experiences of Peak 41)…

The Deep Players  - Benno Wagner, Alex Luger, and Gwen Lancashire

I have been lucky to climb with some remarkable people, but recently there are three individuals who are worthy of mention to a wider audience (probably because nobodies heard of them before).

Benno Wagner - my rock climbing super hero
Benno Wagner – my rock climbing super hero

Benno Wagner is a Munich based climber that I have had the privilege of being friends with since we met at the 2011 International Meet. Considering all of the rock in his close vicinity is covered in bolts, Benno ‘gets’ British trad climbing more than most Brit’s do within their lifetime. On the recent International Meet I introduced him to the notion of hollow-stars and daggers (i.e. unrepeated and potentially dangerous routes), this was like a red rag to a bull and a potentially bad move seeing as he’s not a man to shy away from a bit of adventure. The positive and refreshing thing about Benno’s approach is that he isn’t intimidated by reputation, something that a lot of us suffer from. It’s best just to “have a look” and see how you get on – it’s only rock climbing after all. Simple.

Visiting Austrian Alex Luger and UKC Assistant Editor Duncan Campbell underneath Cripple Creek, Craig Dorys
Visiting Austrian Alex Luger and UKC Assistant Editor Duncan Campbell underneath Cripple Creek, Craig Dorys

There is a possibility that Alex Luger and Benno were separated at birth and who knows what would happen if they ever met (we’ll have to hope beer would be involved). Alex came over to the UK courtesy of DMM’s Pumpen Hausen Tour. A few years back he shot into the limelight of the climbing media when he repeated Beat Kammerlander’s E10 Prinzip Hoffnung (Principle Hope) at the age of…well…young! Since then he must have been eating spinage or something because he’s not slowed in terms of progress. Alex has impeccable style, an abundance of stamina, and a voice that is the exact replica of Arnold Schwaranegger. I watched him mop up the classic pumper ‘Dreams and Screams’ at Rhoscolyn with jaw dropping efficient – why can’t I be like that?!

Gwen opening her Huntsman's E5 account with Head Hunter
Gwen opening her Huntsman’s E5 account with Head Hunter

Finally – quiet, unassuming, and infinitely apologetic – Gwen is my rock climbing superstar. I am not sure I can say more than that because Gwen would die of embarrassment if I did, all I will say is watch this space (because Gwens probably going to climb it). And I’m not even sure she’d want me to say that…

Alien, Main Cliff Gogarth

Getting pumped on the crux section of Alien, Main Cliff Gogarth
Getting pumped on the crux section of Alien, Main Cliff Gogarth

If I had to name one route that meant more to me than the rest it would be this one. Famous (or infamous) for spitting people off it, Alien is notoriously hard to onsight. Having moved away from North Wales I realised that my approach to routes in the area would have to change, no longer could I wait for that after-work moment and climb things when I may – I would need to be strategic. So, I went with an objective. I got on it. I fell off it. Then I got up it. Content.

So what next?

I don’t mind, as long as it’s near the sea.

Life on a small island…

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