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.
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…
Back 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.
Calum 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 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…
Whilst 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 (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.
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!
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.
All 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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).