Here’s a sweeping month-by-month generalisation of 2015. Over the past few years I’ve really enjoyed putting these together, as they bring back some great memories as well as remind you of exactly how much you’ve done. It also makes you notice the changes that have occurred both within your performance and your focus, for example trad used to be very much my ‘number 1’ activity, now that award has probably shifted over towards sport climbing. That said, it hasn’t taken anything away from the trad, as the trips I have had to Pembroke and Fair Head have been some of the best I have ever had (but I always say that)…
Another thing I have noticed is that the away trips to places like South Africa, Spain, and Italy are – despite meaning a lot to me – no more special than those moments close to home. The past two months have been some of the wettest on record, but I wouldn’t have changed them for the world. Despite a poor start to my gritstone year, it has ended really well – I’ve started to feel it once again.
As for 2016, I already have dates in the diary booked for Chullila in February and Lundy in September which is great. Alongside this there are plans to return to South Africa, but this time for some trad/sport climbing over in the Western Cape. Alongside this I would very much hope to spend all of my weekends travelling around the UK, or staying close to home, visiting loads of places I have always wanted to go – there’s always something to look forward to.
January wasn’t the most productive month I’ve ever had in terms of climbing, but it is still filled with a lot of good memories: dancing in the sunset on the way out from Kyloe, doing Northern Soul at Hepburn (possibly the best 7a+ in the country?), and attempting to get my life back on track after a few weeks off over the Christmas/New Year period.
Never have I has as low expectations out of a trip as I had this one to Oliana. I had been climbing terribly at home, work had been really busy, and I was feeling a bit stressed (rightly or wrongly) about everything, but somehow I managed to turn it all around and managed to do my 3rd 8a, then another 2 x 7c+s to go alongside it. It was a real confidence boost and, at least in retrospect, I wonder whether the low expectations released a bit of pressure? It’s so easy to worry about things beforehand, then forget about them whilst you’re out there!
Another highlight of the trip was the people who were out there. Seeing Neil and Wizz both manage Mind Control, Nathan on Marrancitta, Katy on Mon Dieu, Mina on Mishi, and Alex on Macedonia. Not everyones trip went to plan either, with both Alex and Katy suffering badly from injury. It made me pretty grateful, and lucky, for being fit and healthy – being injured really does suck…
If ever there was a crag you love to hate, it’s Raven Tor. That said, I really have come to love it and throughout the early spring I rattled my way through some more of the ‘classics’ including Obscene Toilet (7c), Obscene Gesture (7c) and Call of Nature (8a), plus doing Tin Of (7b+) more times in a row than I would care to remember.
The other memories I have around this period are of other people ticking their own projects. Over the course of a month or two you really get a feel for how people are getting on and it’s as satisfying to see others succeed as it is yourself succeeding on your own projects. During this time Penny managed Tin Of, which isn’t bad for someone who was scared of leading a few months earlier, and Adam Booth managing his first 8a with Call of Nature – in fact we did it within minutes of eachother. Great banter, as always…
After crimping my way up horrific Peak test-pieces it was nice to have a change of pace, and where better to get your fix than Pembroke. I managed to do some querky esoterica up in the far reaches of Range West with Nathan Lee. I somehow managed to persuade him to walk-in for an hour (which he hated), then persuaded him to do some E4s (which he hated because they would be easy), which they turned out to be pretty wild, loose, and adventurous (which he hated even more, because they were actually quite hard!). If you’re over in that neck of the woods check out Tombstone and Icarus, Nathan really recommends them…
Aside from that I managed to do a few routes I’d wanted to do for ages, in particular Jabberwocky (pictured above) that was first climbed by a hero of mine – Ben Wintringham. Ben died in a climbing accident a few years ago, but was a real inspiration to virtually everyone who met him. I first met him whilst working at Joe Browns: this old guy and his wife walked into the store and started enquiring about the most techy harnesses we had in stock. There was a sparkle in his eye. He was so enthusiastic, interested, and knowledgeable. Despite my stigmatization of being old, he was so young at heart. All of this said, Marion was – and still is, I hope – exactly the same. They really were an inspirational couple that did so many good routes together, seemingly having a lot of fun…
Anyhow, I seem to have gone off on one there, but it hopefully explains why I wanted to do the route. It must have been a solid effort back when he did it, wandering his way up that weird and wonderful wall – it’s still out there by modern standards!!
I couldn’t summarise 2015 accurately without mentioning Malham, because for both Penny and I – and half of Sheffield for that matter – it played such a big part. Yorkshire became something of a second home and weekend after weekend we would make the journey up for the various projects we had on. I focussed on mileage, simply because I still had so many routes to do there, managing Space Race (7b+), Tremelo (7c), Mescalito (7c+), Herbie (7c+), Toadall Recall (8a) and New Age Traveller (8a).
When I think back I actually feel an element of nostalgia whilst driving through Bradford, which is basically a bit weird…
After all that time at Malham I felt it was about time to put that additional strength and fitness to test in a more traditional environment, so in mid-June a big team of us headed out to Fair Head.
I’ve wanted to visit Ireland for years, as supposedly it has some of the best crags in the British Isle – it would suffice to say we weren’t disappointed. The fitness I had from sport climbing made a huge difference and I ended up doing just about every route I could have hoped to do in the course of a week. Highlights included Above and Beyond (E6), Hell’s Kitchen Arete (E6), Primal Scream (E6), Face Value (E4), Track of the Cat (E4), and finally Rusty Halo – probably the hardest route I did whilst out there (E3).
If I couldn’t go without mentioning Malham, then I certainly couldn’t go without having to mention Kilnsey (pictured above) and Gordale as well. The three together really do represent the creme of the sport climbing crop here in the UK and the climbing styles complement each other perfectly.
Because of my love for Gordale in particular, I decided to spend my 30th birthday camped underneath it. The campsite, located just beside a gently flowing river, is a beautiful spot that I’ve wanted to camp besides for ages, but for some reason – probably just the need to get home – have never managed it. Over the birthday weekend I managed to haul my somewhat arbitrarily older body up Cave Route Left Hand (7c+), which has one of the hardest and most devious cruxes I’ve ever done on a route. I then went over to Kilnsey thinking I was ‘warmed up’, only to try Biological Need (7c) and realise that I was actually ‘warmed out’ – one to come back for in 2016!
As the summer rolled on I made every effort to get out to a few places I’d never been before in the Peak, this included routes down at Water-cum-Jolly, Ravensdale, Willersley, Staden, Conies Dale and probably a few others I have completely forgotten about.
Of these it was WCJ that really grasped my attention. It’s such a beautiful area, yet only has a handful of people climbing there – in comparison to Chee Dale it seems very much out of vogue. Whilst there I put a lot of time into The Free Monster (8a) at the Cornice, a route – despite being considered soft for the grade – I found exceptionally hard due to it’s steep/unrelenting nature. Doing it was a surprise and a relief, I really did think it was impossible at one point! I also got agonisingly close to The Sissy (also 8a), but didn’t quite manage it. On the one hand this was moderately frustrating, but on the other it gave me something to think about as I have never left a project over until another year. It’ll be interesting to see how it feels after a winter of training/bouldering.
Throughout the last weeks of September I was in South Africa, clipping bolts at the sport climbing mecca of Waterfall Boven. The rock is some of the best I have ever climbed on and the routes were of an exceptionally high standard. In particular, Monster (7c+, pictured above), Snapdragon (also 7c+), and Jack of all Trades (8a) will stick in my mind as being a trio of routes I was very lucky to have climbed.
Fellow partners in crime on this trip were psyche sister Mina Leslie-Wujastyk, who was always keen (with a capital K) to get out/about as soon as the crag was in the shade, then Alex Haslehust and Katy Whittaker, who as mentioned previously were still battling with injury. Their approach to injury/rehab – despite occasionally lapses – was undoubtedly positive. It’s hard to keep putting time/effort into getting better when there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, but they do. Fingers crossed 2016 will be a better year for them both.
In the last week week of our stay in South Africa we visited Wow Prow, possibly the best named crag I can think of… The climbing was hard, but it wasn’t just that – the heat, the early mornings, and the sand – all made projecting at this venue a real challenge. That said, it was one of the most aesthetic bits of rock I have ever seen and anyone cruising (?!) 8b+ should go and try Digital Warfare – it looks incredible. The Free State was also a very different environment, both in terms of climate and culture, so it was interesting to mix things up a bit and see more of South Africa.
I really enjoy the transition from autumn to winter, and this year was no different. Despite the unrelenting rain and unseasonably warm weather I managed to keep my head above water by focussing on training (hard) and trying to get out in between the all to frequent showers. Fortunately this yielded some great results, with West Side Story (7b+, pictured above) being a personal highlight.
To continue the theme of both gritstone and bad weather, December was officially the wettest on record – hence getting out required a degree of flexibility and a lot of judgement/planning. Never in my life have I been so aware of the effect of humidity and wind speed/direction on how quickly a piece of rock can dry! Fortunately, much as in November, I managed to get lucky and do a few things I’d wanted to do for ages, most notably Brad Pitt (7c) at Stanage Plantation, Piss (7b) at Higgar Tor, and the Nadser and Crouching Tiger at Kyloe In (both 7b+).