Make Hay Whilst the Sun Shines (and it’s been shining a lot)

It began back in May, when many of us were just counting our blessings for having a single good bank holiday weekend after what had essentially been long, cold winter. I don’t think many of us could believe our luck when we got a second decent bank holiday at the end of May, or that by mid-June we were still awaiting the inevitable downpour. Here we are at the end of July and if anything, I’m grateful for it, as it allows me to have a short break – if only for a weekend. Here’s a recap of the last few months anyhow…

Up until April my sole focus had been bouldering. I was going better than I’d ever gone before, got a load of 7Cs under my belt, and was hoping to get myself up to Queens Crag as soon as the weather improved so I could give Queen Kong a punt, which (I hoped) would be a good candidate for my first 8A. Annoyingly the day before we were to visit Queens Crag my shoulder gave out with a bang whilst trying the immaculate Reiver up at Ravensheugh. On the one hand it was devastating, but on the other it was surprisingly alright – I’d had a very, very lucky run. In addition to this, I wasn’t 100% sure where I was going with my climbing. Yes, I wanted to climb an 8A, but I wasn’t that bothered (I’d much rather just get more mileage in by visiting lots of new places) hence now just seemed as good a time as any.

Thankfully a scan + assessment with John at The Clinic, then a shed load of strength and conditioning work with Tim Cunnington of Peak Performance Coaching, revealed that the shoulder wasn’t as bad as I’d first feared, so it was time to get out climbing – albeit gently. To begin with I headed to North Wales for some choss therapy with my old friend Sam Underhill. The good thing about loose rock is that it’s impossible to pull too hard on, because if you do you’re off – as such it’s a kind of self moderating medium. We visited The Range and did some ‘classics’, of which my favourite/least favourite was The Crooked Mile, who’s upper chimney really was a thing of nightmares. We also went over to the oft-unfrequented Thunderbird Zawn Area at Gogarth, where Mor Mochyn belied its E3 5c grade with a spacey first pitch and a truly rotten second.

Thankfully the choss did its trick and I decided to reward myself with a weekend of solid rock up in the Lakes with Mark Almack. The highlight for me was Lord of the Rings, not least because I thought it was going to be crap, but also because Mark was so utterly miserable about going to do it I gained a certain amount of joy revelling in his misfortune. Still, even he enjoyed it in the end, so perhaps that made it even better – a victory of sorts? The Cumbrian also well worth the wait, but definitely tested my shoulder to its limits (with so many right shoulder moves, who’d have thought it?!?). Red Edge on Esk and The Bracken Clock on Pavey were also amazing…

In between these various weekends away I’d been spending a lot of time up at Bamford Edge. Since March I’d been heading up there two or three times a week to monitor the Ring Ouzels for the BMC. Usually this involved getting up at around 6am, walking up to the crag, then having a stroll around to the various sites (once the sites had actually been identified). It was a satisfying process, with one pair in particular being particularly beautiful and mysterious in equal measure. I’d seen the male singing out for a mate, I’d seen male and female pair up, I’d seen them mate, search out a nest, build a nest, sit on the nest, feed the chicks, then watched the chicks hatch. It was a beautiful process. Still, in between the great many hours of sitting I managed to get up to the crag for extended solo sessions up/down the various classics. We’re so lucky to have this on our back door…



By this point the weather was really getting going and so was my rhythm, but I still wasn’t 100% about my shoulder. On the whole it felt fine, but I was still apprehensive about pushing it; however, Tim and everyone I’d spoken to had suggested that it was good to give it a push – if only to be certain about the boundaries. Besides, I could always fall off if it did feel like I’d gone over the top…and where better to fall than Gogarth… Over the years I’ve enjoyed the butch and burly style of the Main Cliff, particularly the big E5s, and there was only two I had left to do: Sebastopol and Ordinary Route. Of the two I was most impressed by Sebastopol, which deserves to be ranked alongside the rest in terms of quality. Pitch 2 is absolutely glorious, with good holds and good gear leading to a committing crux up the arete. Bearing in mind I’d only bouldered for six months my stamina was hardly at its prime, so having to dig deep for the onsight felt really good, kind of like I’d come back  and was ready for more.


Strangely this realisation came at the same time as me taking the foot off the performance pedal, instead putting the priority onto making the most of this weather and getting to as many far flung places as I possibly could. First up was a long awaited trip to Crag an Dubh Loch with Sam Underhill, where we managed to climb King Rat and The Giant. Sam had waited 15 years to climb the former and it was bloody brilliant to see him coming back from his own injuries to do it. The Giant was utterly desperate, with a hard first pitch and an even harder and bolder second. It was nice to hear that Caff/Ferdia found it desperate when they did it and I felt more than a little vindicated for my own fears about falling, stripping the pitch, landing a ledge, rolling, then landing on the belayer.

Sometime around now Claire Tetley landed in the UK from her home of ten years in Tasmania. All Claire asked is that we climb close to home, maybe one weekend in North Wales, then another in Pembroke – somewhere she’d always wanted to climb. Because I’m a dick, neither of these wishes came to plan… First off I managed to persuade her and Jim Hulbert to head up to the Lakes, where we burned and Burnt Crag then spent a magical couple of days up at Scafell. Probably the most memorable route we did was Central Buttress in the evening light, with the wall all to ourselves, bathed in warm rays of the sun. I think we laughed all the way up, not believing our luck and privilege to have it in such good condition.

At this point it was the beginning of June and the various long weekends meant I had something of a deficit at work, hence it was time to knuckle down and get some done…or at least that was the plan until Dan Bailey asked whether or not I could join him on the Cuillin Ridge… Dan was in need of some photos, so there was a vague justification for the trip on work grounds, and besides – it’s the Cuillin Ridge! You’ve got to do it whilst it’s in condition, so now seemed like as good a time as any. With that in mind I drove a long way north to Dan’s house, then a long way west to Skye. 17 hours later we were back at the car, feeling pretty toasted, but wow – what a day it had been. 11 hours top to top also gave me a new found respect for the running record both in summer and winter.

Clearly doing the ridge left me in Scotland – that’s where it is after all – which is not near Pembroke – which is where Claire wanted to be. As such, rather than drive a long way south to where she wanted to be I persuaded her north to where I wanted to be. This was a good plan up until the point I noticed the forecast was for wall-to-wall rain and then I began to feel a bit guilty. Thankfully I’m pretty adept with weather forecasts and extraordinarily shaky plans, so in a frantic bit of searching I managed to find the one place that appeared to have a weather window: Hoy. An unjustifiable amount of driving later there we were, on Hoy, staring up at the Old Man, bathed in sunshine, and altogether feeling like we’d made a pretty special choice. Pembroke could (thankfully) wait until a another day, this really was a once in a lifetime experience.

Once I’d slept in my own bed again for more than one night it was time to plan the next weekend and this weekend was definitely in need of some planning, insofar as it involved the world’s keenest climber: Ramon Marin. Sadly Ramon’s elbows have been plaguing him for some time, but with the ‘where shall we go’ mentality rather than ‘how hard shall we climb’ I knew we were in for a good’un – not least because IT STILL HADN’T RAINED. The first two days were spent up at Dow Crag, where we did a load of checking (aka. climbing) for Mark Glaister’s forthcoming Lake District Rockfax. My personal favourite grading anomaly was probably Tarkus, which seemed suicidal for E1 given the ground fall potential from around 30ft. The following day we went up to Bowfell, where the second pitch of Air on a Bowstring stole the show for one of the best pitches of rock I’ve climbed this year – it’s immaculate. Finally I managed to make it third time lucky with a trip to Raven Crag Thirlmere, a crag I seemed cursed never to visit. Even this time it was close, with a storm having blown over most of the trees on the approach and the ensuing bushwhack being unrecognisable from the gentle stroll up a forestry track it was before. Totalitarian and Gates of Delirium were well worth the wait mind…

I’m conscious that this is now becoming quite a long post, but if you’ve got this far and are still reading great; if not you’re probably just looking at the pictures, hence none of this matters. By now it’s July and it’s still not rained. Penny is back from her six months in America and keen for a weekend at home, but with the weather as good as it is I manage to persuade her north for a weekend to see her Mum…and go climbing in Glen Coe… Having only ever climbed at Stob Coire an Lochain in winter it was nice-ish to head up there in summer. The ‘ish’ comes from the fact that some of the blocks teetering on the ledges really are terrifying. Unicorn was amazing though, despite being unfathomable as to how you’d do it in winter, and we both felt Scansor was given an unduly harsh rap in the guide, being a good route with some wild positions (still, in winter – wow…). The following day the heavens opened, if only for a morning, so we decided to head home via Dumbarton for a spot of Chemin de Fer. By this point I hadn’t tried hard for over a month, so it was something of a shock to the system, involving three falls (or was it four) and a load of other shaky practise. Still, I can’t undersell the quality of this route – it’s en par with the likes of London Wall (only a lot steeper!).

Christ, this is long…

Chemin shocked my system back into gear and it felt like time to try hard again. I managed to tick off Ceramic Extension and The Myrmidon at Chee Tor, the former I’d been meaning to do for ages and the latter which had been brought back to life by Simon Cundy, who spent over six hours cleaning it (a marathon effort). Back at the weekends I owed Penny an actual bonafide classic that wasn’t shit, hard, or in Extreme Rock. I made a piecemeal offering of The Grooves with the Overhanging Arete one weekend before pulling the birthday trump card out the following, where we headed to the South West for Il Duce and The West Face in Bosigran Great Zawn. I’ve wanted to do Il Duce for well over 15 years and should really have done it 10 years ago, but due to the weird access situation have never got round to it. West Face is something I’d tried once before, but was thwarted by grease. This time I thought we were in, with a good breeze, lots of sun, and barely a wet hold anywhere. Sadly I was cursed and it was wet, despite being late in the day, and the gop-fest ensued with a couple of falls. Still, it’s an experience I won’t forget – onsights are overrated…


I’ll grant you this is something of a monster post, but it’s been such a good few months I felt like I’d just go full blown ‘flow of consciousness’ – if only to relive them myself.

Irrespective of whatever the rest of the year brings, it’s already been a good’un.

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