Thursday, 25 September 2014

This, and that.


High point recently was doing Edge Of Insanity at Glen Croe after backing off previously. Looking down at the insta-rip hollow flake RPs at my feet and then the good gear 2m below that had me asking again "how much do I want this?". Obviously enough because I somehow stretched up to the "just out of reach" pocket and swung out onto the arete and glory. Jug-pulling on a short outcrop route doesn't usually feel quite that exposed and scary! Low point was failing on The Screaming Dream at Weem, under the illusion that it's recent downgrade was remotely suitable (it's not, at all, pure bullshit) and that the description of jug-pulling after a crimpy start was accurate (it's not, there's still plenty of burly reachy moves between the jugs). I never really stood a chance. Thankfully I got more fun out of the former than frustration out of the latter.

Bored of words, have some photos:







Friday, 19 September 2014

A change is a good as a rest.


Resting makes you weak of course, as does trad climbing, but exploring makes the spirit stronger. In the words of the guru Simon Panton, extolling the virtuals of straying off the beaten path and sampling a wide array of rock:

 New ground is like cold water to the desert-trapped man - essential.

A motto to live by as a climber if ever there was one. Coincidentally I have something to report for Simon, more on that later. In the last few weeks I have ignored all my oft-intimidating Scottish ambitions and rollercoasted around a collection of new / old / off-piste venues, sometimes with new / old / off-piste friends (including a lucky chance meeting with The Pylon King)...

  • Raven Crag Langdale
  • Wilton One
  • Upper Falcon Crag
  • Gouther Crag
  • The Souter
  • Tyddyn Garreg
  • Barmouth Quarry
  • Sunbeach
  • Ffridd
  • Moelfre
  • Y Foel Penolau

...and done some fascinating and varied routes, from the most classic of classics to overrated micro routes to thrilling hidden gems. Highlights would be hard to pick out, but maybe the zenith was arriving tired and sweaty to the col in front of the Y Foel Penolau summit and letting the stunning location and atmosphere soak over and refresh me. Truly why it is worth driving that 30 minutes south from Tremadog polish and queues to the should-be-irresistable Rhinnogs.

Here's some photos to speak a thousand words:

 Armalite @ Raven Crag. Soft touch and relaxing.

 Master Spy @ Wilton 1. Sandbag and exhausting.

Some F6b+ arete at Barmouth. Quite pleasant. 

 Some F6c at Sunbeach. Minor but fun.

Ogwen Valley from the Menai Straits. You can smell the bumbly even from here.
 
 Purrfection @ Y Foel Penolau. Recreating the guidebook photo complete with rubbish beta.

Purrfection showing the correct way. Amazing place.


 Brand new 3 star classic arete in the Rhinnogs.

Now all I want to do is get back to Mid Wales. Bloody 5+ hour journey though...

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Yob climbing.


A great phrase coined my old friend and swearing partner The Pylon King, referring obviously to brutish, nearnderthal climbing rather than the rather civilised Ogwen valley VS Yob Route. Something I was reminded of recently, pondering on forthcoming plans in which Diabeg slabs seemed a likely option. Despite fairly graded challenges, I felt little concern about getting on tricky slabs, they might be tricky but at least they are manageable. Unlike yob climbing, which I still feel well out of touch with, but still want to get to grips with. Hooliganic battles, perfect for climbers with biceps bigger than their brains - yet there is a certain pleasure, especially involving pulling off powerful moves in wild positions. It's still a bizarre feeling doing that on trad, but maybe it can become a familiar one?? Clearly this will involve a large amount of steepness, but not all steepnesses are equal. For example:

Steep and wild but not actually steep at all.
E.g. The Moon @ Gogarth, Dreadnought @ Berry Head
Where the whole crag and indeed route overhangs massively, but none of the climbing actually does. Generally fantastic fun and I tend to relish these as I know pretty well when I'm not overhung.

Steep in a gently impending way.
E.g. Wall Of Silence @ Reiff, Lady Charlotte @ Dunkeld
Where the route isn't hugely steep but it's consistently overhanging. Can be home to the dreadful "protection is good if you're strong enough to hang around and place it". A Scottish speciality due to the well featured rock on schist, sandstone and gneiss. Initially quite hard to deal with but fairly easy to train for and get used to. I'm getting there after 4 years.

Steep overhanging ladders.
E.g. Raging Bull @ Floors Craig, The Rasp @ Higgar Tor
When the rock is hugely steep and the holds are hugely huge. Pretty much a matter of being in the right attitude. Feel good and climb quick and they're easy, although again swift protection can be the key. My attitude varies as wildly and so do my successes. 

Steep reassuringly traditional thrashes.
E.g. Walk Like An Egyptian @ Reiff, Space Monkey @ Ardmair
Where everything overhangs in enough dimensions that the battle is partly transferred to the lower body and the imagination of what appendages can be used. All over body pumps likely, but not as likely as swearing and crying. I'm semi-rubbish at these and don't know if I want to get any better.

Steep and wildly flamboyant.
E.g. The Sloth @ The Roaches, Mother's Pride @ Elgol
Where the rock is steeper than steep but the holds, protection and logistics mean the challenge is just a matter of being "out there" and dealing with the wildness. Similar to the overhanging ladders but even more fun when it works. Partly why I do the falling practise, to be able to switch off the phantom fears and switch on the yarding out from gear.

Steep and bouldery.
E.g. Bob's Overhang @ Long Slough, Bratach Uaine @ Creag Dubh
Where there is steepness and powerfulness combined. Again assume the logistics are fairly sensible which is useful as the moves can be bloody hard. Bouldering on a rope, sport climbing with good cams instead of bolts. I want to be able to do this sort of climbing, pulling hard on small holds is good at whatever the angle.

Steep and just plain hard.
E.g. Quietus @ Stanage, Pugilist @ Floors Craig
Where the steepness makes everything desperate, not least because most of the above challenges are combined. Very much a specialist subject for the yobbiest of the yobs. Excess body hair might be the key to success, as well as the ability to climb 2 grades harder than given. I have neither so I'm probably fucked.

So how to get better?? I tend to do plenty of steep bouldering indoor and out, and a fair amount of steep routes indoors to train (I've deliberately increased the angle since moving to Scotland). I guess I just need to do more, and of course more falling practise, always. Placing gear in steep pumpy situations is another factor entirely and I'm not sure how to deal with that apart from doing more of it. Maybe I need to relish slightly easier but still steep routes simply as good training??

Monday, 1 September 2014

"Never save any route"


....the wise words of Britain's top sport climber and seemingly all-round nice bloke Steve McClure. I was lying in half of a fold-down guest bed in Brad's house in Aberdeen - the other half being determinedly occupied by Atlas, one of their fine tabbies and although considerably smaller than me in size, somewhat larger in charisma and bed-hogging ability - and reading through lots of back copies of Climb. Plentiful inspiring articles about legends like the Sharma, the Ondra, the McClure, even an interview with Neil Gresham that was actually interesting. Always great to read about top climbers when they have ideas and inspirations that are as interesting as the big numbers themselves.

Steve's article and comment struck a chord with me as I am very prone to saving many routes for the optimum time, often having many crag visits and delayed attempts before properly trying them. Of course "never save any route" is a fine motto when you're a F9a+ climber, at least F8b+ onsighter, fresh from onsighting Britain's least on-sightable safe E7 Strawberries, weight about 9 stone, are fit as fuck, on a flying visit to Scotland, up the Cobbler in great summer weather and you're trotting up an easy classic like Dalriada which is probably not too far out of the comfort zone. When you're 1. Crap and 2. Actually trying things physically and mentally hard for you, saving routes can seem like a sensible option and indeed the only tactic that gets me up some routes. If I hadn't saved half of my hardest leads last year from at least one previous aborted visit until actually trying them, I doubt I could have done them.

This weekend's saved route was Running Wild. Utterly inspiring and potentially utterly desperate for me - on paper, beyond my current limits, although maybe possible with enough focus. I've now had 4 crag visits without getting on it: first was far too greasy, second was amazing conditions but no-one to climb with, third was good conditions but a brief shower made the access inaccessible and waiting wasn't ideal, fourth started with decent conditions and then got a bit too smeggy to be comfortable. So I walked away again. Sure if I was Ste Mc and I was beneath a greasy E7 6c on a flying visit to Aberdeen, I'd never save any route, get on it, and piss up it. But I'm not so I didn't.

On the other hand, sometimes everything seems right. You don't save the route, you get on it, and then...

Let's rewind a bit. I've recovered from the punter-flu and the shock of BRD. I've started getting motivated and moving again: Day -4: Long bouldering session at Ratho, especially steep stuff on sharp holds. Day -3: Good varied gym session, partly to rest fingers and skin. Day -2: Short trad session with steady pumpy warm-up and then a good steep trad classic (Velvet Glove at Limekilns, which I did dick around on for too long before realising the crux is easy and the whole route is really rather great). Day -1: General Aberdeen mileage - nothing too hard so not getting at all tired, but good exercise throughout, also recced the next day's challenge: Pugilist Direct.

The day itself: Good start with strong coffee and just as strong satanic death metal in the car. Belay Brad for a while, good conditions and nice climbing temps. Warm up well on the brutal Italian Stallion, pull through the steepness confidently and climb extra-slowly to finish to maximise the pump. Rest, then start steeply up PD to the jug and gear, spend a while here getting a mini-pump, checking the sequence, chalking the holds. Reverse down to rest and recovery with my hoody on. Never save any route....and get on with it. Piss up the great moves to the rusty peg. Fiddle in a back-up wire, enough to do more great moves to the slot before the top ledge. I've been warned that placing gear and moving past it is hard....but now I DO have a bit confidence to move past gear, so surely that's okay. Except of course, the cam is fucking annoying to place. Theoretically bomber, but out of view, no footholds to pull up and seat it reliably, hands in the way in the slot. I'd love to slam it in easily and move past but it's the typical "gear is good enough if you're strong enough to hand around and place it" horror. If you don't get it right and fluff the moves, you could easily rip the peg and back-up or even just hit the ground on the rope out. 10m above serrated rock ledges, if you're lucky you'd die quickly, rather than being a crippled vegetable until the doctors pulled the plug. So I DO get it right enough and fire in a super quick back up, just in time for my hands to start clawing up and slap ineffectually for a non-hold. Pulling back on, I scarcely need 10 seconds swearing on the rope to have a good mini-shake, and the move to the ledge is as piss as the rest of the route - the crux of both grades has been placing the damn cam. Fucking specialist coastal bollox.

Even though everything seemed right....maybe I should have just saved that route anyway...

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Learnings.


 

Some sleep, some time relaxing and downloading some top quality dark minimal techno means my thoughts have....shifted on from the trouble of yesterday. They make a bit more sense than before, and I've learnt some stuff:

Taking a beanie for rest ledges is a pretty smart idea.

I can still do one leg squats from cold, sometimes the best warm-up!

My new tiny BD Offset swedges are nice and a bit more inspiring than the brass versions.

I can do an alleged 6b move on lead, probably because it's easy 6a. So that technical grade should be as widely encompassing as 6a is.

I can do an alleged E5 section of climbing well, probably because it's only E4 with a skyhook and common sense.

I can get myself into the state to commit to both of the above even when feeling a bit perturbed and ropey.

I can commit to moves and pull reasonably hard on holds....if there are holds. I was pulling pretty fucking hard yesterday but there weren't holds for 3 of my limbs, and that was the problem - features and friction and gritstone style climbing. I was fully going for the moves and if I'd had any sort of pullable hold I might have got through it. So if I keep wary of grit-style dolerite at the moment, there is hope.

As always I'm doing a lot with logistics and tactics to compensate for being fat and weak. This is good but I need to do it right. I was complacent with the upper part of BR/N because I'd done it before. I was casual and rushed into it because I "knew I could do it". Casual is good for safe easy ground and complacent is good for nothing. Preparing a bit better would have helped - not the gnawing away like I did with the issues of the other cruxes, but at least an acknowledgement that all of a challenging climb requires attention. 

I might feel calm enough to put some of that into action...

Monday, 25 August 2014

Time to try??


I think?? I don't know. I thought I did but maybe I don't.

I've been a good boy this summer. I've realised that my physical ability is waning whilst my trad climbing ability is holding steady, so I've kept training and tried to keep fit. I haven't had many days out but on most of them I've done a challenging route or two. When I've trained in the meantime I've felt I'm holding steady with all physical aspects, rather than regressing. So far, so groundwork.

I've still got many inspirations in Scotland, albeit fewer than before last year's great climbing. As the numbers dwindle, the numbers increase - most of the remaining routes are "hard for me". I haven't wanted to get on them in mid-summer but now the weather is cooling down a bit, the window of sensible attempts has opened....but of course it will shut again in a couple of months.

So maybe now is the right time to try a bit harder, get on some more desirable and incidentally more difficult routes.

Except after this evening's debacle I'm not so sure. I tried something "hard for me", Bladerunner Direct at Auchinstarry. I put a lot of thought and attention and emotional turmoil into this - visits spent just looking and playing around on the bottom wall, visualisations of sequences and logistics, buying a BD Offset Swedge for the one bit of possible gear as my old HB 00 offset looked too soft. I played around more and worked through worries about the lower wall (supposed crux) and the Bladerunner mantle (supposedly serious without the very high BR siderunner). The evening was dry with a cool breeze, my partner was actually the first ascentionist of BR, I'd reassured myself that falling off the lower wall would still give me the option of doing BR itself, so the omens were good enough to get on it.

The supposed lower crux was committing but easy, the mantle was committing but easy. I was thrilled to get those mental hurdles out of the way, although in retrospect they add nothing to the objective difficulty of the original route, but maybe a bit to the quality? Resting for ages and fiddling gear for ages in the "just out of view for the 5'8" climber" micro-slot, I recovered almost all my poise and focus. Now I just had the technical but protectable crux of BR....which turns out to be the overall crux of BRD and it's pretty hard but eventually I cranked through it to the pocket where Nijinski joins the route....I never had any worries about the final moves from there, I'd already done them blind and with distant gear. Except....except....I'm on the pocket, tiny cam in, doing the layback....except I'm not, I'm sliding, my left-hand is slipping one slap up one slap down my foot won't go on the ripple I'm compressing so much I'm surprised my wrists don't crack and I'm OFF.......

I can't believe it - and those are the only words I can say for several minutes. I'm not angry, I can't even describe my feelings, my mind and vocal chords incoherent with shock and disappointment. So much mental wrestling and determination invested into three anticipated cruxes and I somehow fell off the easy bit. Actually, I DO know how. When I did Nijinski it was December and crisp, today was August and although there was a cool breeze it was warm rock from the prow's usual sunbathing - fine for gaston rockovers and positive mantles and square-cut layaways to pockets, but obviously unsuitable for slopey arete layaways when all chalk has been ground off by the previous powerful crux. My friend Tris and I had discussed harder dolerite and concluded to treat it more like quarried grit....and like quarried grit the oft-positivity can fool you into getting involved when warm edges feel okay and suddenly surprise slopers don't. I abseiled down and the arete felt rubbish.

Anyway I tried a bit harder and found the easy bits can be as hard as the hard bits. Logistics and tactics are often about the planning and pacing and balance of easy and hard bits and god knows how I feel about that now.

Hmmmm. Mostly....tired, I think.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Aberdeen Angles.


Steep, steep or steep?? I did find a nice slab but I was on my own and although it was vaguely soloable the jagged rock-shelf landing sloping straight into the sea with whatever broken limbs would still be attached put me off so I moved swiftly on to the next day with PJ and onto the steepness. The highlight of the day being some good honest Wet Pussy, a route that curiously enough is described (presumably in the Deep Water guide) by Rockfax as "soloable" despite jagged rock-shelves perching below the 8m high off-balance crux as well as a rib to bounce off before you get there. Maybe at a high tide you might have a metre or so of water to not-cushion the fall, but the obvious conclusion is: Rockfax can be fucking idiots and the inability to edit their fallacious descriptions on the UKC database is a fucking farce. Anyway I led the route - if the amount of faffing around and up-and-down-climbing I did can be described as a conventional lead - and it was very good with a fully committing crux.

Since gently overhanging trad is not nearly enough, we retired to Long Slough to attempt Bob's Overhang. I tried to warm-up by traversing around and climbing up and down to the crux a couple of times which resulted in a feeling exactly like trying to warm-up at TCA on Core and Holdz holds - raw hands, sore inner joints, and a rapidly diminishing will to climb anything. I've been training a lot recently, indoor leading, bouldering, and gym-work, just to get strong enough for this sort of malarkey, and lo and behold it still seemed utterly fucking desperate. So I backed off, PJ went for it and fell off, and we concluded it was nails and I'm only coming back after several weeks of prior 30 & 45° board specific training, obviously what I'd expect to have to do to get up a route at a grade I climb every week this summer????

Of course this is the coast and the usual rules don't apply - which keeps the locals happy but does mean that normal climbers have to change their perceptions a bit. I haven't pushed myself in the area for nearly a year (I blame my friends up there for spawning and thus having much less time to climb) so it will take a bit of getting used to again. I'm not sure why I've neglected Scotland's most significant rainshadow but I've got some psyche back now and it goes like this:

Running Wild, Craig Stirling - because I like the style (boulder problem to a rest to a wild finish) and it's an amazing line. I'm still quite worried how desperate the start looks, I've taken a photo of the lower wall to train for it!
The Pugilist dir, Floor's Craig - because despite failing on the original way starting up the MM groove, I never even got the to Pugilist proper so the arete direct start is game on! And it looks cool.
Prehistoric Monster, Earnsheugh - because I really like Earnsheugh climbing, this looks great.
Necromancer, Earnsheugh - Same as above, I've abbed down it many times with my gaze averted, but glimpses across from Death Cap make it look great.
Pow Pow, Pow Kebuck - because I've finally found it on this weekend's recce, and it looks really rather cool, a nice off-piste aim.
Who Dares Wings It / Where Seagulls Dare, Johnsheugh - cos Johnsheugh is good and I want to do more there.
Bob's Overhang, Long Slough - because....I don't really know. It still might be possible. Maybe.
Africa Face, Longhaven - because now I've learnt to slap for holds above gear, this might be possible for me, plus it's a great bit of rock.
Waltzinblack, Red Tower - because I tried before and backed off just because it was too warm, I'm sure it would be fine and a nice bit of rock.

Gah, that's quite a lot (cunningly all non-tidal and mostly quick drying, god knows I'll need all the help I can with the ever-fickle conditions up there). I better keep training then!!