Monday, 9 May 2016
I'm sitting comfortably in the car, keeping warm with the heater on, relaxing on the way back from Ratho. It's 1'c and snowing gently over the Harthill summit.
I'm lying comfortably on the ropebag, keeping cool in the shade, recovering from the dizzying heat at Helsby. It's 20'c and too hot to climb in the afternoon sun.
What a difference a week can make eh. I don't even need to moan about the weather for this one. Except it got too hot, yes too hot. I thought Helsby was a shady crag from my previous visit nearly a decade ago, well I've learnt something useful. I also thought it looked greener than ever, but that fooled me too, close-up it was almost all fine. In fact one of the greenest "good" routes there - Wafer Wall, just above the site of my emergency power-nap - was absolutely fine without any prior cleaning. This was a small, humourous ghost laid to rest as I'd trying to solo it on that prior visit and had to be rescued once standing above the "this break has some fiddly gear in but I won't bother to reverse and get a rope and rack, I'll just press on" section. All fairly silly and it went nicely as a lead. I must confess the previous evening I had a bit of a wobbler on the top of Angel's Face....I think I prefer a rack and rope at Helsby ;)
All of this was inspired by two things. Firstly, a proper new guidebook that I've been long overdue getting - as always with new BMC guides the combination of exhaustive information, rich character and an accessible design provide immediate inspiration to an area that had gone off my radar. Just how proper this is was highlighted to me by going on to UKC to check the databases out of very idle curiosity, to find that the annoyingly uneditable Rockfax grades / descriptions were all-too-commonly wrong. Sigh.
Secondly a somewhat more sombre scenario - I was down in the Helsby area for the funeral of my recently-deceased Uncle Fred, a very decent and honourable man and a near-legendary model-maker, whom along with his son Steve (of Steve Webb Model And Hobbies) inspired me into model-making in my youth and was thus responsible for me getting into painting toy soldiers, which has possibly taken a grade off my climbing but kept me sane during some miserable winters. Funerals are like buses, you (don't) wait a few decades for one and then two come along this year. Hopefully this will be the last for a while. I read a speech in tribute to his model-making hobby and my immediate family seemed to be a positive presence to his immediate family. After this I stuck around for a life-affirming evening at Helsby, got scared:
And witnessed a nice view over Liverpool:
Then there was Thursday of heatstroke and not doing the massive amount of E3 mileage I had planned from browsing the guide, that will have to wait for another time. Then it was a dash over to Meirionydd for the first Rhinnogau session of the year with The Pylon King, and the first new route too:
And finally a sweaty stop-off en-route at Harmer's Wood:
Just waiting for it to cool down a bit and hopefully I can put some of my psyche and mileage into action, preferably as far away from Glasgow as possible.
Thursday, 28 April 2016
Long time no blog. A relief I'm sure. I could pretend that after punting spectacularly in Spain I'd made a sensible tactical decision to let my mind, body, and now-recurring golfer's elbow to heal, ready for a steady and fresh progression up to full fitness and psyche. Well it was half that and half demoralisation and depression which is never the ideal mindstate for a dedicated climber. I don't need to write any more about that and you don't need to read it. Suffice to say I dipped down enough to realise that progression back would be slow and tentative not steady and fresh, but this did come with the realisation to actually take it slow.....some wisdom has been gained from years battling this shit.
Thus, hopefully, beginner's mind. Accepting I will be initially shit but assuming that all the winter's training and last year's mileage will be lurking and give some latent potential. So I went down to TCA and bumbled around on the circuit wall (how come I did the yellow within a couple of sessions, but now can't get past 33-35 no matter how good I feel? Pffft), and then more importantly went down to Yorkshire lime and bumbled around on trad and sport. Amongst other things I cruised Prime Cut which I'd somehow backed off last year in a fit of sore feet and fiddly gear. So apparently I'm better at Giggleswick E2 than I was this time last year - SICK DUDE.
Anyway...5 days mileage at various crags, I felt a bit weak and a bit awkward having to place protection from bad positions, but other than that I felt reassuringly natural, despite it being the first time on UK rock since Oc-fucking-tober. I think I still have a certain "go for it" vibe in my mind following last year's trad, which shows promise as long as the body catches up. I also really enjoyed what I was doing despite UK inland limestone being my least favourite rock. Actually having fun - yup that's a good idea.
Of course this cruisey start to the trad season has skidded to an icy halt - I went down to TCA in a snowstorm yesterday, and I'll be going to Ratho in a snowstorm today. Still, I need to train and if I didn't lose my trad nouse after 5 months I shouldn't lose it after 5....days....weeks?? Let's hope it's not that fucking long.
Also being out and about on UK rock does have some additional benefits:
Monday, 21 March 2016
...in one particular event.
La Riba - new crag, new excitement. A fresh change from Margalef pocket-pulling and loads of choice. This was it, this was the time, the place, to overturn the previous day's debacles, get on and crush. I hit the ground running (well, hobbling, it's a bit uphill and rocky) and got on Directa Reus to start. 15m 6b+ into 15m 6b+, gets 6c for the combo but it's got a comfy rest in the middle. No problemo! I boulder out the start, the pockets are sparser but bigger than Margalef. Good rest on the ledge then up steep jugs that run out so I swerve left via a mono into the crux layback, a bit committing but good stuff. Swing feet over, up to a good spike jug in a pocket by the next bolt, and....
Yes, bees. They start swarming out of the pocket. My mind doesn't think "quick, jump off to the last bolt", it thinks "quick, clip the next bolt and lower off", which of course allows the bees enough time to assume attack formation. I'm shrieking at PJ "LOWER, LOWER, FUCKING QUICKLY!" as I ride to the ground, trailing bees from my vest, swirling arms, goatee, and face... A furious battering dance (thank fuck gabber clubs are good training for this) and several stings later and I'm sat on the ground shaking. I get PJ to pull several stings out and lounge around with a dull ache throbbing around me, before I relax enough to fail on other routes for entirely bee-irrelevant reasons. I still have bruised scabs on my head and shoulders, and now I have an edited guidebook too...
I presume this will be features "as is" in any reprint...
On that subject, more photos:
Other wildlife was more amenable, especially if I was prepared to throw random stones for it. This persistent pooch cheered me up at Oliana after I had a massive strop failing on another F7a there. Furious doesn't even come close. I felt an extra dick afterwards because Sharma, Graham and Woods were further down repeating 9a+s and working on futuristic projects (i.e. the thing just right of La Dura Dura....incidentally it's surprising just how low the crux is on LDD, it's about 1/6th the way up the whole route). These are guys I respect not just for their world class ability but also their seemingly ever-positive and psyched vibes, something I try to have at 15 grades lower - and definitely didn't that day.
Huevo Roca! There were many more huevos going on every morning in the caravan. PJ lives off them and I can see the logic in that. I'm not so used to eggs every single day and did wonder if a slightly different diet affected my performance. Probably not.
The send train. Note that I am not part of it.
Sunday, 20 March 2016
Margalef and surrounds - it was 50% great (climbing quality, weather, caravanning situation, and all else), and 50% rubbish (my actual climbing). I started off quite okay and consistently deteriorated through the trip to make it the worst trip away for my climbing I can recall - by the end my performance was even worse than during the mediocre rain + climbing with a couple & young kid double belay bitch duty + obnoxious overcrowding Eastern Europeans semi-climbing trip to Turkey a few winters back. Sure performance is not the be all and end all of a trip, but then again it is a climbing trip and I like the climbing challenge, and ending up so detached from that for no obvious reason felt inherently wrong. Especially since with the best intentions...
Following on from my previous trip and related post, as well as sampling the climbing i.e. pockets, I wanted to try a bit harder and maybe sport climb a bit harder. In that context it must be said that Margalef: 1. Has some of the worst grading of any sport climbing venue I've visited - I can scarcely recall two routes of the same grade that were actually the same standard, apart from a few that were wrong on the same direction. And: 2. Is utterly rubbish for pushing your onsighting, with most routes involving being lost at sea of pockets, the easier routes I was on having more pockets and thus more confusion, and being less steep thus less chalky hints to avoid the shoal of grey and orange herrings.
On the plus side the climbing is really cool. I scraped up a few soft F7as, a few almost accurate F6c+s, and various piss/nails F6cs before even that started feeling less likely... So you don't get a ticklist, but the following list would have been a great one if I'd actually done it. Or most. Or any...
List of fucking shite:
Yup, that's a lot. And it gets pretty fucking boring trying hard and trying hard again and failing relentlessly and not getting any positive reinforcements for the effort.
So what the fucking hell went wrong??
- I had trained well in almost all areas: I'd been bouldering well (e.g. some good benchmarking on the TCA comp wall), leading indoors well (e.g. good sessions at Ratho on both full routes and half "hard" routes (intended to be relevant to Margalef-style power-endurance)), gymming and running okay.
- I was well rested before I went out and had tapered off training suitably.
- I felt on general physically good form, and actually didn't feel tired, drained (well, apart from emotionally....) or de-energised on any day I was out.
- I slept well and ate well and relaxed well in the evenings.
- I felt inspired and positive before every day and almost every route (even after several days of climbing rubbish).
- I felt happy with the pockets and felt I got used to them quickly.
Yes there were some issues with grades and blind pocket climbing but that wasn't the only things I was struggling with. Extrapolate for a further month and I'd be struggling to climb the stairs and there ain't no fucking duos on them. *I* was the problem and I don't even know how?? I've had enough times being hampered by injury and illness and conditions and tiredness and whatever, but sitting at the bottom of Montsant feeling fresh and perky in fresh and perky conditions beneath a wall of dream routes at my usual standard and not being able to get on them for no reason was a real WTF moment.
So. Answers on a postcard, and if any of them are the right answers I'll refund the postage.
Thought of a couple of things:
- Although conditions were often excellent, some of the crux pocket-pulling was less positive than ideal and relying a bit on finger friction, which is always an issue for me, exacerbated by tape around several pocket-shredded joints (particularly 4, 7, 10, 11)
- Although in training and in general I'd felt comfortable committing and fighting for holds, these were usually visible and obvious and required more effort than accuracy....unlike the pockets which sometimes involved theoretically lunging for duos with «5mm margin for error for me to hold them (particularly 1, 7, 9)
- Although I felt I was climbing well and had enough strength and stamina, this was from bouldering (constant movement) and normal routes (constant movement with tactical pauses only at good rests). My "hanging around" strength / stamina was probably a lot weaker and that was a problem hanging around trying to find holds (4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11)
Okay that is a lot of moaning. Sorry / not sorry at all, I need to get it out of my system and writing through it can bring up useful ideas.
BUT, on the other hand, the routes I actually did were all really good. A lot of beautiful, characterful rock, a lot of fun and fascinating pocket-pulling, a lot of decently challenging routes at lower grades. Funnily enough my first sport trip away was to Sierra De Prades (camping in February would you believe it, ice on the tents in the morning, WTF were we thinking??), and I haven't revisited it since apart from a singular Siurana sojourn a few years back (partly due to the inferior Rockfax guide although at least they had the right fucking sequence photoed for Massagran). With Catalunya Climbs: Tarragona and exploration of some new areas, I still remained psyched with the area despite being unpsyched with my punterdom and am actually rather keen to go back. So that is some sort of positive result...
Monday, 14 March 2016
...an indepth description of all current drum and bass sub-genres, of course :). "It's just a load of clanking and banging" "It all sounds the same" etc etc YAWN. Basically drum and bass (evolving from jungle) has been around for 20+ years and has split into many different forms from stuff you could play to your gran to stuff you'd get arrested for if you played it to your gran. So someone needs to sort it all out and make a presentable list for the general public, and here it is.
This list assumes the reader knows the basic form of drum and bass i.e. complex breakbeats at a 170-ish bpm tempo (rather than straight repetitive drums like techno) combined with a prominent looped bassline. I've tried to use commonly accepted genre terms although there is much variation, many grey areas, and many artists dabbling in a lot of sub-genres (e.g. my knowledge of the minimal / halfstep / drumstep genres is vague, some artist examples are guesswork). I've also included tangential genres that are not true dnb, and some older no-longer-used genres for reference and context.
Abstract - a less rhythmically smooth form of dnb where the beats and sound effects can seem more jarring with a less obvious, but still usually present, groove, and a neutral vibe, somewhere between breakage and minimal. E.g. Clarity, Overlook, Blocks & Escher
Atmospheric - spacey effects and sparse haunting melodies, often with crisp jungle style breakbeats and mellow bass. E.g. DJ Fox, Acid Lab, Pixel
Breakage - very breakbeat-orientated often with sparse effects and variable bass. Often uses the classic amen breakbeat or more complicated breaks. E.g. Equinox, Paradox, Bizzy B
Breakcore - harder and often much faster tangent of drum and bass, with emphasis on breakbeats sometimes mixed with irreverent samples and heavy metal effects. Similar in intensity to skullstep but usually less industrial-sounding. E.g. Shitmat, Bong-Ra
Clownstep - derogatory term for modern jump-up/wobble when it was first introduced, particularly when said genres have very simplistic childlike basslines. E.g. DJ Clipz, Twisted Individual, Generation Dub
Crossbreed - tangential blend between harder drum and bass and gabber, usually at the standard 174bpm tempo, but with the drums switching between drum and bass breakbeats and straight gabber kickdrums, and aggressive vibes. E.g. Outside Agency, Hellfish, Thrasher
Dark - emphasises dark sounds and atmospheres, often with a deep droning bassline such as the "reece" bass. Breakbeats and melodies are more variable but generally support the dark atmosphere. E.g. Paragon, Cern, Stranjah
Deep - roughly between dark drum and bass and liquid funk, having some of the dark-ish atmospheres of dark, but with the smoother musical melodies of liquid funk (or the spacey atmospheres of atmospheric but with simpler beats). E.g. Response, Seba, Klute
Drumfunk - see Breakage.
Drumstep - slowed down tangential drum and bass similar to Minimal / Halfstep but with more prominent, if slower, beats, not necessarily at a dnb tempo. E.g. Om Unit, Amit
"Electrofunk" - my own term for the lighter and most funky neurofunk, usually distinctly less intense than neurofunk with quirky, sometimes "clicky" beats and a strong upbeat groove. E.g. Mefjus, Rockwell, Noisia, Lynx
Halftime (or Halfstep) - minimal style of drum and bass, very similar to normal minimal but with distinctly stripped down beats at 1/2 or 1/3 of the 174bpm norm. E.g. Loxy And Resound, Kid Drama
Hard - harder end of pure drum and bass before it gets as industrial and mashed up as skullstep. Both beats and basslines are loud and occasionally distorted, and might have complex but conventional amen breakbeats. E.g. Technical Itch, Raiden, Dom & Roland
Jump-up (old) - semi-depreciated form of drum and bass that was very prominent in the 1990s with Mickey Finn, Aphrodite, Hype etc, featuring funky basslines and hip-hop samples and vibes. Rarely made any more but some artists favour the sound over modern jump-up. E.g. Bladerunner, SR & Digbee, Serial Killaz
Jump-up (new) - evolution of jump-up drum and bass following on from the clownstep era, with very brash, squeaky sound effects that often overwhelm traditional jump-up basslines. Breakbeats are sometimes simple but sometimes quite abstract similar to drumstep. E.g. Magistrate, Konichi, DJ Hazard
Jungle - modern interpretation of the classic mid-90s jungle sound, usually with similar reggae/dub influences and emphasis on breakbeats, but with higher quality modern production values. E.g. Digital, Spirit, Skitty
Liquid Funk (or just Liquid) - a very musical form of drum and bass with prominent melodies, recognisable instrumentation and a generally uplifting and accessible atmosphere, but less brash and "cheesy" than and Pop And Bass. E.g. High Contrast, Calibre, Dramatic & DB Audio
Minimal - stripped down drum and bass with sparse drums and subtle effects, but still with prominent, often smooth bass. E.g. D-Bridge, Stray, Sabre
Neurofunk - more cheerful, funky form of techstep, with similar strong beats and a sci-fi atmosphere but more prominent distorted but funky melodies, often with a "squelchy" sound. E.g. Agressor Bunx, Black Sun Empire, Maldini & Vegas
Old school - see Jump-up (old), also would refer to most standard older dnb / jungle.
Pop And Bass - tangential blend of drum and bass tempos, breakbeats and bass, with pop melodies, vocals and effects, usually relatively lightweight and radio-friendly even if made by normal dnb producers. E.g. DJ Fresh, Chase & Status, Sigma
Ragga Jungle - MC-driven jungle with prominent ragga vocals. Often defined by the vocalists involved while the music is usually an older-sounding mixture of jump-up and jungle with reggae influences. E.g. Top Cat, The Ragga Twins
Rolling - very standard, almost default, form of drum and bass with the emphasis on a distinct, funky, hypnotic bassline and a straightforward two step beat. E.g. S.P.Y., Need For Mirrors, Jubei, Genotype, Break
Ruff - see Hard / Breakage
Skullstep - an esoteric term for the hardest form of pure drum and bass, with hard loud beats that might be simple or more usually very mashed up (but still at 174bpm), and industrial sound effects E.g. Limewax, Cooh, Donny
Stadium D'n'B - see Pop and Bass, also with elements of neurofunk, liquid, jump-up.
Techstep - techno-influenced form of drum and bass with variable breakbeats and basslines but a strong emphasis on techno sound effects and a sci-fi atmosphere. Often fairly hard-hitting and less melodious, but not as noisy / industrial as skull-step / hard dnb E.g. Fierce, Zero Method, The Sect
Trance 'n' bass - rarely used but still suitable term for dnb with strong trance melodies and effects over normal dnb rhythms, somewhere between techstep and liquid funk, and quite uplifting but less cheesey that pop 'n' bass. E.g. John B (who coined the phrase), Ill Skillz
Wobble - see Jump-Up (new)
Upfront - see Jump-Up (new)
Vocal - a generalised genre where the emphasis is on vocals (studio-recorded rather than live MCing) with drum and bass of whatever genre (usually rolling / deep / dark) playing a supporting role. Vocals are usually either rapping style or sung lyrical style and the artists are usually in collaboration with normal dnb producers.E.g. Robert Manos, DRS, MC Fats
As usual any questions or comments, send 'em in.
Thursday, 3 March 2016
Warning: Contains 19 minutes of straight-up footage of 25 classic 6B-6C problems in reasonable definition (might load slowly) with a mellow dubstep soundtrack.
Not much to add. The village is very pretty, the weather was amazing apart from the last night/morning when it snowed and made an epic/scary rush to the airport. The boulders are plentiful despite the bird-banned sections, there are enough typical Spaniards with adventure mullets and dreadlocked dogs on string, but not as much crag crap everywhere as people said.
I didn't do anything super-hard (for me) on this trip, but I was pleased to get a lot of 6Cs flashed or quickly - there was too much choice to spend ages sieging stuff on a first visit. I'd happily go back for general exploration when the bird bans are off, or a more focused trip working some cool 7As I dabbled on.